Lenovo’s IdeaPad U260: Unexpected style

Despite a pedigree of ominous-looking, utilitarian forerunners and a name that conjures up memories of a bad Matthew McConaughey WWII submarine movie, Lenovo‘s IdeaPad U260 takes the company’s laptops somewhere they’ve never been before–the queue for this year’s style and design awards.

The U260 is not only stylish for Lenovo, it gives Apple and Sony something to think about. When closed, with its dark copper shell (Lenovo calls it “mocha brown”) protruding ever so slightly beyond the black main-body, turning this only 3/4-inch thick laptop end-on will remind you of nothing so much as an extravagantly bound book or pad-holder. It’s even packed classily; the unit arrived in a black-monolithic inner container of the absolute highest quality. Whether Lenovo is being deliberately ironic is anyone’s guess.

Open up the IdeaPad U260 and you encounter an all-black, minimally-populated keyboard deck. Said populous consists of the smallish power button, an ambient light sensor that adjusts display brightness automatically, a teeny OneKey system recovery button (only accessible with a pointy object), the best Chiclet-style keyboard you’ll ever type on, and an equally elegant touchpad with wonderfully smoothly operating buttons. Notice that I didn’t mention an Eraser head, or nubbin pointing device–there isn’t one and omitting it was probably as difficult for the company as it is for most people to quit smoking.

While its style is striking, our $1,199 tests of the U260’s components showed mixed results. Great are the Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) Core i5 470UM CPU, 4GB of DDR3 system memory, and 12.5-inch, 1388 by 766 color display. However, the 320GB hard drive spins at only 5400 RPM which undoubtedly contributed greatly to the U260’s pedestrian 75 WorldBench score. If Lenovo offers an update later this spring when Intel ships its dual-core and ultra-low voltage Sandy Bridge CPUs, performance should get a really nice boost.

Gaming frame rates are in the teens (or worse) thanks to Intel’s integrated graphics, so don’t even think about this unit if you like shoot’em-ups. On the other hand, every video thrown at the system played smoothly, even at 1080p, so movie-viewing is more than doable. Sound is only so-so, and rather quiet through the speaker.

The U260’s array of ports consists of 2 USB 2.0, VGA and HDMI video outputs, an AC jack, a gigabit Ethernet port, and a single combination microphone/headphone jack. The latter means you’ll need to use the integrated Bluetooth if you want to use a headset with the U260, although you can use the 640 by 480 Webcam’s mic in lieu. There’s no internal optical drive either. The wireless is 802.11n.

You can get the U260 with a lesser Core i3-380UM processor for $1,099 and in “Clementine orange” for $1,249. All models were $200 off at the time of this writing–a bargain. While the U260 is thin, it’s not particularly light for an ultraportable at 3 pounds–without AC adapter or external optical drive. But it also has an unusually solid feel for the breed.

Software-wise, Lenovo includes 64-bit Windows 7 Home Premium and throws a couple of nice utilities at you, but no productivity software. The VeriFace facial recognition software is quite cool, as is the shock sensor and Cyberlink Webcam utility.

The U260 combines Lenovo’s traditional strengths with a newfound sense of style. It’s a median performer for the most part, but that’s more than compensated for by best-of-breed ergonomics. My only wish is that there was an option for a faster hard drive or SSD, which would do much to improve performance. Otherwise, it just feels right–a subjective comment that I recommend you put to the test before buying something else.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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