Like most netbooks, the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t has a low power Intel Atom N450 processor, and the unit featured in this review runs Windows 7 Starter Edition, and ships with 2GB of RAM, and a 160GB hard drive. The base unit sells for $549, but Lenovo does offer a version with a larger hard drive Windows 7 Home Premium for about $100 more.
As a netbook, the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t performs pretty much as you’d expect. My only real complaint is that it has an incredibly small and difficult to use touchpad. As a tablet, the S10-3t is a bit of a mixed bag.
Windows 7 Starter Edition isn’t really optimized for touch input, and while Lenovo includes some touch-friendly software, the experience of using this machine in tablet mode was a bit unpleasant. I’m sure some of these issues would be addressed by upgrading to Windows 7 Home Premium, but not all of them.
The Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t is one of the smallest 10 inch netbooks available. While it’s a bit wide, thanks to some extra space around the display for buttons you can use in tablet mode, the netbook measures just 11″ x 6.9″ x 0.8″. With a 4 cell battery, it weighs about 2.7 pounds.
But overall the netbook just feels smaller and lighter than most, largely due to the fact that the base of the computer is almost entirely taken up by the keyboard.
There’s only a tiny space below the keyboard for the touchpad, which features integrated left and right buttons. I’m thoroughly unimpressed with the touchpad, but the keyboard is nearly full sized and quite easy to type on, although it does have a bit of flex to it.
While most netbooks locate the power button just above the keyboard, the power button for the S10-3t is on the right side of the display, making it easy to turn the computer on whether it’s in tablet or netbook mode.
Just below it there’s a lock button which prevents power button from turning on the computer so it doesn’t accidentally power up if you’re carrying the S10-3t in your bag in tablet mode. Higher up on the right side of the bezel are the webcam and mic.
On the bottom left side of the display you’ll find the status LEDs, and to the left side there are a few more buttons for muting the volume and launching the Lenovo NaturalTouch software.
The speakers are built into the base of the display so that you can hear audio no matter how the computer is configured. Unfortunately what you’ll hear is rather tinny sounding audio with even less bass than I’ve come to expect from a netbook. The speakers also don’t seem to get very loud.
The only button above the keyboard is the button that launches the Lenovo QuickRestore software.
Around the sides of the computer you’ll find 2 USB ports, a VGA port, wireless toggle, Ethernet and audio jacks. There’s an SD card slot at the front of the computer.
There’s one large access panel on the base of the unit which you can open up to get at the RAM and hard drive.
The demo unit I’m reviewing has a 4 cell battery which sits flush with the base of the computer. Lenovo also offers an optional 8 cell battery which adds a noticeable bulge to the back of the laptop.
The lid and screen bezel both feature a glossy black finish with a subtle pattern made of different sized squares. The same pattern shows up on the palm rest area, which is white.
One thing worth mentioning is that the screen doesn’t sit flush with the back of the laptop as it does on most netbooks. There’s almost a centimeter of space behind the display. At first I wasn’t sure how I felt about this, but the more I use the laptop, the less I notice it, and the effect does make the netbook feel smaller.
All things being equal though, I’d prefer to have a little more space in the palm rest/touchpad area.
The display is attached to the keyboard by a nice, solid feeling swivel which you can rotate 180 degrees. In laptop mode the display does wobble a little bit if you poke at it. But if you’re just typing on the keyboard the screen should hold perfectly still.
The Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t’s defining feature is its capacitive touchscreen display. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to fully take advantage of it because Windows 7 Starter Edition doesn’t support multitouch gestures.
The operating system also doesn’t allow you to scroll through web pages by flicking your finger iPhone-style. And when you place your finger on a text input area the on-screen keyboard doesn’t automatically pop up. But there are ways around these limitations.
There are a few other problems that are much harder to fix. First, the 1024 x 600 pixel display is fine for viewing web pages and opening most applications in landscape mode. But the most comfortable way to hold the computer in tablet mode is in portrait mode — which turns the screen into a 600 x 1024 pixel display.
Most applications and web pages aren’t formatted for that display resolution, which means you’ll end up spending a lot of time with the scrollbar on this netbook — no matter what operating system you’re running.
The image below shows what the New York Times homepage looks like when holding the S10-3t in portrait mode.
Second, the touchscreen just didn’t seem quite as accurate or responsive as I would have liked. When trying to close a program, I sometimes had to attempt to tap on the X three or four times before it actually closed. If you’re not careful you might close an app when you’re trying to minimize it, or vice versa.
While theoretically you can tap and hold on any item to simulate a right-click, I found that sometimes this just didn’t work. And even when it does work, I sometimes right-clicked on the wrong item thanks to the accuracy problem mentioned above. Not to mention that it takes a lot more time to tap, hold, and wait than it does to simply hit the right click button on a mouse.
The third problem is that it seems to take an awfully long time for the screen orientation to adjust when I rotate the display. This is likely due to a combination of things, so it’s hard to say whether the problem is with the accelerometer, software and drivers, or the relatively slow Intel Atom N450 processor.
