Netbooks debuted less than a decade ago with a reputation for being underwhelming. Even though these machines were inexpensive, they were also incapable of many computing tasks other than basic word processing, web surfing and occasional YouTube watching. Today, the situation is different.
Although modern netbooks still carry the same inexpensive price tags, the Intel Atom processor inside allow these systems to be more powerful, yet come packaged in sleeker, more attractive designs. Priced to take on Chromebooks, Lenovo's IdeaPad 100S sheds all the bells and whistles found on fancier, premium-priced Ultrabooks, but still delivers a full Windows experience in a travel-friendly package.
At $200 (£130, AU$277), the IdeaPad 100S faces some stiff competition. With a non-convertible, non-touch display, the IdeaPad 100S is more closely matched against Acer's Aspire One Cloudbook 11 ($152, £98, AU$210). However, unlike netbooks of yore, Atom-equipped models today come in a variety of form factors, designs and price. Toshiba's Satellite Click 10 ($359, £232, AU$498) is more expensive, but adds a touchscreen to the Windows 10 experience.
The Acer Aspire Switch 10 E ($296, £191, AU$410) offer a detachable screen, which allows users to shed the weight of the keyboard and use the devices as a tablet, while the HP Stream x360 ($197, £127, AU$273) and Asus Transformer Book Flip ($279, £180, AU$387) come with a 360-degree hinge for a convertible design.
Clad in a smooth, matte red plastic, the IdeaPad 100S is a playful, fun laptop, but one with which you can get some work done. Lenovo also offers the notebook in choices of white, blue or silver hues, but our review unit comes with a red lid and matching red undercarriage.
I appreciated Lenovo's choice of matte finishing on the IdeaPad 100S. The red color is vibrant, but not overly bright. And unlike a glossy finish, fingerprints don't show up quite as easily. Coupled with a solid build quality, the ability of the cover to look clean after a full day of use makes the IdeaPad 100S feel more premium than it really is.
With an 11.6-inch screen, the IdeaPad 100S is just as portable as Apple's premium 11-inch MacBook Air ($899, £584, AU$1,256). Both laptops share similar footprints, but the MacBook Air ships with a more powerful processor. The IdeaPad 100S measures 11.5 x 7.95 x 0.69 inches (292 x 202 x 17.5mm), and the difference is that the aluminum-clad MacBook Air has a more dramatic tapering.
Utilizing a traditional notebook form factor, the dimensions of the IdeaPad 100S is similar to the Acer One Cloudbook, which measures 11.5 x 7.95 x 0.70 inches (292 x 201 x 17.78mm). Despite sharing a similar screen size, the HP Stream x360 has a larger footprint, likely attributed to its convertible hinge. The Stream measures 13.11 x 9.01 x 0.76 in (333.20 x 229.00 x 19.50 mm) and weighs 3.16 lbs (1.43 kg).
At 2.2 pounds (0.99kg), the IdeaPad weighs slightly less than the 2.54-pound (1.15kg) Acer One Cloudbook. Both these notebooks are larger than some convertibles with smaller 10-inch displays. For example, the Aspire Switch 10 E measures 10.31 x 7.09 x 1.01 inches (261.87 x 180.09 x 25.65mm) and weighs 2.82 pounds (1.28kg) with the keyboard, but comes with a smaller 10.1-inch screen.
The Intel Atom-based Celeron-powered Transformer Book comes with the same 11.6-inch screen as the IdeaPad 100S, but adds a touchscreen and a 360-degree swiveling screen in an 11.69 x 7.92 x 0.72-in (297.00 x 201.30 x 18.45 mm) form factor. The convertible design surprisingly doesn't add much weight, and the Transformer Book weighs just a little more than the IdeaPad, coming in at 2.58 pounds (1.17 kg).
Opening up the lid reveals the 11.6-inch screen. Our review unit comes with a matte display. The 1,366 x 768-pixel screen resolution is the same as Apple's MacBook Air, and neither notebooks come with touch support.
This resolution is fairly standard for the netbook category, which is shared by the Transformer Book, Acer Aspire One Cloudbook and HP Stream x360. The Aspire Switch 10 E and comes with a 1,200 x 800 resolution screen on a 10.1-inch display, while the Toshiba Click 10 has a higher resolution 1,920 X 1,200-pixel screen.
