Small Business Notebook Review: IdeaPad U310 Ultrabook

Tuesday Sep 4th 2012 by Paul Ferrill
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If you think that an Ultrabook equals laptop-lite, it's time to readjust your thinking. Lenovo's IdeaPad U310 Ultrabook aims to meet the mobile needs of a small business.

Ultrabooks provide a new standard in performance and portability by which all laptops will likely be measured in the future. The term is actually an Intel trademark, and it includes a number of technologies specifically targeted at increased battery life and rapid start up from both a powered-off and a sleep state. It also includes an equally important light-and-slim design that makes the devices easier to carry than heavier small business notebooks.

All of those features interest anyone who needs to use a laptop-like device while away from the office. The key to choosing the right device is in knowing the features you absolutely must have and which ones you can do without.

One of the features that you trade for the rapid startup, longer battery life and lighter weight is a built-in CD/DVD drive. Most small business workers can probably do without a DVD drive unless, for example, you like watching movies while traveling on an airplane.

Standard Small Business Notebook Equipment

Weighing in at 3 pounds and a svelte 0.7 inches thick, the Lenovo IdeaPad U310 Ultrabook definitely qualifies as an Ultrabook. Thin doesn't translate to limited functionality, however, as you'll find a zippy  Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB of memory pretty much standard fair.

Lenovo IdeaPad U310 Ultrabook

Figure 1: The IdeaPad U310 Ultrabook features a large trackpad with a slim-and-light design.

You can choose from three different CPU options including two Intel Core i3 models and the Intel Core i5 used in our test model. Windows 7 Home Premium edition operating system comes standard, so make sure it does everything you need to do or go with an upgrade.

The U310's quick startup comes from the Intel-designed RapidBoot technology that incorporates a combination of a solid state disk (SSD) and a traditional hard drive, plus some special software. The Lenovo U310 uses a 32 GB SSD device onboard to provide fast access to boot and other frequently-accessed files for quick retrieval. Lenovo's Enhanced Experience 3 combines the RapidBoot technology along with optimized system files and settings to further improve overall responsiveness.

The U310 is very quick to wake up from a sleep state as well. A 500 GB drive is the only size choice although you can opt out of the 32 GB SSD if you'd like. The U310 Ultrabook offers a unique feature in the form of a recovery button that launches a data backup and restore tool that's independent of the operating system. This makes it possible to restore the system to a recent backup or back to its original state should you so desire.

Here's a list of specs for the unit we reviewed:

  • Intel Core i5 processor
  • Windows(r) 7 Ultimate
  • 13.3-inch HD display, 16:9 widescreen
  • Intel(r) GMA 3000 HD graphics
  • 4GB DDR3 memory
  • 500GB HDD storage and 32GB SSD cache
  • Stereo speakers with Dolby Home Theatre V4 audio enhancement
  • Integrated Bluetooth(r)1, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi
  • USB2.0, USB3.0, HDMI connectors and a 2-in-1 card reader
  • Integrated 720p HD webcam

Touchpad

The U310's large touchpad measures roughly 4-inches wide by 2.75-inches tall and sits slightly to the left of center below the keyboard. It has a clickable surface from around the midpoint toward the outer edge of the case with a noticeable difference in the "click" the closer you get to the outer edge.

There's also a vertical line on the bottom of the pad indicating the left- and right-mouse click functionality. Because of the large surface area, the U310 incorporates a palm rejection technology to help eliminate inadvertent mouse movement from touching while typing. This eliminates the majority of problems but doesn't catch them all.

One of the touchpad's interesting features is that it uses multi-finger gestures. Dragging two fingers up or down on the touchpad scrolls the screen up or down in much the same way a wheel does on a typical mouse. A pinching motion zooms out with an appropriate application while the opposite motion zooms you back in.

The down side of this particular motion comes into play when you need to perform a common click-and-drag operation to cut and paste text. If you aren't careful, you'll find yourself zooming when you meant to be marking. The good news is you can totally disable the touchpad with a single key press, and then turn it right back on the same way.

Keyboard and Screen

If you plan on doing any amount of typing on your laptop, you must have a keyboard that doesn't slow you down. The U310 keyboard is a pleasure to use and provides a comfortable alternative to any full-sized layout. One key difference is the need for a two-handed approach to access any of the function keys. While this shouldn't be a big issue for most people, there are some applications that make full use of function keys in the normal course of operation.

You'll like the placement of the arrow and PgUp / PgDn keys if you use your laptop for reading or Web browsing. With the function keys requiring a second (Fn) key press, you have direct access to a range of utility features such as sound volume, screen brightness, and various toggle functions to enable or disable things like the touchpad, microphone, camera and more.

The U310's screen measures 13.3 inches diagonally and uses a standard 1,366 x 768 resolution setting. At that resolution you get a 16:9 aspect ratio or what you typically see watching an HD movie. The glossy screen reflects other images in high ambient light environments. Be aware that the display is hard to read in direct sunlight. If that's something you need, this isn’t the notebook for you.

Lenovo IdeaPad U310 Ultrabook

Figure 2: Lenovo's IdeaPad U310 Ultraboo.

ou'll find a front-facing 720p-capable HD camera at the top center of the screen, which makes for easy video conferencing, and the package includes Veriface software if you want to try the facial recognition tool.

Battery Life

While the U310 touts a 3-cell, 46 watt-hour battery, you probably won't get a full day of typical use on a single charge. The advertised specifications suggest "up to" seven hours of productive use, but this greatly depends on a multitude of settings and usage.

The default power profile is set to "Balanced," which will not give you the power savings of automatic screen brightness and dimming control. Expect to get more like 5 hours of normal use, which is definitely an improvement over most laptops.

External Ports

The Ultrabook's external port layout is very functional with two USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet and HDMI port on the left-hand side plus a USB 2.0, headphone and power jack along the right-hand side. There's an SD card slot on the front-right edge, along with two small LEDs indicating battery state and power. The battery LED turns amber when you have less than 20 percent of your capacity remaining, and it turns red when you get below 10 percent.

Windows 8 Ready

You may not have an upgrade to Windows 8 on your list of small business IT requirements, but if you do this unit is ready. If you can't wait for the official release in October, you'll need to accomplish one step before you can install Windows 8 on the U310.

When you first power on the U310, you should see a line of text along the bottom of the screen showing "Press <Fn+F2> to enter Setup, <Fn+F12> to enter MultiBoot Menu." Press Fn-F2 (two separate keys) to bring up the BIOS menu and then on the Configuration tab, change the SATA controller type from RAID to Compatible. This will allow the Windows 8 install disk to recognize the hard disk and proceed to completion. You will also need to use the USB install media method or an external DVD drive.

Wrap Up

As a sleek and capable Ultrabook, the IdeaPad U310 should meet most small business needs. Battery life should last most of a working business day if you're not using it continuously. The keyboard's nice placement of keys works well for both reading and writing. With a retail price as reviewed of $799, you'll be hard pressed to find similarly configured Ultrabooks.

Paul Ferrill has a BS and MS in electrical engineering and has been writing about computers for more than 25 years. Publications he's written for include PC Magazine, PC Computing, InfoWorld, Computer World, Network World, Network Computing and Information Week.

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