The Lenovo IdeaPad U550 is an ultra-thin 15.6-inch multimedia notebook with a low voltage processor and ATI graphics. Read our review to see how it fared.
Our Lenovo IdeaPad U550 review unit has the following specifications:
- 15.6-inch 720p (1366x768) glossy display with LED backlighting (220 nits, 500:1 contrast)
- Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
- Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300 processor (1.3GHz/3MB L2/800MHz FSB)
- Switchable graphics:
Integrated power-saving Intel Graphics Media Accelerator 4500MHD
Dedicated high-performance ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330 512MB
- 4GB DDR3-1066 RAM (2x 2GB)
- 320GB 5400RPM hard drive (Fujitsu MJA2320BH G2)
- Intel Wireless WiFi Link 5100 AGN
- Built-in Bluetooth v2.1+EDR
- 8X DVD burner
- One-year limited warranty
- 6-cell Li-ion battery (57Wh/5200mAh/11.1V)
- Weight: 5.3 lbs
- Dimensions: 14.8" (X) x 9.9" (D) x 0.9" ~ 1.2" (H)
Build and Design
The U550 has a traditional notebook shape with no outstanding design features. It is extraordinarily thin and light for a 15.6-inch notebook; it measures just one inch thin on average. The plastic used on the chassis is of reasonable quality and did not feel cheap when I tapped it with my fingernail. The plastic used around the palm rest area is smooth and has an antiglare coating; fingerprints and dust show up rather easily on it. The back of the lid has a textured matte plastic that does not show fingerprints and dust. The only glossy plastic found on this notebook is the screen surround, which was almost impossible to keep clean.
The chassis exhibits mild flex when grabbed by the corners and twisted; pushing down on the palm rests also causes some chassis flex. These characteristics are typical of consumer notebooks and indicate the internal frame is not as strong as it could be. The lid twists without much effort when grabbed by the corners and has about a half-inch of play on either side. Pushing in on the back of the lid does not yield any ripples in the screen, which is impressive given how thin it is. The display hinges are sufficiently strong. I like how the lid of this notebook can be opened without holding down the chassis.
Fit and finish is good; all areas of the notebook are of about the same level of quality. Some edges like those around the lid are not as smooth as I prefer but for the most part, the edges are sufficiently smoothed out. On the whole the build quality is slightly above average for a consumer notebook. The plastics used are of decent quality and there is not as much flex as I thought there would be, given the notebook’s thinness.
Screen and Speakers
The U550 has a 15.6-inch display with a 720p (1366x768) resolution and LED backlighting for power efficiency. Brightness and contrast are satisfactory but not more or less than I am used to seeing from other 15.6-inch consumer notebooks. The display's glossy surface enhances clarity and colors but means a lot of reflections from surrounding light sources.
At full brightness the U550's display appears a touch washed out - colors could be more vibrant. One brightness notch above minimum is a good compromise between power saving and visibility on battery. Viewing angles are average; there is some color shift side-to-side and colors wash out and darken from above and below, respectively.
The 1366x768 resolution is much too low for a 15.6-inch screen. I think 15.6-inch notebooks should have a minimum resolution of 900p (1600x900). The U550's low 720p screen resolution hampers productivity; only one-half of a Microsoft Word document is viewable at one time and it is difficult to practically use two windows side-by-side. Additionally, high-resolution photos do not look as detailed on this screen as they would on a higher resolution screen.
The U550 has two 1.5-watt stereo speakers above the keyboard. Despite the "Dolby Sound Room" logo they sound tinny and have no bass. A notebook with a multimedia focus should have stronger speakers.
Lenovo IdeaPad U550 Keyboard and Touchpad
The U550 has a full-size keyboard with separate numeric keypad. The keyboard has superb tactile feedback and is fun to type on. The key travel is just right; this allows the keyboard to be very communicative since all key positions (fully up/down and in-between) are well-defined. The keys require enough pressure to push down that resting fingers on them does not cause them to depress. The keyboard is quiet and could be used in almost any environment without disturbing others. The keys sound nice when pressed and add to the typing experience.