Text and graphics appear slightly pixelated on the IdeaPad 100S's screen. Using the default display settings, I didn't find text or images to be too small.
Lenovo opted to use a TN, or Twisted Nematic, panel rather than IPS. Response time on screen for watching video is good, but you likely won't want to do any serious gaming on this machine given the limitations of the Atom-class processor and integrated graphics. The downside of the TN panel, compared to more expensive IPS displays, is that viewing angles are limited.
The limited viewing angles are rather unfortunate because they hinder the usefulness of the 180-degree lay-flat hinge design. If the screen came with wider viewing angles, Lenovo could have marketed the IdeaPad 100S as an inexpensive mobile collaboration devices for students and business users.
Even though the IdeaPad 100S may appeal to students or mobile professionals looking for an inexpensive second device for travel, the screen's brightness rating may limit the device for indoor use. Rated at around 200 nits, the screen brightness is lower than the 300 nits found on some premium laptops.
I didn't find any problems with the screen brightness when using the IdeaPad 100S indoors under ambient lighting, and the matte screen does a good job of reducing glare and reflections. However, outdoors under direct sunlight, the screen quickly washed out. I had better luck with screen readability outside under shade with the screen brightness cranked up.
Like the construction of the netbook, the keyboard on the IdeaPad 100S is solid. As is typical with Lenovo keyboard designs, the keys have a "U" or smile-shape design. Key size is slightly smaller than a full-sized keyboard on a larger ThinkPad system, and unlike the key caps on a ThinkPad keyboard, the keys on the IdeaPad are flat with a slight texture.
I was surprised to find that for an inexpensive laptop, the keys have a decent amount of travel when pressed. Key travel doesn't go in as deep as a full-sized laptop keyboard, but the keyboard still offered a pleasant and accurate typing experience for touch typists, which is important if you use this netbook in dimly lit environments (the IdeaPad 100S does not come with any keyboard backlighting).
A small touchpad with two clickable buttons are found just below the keyboard. The touchpad is accurate, but gestures aren't supported. You can't use two fingers to scroll nor can you call up Cortana using a three-finger tap on the touchpad.
Performance and specifications
Even though the quad-core Intel Atom processor on the IdeaPad 100S is far more capable of handling most of your computing tasks, you likely want to stick with basic apps, the browser and the cloud. To keep the price of the IdeaPad 100S low, Lenovo had to skimp on storage, and the laptop only comes with 32GB of storage.
Here's how the IdeaPad 100S that was sent to techradar was configured:
CPU: 1.33 GHz quad-core Intel Atom Z3735F Graphics: Intel HD Graphics (Bay Trail) RAM: 2GB Storage: 32GB eMMC Screen: 11.6-inch, 1,366 x 768 matte TN LED display Ports: 2 x USB 2.0, HDMI-out, micro SD, audio combo jack Connectivity: 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0 (Low Energy) Cameras: 0.3MP webcam with dual-microphone Weight: 2.2 pounds Size: 11.5 x 7.95 x 0.69 inches (W X H X D)
With these configurations, the IdeaPad 100S didn't have any problems opening multiple browsers, each with multiple tabs, handling documents in Microsoft Office, searching the web with Cortana, playing back full HD videos and handling casual games.
Where the IdeaPad 100S stands out is that you'll likely be able to run and install most applications and programs that are compatible with Windows, but you may be limited by the 32GB of storage. This limitation is common with inexpensive Windows netbooks, like the HP Stream x360 and the Acer Aspire One Cloudbook.
For comparison, Acer's Aspire Switch 10E comes with twice as much storage in the detachable screen that you can use as a Windows tablet, along with an additional 500GB hard drive in the keyboard dock for expandability.
This means you likely won't want to install large programs like Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Premiere Pro on the IdeaPad 100S, but unlike Chromebooks, you'll be able to run these titles if you need, just as long as you have the storage and don't mind the lags when manipulating large files.
As with systems with Atom processors, native applications load and run more slowly than more powerful AMD and Intel Core i processors. In the case of Microsoft Office 2013, once the programs load, performance is quite smooth, unless you're performing a detailed Access query or analyzing copious amounts of data in Excel.
For added storage capacity, business users have three options on the IdeaPad 100S. First, physical storage can be added through the USB ports as a flash drive or external drive. Second, up to 200GB of storage can be added via the microSD card slot. And third, if you find yourself always within range of a Wi-Fi signal, you can also use the cloud, like Microsoft's OneDrive. The reliance on the cloud for storage and web apps, like Office online or Google Docs, makes the IdeaPad 100S feel more like a Chromebook than a traditional Windows notebook.
