Lenovo IdeaPad U260: A Stylish Ultralight Notebook


As stylish as the U260 is from the outside, its interior is built for work, although it can handle some types of play, too. The notebook is advertised as being available with a number of different CPU options, although only two of them are readily available through the company's Web site currently (the rest are special orders): one is an Intel Core i3-380UM Processor (1.33GHz 800MHz 3MB ). It's list price is $1099 but it appears to be on a permanent sale of $899, which is another highly attractive attribute of this notebook. This model is available in the Mocha color only.  The other sports an Intel Core i5-470UM processor, which includes Intel Turbo Boost Technology (1.33GHz, up to 1.86GHz, 3MB Cache) available in the mocha and clementine orange colors. (Note: this was the model used as our test unit.) It's sale price is $999, and Lenovo says that's a discount from $1,199.

Lenovo also advertises in its marketing materials that the U260 can also be had in a 1.48GHz Intel Core i7-680UM processor flavor, but no information about that option is available on the website currently, not even the price. A call to the online chat/help person told us only "We are working to get that model in stock." and "I don't know the price." We interpreted all this to mean that the 1.4GHz model exists only in the press materials at this time.

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The U260's Core i CPUs are not to be confused with Intel's latest, greatest Sandy Bridge processors, released earlier this year (followed by an immediate kerfuffle that caused a recall). The i5 versions currently in the U260 are built on Intel's previous CPU architecture with integrated graphics, code-named Arrandale. They are dual-core machines that sip less battery juice than previous multi-core processors, hence the U260 performed as expected (if not exceptionally for its size and weight) in our battery life tests.

The U260 is Lenovo's middle entry in its U family of notebooks, which also include the 11.6" U160 (web prices starting at $749, up to 7 hours battery life, weighing in at 3 pounds) and the best-selling 14" U460 (up to 6 hours battery life, weighing in at 4.3 pounds and starting at $799 and includes the NVIDIA GeForce graphics processor).

The U260 offers 320GB of hard drive storage. Lenovo marketing also notes that the device can also be configured with 128GB of SSD flash-based storage, though we didn't see that option available during the web ordering process, and our queries with the chat-based sales help told us that if it wasn't on the web, it wasn't available.

Like the other models, the U260 also includes 4GB of DDR3 memory and that helps it perform well, whether multitasking up a storm with many applications and web pages open, or for unwinding at night streaming your favorite movie or TV show. The backlit, anti-glare LCD screen was truly a joy to watch for hours on end.

On the other hand, when it comes to audio, the default audio settings were painfully tinny. We were able to improve the sound quality of the integrated speakers a lot by increasing the Levels setting (we liked it at 70) and manually enabling the "Audio enhancer" option for them available in the drivers. (Control Panel/Hardware and Sound/Manage Audio devices/Properties/Levels ... and /Properties/Dolby/Audio Enhancer.)

However, if you really want to enjoy music or movie sound on this machine without wearing your headphones, be prepared to invest in a good pair of speakers. Lenovo boasts that sound quality is one of the U260's strong points thanks to its included Dolby Advanced Audio. When listening to audio via our headphones, we were impressed. But we like to lie in bed at night to watch American Idol untethered by the headphones, so we were disappointed that the native sound quality wasn't up to the unit's claims. Again, speakers solve the problem beautifully but in this size of notebooks, you simply can't expect much from integrated speakers.  Note that the unit also includes an HDMI port, so piping audio and video from the system to an HDMI-capable television is another attractive option for boosting audio and visual capability.

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One major drawback of the U260's integrated design is that the battery is not removable. This can pose a problem for road warriors who like to carry multiple batteries and remain untethered to a wall outlet as long as possible, but the design does make for a cleaner, more mobile device.

Guess what? Can't remove the battery on this baby.

In its favor, the device is very stable. It handled a major Windows update (the famous forced Windows 7 SP1 upgrade) with aplomb and behaved well throughout testing.

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