We first crossed paths with the Lenovo IdeaPad U410 around this time last year, finding it to be a very tidy little package, even if it strained the Ultrabook name a little. Its mid-range price belied some rather useful specs, though, such as a dedicated graphics card and an uncommonly large hard drive.
This year's Lenovo IdeaPad U410 Touch is basically the same, but better, for the same price - it's like the refreshes Apple does with its MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs, but this is actually more wide-reaching. The CPU is slightly faster, the dedicated Nvidia graphics are significantly more capable, the hard drive size is boosted from 750GB to 1TB (in an Ultrabook) and the RAM is up to 8GB. Oh, and the 14-inch screen is now 10-point multi-touch.
So while the name change from the original Lenovo U410 to the Lenovo U410 Touch here might draw attention to the touchscreen, it's not the special part: it's everything else in it that's noticeable.
And this really carries through to the price: with a full recommended retail price of £749.99 / US$1,049 (around AU$1,225), you can already find the Lenovo IdeaPad U410 Touch discounted to around £600 / US$840 online, making the lower-specced and higher-priced Samsung Series 5 Ultra Touch look less appealing in comparison.
That said, Lenovo has had to make compromises to get this balance of specs and price: this may still just about qualify as an Ultrabook, but it's thicker and heavier than most of its thin-and-light rivals. At 2kg (4.4lbs), it's a full third heavier than the Samsung mentioned earlier, and at 22.9mm (0.9 inches) thick, it's perhaps more 'quite-portable' than 'ultra-portable'.
In terms of looks, it's pretty much identical to its predecessor, and similar to its little brother, the Lenovo U310, though less funky, perhaps. Our review unit had a black lid and bottom casing, with a grey keyboard housing. The build is about as sturdy as they come, for the most part.
It's all plastic, though comparisons to Apple's MacBook range are inevitable when you're looking at it head on - the grey keyboard surround has a kind of faux-aluminium texture to it, and it has black keys and an all-black screen. Though the design feels 'borrowed', it's been borrowed well - the Lenovo IdeaPad U410 Touch is smart, and wouldn't look out of place in an office or at home.
In the fairly samey world of Ultrabooks, the Lenovo U410 Touch stands as a giant among men. Well, maybe not a giant, but certainly some sort of professional basketball player. In a mid-range price bracket dominated by integrated graphics and medium-sized hard drives, the Lenovo IdeaPad U410 Touch's specs are certainly worth raising an eyebrow or two over.
The processor isn't anything particularly surprising. It's an Intel Core i5-3337U, which is an improvement over the 3317U in the original Lenovo U410. As you might guess, the new chip is a little bit better than the old chip, but it isn't massively different.
Sadly, the new Core i5 processor isn't one of Intel's new Haswell generation chips; it's Ivy Bridge, the previous generation. Haswell offers drastically improved battery life over Ivy Bridge, but the U410 Touch has to make do without that.
What you do get is a 1.8GHz clock speed, rising to a maximum 2.7GHz using Intel's Turbo Boost technology. It's a dual-core chip, which is no surprise, but it does feature Hyper-Threading, meaning that it can appear as four virtual cores (though this doesn't equal quad-core performance).
As a newer chip, it's not something we've seen in loads of laptops just yet, though it did make it into the Dell XPS 18 portable all-in-one.
Still, when you've got the similarly-priced Samsung Series 9 NP900X3D coming in with a much older and slower Intel processor, the Lenovo U410 Touch seems fairly well-stocked in the CPU department. This isn't a processor for high-intensity work, but it's more then enough for most people.
The processor is backed up with 8GB of RAM, which is another small increase over the 6GB its predecessor came with. This again gives you plenty of headroom for performance in Windows 8.
The tastiest part is surely the graphics card, though. The Nvidia GeForce GL710M packs 2GB of its own memory, and is a significant step up over the GL610 graphics card in last year's model. Though Intel's integrated graphics chips aren't too bad these days, there's no substitute for a real pixel-pusher, and that's what you've got here.
It's not one of Nvidia's high-end chips, it's true, but it supports DirectX 11, PhysX and CUDA, so is equipped for some pretty serious gaming and graphics app use.
The hard drive is similarly impressive, offering a whopping 1TB of storage. It's basically unheard of to get that much room in a laptop this size, and it's actually complemented by a 24GB SSD, which enables Windows to load faster from boot or wake.
Not being entirely SSD-based means that it won't be quite as nippy around your files as Ultrabooks that do have solely SSD storage, but then, you tend to only get 128GB in those machines - not 1TB.
The screen is a 1366 x 768, 14-inch affair. This is bog-standard as these things go, really - there are similar-sized laptops with lovely 1920 x 1080 screens, but they cost a lot more.
That said, there are laptops in this price range with 1440 x 900 screens (such as the Samsung Series 9), but considering the better specs of the Lenovo U410 Touch compared to that machine, it seems like a fair trade-off for the price.
As far as ports go, you've got a pretty healthy collection, consisting of two USB 2.0 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI video-out, a headphone socket, Ethernet and an SD/MMC card reader. As with most Ultrabooks, there's no optical drive, so you'll need to buy an external one if you want to load DVDs and CDs.
We had high hopes for the performance of the Lenovo U410 Touch. A fairly new Intel processor, dedicated 2GB Nvidia graphics, SSD storage for Windows and 8GB of RAM all together sounds like a recipe for a surprisingly potent machine.
In terms of processor performance, the Lenovo IdeaPad U410 Touch is actually a little on the disappointing side, though. Its score in Cinebench is normal for a mid-range laptop, but it should be higher. The Dell XPS 18 runs the exact same chip and scored 2.31, compared to just 1.95 here. In fact, the HP Spectre XT TouchSmart scored 2.25, and that actually runs the older version of the processor in the Lenovo U410.