PCMark 8 Home Conventional: 1,145 points
3DMark: Fire Strike: did not complete; Cloud Gate: 1,180; Sky Diver: 265
PCMark 8 Battery life: 7 hours, 41 minutes
As expected, performance isn't as strong as competing systems using more powerful AMD APUs or Intel's more mainstream Core i series CPUs. The Acer Aspire Switch 10E has a similar processor as the IdeaPad, and that device scored 1,091 points on PCMark 8. The Aspire Switch score 1,164 on the Cloud Gate graphics benchmark and 445 on Sky Diver.
These PCMark and 3DMark scores are consistent with most Atom-based systems. However, the IdeaPad 100S posted lower scores than the Asus Transformer Book T100. Atom-equipped systems like the IdeaPad 100S, Transformer Book T100, and Aspire Switch 10E all have problems completing 3DMark's graphic intensive Fire Strike test.
If you rely on the browser heavily and find yourself living in Microsoft Office, you shouldn't let these scores deter you from buying the IdeaPad 100S. I found no hiccups in opening Google Docs using the Chrome browser, editing Word and Excel documents and creating PowerPoint presentations using the IdeaPad 100S. Even 1080p YouTube videos played smoothly, both on the IdeaPad 100S and on an HDTV when connected with an HDMI cable.
Unless you venture into graphics-heavy applications, like gaming or video editing, living within the constraints of the IdeaPad 100S will reward you with long battery life. The laptop lasted for 7 hours and 41 minutes using PCMark 8's battery test with screen brightness set to 50%.
In our test, the IdeaPad 100S lasted just under five and a half hours looping an HD quality video using the VLC media player with screen brightness and volume at 50%. Audio quality on the bottom-firing speakers is loud, but quality sounds hollow at higher volume.
Even though the specifications have been modernized to meet today's computing needs, the IdeaPad 100S stays true to the netbook formula: a low cost, portable laptop with long battery life and no frills. To get the price low, you'll have to compromise on a few features found on more expensive laptops and netbooks, including a touchscreen, gesture-enabled touchpad, a screen with wider viewing angles and faster processor and graphics.
The IdeaPad 100S comes in an attractive design that's slim and light for travel. Most people will be able to get away with shoving the IdeaPad 100S into a bag without a bulky, padded laptop sleeve given the device's solid build quality and low price tag. For road warriors, the system's long battery life lets you be productive without having to be tethered to a power outlet.
Even though the IdeaPad 100S is a compact notebook, the keyboard is still pleasurable to use. I wish the keyboard came with backlighting to make it easier to travel in dim environments, but the keys are responsive with a fair amount of travel.
Although the benefit of the IdeaPad 100S is that it runs Windows 10 at a $200 price point, I found myself neglecting to use some of the more unique features of the operating system simply because accessing those functions was too much of a hassle. With a touchscreen, I can simply tap on the Cortana search bar to call up Cortana or swipe in from the right to access the Action Center. Similarly, with a gesture-enabled touchpad, I could use a three-finger tap to summon the digital assistant or a four-finger tap to access my notifications. Instead, I was left having to navigate Windows solely with my mouse cursor.
Even if Lenovo couldn't afford to pack in these features on a budget laptop, the IdeaPad 100S would be much more useful in my workflow if it supported two-finger scrolling considering the limited screen real estate of an 11.6-inch system.
The IdeaPad 100S is an excellent, albeit basic, netbook at its price, but you have to make too many compromises with the system. Even though you can install and run Photoshop, the device's limited storage makes this a non-starter, unlike the Surface 3, which comes with a similar processor and integrated graphics. The lack of touchscreen and a touchpad that doesn't support gestures are also sore points for an otherwise capable entry-level notebook.
Unless you find yourself living primarily in the browser and storing most of your content on the cloud, investing a little bit more will give a little bit more value. Atom processors are also used on convertible and detachable notebooks, giving you the flexibility of a laptop and tablet form factors in a single device while also adding a touchscreen for a better experience.
At $200, however, the IdeaPad 100S is still a great secondary device and an excellent travel companion. It's durable enough to travel naked inside a bag without the protection of a padded sleeve and affordable enough to replace if you lose or damage it.