First impressions Lenovo Ideapad S10 Netbook

The Levono Ideapad S10 Netbook

This a series of unorganized and occasionally helpful first impressions of the Lenovo Netbook – The one, the only, Lenovo Ideapad S10 review.

After salivating over Netbooks for over a year and watching the offerings closely I felt the market had matured enough to jump in. That said, there are some new Netbooks in the works that are due out in December that you might seriously consider such as the MSI Wind 2. Key among new offerings are on board high speed HSDPA mobile phone connectivity. My hopes for an Apple Netbook were dashed last Tuesday when Apple released their new MacBooks and MacBook Pros and no Netbook materialized. 

As I said in my intro, these are my first impressions of the Lenovo Ideapad S10 – one of the newest (or latest) Netbooks to join the Netbook fray. Lenovo was late to the Netbook game and my hope was that their quality laptop pedigree would trickle down to their Netbook offering.  So far, I think they’ve come close to doing just that.

First, let me call something important to your attention.

Most current reviews online of the Lenovo Ideapad S10 are based on a unit that is NOT shipping yet. The units available online from Lenovo and in some retail stores are the 512MB unit with 80GB hard disk drive and NO internal Bluetooth.  The base unit is $399 retail. I really wanted to try one in the flesh (mostly to test the keyboard) and after traveling to Best Buy, Circuit City, Office Depot and Staples I finally found a slew of models at CompUSA here in West Palm Beach, Florida. I never was able to test the MSI Wind in person but my Father, who has similar high standards in keyboards, tried one and felt the MSI WInd keyboard was excellent.

Getting back to the Lenovo Ideapad, if you’re patient, the newer unit that matches the specs of the reviews is due out soon. This newer unit will have integrated Bluetooth, 1GB of memory and a 160GB hard drive. This unit is $450.

For an additional $50 you get some GOOD stuff. I didn’t realize that the base unit did not have Bluetooth. This is not well documented on Lenovo’s site where you have to catch the * footnote that Bluetooth is only on select models. That was the only ‘gotcha’ I experienced. I really wasn’t worried about the memory because memory is dirt cheap and I just don’t need 160GB of hard drive in a Netbook. More on the memory later.

Other Netbooks I seriously considered:

  • All of them! From that lot I culled it down to the Lenovo Ideapad S10 and…
  • MSI Wind (great overall reviews and does well as a Hackintosh running Apple’s OSX Operating System)
  • Dell Mini 9 

I prefer the hard drive option in a Netbook over the SSD (solid state drive) because you can load up your Netbook with applications and music (why not!). The Dell gets steep on price and I also wanted the slightly larger form factor of the MSI and Lenovo. Reviews of the hard drive equiped MSI Wind are universally swell, and of particular interest to me, it runs a hacked Apple OS X install better than most Netbooks.

Other Netbooks were interesting but some combination of features or review critiques turned me off. I’ll mention the HP Netbook here only because it has the nicest keyboard that I tested. The fact that the HP 2133 Netbook is much pricier than other Netbooks and doesn’t use the new 1.6ghz Atom processor were big turnoffs.

I was drawn to both the Lenovo and Dell for the big brand support and service that they offer over some of the smaller or lesser known Netbook manufacturers. I think this is a minor point, but with very little to differentiate these units you have to pick some place to nit pick!

Other selling points of the Lenovo Ideapad S10 that stood out to me in the reviews:

  • big brand, low price $399
  • good keyboard
  • solid build quality
  • solid processor / system performance over competition
  • 10 inch format and screen (over small 8 and 9 inch units)
  • 4-in-1 Media card reader and ExpressCard slot
  • super easy memory and hard drive upgrades (this implies good build engineering, a necessary pre cursor to good build quality in my opinion)

The biggest negative of the Ideapad I’ve heard consistenly cited is ‘average’ batterly life. I’m getting a little over two hours right now surfing and writing with power settings at “Balance” a setting that, as its name suggests, takes the middle road for performance and battery life. 2+ hours suits me just fine. I can get more if I want to dim the screen and such. 

So what are my biggest gripes?

No deal breakers.

There are things to improve upon. The location of the right side shift key for example. It sucks. I’m constantly hitting the up arrow key instead. Otherwise spacing and feel are VERY solid and I’m having no problem getting up to good typing speed after only a day. I thought my extra use of the right side shift key might have to do with my left-handedness but my RH wife had the same issue and I purposefully didn’t mention my issue to her with the shift key. 

