While ultrabooks are seemingly all anyone at Microsoft or Intel can talk about, what about the humble laptop? The thicker, more versatile notebook computer of old certainly isn’t going anywhere–at least, not right now–although changes in laptop design brought about by products like the MacBook Air, and even the Dell XPS 13 and Asus Zenbook, are starting to force all laptops to step up their game.
The Lenovo IdeaPad U400 isn’t an ultrabook, but it borrows the look of one–the IdeaPad U300s–in a big-brother 14-inch laptop with a Core i5 processor, slot-loading DVD drive, and a larger-capacity 500GB hard drive that isn’t SSD, but can hold more music, photos, and videos than the average limited ultrabook.
The best thing the IdeaPad U400 has going for it is style; this is a cool, clean-looking laptop, easily one of the best I’ve ever seen Lenovo make. It’s got clear design connections to the MacBook Pro and Samsung Series 7 Chronos, but has some fine-tuned features that stand alone.
Alas, the battery life kills the equation. Four hours or so on the U400’s integrated battery isn’t bad, but it’s hard to swallow when the MacBook Pro and Samsung Series 7 got 6-plus hours on our same tests.
Attractive laptop? Certainly. Yet, when you look at what’s coming down the pike very soon–new Intel processors and ultrabook-like 14- and 15-inch laptops with many of the same features that the U400 has–it makes me hesitant to recommend the U400 in this iteration. It’s a good, but transitional, laptop.
|Price as reviewed / starting price
|$899 / $719
|2.4 GHz Intel Core i5-2430M
|6GB, 1,333MHz DDR3
|AMD Radeon HD 6470M / Intel HD 3000
|Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
|13.4 x 9.0 inches
|Screen size (diagonal)
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter
It’s hard to not to look at the IdeaPad U400 in a cursory manner and think, “hey, a MacBook.” The similarly colored metal chassis, keyboard, and equally large multitouch clickpad, and the slot-loading DVD drive, all feel very Apple-like. There are differences, however: the IdeaPad U400 isn’t quite as crisply built. It’s not unibody; the anodized aluminum outer shell and inner metal are two pieces (you can see the seam if you look closely), and glass doesn’t cover the whole upper bezel, just the screen. In our review unit, the edge bezel around the glossy display was also a little unevenly seated.
However, I want to stress that this laptop, design-wise, is an overall success. The edges of the U400 rise up and are slightly sharp, giving the profile of the closed laptop a booklike feel. It’s a distinctive look that the U260 and U300s also employed. The even, smooth all-metal feel of this laptop, down to its integrated battery, make the U400 one of the best-looking Lenovo IdeaPads I’ve ever seen. I hope that future IdeaPads grow from this design; sometimes, Lenovo laptops suffer a multitude of designs as opposed to applying addition by subtraction to its lineup.
The non-backlit keyboard features raised keys similar to those on recent Lenovo laptops. The keys are flat, however, and not slightly concave like on some ThinkPads. It’s a comfortable typing experience all around, and I’m glad for the function-reversed row of keys on the top, which handle screen brightness, volume, and other key functions without having to hunt around for the Fn button.
A large, glass clickpad looks like an Apple spin-off, but doesn’t perform as well (shocker: actually, few Windows 7 touch pads ever do). Neither Lenovo nor Windows 7 have provided the sort of multifinger gestural vocabulary that Apple does on OS X; a simple pane-switching swipe mode that Lenovo has included pales in comparison to OS X Lion. That’s more a failure of software than hardware, although the touch pad’s sensitivity, while generally solid, had a habit of sometimes being over-reactive.
The 14-inch 1,366×768-pixel LED display isn’t a shocker, which is a bit of a letdown. Viewing angles deteriorate rapidly as the screen is tilted, and I found it hard to find a straight-on angle where the screen was perfectly, clearly lit. Considering the higher price tag on the U400, I expected more.
The stereo speakers, meanwhile, have plenty of volume but not much refinement. They’re suitable for TV shows or movies, but aren’t standout features on this laptop.
A 1,280×720-pixel Webcam and the preinstalled Cyberlink YouCam software offer nothing that other lower-priced laptops aren’t also including standard.
|VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
|Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jack
|Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
|1 USB 3.0, 2 USB 2.0
|2 USB 2.0, 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, eSATA
|Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
|Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
While the IdeaPad U400 has a lot of bases covered on ports and features, it notably lacks an SD card slot. It’s got a better feature spread than the U300s ultrabook, to no surprise: an Ethernet port, a single USB 3.0 port, 2 USB 2.0, HDMI, and internal Bluetooth and Intel Wireless Display 2.0, which wirelessly streams video up to 1080p resolution if you have a Wi-Di-compatible adapter box hooked up to your TV, and is pretty hard to find on your laptop (search and you will hunt it down).
The IdeaPad U400 currently starts as low as $719 on Lenovo’s Web site, with a 2.2GHz Intel Core i3-2330M processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB, 7,200rpm hard drive, and AMD Radeon HD 6470M graphics. That processor can be bumped up to a Core i5 or dual-core Core i7; our review model has the middle-of-the-road 2.4GHz Core i5-2430M CPU, 6GB of RAM, and a 750GB 5,400rpm hard drive for $899, although Lenovo’s site has similar configurations as low as $800 (Lenovo has recently upgraded the U400’s processor to a 2.5GHz Core i5-2450). RAM can be expanded up to 8GB, and hard drive up to 750GB. There aren’t any SSD upgrade options. As for the slot-loading DVD drive, don’t even think about upgrading; there’s no optional Blu-ray.
Also, it’s definitely worth noting and reminding you, the consumer, that the Intel processors currently available for the IdeaPad U400 are second-generation Core i-series; we’re expecting newer Ivy Bridge third-generation Core i-series processors in many laptops in a matter of months, so a word of warning goes out to anyone considering this laptop that you’re probably better off waiting until April or so.
The 2.5GHz Core i5-2450M CPU in the middle-range IdeaPad U400 is a common one we’ve seen in several laptops lately, including the HP Pavilion dm4-3090se and Sony Vaio SA41FX. Our review unit’s slightly slower CPU matched up more equivalently with the Samsung QX411-W01, which had the same processor, but you should expect the newer, slightly faster version to pair equivalently with the HP dm4 and Vaio.