When we first heard that Lenovo had an IdeaPad S12 netbook on the way, we were expecting the long-anticipated Nvidia Ion-packing version, including graphics power decent enough to handle high-definition video and even some demanding gaming. Unfortunately, Lenovo contacted us to say that this model won't be coming to Europe. Instead, we got a configuration that includes an Intel Atom N270 processor and GMA 950 graphics -- essentially the same configuration as many current netbooks.
The S12 does, however, have a 12-inch screen and full keyboard, giving this netbook more of a laptop feel. Just don't expect more than a larger version of the Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2 netbook. The £340 S12 is a good compromise between a laptop and a netbook, but thin-and-light laptops with ultra-low-voltage processors, such as the Acer Aspire Timeline 3810T and MSI X340, give much more bang for your buck, although they're substantially more expensive.
Netbook in laptop's clothing
From a design standpoint, the S12, which is available in black or white, looks like a larger brother of the recent S10-2. Compact and well-proportioned, the outer matte-black plastic case is topped with a glossy plastic lid patterned with subtle polka dots. It's a smudge magnet, but it's attractive.
Inside, smooth matte-black plastic surrounds the keyboard, while the 12.1-inch glossy screen is surrounded by similarly glossy plastic. The S12 looks professional and stylishly austere -- not unlike a Lenovo ThinkPad. The full keyboard feels great, and the touchpad is an improvement on the S10-2's in terms of size. The S12 feels like a real laptop.
Above the keyboard are a few dedicated buttons for volume control and muting, along with a quick-start button that launches a Splashtop instant-on operating system. The browser, music player and photo viewer in this OS are serviceable and load faster than XP, but the fastest way to 'boot' is still to keep the S12 in standby mode and reawaken it as needed. Facial-recognition security software that operates via the webcam and a OneKey back-up and data-recovery hot button are also included.
The 12.1-inch glossy LCD has a 1,280x800-pixel native resolution, which is standard for a screen of this size. Having a larger screen, especially in the vertical dimension, is important for ease of use when browsing the Web and working on office documents. The added screen real estate really helped to improve our productivity, compared to using the 10.2-inch S10-2. While the larger screen and keyboard increase the unit's bulk, it's a trade-off that makes the netbook far more usable. It's up to you whether portability or productivity matters more.
Whereas the S10-2 drops the useful ExpressCard slot found on its predecessor, the IdeaPad S10, the S12 has one. It's useful for 3G cards and other accessories that expand the limited connectivity options of netbooks. Not having 802.11n Wi-Fi or Bluetooth is a disappointment, however, as these could have helped further justify the £80 price difference between the S12 and the S10-2.
The 1.6GHz Atom N270 processor is a netbook staple. Unsurprisingly, the S12 performed in typical netbook fashion in our benchmark tests. The S12 doesn't do multitasking well, but handles basic office applications, Web browsing and media playback competently. It's not a media powerhouse by any means, though -- full-screen videos stutter occasionally.