Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Entry level Windows laptop recommendation - Lenovo Ideapad 100S

As part of a series on entry-level devices, this posts recommends an entry Windows laptop. With laptops in this category we are looking at a secondary device that is a light-weight travel companion and performs the expected basic computing tasks well. Generally, devices in this category come with standardised storage and memory (32 GB storage and 2 GB RAM), with differences being in the processor. Regarding the processor, choices tend to be between an Intel Celeron Braswell or one of the different variations of Intel Atom.

I found the Lenovo Ideapad 100S, surprisingly, the best of the current crop. On paper, it is powered by a weaker Bay Trail Z3735F Atom processor but performance is optimised with a 32 Bit version of Windows 10. The same or similar processor performs worse with, mainly, Windows tablets and the reason could be vendors deliberately throttling/under clocking the processor to prevent over-heating. However, compared to other laptops in this category the Ideapad's performance is noticeably better in rendering webpages. Comparison, in this case, is being made to laptops released by HP (HP Stream 11 and 13), Dell (Dell Inspiron 11 3000) and Acer (Acer Aspire One Cloudbook) with an Intel N3050 Braswell processor. On paper the CPU benchmark, and in Google's Octane scores, state the N3050 performs slightly better than the Atom Bay Trail Z3735F. However, in real world performance, the difference is felt in favour of the Ideapad 100S. Another factor behind the performance boost might be the quad core processor, compared to the dual core processor that comes with the Intel Celeron Braswell. Out of the box the HP Stream 11, which I have tested, can struggle with rendering news and media websites, and even with an ad-blocker set-up it is still a step behind Lenovo's offering.

The battery life is good and can reach, in saving mode, and with brightness turned down, close to the advertised eight hours. The display is adequate but the HP Stream 11 is slightly superior, with better contrast and colour reproduction. A nice feature is the laptop's 180 degree hinge - this is useful when the laptop is placed on the lap or used lying down. The stand-out for the laptop is its weight, coming under 1 kilogram, which is superior to most entry-level laptops (the exceptions would be the Asus EeeBook X205TA and its successor the ASUS Vivobook E200HA). The portable weight makes the Ideapad 100S an ideal travel productivity device.

Unfortunately, there is a serious disadvantage with a trackpad that doesn't support multi-touch gestures. It is strange that Lenovo decided to go backwards with an outdated two buttons and no gesture support (I don't mind the buttons but the lack of gesture support is unnecessary, considering all laptops in this category support the feature). For some this may be a significant drawback - the out-dated trackpad, at first, slows the user down but after getting use to, it is serviceable. If the trackpad is unbearable then there is always the option to use an external mouse.

I don't think, at the moment, there is an entry-level Windows laptop that gets all its compromises right. The Lenovo Ideapad 100S is the closest if it wasn't for the strange decision not to support gestures with the trackpad. If Lenovo, in its annual refresh, beefs up the processor, improves the display and fixes the problem with the trackpad then we might get a stand-out candidate. Further, a nice option would be adding a version with 4GB RAM priced at £20 - £30 more.

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