First Looks: Lenovo Ideapad U310
Keeping the Price Down
By now you should know all you need to know about Ultrabooks. The basic premise of Ultrabooks is that they are really portable, fast, powerful and to a certain extent, affordable. Many manufacturers have managed to get the mix of portability, speed, and power just right, but completely miss the mark on affordability.
That’s because the components necessary for portability (light but strong materials), speed (usually achieved with an SSD) and power (Intel CULV processor) aren’t cheap. For example, getting a premium Ultrabook with a luxurious aluminum body and an SSD will set you back about S$2000 or more, making it a pretty hard pill for consumers to swallow. Even without the premium build, many are still priced around S$1500 or above. For manufacturers to gain market share, they've to price products closer to the magic S$1000 mark - or at least keep the notebook’s price as low as they can.
Stripped of Luxuries
In order to do keep a lid on the price, luxuries like a premium build, SSD and high-resolution displays have to be forfeited. And that is likely the reason why the 13-inch Lenovo Ideapad U310 came into existence.
Instead of an SSD, it sports a hybrid drive (500GB with 32GB flash memory cache), the component of choice for keeping Ultrabook costs down. It won’t affect normal usage much, such as internet media consumption, light productivity tasks for the office and more. But it does give you a lot of storage on the cheap, which is ideal for most users. Instead of an all-aluminum body (as seen on Lenovo's higher-tier models), only the lid and bottom use this material. Everything else is now plastic. The saving grace here is that the overall build quality of the U310 is pretty good for its target market.
The plastic used has a metallic looking appearance, and if you didn’t run your fingers over it, you probably can’t tell it’s plastic. It’s also fairly thick, which gives it a nice rigid feel. The only issue here is the keyboard housing. Even though the chiclet keys themselves are springy with plenty of travel, some users may have a problem with the flex caused by the thin plastic housing (the keyboard well). The trackpad on the other hand was rigid and responsive, and it felt a part belonging to a high-end machine.
Lastly is the notebook's screen resolution, which has remained the same 1366 x 768 pixels resolution as it did last year. This is probably an unavoidable fact with many low cost notebooks at the moment, even though everyone would wish for double that resolution without the corresponding price increase.
It’s Wallet Friendly
Overall, the Lenovo Ideapad U310 priced at S$1299 is a beautifully designed entry-level Ultrabook. It's slightly thicker and heavier than the usual Ultrabook, at 18mm and 1.7kg. But at its price point, with a somewhat premium looking exterior, a nice selection of colors (dark gray, blue and lavender), and extensive number of ports makes it a decent deal for those looking for an a relatively light and compact notebook. Performance-wise, it is quite average for its class. However at its price, you can also consider low-cost multimedia-class 15-inch notebooks that carry far better specs, but at the expense of a bulky form factor. Of course this is a perpetual design trade-off anyone must consider - a portable machine that has enough horsepower for everyday needs or a bulkier machine with more power to handle an extended set of tasks.
However if you’re looking for a top-tier Ultrabook that Lenovo is capable of producing, then you might just have to wait a while longer for an updated version of the U300s which has yet to be announced. For those looking for a bigger screen, they can take a look at the U410, a 14-inch model that comes with discrete graphics (NVIDIA GeForce 610M, 1GB VRAM), only weighs 100 grams more, but costs exactly the same.