As 2011—the year that saw the genesis of the slim-yet-powerful ultrabook—ended, we found ourselves once again awed by today’s mobile-computing technology. From a design and performance perspective, it was a great year for notebooks. With the debut of so many exciting products, 2011 closed with the resounding bang of a laptop lid: Notebook innovation is alive and well.
While fast, superlight ultrabooks dominated much of the mobile-computing conversation during the final quarter of 2011, not all consumers need (or want) the absolute lightest notebooks available, especially considering that these wunderkind laptops aren’t cheap. If a super-portable machine means spending a bunch more money or giving up screen size, storage capacity, an optical drive, and graphics power, all of a sudden, a heavier machine might not seem quite so unattractive!
Case in point: Lenovo’s $899 IdeaPad U400, which, due to its screen size (14 inches) and weight (4.4 pounds), fits into our “thin-and light” laptop classification. (Computer Shopper classifies “thin-and-light” notebooks as models with screens ranging in size from 13 to 14.9 inches, unless they weigh less than 4 pounds; ultrabooks are rapidly redefining these rigid categories, though.) Similar in configuration to Dell’s $999 XPS 14z, which also impressed us, the IdeaPad U400 is a gorgeous machine with lots of great features. Its performance on our benchmark tests was quite similar to that of the XPS 14z, too, which is to say above average. However, a few glaring flaws, such as a serious touch-pad quirk and a lack of a performance boost from its discrete graphics accelerator, left us feeling that Lenovo has some more work to do on this machine.