But while I definitely have a few nits to pick with the touchscreen, it’s not all bad. Lenovo loads the computer with its NaturalTouch software which offers a finger-friendly interface for launching a video player, photo viewer, eBook reader, and note taking application.
You can also launch Internet Explorer, the Control Panel, and several other applications from the NaturalTouch interface.
If you don’t want to use the scrollbars to navigate through web pages, you can install a third party plugin for Firefox such as Grab and Drag, which lets you tap on the screen to scroll. I found that my browser did crash occasionally when using Grab and Drag and the Shoutcast Flash-based music player, so the plugin may be a bit of a resource hog.
And while the on-screen keyboard doesn’t pop up automatically when you select a text input area, you can launch the keyboard manually from the Windows Start Menu. I found that once it was already running, it was quite easy to bring it up any time I needed it by tapping the icon in the Windows taskbar.
You could even pin it to the taskbar if you plan to spend a lot of time writing in tablet mode — although it’s probably easier if you’re typing anything longer than a URL just to twist the screen and use the computer in laptop mode.
There’s no handwriting recognition support in Windows 7 Starter Edition, but there’s also no stylus input, so writing notes is a little tricky. On the bright side, because this particular model only recognizes one touch at a time, you don’t have to worry about smudging the display with your palm if you place your hand on the screen to write a note with your finger.
You can see some of what I’m talking about in this brief video review:
All in all, I was a bit underwhelmed by the touch experience on the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t. But I could see how the tablet could be useful if you plan to use it primarily to read eBooks or perform other tasks in slate mode that don’t require a lot of tapping or text entry.
While the tablet mode was a bit disappointing, the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t held its own in netbook mode. I had no problems surfing the web with multiple browser tabs open or editing a document while listening to music.
When I ran a series of benchmarks, the computer scored about the same as other netbooks with Intel Atom processors when it came to opening resource-intensive applications (GIMP and OpenOffice.org), and transcoding audio and video files.
The netbook was also able to handle smooth playback of a 720p HD WMV movie. 1080p HD video playback was choppy, and HD Flash video is pretty much a non-starter.
The Windows Experience Index for this netbook is pretty much par for the course. The weakest link is the CPU, which gets a score of 2.3. But the RAM, graphics, hard drive, and even graphics are all capable of running Windows 7 reasonably well.
Like all Lenovo notebooks, the keyboard locates the Fn key to the left of the Ctrl key rather than vice versa. It always takes me a little while to get used to this on a Lenovo netbook, but once your left pinky is trained, it’s not that hard to get used to. I found the keyboard to be well sized and comfortable to use.
There is a bit of flex in the keyboard, meaning the middle bows inward a bit as you type, but this didn’t really bother me.
The touchpad, on the other hand, is one of the worst I’ve ever used. I’ve tested a number of netbooks that save space by integrating the left and right buttons in the touchpad itself instead of placing them to the sides or below the touchpad. And in general I’m simply not a fan of this layout. But the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t ups the game by integrating the buttons into an incredibly tiny touchpad.
Using the touchpad to navigate was generally an unpleasant experience. I found the laptop much more comfortable to use when I plugged in an external mouse.
Yes, you can also reach up and tap at the touchscreen display, but generally I find it more comfortable to use a mouse or touchpad when sitting at a desk or table, because your hand has further to travel to reach the screen than it does to reach a pointing device resting on the same surface as the keyboard.
The test unit I received came with a 4 cell battery which provided 4 hours and 4 minutes of run time while surfing the web over WiFi and watching a few YouTube videos. Lenovo also offers an 8 cell battery which should just about double the battery life.
If you’d asked me a few years ago if I’d like a small notebook with a 4 hour battery, I would have jumped at the opportunity. But when you can pick up an Asus Eee PC 1001P with 8 hours of battery life for $300, it’s hard to get excited about the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t’s 4 hours of battery life when the netbook starts at $549.
If the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3t were simply a netbook, it would be a decent offering. It offers middle-of -the-road performance, a decent keyboard, and a compact, light weight case. I’d be happier with a larger touchpad and a more powerful battery, but I’d also be happier with world peace and a million bucks in my pocket. We can’t always have everything.
But the problem is that the IdeaPad S10-3t isn’t simply a netbook. It’s also a tablet, and it’s not very much fun to use in tablet mode — especially if you have the cheaper model that comes with Windows 7 Starter Edition. And when I say cheaper, I’m still talking about $549, which makes the IdeaPad S10-3t about $200 more expensive than most standard netbooks.
The screen is slow to rotate, the touchscreen isn’t all that accurate, and most web sites aren’t meant to be viewed at 600 x 1024 pixel resolutions. I’m starting to suspect that Apple was on to something when the company decided to give the iPad a 1024 x 768 pixel display.
I’m hopeful that we’ll start to see Windows 7 tablets with faster Intel CULV processors and higher resolution 1366 x 768 pixel displays soon. But if an Atom-powered model like the IdeaPad S10-3t has a starting price of $549, I’m not sure what it will take to make higher resolution, more powerful tablet-style notebooks affordable.