If there's one thing you can tell about Lenovo, it's that the company doesn't like having idle hands around the place: Even as its netbook engineers were working on the company's new 12-inch model, the IdeaPad S12, Lenovo called for a makeover of its existing 10.1-inch netbook. So say goodbye to the IdeaPad S10 and hello to the S10-2, which enters the hottest segment of the netbook market with new features at a new price point: $349 with your choice of a black, white or gray polka-dot-patterned lid, or $359 if you'd rather be pretty in pink.
Compared to the S10, the S10-2 is seven ounces lighter -- 2.7 pounds counting a 6-cell battery that props the netbook at a comfortable typing angle -- and a few millimeters thinner (7.6 by 10.2 by 1.8 inches). The battery averaged a respectable four and a half hours in our work sessions, which included a good deal of Wi-Fi Web surfing and disk-intensive software installation and system recovery; simple word processing or other productivity tasks should last five hours easily.
The main negative in the move from old to new is that the S10-2 lacks the S10's ExpressCard slot, which welcomed mobile broadband and other expansion options; instead, it catches up to competitors by offering three rather than two USB 2.0 ports. We'd rather have the ExpressCard slot, both for technology's sake and as a greater differentiator in the overcrowded, overly similar netbook arena, but Lenovo says an S10-2 configured with built-in 3G wireless will ship soon.
Speaking of overly similar, the IdeaPad contains a 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270, a single-core processor with 512K of Level 2 cache; 1GB of DDR2 system memory; Intel's game-proof 945GSE integrated-graphics chipset; a 160GB, 5,400-rpm hard disk; a Secure Digital/MultiMediaCard/Memory Stick flash-card slot; VGA and Ethernet ports and headphone and microphone jacks as well as the three USB ports; and Windows XP Home Edition. All are thoroughly familiar netbook fare (as is the absence of an optical drive).
While a growing number of netbooks offer 92-percent and a few (like the IdeaPad S12) flaunt full-sized keyboards, the S10-2's follows earlier models such as the original Acer Aspire One at 89 percent of desktop size. The difference is small -- the A through apostrophe keys span 7.25 inches, versus 7.5 inches for a 92-percenter such as the Asus Eee PC 1000HE and 8 inches for a full-sized keyboard, but it does call for just a bit more concentration while typing.
What we found trickier than the Lenovo's keyboard was its touchpad, which is tiny (1.3 by 2.25 inches), with miniscule, stiff mouse buttons. The pad supports thumb-and-forefinger pinching and spreading gestures to zoom in and out of pages and images, but it doesn't give you much room to maneuver.
One complaint-free hardware component is the screen, a brightly LED-backlit 10.1-inch panel with netbook-standard 1,024 by 600 resolution. Sunny even with the backlight turned down two or three notches, it provides vivid colors and crisp details.
Up and Running
The IdeaPad's performance benchmarks are in line with other netbooks' -- perky enough for loading and running Web, e-mail, and light productivity apps, too slow for heavy-duty multitasking, image or video editing, or gaming. Its PCMark05 score was 1,484 (CPU 1,495; memory 2,374; hard disk 4,585; graphics 545) and CrystalMark 2004R3 rating 28,427.
Speaking of perky, the S10-2 normally switches on and loads Win XP in about 50 seconds. If you're in a hurry to get online and check your Gmail, however, you can press a button labeled QS instead of the power button. This boots the system into Lenovo Quick Start, a version of DeviceVM's handy Splashtop mini Linux environment that's ready for work in just 12 or 13 seconds. It provides a Firefox-based browser, instant messaging (chat) and Skype (voice) clients, access to online games, and a Flash-based music player and photo viewer that you can use to open MP3s and images on the hard disk.
Lenovo's conventional Windows offerings include trial versions of Microsoft Office Home & Student, Norton Internet Security 2009, and the Carbonite online backup and ID Vault online banking and shopping security services. The S10-2's implementation of VeriFace, the company's biometrics security software that uses the webcam above the screen to make your face your password for Windows logon and folder encryption, worked more smoothly than those of other Lenovo PCs we've tried lately (i.e., it usually recognized us within a few seconds and only once stared blankly at us until we gave up and typed a password).
Quick Start and VeriFace are pluses, as is the IdeaPad's relatively low weight; its slightly cramped keyboard and touchpad are minuses; and its $349 price leaves us straddling the fence, as it's obviously a better deal than many $399 netbooks, but not so hot when models like Dell's Mini 10v sell for $299. A price cut would be the quickest way to earn our enthusiastic thumbs-up.
Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2
On a 5-star scale: