Lenovo is taking on the ultrabook market with an Intel Core i3-carrying, 13.3-inch laptop priced aggressively at £499.
Opening the lid, you could almost mistake the U310 for a MacBook Pro 13.3". The materials, however, are worlds apart. The Lenovo is mostly plastic, the Apple mainly aluminium. Yes, it's high-quality plastic, but the illusion pretty much crumbles once you touch the material. And along with the plastic come the requisite finishing issues, such as a wrist support that pushes slightly inward when you press down on it, or the back of the screen that rubs lightly against the chassis when you flip open the lid.
However, barring the lack of backlighting, the keyboard is very good. It does everything you want it to do. The keys are the right size, nimble and quiet. Like many of HP's laptops, such as the Folio 13 and Envy 4, on this Lenovo you don't have to press Fn to use the shortcuts (for the volume, brightness, etc.). The idea is that people tend to use shortcuts more often than the F1-F12 keys, so they've simplified the task by making the Fn button apply to those instead. Once you get used to it, it's a much more practical method.
The touchpad is large and clickable everywhere except for a 1 cm strip at the top. It supports all the most common multi-touch commands (zooming, two-finger scrolling...) and does them well.
The IdeaPad U310 has enough connectivity for most people's needs: two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 port, an HDMI output, a card reader in the front, an RJ45 port and a headphone/microphone combo jack. Unlike so many other ultrabooks, you need no adapters to use the U310.
Heat levels with the components under stress.
Images taken with a Fluke Ti25 Thermal Imager.
The U310 stays quiet even with the components stressed under benchmarks and processor-heavy applications, and the temperature always stays in check. It isn't the coolest ultrabook out there, but the heat levels are far lower than many other models like the Envy 4.
The screen, on the other hand, is easily the low point of the U310. First of all, it's glossy, so it necessarily reflects like crazy. While TN screens are often bright enough to counter the glare, the U310 doesn't go above 180 cd/m², so the second you put a direct light source in front of it the display turns into a mirror. For a computer that's supposed to go wherever you go, that spells trouble when you're using it outside, where you have no control over your surrounding light sources.
And unfortunately the colour rendering (the Delta E of 14 is miles away from the ideal 3) and ridiculously low contrast (180:1) do nothing to help matters. Following our standard testing criteria, these mediocre figures automatically drop the U310's overall score to a maximum of three stars.
Speakers: frequency response curve
Green = good, orange = tolerable, white = forget about it.
The sound from the U310's speakers is nothing to write home about. Far from it. The frequency response is less than mediocre, as is the volume level. They're a last resort, at best.
The headphone/microphone signal, however, has no major issues. The output rendering is clean, and loud enough for most ordinary headphones. But you'll have to make do with the combo jack, which works with regular earphones and hands-free kits but not analogue headphone/mics, since there isn't a separate mic in.
Our Review Model:The model we were sent for review features an Intel Core i3-2367M processor (2.7 GHz), 4 GB of RAM, an Intel HD 3000 graphics chipset, a 500 GB hard drive (5400 rpm) and a 32 GB solid-state drive. The comments above apply to all versions of the Lenovo IdeaPad U310, but the observations below refer only to the configuration we tested, as each model has different technical specs. The individual components may vary depending on the country/region you live in (see inset).
With the Intel Core i3-2367M processor the IdeaPad U310 can handle lots of tasks, as long as they aren't too demanding. Based on our measurements, while it may not be the fastest ultrabook on the planet, it does give you certain amount of leeway in what you can do. Productivity and everyday tasks like web browsing are a breeze on the U310, but just don't expect too much in terms of video encoding and 3D.
FYI, the little 32 GB SSD isn't for storing personal files; it helps make the computer more responsive and reduce startup time (35 seconds) by allowing it to store data before moving it on to the hard drive.
Don't get your hopes up. The Intel HD 3000 graphics chip only enables the U310 to run smaller games in high detail and resolution. Bigger, more power-hungry games will always be out of reach for the U310.
But it decodes HD video perfectly, so high resolution movies will play without any skipping or hiccups.
MOBILITY / BATTERY LIFE
With Wi-Fi turned off, the screen at 100 cd/m² and headphones plugged in, the U310 lasts 4 hours and 47 minutes during continuous video playback. That's just about average as ultrabooks go. The size (33.3 x 22.5 x 1.8 cm) and weight (1.7 kg) of the computer aren't the best you'll find to accompany a mobile lifestyle, but it will fit easily in your bag without throwing your back out.