It's really not easy to find a netbook that manages to stick out in a crowd of soulless atomic midgets, which look alike inside out. Yes, things are starting to look a bit dull in the netbook segment, mainly thanks to Intel's and Microsoft's restrictions imposed, and strictly adhered to by most vendors. After all, nobody in their right minds looks forward to an unfriendly chat with Redmond's or Santa Clara's spinners and lawyers.
So, they all look and smell alike, and you're probably thinking there's something special about the Lenovo IdeaPad S10e. Well, no actually, there's not, at least not much. So let's start with the stuff that could make the S10e stand out in a crowd. First of all, Lenovo was the first vendor to offer a hybrid storage option on its netbooks, a 4GB SSD which peacefully coexists with the 160GB hard drive.
MSI joined the hybrid club a few weeks ago with its Wind U115, which touts an incredible 12 hours of battery life, although some MSI reps like to say it's 16 hours, at least in their MSN sigs. The Lenovo S10e doesn't come near this figure, as it's based on the N270 instead of the Z530 CPU, and it lacks some of the power management features of the Wind U115. However, MSI sells its U115 for a whopping €529, while the little Lenovo costs €379, a full €150 less, so they're really not in the same class.
The second interesting feature is Lenovo's adaptation of DeviceVM's Splashtop, which I am told, is an instant-on OS. Dubbed Lenovo QuickStart, it loads in about 20 seconds, and offers you some rudimentary connectivity and media features. In my book 20 seconds is not instant, unless we're talking about coffee.
You can use it for browsing, instant messaging, Skype, and if you're bored you can play some tunes or look at your photos. It's simple, fast, and it works. Let's leave it at that, as we'll take a closer look at it later.
So much for the distinguishing features, under the hood it's a netbook vulgaris. You get the picture, and if you don't here are the specs: Atom N270/945 combo, 1GB of RAM, 160GB of storage, and the 4GB SSD mentioned earlier. Unlike most 10-inch netbooks, Lenovo's S10e features a 16:9 screen, which means you get 1,024x576 pixels on 10.1 inches. So, the TV aspect ratio has robbed you of 24 rows of pixels, or 24,567 of them to be exact. Some applications might give you trouble with the non-standard resolution, but it's really not a big deal. The glare coating isn't very reflective, although you'll be begging for a matte panel on a sunny day. Overall, display quality is quite good. There's plenty of contrast to go around, and the colours look good.
Design and Build Quality
I'm not a great fan of Lenovo's conservative, no thrills design, and frankly some of their machines look like they were nicked off the set of Miami Vice. However, I actually like the little IdeaPad. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that most netbooks look playful, too childish and cute, while the black S10e is a tad more serious, in its appearance at least.
Measuring 250x196x22-36mm, it has the smallest footprint of any 10-inch netbook on the market, but it doesn't look chubby either. It weighs 1.25kg with a 6-cell battery. The designers did a nice balancing act: it doesn't look as dull as some Lenovos, but it still looks a bit more serious than most netbooks, and you just don't get the feeling you're looking at a child's toy.
Once you try it out, it doesn't feel like a toy either. To put it mildly, build quality is above average. We've seen much worse on similarly priced products. The palmrests feel solid, and so does the entire chassis. The chrome decorative covers on the hinges look a bit cheap, but even they feel ok, and there's really few things to complain about. We liked most of the materials, especially the satin, matte screen finish, which looks nice and doesn't pick up too many fingerprints.
The chassis feels very robust, and the rounded front edges further help the general feeling of solidity. The keyboard, touchpad buttons and palmrests are no exception. There's next to no flex in the keyboard, and the touchpad buttons are pretty good.
The decorative mesh surrounding the LEDs and power button, and a similar one at the front of the chassis, feel and look good. They both do tend to gather loads of dust and tiny bits of fabric, but it's fairly easy to clean up the mess.
However, some plastic bits just don't look like they've been put together by Swiss craftsmen. Some of the gaps are pretty big, but after all, we're still talking about a cheap netbook, and this is purely an aesthetics issue, not a quality one.
Bottom line - it's no ThinkPad, but it's still damn good.
Also, in case you're not into the matte, all black design, Lenovo is offering the S10e in white and red, for ladies and the sort of people who would ban opposition parties, nationalize banks and collectivize farming.