Lenovo IdeaPad U310 Ultrabook: A Thin Notebook for Less-Than-Thick Wallets

Today’s new wave of Ultrabook notebooks may be thinner and lighter than the unit you own now, but are they worth a trip to the electronics store?

The IdeaPad U310 offers business-class data-protection features such as the OneKey quick backup-and-restore system (Image: Lenovo)

If you ask notebook manufacturers, 2012 is the year of the Ultrabook. Soon electronics stores will be awash in thin, lightweight notebooks that promise long battery life, ample computing muscle and a little bit of style. If you ask the average notebook owner, however, the first question might be “So what?”

Should an Ultrabook be in your future? The answer is a clear-cut “maybe” since it depends on how you intend to use it. The definition of an Ultrabook, a term coined by computer chipmaker Intel Corp., is a notebook that’s thin and light but stylish, too, and runs for a long time on each battery charge.

One example is the IdeaPad U310 from Lenovo, a 3.75-pound unit with a 13.3-inch display, a 1.7 GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and Windows 7 Home Premium. Like other Lenovo units, the $800 IdeaPad U310 offers business-class data-protection features such as the OneKey quick backup-and-restore system and Lenovo’s VeriFace face-recognition technology, which can unlock the screen after the unit’s front-facing 720p webcam camera recognizes your face.

The IdeaPad U310’s 1,366-by-768 pixel display is sharp and bright, but doesn’t have the richness of higher-resolution displays on more-expensive laptops. A glass touchpad below the unit’s wide and comfortable keyboard supports up to five fingers at a time and is ready for the finger-friendly features of Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 operating system. The Dolby-assisted audio system is more than adequate for the unit’s narrow speakers.

According to Lenovo, the IdeaPad U310 can last up to seven hours on a charge, can sit in standby mode for up to 90 days and can wake up from its low-power “Sleep” mode in just one second. Like other Ultrabooks, the IdeaPad U310 boots up extremely fast, usually in just a few seconds.

Our review unit came with a 500GB hard disk, but the IdeaPad U310 can also be ordered with an additional 32GB solid state drive (SSD) which is used during boot-up and for frequently used pieces of data. The result is even faster boot-up and response since data can be read from an SSD far faster than it can be retrieved from a hard disk with a rotating platter.

At less than three quarters of an inch thick, the unit is indeed thin, but thanks to internal components that stiffen the aluminum case, there’s no flex. The IdeaPad U310 provides ample connectivity options with its three USB ports (two support ultra-fast USB 3.0 speeds), a Wi-Fi wireless adapter, a memory card slot and HDMI and Ethernet ports. A Bluetooth wireless adapter is optional.  The unit can be ordered in Cherry Blossom, Aqua Blue or Graphite Grey.

So would an Ultrabook like the Lenovo IdeaPad U310 work for you? The answer is “Yes” if you need a mid-size, lightweight unit that can make it through an extended work day away from an AC outlet and you don’t need a built-in optical drive. This unit is not a muscle machine, so gamers and video-editing types who need something more powerful than the integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics system should look elsewhere.

The good news is that the low-power technologies that make Ultrabooks possible will only get cheaper, so be ready for a second wave after the holiday season.

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