Low, low price. USB-C and HDMI ports.
Only 2GB of memory. Narrow viewing angles. Test unit wouldn't take micro SD cards.
- Bottom Line
Lenovo's petite IdeaPad 120S is a budget ultraportable that offers good-for-the-cost performance, but you can find better screens and keyboards by stepping up to the next highest class.
How low can they go? No, we're not talking about celebrities or politicians; we mean laptop manufacturers and their quest to offer ultra-affordable systems for entry-level shoppers. Take the Lenovo IdeaPad 120s ($249.99), for instance: This 11.6-inch notebook (there's also a 14-inch model) has just 2GB of RAM, which is half what we recommend for Chrome OS, let alone Windows 10, though its 64GB of eMMC flash storage is double that of another rock-bottom bargain, the HP Stream 11-y010nr. It has modern conveniences like USB-C as well as two USB 3.0 ports. Its sleek, compact chassis is available in Denim Blue as well as our test unit's Mineral Gray.
The IdeaPad doesn't unseat our Editors' Choice budget ultraportable, the Acer Swift 1; the 13.3-inch Acer, though priced $100 higher, offers a relatively luxurious IPS screen with higher resolution and wider viewing angles, as well as better performance in our benchmark tests. But the Lenovo is a handy grab-and-go tool for everyday apps, as well as a good candidate if you're buying a laptop for a kid and want to go the Windows route instead of with a chromebook.
Fitting Into the Fullest Briefcase
At 0.69 by 11.3 by 7.9 inches, the IdeaPad takes up even less room than the HP Stream 11 (0.71 by 11.8 by 8.1 inches), or about as much as the Dell Inspiron 11 3000 (3162) (0.78 by 11.5 by 7.7 inches). It tips the scale at 2.53 pounds, a hair less than the 2.6-pound HP and Dell. An etched Lenovo logo is the only decoration on the gray plastic lid; a smaller logo is tucked into a corner of the broad bezel around the display.
Build quality feels fairly solid—there's some flex if you grasp the screen corners or apply pressure to the middle of the keyboard, but nothing you'd call flimsy. A power button occupies the top right corner of the keyboard; we accidentally tapped it once or twice when aiming for the adjacent Delete key, but our presses were too quick or light to actually put the machine to sleep.
On the Lenovo's left edge, you'll find a connector for the AC adapter, a USB 3.0 port, an HDMI video output, and a USB-C (not Thunderbolt 3) port. On the right side are another USB 3.0 port, a headphone jack, and a microSD card slot which to our consternation wouldn't take our microSD cards—the two SanDisk cards we tried each stuck about halfway into the slot and wouldn't go further, though we couldn't see any obvious obstruction.
Speakers on the laptop's bottom produce soft, hollow-sounding audio that's neither loud enough to fill a room nor rich enough to deliver realistic vocals and instrumentals. The webcam above the screen takes pale, soft-focus selfies.
The IdeaPad's keyboard has a stiff, shallow feel reminiscent of a tablet's type cover; it's too firm to be comfortable for long typing sessions. The top-row keys conveniently default to system settings such as volume, brightness, and airplane mode instead of F1 through F12. The cursor arrow keys are arranged in the HP- or Apple-style row that's our pet peeve (half-sized up and down arrows sandwiched between full-sized left and right), not the inverted T we prefer. The small, buttonless touchpad responds smoothly to swipes and taps.
The 11.6-inch display offers 1,366-by-768 resolution, so your YouTube viewing is limited to 720p rather than 1080p videos (full HD would be arguably too squished at this size anyway). There's adequate if not dazzling brightness. Colors don't pop, but are presentable if you get the screen angle adjustment just right—too much or too little tilt, or a seat slightly to one side instead of dead center, produces either dark or washed-out images. Contrast is only fair and details don't stand out.
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Handling Productivity Basics
The IdeaPad 120s relies on an Intel Celeron N3350 processor, a 1.1GHz (2.4GHz turbo) dual-core with a score of 83 points in our Cinebench CPU test that topped the older Celerons in the Dell Inspiron 3162 and the HP Stream 11 but fell short of the 140 points scored by the Pentium chip in the Acer Swift 1.
To its credit (and unlike numerous past systems with 2GB of memory), the little Lenovo completed all of our benchmark tests except for the demanding 3DMark Fire Strike Extreme graphics test, intended for serious gaming rigs. Probably its finest hour came in our PCMark general office productivity test, where it tied the Swift; it finished well behind the Acer, but ahead of the HP and the Dell, in our Adobe Photoshop image-editing and Handbrake video-editing scenarios.
Neither the IdeaPad nor any of these entry-level, integrated-graphics machines came within a country mile of the 30 frames per second threshold for smooth gameplay in our Heaven and Valley gaming simulations. The 120s lasted for 8 hours and 42 minutes in our battery-rundown test, enough to get you through a workday but well short of the stamina shown by the Acer Swift 1 and the Lenovo Miix 320 detachable, which landed just less than and more than the 13-hour mark respectively.
On an Extreme Budget?
All told, the IdeaPad 120s joins the Inspiron 3162 and the Stream 11 as a worthy choice for ultraportable buyers on tighter-than-tight budgets—it outperforms both of them, though we narrowly prefer their screens and keyboards. If you can spare an extra C-note, however, the Acer Swift 1 is in a class of its own due to its larger, sharper display.
Other Lenovo Laptops & Notebooks
By Eric Grevstad Contributing Editor
Formerly editor-in-chief of Home Office Computing, Eric Grevstad is a contributing editor for PCMag and Computer Shopper, where he earlier served as lead laptop analyst and executive editor, respectively. A tech journalist since the TRS-80 and Apple II days, Grevstad specializes in lightweight laptops, all-in-one desktops, and productivity software, all of which he uses when commuting and telecommuting between PC Labs and a cat-filled home office in Boston. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @EricGrevstad…. More »
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