Lenovo IdeaPad U400

The Lenovo IdeaPad U400 laptop offers a great combination of style, performance, and superior input ergonomics. It’s part of Lenovo’s U series (U as in ultraportable), but at 0.9-inches thick and close to 5 pounds with the AC adapter, the U400 is more aptly defined as an all-purpose laptop; a very good one, but all-purpose nonetheless. The extra thickness (the U300s Ultrabook is only 0.6 inches thick) is largely to accommodate the U400’s slot-fed DVD burner. 

The U400 is available with a Core i7-2620M CPU and up to 8GB of memory, but our test unit, which turned in a capable WorldBench score of 112, was fitted with a Core i5-2430M processor, “only” 6GB of memory, and a 5400-rpm, 750GB hard drive. It also featured switchable graphics, with both an integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 chip as well as an AMD Radeon HD 6470M discrete GPU. The latter allowed the laptop to attain playable frame rates at both 800 by 600 resolution (45 to 65 frames per second) and 1024 by 768 resolution (35 to 45 fps) at low detail. The U400 ran for 4 hours and 45 minutes in our run-down tests, which is about average for an i5-based unit. All this for a perfectly reasonable price of about $840.

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Subjectively, the U400 feels very quick (once Windows 7 Home Premium has finished its initialization housekeeping), and video playback is smooth at all resolutions. That includes 1080p material, which is actually beyond the U400’s 14-inch, 1366 by 768 display’s native capability. Said display has a rich color palette and a wide viewing angle, though there’s one point at about 45 degrees off center where the glossy covering is more prone to glare in bright conditions. Audio is surprisingly crisp and loud through the speakers.

Lenovo has hit the nail on the head in terms of looks, with the same ultraclean lines as the U260 and the U300s. Though the keys have a short amount of travel, the keyboard still has a crisp feel, and the large one-piece glass touchpad (you press on the front to click) has a great feel as well. If I have a complaint, it’s that the U400 needs some forward rake to facilitate proper hand position when the unit is on a flat desk (the U-series is one line where Lenovo has usually opted for style over comfort). Buy some larger rubber feet for the back of the unit. 

For some reason, the U400 lacks a Blu-ray option. Slim Blu-ray drives are available, and BD movies look far better than DVD movies, so why does Lenovo limit your optical choice to a DVD-recordable? Perhaps slot-loading Blu-ray drives are just too big to fit in the machine’s internals, but as the system is one inch thick, that doesn’t seem like a likely excuse. It’s an odd choice, and might be a deal-killer for some people.

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As for software, you’ll see quite a few icons on the desktop when you first boot up the U400, which runs counter to its minimalist styling. However, unlike with most laptops purchased at big-box stores, they largely point to something useful, such as the Absolute Data Protect tool, a user’s guide, the YouCam webcam software, Cyberlink’s Power2Go DVD software, the Intel WiDi application, and PowerDVD. And kudos to Lenovo for opting for Microsoft’s free Security Essentials antimalware software instead of a pricy third-party option.

The U400 has no VGA port, but you can output video via either HDMI or WiDi. It has three USB ports, one of which is USB 3.0. You also get a headphone jack, and the integrated microphone next to the 1.3-megapixel webcam is for audio input. The ethernet port is gigabit, the wireless is 802.11 b/g/n, and Bluetooth is on board. 
If you’re not a thin-is-in type, then the U400 will provide you with much the same experience as its U-series brethren in terms of aesthetics, typing, and pointing. It’s fast enough for most purposes, and you get a larger 14-inch screen. It’s a tad pricey for an all-purpose, but you always pay extra for style, and this unit has it in spades.

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