On the face of it, the Lenovo IdeaPad S405 is a minor revelation – the Chinese PC powerhouse has somehow managed to cook up an Ultrabook for a full price of £449.99 (around US$688 / AU$662), with a current online selling price of £399.99 (around US$612 / AU$588).
Not hard, you might think, when economies of scale are put into practice, but is it really possible to get premium looks, performance and portability at this price point? The simple answer is a big fat no.
But don’t forget – this is cheap as chips territory for an Ultrabook. But this is a very different kettle of fish; it’s a far cry for those used to the Windows operating system.
Recently, some of the other big league manufacturers have attempted to come up with their own rendition of the budget Windows laptop, such as Asus with the S56CA and Acer with the VivoBook S200 and theVivoBook S400C, but all three breach the £400 mark by some way.
Otherwise, for this sort of cash you’re left with a workman-like laptop such as the MSI CX640MX, which, quite frankly, isn’t much to look at.
So, if not Ultrabook in performance terms, what does the Lenovo IdeaPad S405 offer?
A while back we got our hands on the Lenovo S300, and were pleased with its adequate performance, good build quality and portability, along with an outstanding price tag.
The Lenovo S405 is a spin on this budget ultra-portable laptop genre, but this time round what you’re getting is a bigger 14-inch screen and a low-voltage quad-core AMD A8 processor. Lenovo also makes a version called the IdeaPad S400 that has a second-generation Intel Core i3 processor installed. Unusually, it costs exactly the same as the Lenovo IdeaPad S405.
Naturally, the majority of people will probably go for the more established brand, making the Intel offering an easy choice, so you have to wonder why Lenovo has brought the AMD-powered S405 version to the game. Who exactly is it marketing it to?
Technically, we can’t call the Lenovo IdeaPad S405 an Ultrabook, because it falls short of the requirements laid out by Intel. For starters, there’s no Intel processor and the 500GB hard drive is a lowly mechanical spinning unit.
You do get a tantalizing quad-core AMD A8 processor and onboard graphics courtesy of a Radeon HD 7460G, while 4GB of RAM is sufficient to keep Windows 8 ticking along nicely. It’s not surprising to see fairly low-end components featured here when the price tag is as low as it is.
On the plus side, you do get a decent level of connectivity for your money, including HDMI for connecting up to a screen and outputting Windows 8 without loss of detail, as well as a USB 3.0 port, two USB 2.0 ports, a headphone port and an SD card slot.
There’s also a handy one-touch recovery button – great for those who want an easy way to restore Windows from a backup without having to delve into the settings, although in our opinion it’s not exactly hard to do these days.
Due to the size of the Lenovo IdeaPad S405, there’s no optical drive built in, so you’ll have to make do with internet-based facilities if you need to install software or watch movies.
The one-touch recovery facility comes courtesy of Cyberlink, and the company has included some of its other apps too, such as YouCam, which you can combine with the built-in webcam to take pics and record videos. The webcam isn’t the best we’ve ever seen, but it’s certainly adequate.
Unlike the Lenovo IdeaPad S300, which is a fairly basic laptop to begin with, the Lenovo IdeaPad S405 goes one step further and strips the exterior of any extraneous functionality. It’s bereft of features such as a quick boot button, touch scrolling on the trackpad or even a simple volume control.
With no dedicated function buttons on the Lenovo IdeaPad S405, conventional duties are relegated to the Function shortcut key on the keyboard. This seems to work fine, though we did find that the volume control – for example – was a little on the unresponsive side, and required a certain type of approach in order to get it working.
With Windows 8 onboard, you might expect the Lenovo IdeaPad S405 to have a touchscreen to take advantage of the Modern UI. Well not at this price point, though you do get a trackpad that is capable of multi-touch gestures, such as side-scrolling through apps or bringing up the charms bar. This is pretty neat, but some of the functions worked better than others.
While the Lenovo IdeaPad S405’s isn’t exactly what you would call stunning, at least not in the realm of something like the Acer Aspire S7, it’s not at all bad, given the price tag. In the hand you can tell it’s basic; the body flexes here and there and the hinge is a little wobbly and creaky, but Lenovo has definitely made the most of things.
When open, the bottom half of the laptop is pure, no-frills black plastic and the screen bezel is a slightly classier glossy black. On the underside, you get a sort of aluminium-effect silver paint job, which isn’t sublime, but it works, from a distance anyway.
Its stand-out feature is portability, being surprisingly thin and light. You could easily stow this 14-inch laptop in a bag, and it’s easy to lug around. It also fits in nicely around the home, whether sat on the kitchen counter or resting on your lap for a few hours.
While the Lenovo IdeaPad S405 might sound like a bit of a lively one on paper, the performance figures netted from the benchmarking process tell us otherwise. The real Achilles’ heel is the performance of the processor – it’s simply not up to scratch when compared with its Intel competitors.
The Core i3 found in its Intel cousin – the Lenovo S400 – is marginally better when it comes to overall performance, although the Lenovo IdeaPad S405’s Radeon HD 7640G gives it the edge when it comes to graphical prowess.
