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Jim Klein :: Weblog :: Netbook Review Continued... Lenovo S10-3

April 06, 2010

As mentioned in my prior post, no netbook review would be complete without a look at what Lenovo has to offer. It took quite a while to get it, and once again my Lenovo rep urged me to look away from this line and toward the Thinkpad line (especially the X100e) due to lack of long term support. At first, I thought this was just marketing, but have come to discover from a number of districts in several states who have deployed anywhere from hundreds to thousands of older S10 models that they are finding Lenovo slow to respond to their service needs and say that it is becoming increasingly difficult to get parts for them, even for units that are less than one year old. Amazingly, my Lenovo rep, who had just returned from visiting a school district with more than 1000 units deployed, shared a similar story of that district's frustration with Lenovo service. I must say, I'm a bit surprised by (and appreciative of) such honesty from a company representative (don't get much of that these days) but I'm also mystified by what appears to be a company-wide strategy to push customers to a more expensive line through disservice. I can only assume it will backfire, as it has with us.

Just the same, the hardware is certainly worthy of a look, so on with the review!

Lenovo S10-3

The Lenovo S10-3 is a beautiful unit to behold - it's actually smaller and thinner than the Asus EeePC 1005, the smallest of the units tested prior. In fact, it's the same size and thinness as the HP Mini 210 with the battery removed, yet it still has a 6 cell battery. The case is handsome, with a checked pattern on the lid that is sure to make fingerprints nearly invisible. But the strongest feature by far is the keyboard - it is easily the best on the market. The feel, the key size and shape are all superior to even the HP Mini, and are beautiful to use. Lenovo also made a great (and terrible - see below) move on the trackpad, which used to be little more than a postage stamp on prior models. On the new design the touchpad is now a clickpad with integrated buttons that extends nearly to the edge of the case. This enabled them to keep the netbook small and still offer a decent size pad. Other design cues include an excellent battery size with solid locking clips and a thoughtful grooved surface, which will be particularly important as users will undoubtedly use it as a handle. And one of the best parts is the serviceability of the unit - after just four screws a large plate comes off the bottom revealing the hard drive, WiFi card (removable), and RAM. All of these point to a thoughtful design process with the end user in mind.

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That said, I can't believe they ever put one of these in the hands of an actual user, because the touchpad is the most heinous, awful with a capital "A" experience I have had with a laptop. I'm not kidding - I wanted to throw this netbook against a wall after a few hours with it. Everything that HP got right, Lenovo got wrong. First, there's the clicking. For a clickpad to work well, clicks must only require a light touch and face little resistance. Too much resistance requires the user to press down hard, which leads to an increase in touch surface on the end of the finger, which results in the unwanted movement prior to click registration. Describing the Lenovo as stiff would be an understatement - it's downright wooden. All this leads to frequent mis-clicks, unwanted moves, etc. on a seemingly continual basis.

Then there is the outcome of multiple touches on the trackpad. Two fingers in the wrong places cause wild cursor jumps. Think about this for a second - you have a pad that you have to touch and press (hard) to click, and when you dare put another finger in the wrong place on the pad at the same time (say, to drag to select a word or move an icon) the cursor will jump across the screen and away from your target. It's incredibly frustrating to use. And one of the design features that I thought was good actually exacerbates the problem - the lack of a lip on the bottom edge of the trackpad makes it more likely that you will accidentally touch the pad with your thumb - also causing wild jumps. Through much trial and error, I determined that the pad is basically split into three regions - a top third, middle third, and bottom third. If you click and hold while dragging your finger across the middle third (say to select a word) you'll be OK. Click, hold, and touch anywhere in the top third, and expect your cursor to suddenly jump to the top of the screen.

The result is that you have to focus - a lot - on exactly where your fingers are at all times when working with this machine. I suppose you could call that "engaging" - I call it agonizing, horrific, irritating, ... you get the picture.

And besides all that, the sound card is a quirky rev of an Intel high-definition audio controller that requires a bunch of work to get going on Linux.

To say I was disappointed with the S10-3 is an understatement - I hated it. Not for it's design - it is really well done - but for it's execution. Combine that with the apparent lack of service/interest from Lenovo in supporting their "consumer" line, and you have what amounts to a boat anchor that you will want to throw in the water and drown.

Keywords: Lenovo, Linux, Netbooks, S10-3

Posted by Jim Klein | Share This

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