Ultraportables are, to employ a vastly overused cliche, "so hot right now". Lenovo's consumer answer to its stunning X300 is a decent attempt, but falls short in a few areas.
It starts well with the exterior — a bright red lid with etched flowery designs, an underside with fancy air vents, and a hinge that means business. It's light too, at only 1.09kg, and the only negative design point we can find is that there's an air vent on the left-hand side rather than the rear, meaning left-handed external mouse users will get a wash of hot air hit them occasionally. Otherwise, it's definitely one of the prettiest laptops on the market.
Then you open it up. Not that it's amazingly bad; it's just not the quality we're used to from Lenovo. The screen feels flimsy, for a start, and crackles when flexed, or even touched when opening or closing for that matter. The entire interior is piano black, and considering your hands are all over it just to type and use the mouse, it quickly becomes awash with grotty smudges and smears. The Fn button is to the right of the CTRL button, which leads to some interesting mistypes, and while the touch sensitive volume control is kind of cool, the design makes you think you can slide your finger up and down to alter it — not so, you'll have to tap, and precisely at that. Next to this is a mute button.
To the left of the mute button is what appears to be a blank area, but tap there and a red series of lit buttons slowly fade up — two for customisable shortcuts, and one for access to the "Dolby" home theatre control panel. We still find it mildly hilarious that laptop manufacturers are pushing Dolby sound over what are usually very poor speakers (and the U110's speakers are merely passable, being tonally equivalent to a clock radio), but there is a business in features, and those with the most, no matter how useless or how many are used, tend to win. Sound aside, while the fading in buttons look cool, they're a pain, making what should be a one-step shortcut button two steps, defeating the whole point.
The far left is home to the power button, and next to it the "Novo" button, which gives quick access to battery profiles and if the machine is turned by pressing it, Lenovo's system restore program launches. Status lights are oddly featured on the edge of the mouse buttons that extend to the lip, and as a consequence, can't be seen at a quick glance.
The keyboard, after a period of adjustment, is actually quite nice to use. It's odd at first — the keys are big, square, slightly concave and smooth piano black — while we prefer more traditional keyboards, this one certainly does the job.
Lenovo has managed to pack the U110 with an admirable set-up — three USB ports, FireWire, headphone/microphone jacks, MMC/MS/SD/xD card reader and an Express Card 34 slot. A 100Mb Ethernet jack and VGA port has also been supplied, ignoring the gigabit and digital video-out options — however, this won't be a deal breaker for most considering the portability factor of the laptop. Wireless b/g is offered, Lenovo choosing to eschew the faster draft n, despite official specs saying otherwise.
The extras are quite strong — both a four-cell and seven-cell battery are included, as is an external DVD±RW, a cleaning cloth, a nylon-esque cover with a leather strip, and the usual assorted manuals. The power brick is surprisingly slim — making us think it's more of a power tile — and slips into the provided cover slip with the laptop just fine.
On the software side, Lenovo has chosen to partner with MSN, meaning you're subjected to a few annoying prompts about Windows Live Toolbar the first time you load Internet Explorer. The usual trials are here: Norton Antivirus, Office 2007, and crapware shortcuts to sign up to Earthlink (curious, considering it's an ISP in Atlanta, USA) — and fortunately, that's about it. It's also burdened with the vastly annoying Veriface system, something that's popped up a few times now and we've quietly wished it would die. Veriface attempts to log you in using your face as authentication via the webcam — apart from slowing down the log-in process (both as an extra process that needs to run, and taking a good five seconds to determine you've got the right face) and obscuring the profile icon you'd much rather be clicking to log-in, it requires you to sit quite still, and can easily be fooled by holding up a poor resolution black and white photo from a laser printer. Hmm.
Running on Vista Home Premium 32-bit, the internals feature a 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo CPU, 2GB RAM, and an Intel X3100 integrated graphics chip. A single 4,200rpm, 120GB hard drive is employed, which is more than capacious enough for a laptop of this size, but we wouldn't mind a bit of extra rotational speed.
Being an ultraportable, performance is not where this machine is at, nor is gaming — 3DMark06 giving an expectedly poor showing of 588, while PCMark05 revealed that the U110 is fine for day-to-day tasks such as office work or internet browsing, giving a solid 3,141.
With all power saving features turned off, screen brightness and volume set to maximum, we inserted the four-cell battery, hooked up the external DVD±RW and played back a movie, the battery lasted a disastrous 28 minutes and 38 seconds. The seven-cell, of course, fared better, an extra 260 grams resulting in the greatly increased battery time of one hour, 31 minutes and 32 seconds. Obviously, this is a very taxing test — with power saving features turned back on and screen brightness down, the U110 will definitely last a good whack longer.
Lenovo's foray into the ultraportable consumer market is, for the most part, a successful one, despite some small missteps. AU$2,999 gets you the package and a one-year, courier pick-up and return warranty.