Effectively both the Lenovo IdeaPad S400 and Lenovo IdeaPad S405 balance each other out, so overall neither laptop is head and shoulders above the other.
The low-voltage processor doesn’t really offset the lesser performance in the battery department either, although in fairness the Lenovo IdeaPad S405 isn’t really able to accommodate a battery unit with greater capacity due to the slender case.
But a battery life of around two to four hours, depending on how intensively you’re using it, isn’t ideal for working on the move. This is a shame, because the low weight and slim chassis really make you want to take it everywhere with you.
Ultimately, then, this is the kind of laptop that will have to stay at home with the rest of the everyday offerings on the market, tethered to a power supply the majority of the time.
Cinebench 10: 3276
3D Mark: 1573
Battery Eater: 128 minutes
Ignoring the benchmark figures and the battery life, the Lenovo IdeaPad S405 actually works pretty well in the majority of scenarios – whether you’re browsing the internet with multiple open tabs or working on a document.
It’s certainly not speedy, but you wouldn’t call it lethargic either. Though there’s no SSD fitted to the innards of the Lenovo IdeaPad S405, the old-school mechanical hard drive manages to boot quickly into the 64-bit version of Windows 8, which is pleasing to see.
It also happily played any of the 1080p content we could throw at it, and while the screen isn’t Full HD – just 1366 x 768 pixels, instead – or particularly great when it comes to contrast levels, it looks perfectly good, and you wouldn’t really expect much more for the price.
In strong sunlight the glossy screen naturally produces quite a lot of reflection, but it didn’t make the Lenovo IdeaPad S405 entirely unusable – with a little bit of squinting you can happily work at the Lenovo IdeaPad S405 without too much trouble.
The volume is pretty decent for a laptop of this size too, though don’t expect to be cranking out tunes with any kind of depth or clarity.
While the Lenovo IdeaPad S405 is great for carrying around with you, its downside is that the battery Lenovo has stuffed inside is relatively small, so despite the low-voltage CPU doing its best to reign power in, the battery will only manage a few hours of life under mixed use. At full steam you’re looking at no more than a little over two hours.
The Lenovo IdeaPad S405, then, is a laptop that will spend the majority of its life indoors, tethered to a power cable, which is a shame because its size is ideal for stuffing in a bag and forgetting about.
Although this laptop boasts mildly better graphics over its Intel counterpart, the Lenovo IdeaPad S405 certainly isn’t made for gaming, at least not for propping up any high-end titles that have come out in the last few years.
Bioshock Infinite and Max Payne 3 – two relatively recent games – ran at their lowest settings and a decent frame rate was just a little out of its grasp. Of course, it’ll handle any of the more casual gaming titles found on the Windows Store, though.
The Lenovo IdeaPad S405 is an attractive laptop that has Ultrabook looks at a rock-bottom price tag, but while we could forgive the lack of power compared to an actual Ultrabook that costs far more, the short battery life hobbles the Lenovo IdeaPad S405 into being redundant on the move, meaning it’s really only suitable for use around the home.
However, those looking for a lightweight and attractive secondary laptop for simple duties around the home, instead of a tablet, will find happiness here.
If you’re after something that looks the part, without the action to fully back things up, then you’re onto a winner with the Lenovo IdeaPad S405. It’s thin and lightweight so it’ll happily drop into a bag, and you could carry it all day without noticing it’s there.
Despite its low power output, the Lenovo IdeaPad S405 will happily perform most tasks with ease, such as browsing the web or watching HD movies, although full-on gaming is out of the question. As a bonus, it boots up nice and quickly too.
It’s nicely specced as far as ports go, with HDMI and a single USB 3.0 port, and overall it feels like terrific value for money -the current selling price of £399.99 (around US$612 / AU$588) is not a lot to ask for something that feels this good.
While the Ultrabook proportions look and feel great, unfortunately the Lenovo IdeaPad S405 doesn’t quite hit the mark in terms of portability. With a battery life of between two and four hours, depending on use, it’s certainly not capable of carrying out a full day’s duty.
The options are: you can live with this and work accordingly; carry the power supply with you every time you leave the house; or pay a little more for an actual Ultrabook with a better battery life.
The Lenovo IdeaPad S405’s other main problem is the fact that you might just want to go ahead and get yourself the Intel-powered S400 version instead, which is identical in every way, including price, expect it has a slightly faster processor, but a little less go in the graphical department.
Overall, with the Lenovo S400 you’re getting roughly the same performance and similar battery life as the Lenovo S405, but with a different badge attached. It’s a confusing situation – we say go with your heart. Once you’ve tackled this tricky dilemma, you’re left with a laptop that looks like an Ultrabook but will probably stay at home mostly.
That’s not to say the Lenovo IdeaPad is a failure in any way – this is a seriously cheap laptop and if you’re looking at the budget end of the market, you’d be mad to buy a similarly-specced laptop that looked run-of-the-mill.
By Nick Odantzis, TechRadar