Lenovo IdeaPad S12 Review

July 27, 2009

The Lenovo IdeaPad S12 features a 12-inch screen and is one of the largest netbooks on the market. This 3.42-lb machine is designed to let consumers easily surf the Internet and perform other light tasks on-the-go without having to spend a lot of money. The S12 comes pre-loaded with Windows XP, has a full-size keyboard, and includes a six-cell battery for five hours of run time – read on to see how it fared in our testing.

* Intel Atom N270 processor (1.60GHz)
* Windows XP Home Edition
* Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics
* 12.1-inch widescreen display (1280x800) with LED backlighting
* 160GB 5400RPM hard drive (Hitachi HTS543216L9A)
* 6-cell Li-ion battery (11.1V, 52Wh)
* Broadcom 802.11b/g wireless
* One-year limited warranty
* White color (also available in black)
* Dimensions: 11.5 x 8.5 x 0.9 – 1.4 inches (W x D x H)
* Weight: Starting at 3.42 lb w/ 6-cell battery

As configured, our S12 is currently priced at $499. The base model starts at $449 with a VIA Nano 1.3GHz processor.

Build and Design
Since all netbooks have nearly identical specifications, manufacturers have to look at the design and build quality to differentiate themselves. Lenovo's IdeaPad S12 is a docile and friendly-looking machine with a not a square edge in sight. The company's second generation of netbooks feature rounded edges and a slimmer chassis. The S12 looks well built; all of the parts fit together neatly.

The back of the lid has a "fashion" design with hundreds of little circles dotting the lid. The S12 would be at home in a Target store because I think all of those little circles resemble the company's bullseye logo. In addition, the majority of people I showed it to thought it was a girl's machine, probably because it is white and has that circle design on the lid. Your mileage may vary – I suggest guys go with the black version.

The S12 is constructed of ABS plastic through and through. It looks and feels sturdy and is not fragile at all. The only part of the notebook that could be more solid is the battery, which wobbles ever so slightly. There is little flex anywhere on the machine, with the exception to this being the lid; ripples show on the screen when only mild pressure is put on the back of the screen. This should be a non-issue as long as the machine is not thrown around. The hinges that hold the display on are very solid as well. A point of interest about the lid is that it only tilts back about 20 degrees past vertical; given how light this machine is, it will likely be used in a variety of situations and therefore should probably Tilt back another 10-20 degrees or so.

The entire base of the notebook has a matte finish, while the lid is glossy plastic front and back. The glossy plastic is surprisingly durable; I did not use a sleeve to protect the S12 in my bag during the week I had it and there were no scratches at the end of the review period.

The glossy screen attracts dust and fingerprints easily, so keep a microfiber cloth handy. As far as cleanliness goes, the white plastic stayed clean during the time I had it; only time will tell how it fares in the long term. Hopefully the plastic is not too absorbent and will not pick up stains and other discolorations. The black S12 is be better at hiding everyday wear and tear.

Compared to the Dell Inspiron Mini 12, a direct competitor to the Lenovo S12, the S12 is slightly smaller (albeit about a tenth of an inch thicker). The S12 feels deceptively heavy in the hands depending on how you pick it up (by the back, front, and so on). The stick-out 6-cell battery is the primary reason the S12 feels weighty.

Overall, the S12 has excellent fit and finish with an accommodating design.

IdeaPad S12 Screen and Speakers

Screen and Speakers
The S12 has a 12-inch widescreen display (16:10 aspect ratio) with a 1280x800 resolution and LED backlighting. Contrast and brightness are excellent; the LEDs lighting the display (instead of the traditional CCFL lighting used in most notebooks) make for a very even brightness distribution, with only a hint of bleed at the bottom. There are ten levels of brightness; I found level 7 or 8/10 to be the sweet spot, but dimming the screen to 4 or 5/10 are perfectly usable and will extend battery life. The top brightness level is almost too bright. Viewing angles are average at best – from above the picture washes out quickly, and from below it darkens. Side-to-side angles are better but there is noticeable color shift.

Unfortunately the glossy screen coating means a lot of reflections, so using this machine outside or areas with a lot of lighting sources could get annoying.

The 1280x800 resolution of the display is excellent for a netbook; most have 1024x600 or less. The display also has a 16:10 aspect ratio, which is unusual since most manufacturers are moving to 16:9 displays. The higher resolution makes the S12 feel more like a full computer than other netbooks with lower resolutions.

There are two speakers located beneath the palm rests on the S12. These are essentially stereotypical notebook speakers – they get loud enough to hear sounds and are reasonably clear but for situations where audio matters, like movies and music, do make use of the headphone jack.

Speaking of the headphone jack, it is unfortunate that some background hiss is present. It is easily drowned out with audio and most people probably will not even notice it, but to a headphone audiophile like myself, it is disappointing.

Keyboard and Touchpad
The IdeaPad S12's keyboard is, in a word, superb; it is full-size and requires no adjusting from a standard notebook keyboard. There is no flex and key travel is just right. The keyboard feels of high quality and allows for precision typing; each key is anchored securely and does not wobble at all. It has excellent tactile feedback and enough resistance that you can rest your hands on the keyboard in typing position without pressing keys accidentally. Lenovo designers made good use of the keyboard real estate – I am pleased to see the PrintScreen key is its own key and not mapped as a secondary function (as in, needing to press the [Fn] key in conjunction with the corresponding key to use it), and that the PgUp and PgDn keys are near the arrow keys. The Home and End keys are secondary function keys, but looking at the space the designers had to deal with, it was clearly not an option to make them separate as well.

All in all, this is one of the best netbook/notebook keyboards I have used in a long time.

The touchpad has its ups and downs. While tracking is easy and it is reasonably accurate, it is a bit too small – I found myself running out of room often. If it measured a half-centimeter more in diameter, it would be perfect. The touchpad buttons provide good feedback and make an audible but not annoying click when depressed. The buttons are easy to find by feel and other than wishing they were slightly larger, I have no complaints about them.

Ports and Features
The IdeaPad S12 has a limited selection of ports – let's take a picture tour. All descriptions are left to right.

Left Side: Power jack, exhaust vent, wireless on/off switch, two USB, media card reader (MMC/MS/MS Pro/SD)

Right Side: ExpressCard/34 slot, headphone and microphone jacks, USB, VGA out, 10/100 Ethernet, Kensington Lock slot

Front: Stereo speakers

Back: Battery

The S12 has the essentials; given what a netbook is designed to do, the port selection is difficult to complain about.

via notebookreview