Lenovo IdeaPad U330

A sweet laptop with a sour price.

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Lenovo IdeaPad U330
  • Lenovo IdeaPad U330
  • Lenovo IdeaPad U330
  • Lenovo IdeaPad U330

Pros

  • Good performance, stylish, excellent keyboard, very good screen, good variety of ports

Cons

  • Lacks Gigabit Ethernet, VeriFace can be tricked, expensive

Bottom Line

The Lenovo IdeaPad U330 is a device with lots going for it. Apart from the excellent keyboard, strong hardware and attractive design, the unit also has a great screen and a large variety of ports. Unfortunately, this quality is reflected in its high price tag.

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If you want a 13.3in notebook that is powerful, portable and stylish, then the Lenovo IdeaPad U330 is all those things and more — but it has a hefty price tag.

If the Lenovo ThinkPad X301 looked like a shrunken version of the traditional ThinkPad, then the U330 could be described as a miniature IdeaPad Y510-300. From the laptop’s L-shaped hinge to its piano black lid, Lenovo has used a tried and tested design. Although it doesn’t look as "business-y" as the X301, its non-flashy appearance will sit as comfortably in the boardroom as it will in the bedroom.

While we also praised the U330’s cousin (the IdeaPad U110 (11306)) for its good looks, we were less enthusiastic about the notebook's low-voltage CPU, which provided a WorldBench 6 result of 63.

This time Lenovo has decided to go with something more potent: a 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P8600 processor, supported by 2GB of DDR3 RAM and a 320GB hard drive that spins at 5400rpm. All of these components helped the U330 reach a WorldBench 6 score of 85, which indicates an ability to run multiple office programs simultaneously as well as hardware-intensive programs like Adobe Photoshop and Windows Media Encoder with relative ease.

The CPU's power is shown through our iTunes testing, where we convert 53min of WAV files into 192Kbps MP3s, as well as our Blender rendering tests. The Lenovo managed times of 1min 16sec and 1min 16sec, respectively, which is quick and on target in both cases.

Independent graphics are provided by the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3400, which achieved a 3DMark06 score of 2081. This means the notebook can play older games like F.E.A.R. on low to medium settings. You are likely to have problems if you try to play more demanding games.

DVDs look great thanks to the excellent 13.3in screen. It has a native resolution of 1280x800 and it displays images and movies clearly and with good colour contrast.

The U330's components drain the batteries at a faster rate than the U110's, yet the poor battery life we registered with the latter laptop was not on show here. Our DVD rundown test depleted the batteries in 1hr 26min, which is about average for a unit of this size.

One thing about this product that is definitely not average is its usability. The full-sized keyboard almost makes typing enjoyable thanks to its great key bounceback, although the placement of the Fn key where the Ctrl key normally sits may annoy people. The size of the IdeaPad is also amenable to use on laps and it never gets too hot to handle. At 1.9kg without the power supply and 2.4kg with it included, the U330 is also easy to take on the road.

One feature that has been directly targeted at users on the move is the VeriFace security feature. It uses a person’s face instead of a password or fingerprint in order to make it possible to log on by looking into the camera.

Unfortunately, VeriFace is flawed and easy to circumvent when using certain security settings. We were able to use printed images of registered users to fool the system into allowing a login. We also managed to log on by simply displaying an image of the user on a computer screen and facing the laptop towards it. These flaws mean that something that should be a security asset can become a security liability. On higher levels we didn't manage to fool it, but also took longer to recognise faces thus reducing the feature's usefulness.

The IdeaPad has a good variety of expansion ports, including two USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, a 6-in-1 card reader (MMC, MS, MSPro, SD, SDPro, xD), a D-sub port and an HDMI output to allow users to connect the Lenovo to newer display devices.

Network connectivity is not as up to date, with 10/100 Ethernet provided instead of Gigabit Ethernet. While the U330 also allows users to connect to wireless networks with 802.11n capabilities, the absence of Gigabit Ethernet on a 13.3in system that costs as much as this one is unacceptable.

Overall, this is a great laptop for users who want something to take with them on the road. Speedy hardware, great usability and a good range of expansion options combine to form a strong package, but your enthusiasm may be tempered by a lack of Gigabit Ethernet and a heavy asking price.

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