So performance in the CPU was a little lower than we'd hoped, but that doesn't mean the end of the world. In practice, it doesn't feel like you're struggling for muscle in day-to-day tasks. It's only in the more intensive or professional tasks that this discrepancy might be an issue, but because this machine does tend towards being a more capable Ultrabook, that's something to bear in mind.
Of course, with a standard Ultrabook processor but a meaty dedicated Nvidia 2GB graphics card, it's games or other graphically-intense applications that will see the biggest improvement.
The 3D Mark results are strong, bringing it inline with the Samsung Series 7 Chronos, which costs £300 more. In more practical tests, we were able to get 23 frames per second out of BioShock Infinite with everything maxed out - that even beats the gaming-centric Gigabyte U2442F Ultrabook. When we dropped BioShock's settings down to 'High' we hit 52 frames per second, so you're able to get some very smooth, very good-looking gaming out of this laptop.
It even does fairly well for speed coming on from sleep or wake - generally, it was just about ready to go by the time we'd finished opening the lid from closed.
With graphics performance to match the considerably more expensive Samsung Series 7 Chronos and Gigabyte U2442F, you'd expect there to be compromises somewhere, and it's true that not every part of it lives up to very high standards.
One area we did notice struggling a little was network performance. Large downloads could slightly affect performance (but nothing too major), but more significant was when we tried playing HD videos from a network drive - there were major drop-out issues, with films frequently stalling, then dropping the video and audio out of sync when resuming. For reference, we've played the exact same videos on numerous other machines without issue. Playing an SD film didn't have the same issues, though.
When we did a speedtest.net check on the Lenovo IdeaPad U410 Touch and another computer right next to it (both over Wi-Fi), the Lenovo IdeaPad U410 Touch reported speeds noticeably slower than the other computer - 9Mbps slower, in fact, peaking at around 20Mbps instead of 29Mbps.
Now, obviously, 20Mbps instead of 29Mbps isn't exactly a massive problem, and we have to say that we didn't really notice this as an issue until we started streaming the HD video, but later we also had an odd drop-off in download speeds in Steam (it having been fine previously). It's definitely something to be aware of, especially in light of its gaming credentials. It didn't give us any obvious issues with online games, during our time with it, though.
The screen is pretty decent, with movies appearing crisp and clear. It is highly reflective, though, and when you get a black screen in a movie or game, you can see how uneven the backlighting is. That also speaks to how it handles blacks: not brilliantly, but still perfectly acceptable. In terms of colours, they seem nice and natural, if a tad on the dull side.
The display does wash out quickly if your viewing angle is too high, and darkens if it's too low. Side-to-side viewing angles aren't too bad, but they're still not impressive. The resolution is also fine for the price - 1440 x 900 would be nice, but the lower resolution means you get even more out of the graphics card.
In terms of usability, it's not bad at all. The touchscreen is nicely responsive, as is the trackpad. The latter is a generous size, too, meaning that Windows 8's gestures were never activated accidentally during our time with it, but were still easy to invoke.
The keyboard is a tad on the small size, but is comfortable to use. It's a shame that there isn't much travel in the keys, but there's enough resistance that you still get plenty of feedback when you type.
Our only real issue with it is that the case under it bows when pressure is applied. When you're typing very lightly, it's not noticeable, but when you're working fervently at something long (say, a lengthy laptop review), it just feels off. It made little difference to our typing accuracy, so it's far from a deal-breaker, but it's not exactly pleasant or ideal in a £749.99 / US$1,049 (around AU$1,225) machine.
Battery life is another area where the Lenovo IdeaPad U410 Touch disappoints somewhat. 200 minutes is what we're after from Ultrabooks in our intense battery tests, so 153 minutes is on the short side.
It's not catastrophic, but clearly the additional power of this machine hasn't been balanced with additional battery space. Perhaps a Haswell chip would have fared better, but you'll have to wait another year for that, we guess.
The Lenovo U410 Touch almost seems a bit too good to be true on paper. Decent processor, stonking graphics, acres of RAM, huge storage and an Ultrabook frame... how could such a thing only cost £750 / US$1,050 (around AU$1,225)?
Inevitably, there are compromises with the Lenovo IdeaPad U410 Touch, but not so many that it falls too far short of our lofty expectations to be worthwhile. Hopefully future versions can offer better battery life and a few other tweaks, to make make it properly irresistible.
The killer thing here is naturally the graphics - well, the spec sheet in general, but the graphics are the most impressive part. This really is a gaming Ultrabook. Ok, it's not a high-end gamers' paradise, but when you consider that something more potent, such as the Razer Blade, will set you back double the cost, the Lenovo IdeaPad U410 Touch makes itself seem like a truly impressive machine indeed.
It's also smart, wakes quickly and is comfortable to use - Lenovo didn't forget to make a laptop as well as a gaming hub.
While we understand the compromises that Lenovo had to make for cost here, that doesn't mean we like them. In fact, we dislike them. It says so above. So yes, it's a shame that the screen couldn't have been higher quality, and that the keyboard bows in the middle. And while this is an Ultrabook, it's only just - this isn't a super-portable laptop, no matter how many of Intel's standards it meets. The battery life is also disappointing.
That the CPU underperformed was a shame, though, because it means the whole thing should perform even better than it does, and the network issues were also a little concerning. Most of the time, they weren't a major issue, but they're problems that other laptops simply don't exhibit.
Lenovo has produced a really solid portable gaming machine, but it does feel like its focus on a strong GPU, RAM and hard drive have taken a toll elsewhere. The overall balance is definitely still in its favour, though.
The final result may be more a light home machine than a road warrior's ideal Ultrabook, but this much power in this small a frame at this price means it's hard to contend with - warts and all.