This keyboard has a couple of oddities. The numeric keypad is squeezed in; as a result the keys are half-width and take some extra precision to press. The Home/End/PgUp/PgDn keys above the numeric keypad are very small as well. Another oddity is that the [Ctrl] and [Fn] keys in the bottom left corner are switched; the change took some adjusting. This is a holdover from Lenovo's ThinkPad business notebook lineup.
The touchpad has a matte surface which is easy to track on regardless of whether fingers are moist or dry. It supports multi-touch features such as pinch-to-zoom and two-finger scrolling, however I found they worked sporadically at best. The touchpad buttons have excellent tactile feedback and are quiet.
Ports and Features
The U550 has a sufficient array of input and output ports. Notable included ports include HDMI (for connection to HDTVs), three USB 2.0 ports, and VGA. An optical drive is included, which I am mildly surprised at given the thinness of the chassis. Ports not present on the U550 include eSATA, USB 3.0, and an ExpressCard slot. All picture descriptions are left to right.
Performance and Benchmarks
The U550 is based on Intel's Consumer Ultra Low Voltage (CULV) platform, which is mostly used in 11.6- to 14-inch notebooks; it is strange to see it on a notebook with a 15.6-inch screen. Typical notebooks in this size use higher-performance components. I suppose Lenovo's goal with the U550 was to offer a 15.6-inch notebook that was thinner and lighter than usual and offered longer battery life.
I used the U550 as my primary notebook for a week and found its performance to be sufficient for everything I threw at it including web surfing, Microsoft Office, and watching 720p HD videos. I was also able to play back 1080p video without problems.
We ran an extensive suite of benchmarks on the U550 to compare its performance to other notebooks; all benchmarks were run with the high-performance ATI graphics enabled:
The U550's performance is more than adequate for most everyday tasks. While the dedicated ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330 graphics are much faster than the integrated Intel graphics found in most notebooks, they are not fast enough for most modern games. The U550 is a multimedia notebook, not a gaming machine.
The U550 has a six-cell Li-ion battery (57Wh/5200mAh/11.1V). I conducted two battery life test scenarios: the minimal usage scenario involved typing this review with no Internet connection; the moderate use scenario consisted of wireless Internet surfing, watching videos, and office applications. Both battery life tests were conducted with the screen brightness one notch above minimum and the integrated Intel graphics activated.
I recorded six hours and 15 minutes of battery life under the minimal usage scenario, which is impressive for a 15.6-inch notebook. Under the moderate usage scenario I recorded three hours and 35 minutes, which is about what is expected out of standard 15.6-inch consumer notebooks. For general usage, expect around four hours of battery life. Remember to use the integrated Intel graphics for the best results. Overall the battery life is above average for a 15.6-inch notebook with a six-cell battery.
Heat and Noise
The U550 is cooled by a single fan that exhausts warm air out the left side of the chassis. At idle the fan is essentially silent; even while stress testing it barely becomes audible. It should be acceptable for use in nearly any environment.
The U550 has switchable graphics; high-performance mode activates the ATI Mobility Radeon HD 4330 and low-powered mode switches to the integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD. The chassis was barely lukewarm using the high-performance ATI graphics; using the integrated Intel graphics, the chassis was no more than room temperature. Overall I am impressed with the U550's thermal management.
Lenovo aimed to create a 15.6-inch notebook that was lighter, thinner, and had better battery life than typical notebooks with the same screen size. I think they accomplished this goal with the U550. The notebook itself is not super exciting but has a lot to like. It is extraordinarily thin and light for a 15.6-inch notebook and four to six hours of battery life. The build quality is satisfactory and the keyboard and touchpad are excellent. There are areas of the notebook that need improvement; I yearned for a higher screen resolution and better speakers.
Overall the IdeaPad U550 is a recommendable notebook, though it will be up to the end consumer to decide whether the thin-and-light design is worth extra money over a standard 15.6-inch notebook.