I sure would like it if they could make these units run cooler and quieter than they do. I don’t find either to be terrible on this unit but they’re not wonderful either. I’m picking a bit here.

I find the lid difficult to open as there is no latch and no indentation to slide your finger into.  

Memory. This isn’t really a gripe but more a realization about how I’m already using my Netbook. I orginally felt that the base memory of 512MB sounded great for surfing and other light application use – which it is. But, after finding the Atom processor so speedy my expectations changed almost immediately. This was a real computer! It has skillz. 

As such, I started loading more apps on the system like Skype and OpenOffice. As I loaded up more apps and more browser windows the 512MB started to get bogged down. That’s too be expected. So for a grand sum of $27.99 I picked up a Kingston 1GB DDR2 PC2-5300 SODIMM memory stick from Circuit City. With 1.5GB the system is now perfect. Here’s the memory upgrade installation guide I referenced. Their claim of a 5-minute install is legit – it actually took me less time. I got to appreciate Lenovo’s solid engineering design that provides easy access to memory and the hard drive for upgrades/repair. Something tells me I won’t be so lucky if I try to add Bluetooth…

What am I most impressed with?

The size and weight of course!

That’s the bloody point of these things after all. It’s brilliant. The 10 inch form factor really is perfect in my mind. My dad got the original Asus eee PC and I found it too slow and too small to use comfortably. Yet, the portability remained extremely compelling. The larger 10 inch means a usable screen and keyboard while still maintaining light weight and overall size. I can hold this unit in one hand as I walk around the house chasing my kids. That’s usability! It also fits perfectly in my compact man bag. Uh-huh, sweet.

The speed. I really expected a lot of compromise in speed and there really isn’t any. I run a Macbook I purchased in March this year with a nice 2.4ghz Core Duo processor and I just can’t say that it’s noticibly different when you’re surfing the web. Despite this common refrain, people don’t mention that your processor DOES in fact play a big part in your web surfing experience and the 1.6ghz Atom strikes me as a very capable chip in this respect.

What really surprises me is that it runs other heavier apps well – like Skype with video. No problem. In fact, I unexpectedly found myself loading more apps on the Lenovo because it seemed so capable. This is a good argument for waiting for the newer unit that has more memory and bigger hard drive. It’s also a good argument against the small storage size of the SSD Netbooks. I can see a ton of people getting these kinds of Netbooks simply because of the low price point and doing quite nicely with them as their main PC.  My biggest issue with the machine has nothing to do with the Machine. 

It’s having to go back to Windows after four years of Apple OS X. I’m no Apple fanboy and I’m a long time Windows user. I switched back to Mac’s about four years ago. I find myself very surprised by how much I miss OS X in everything I do on the Netbook.  I truly didn’t see this coming. After all, a web page is a web page whether you are on a Mac or a PC.

I did plenty of research on hacking the Lenovo with OS X and people DO have it working but with some gotchas that I’m not willing to live. The unit is very new though so I’m hopeful that people will figure out the remaining issues. The deal breaker for me is that you can’t get sound out of the machine on OS X and that means no notifications, music, YouTube and too many other things that one needs on a regular basis. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

In the mean time I’ve been searching out Apple equivalent applications to quench my OS X thirst.

I’ve turned up Colibri to do a quasi job of replicating OS X based QuickSilver. It does the basic work of a keyboard/text based quicklauncher well. I found the web site Cameroid.com to work as a Photobooth replacement. I am using DarkRoom as an equivalent to the OS X based WriteRoom – a simple word processor that blocks out everything on your screen to keep you focused on your writing. 

Of course there are benefits to Windows XP over OS X! Really. I’m delighted to hit the delete key again and have it DO JUST THAT! Noooo, not like Apple OS X where you have to hold down the Fn key plus the Delete key. Apple, what are you thinking?

I’m also happy that I can now run a few apps that are on Windows and not Mac or are simply better on the PC. These include Skype – their new much improved version hasn’t made it to the Mac yet.  The other is Google Chrome which is a solid browser, especially for me since I’m a big consumer of Google products (I even pay for Google Premier for my business email). Finally, there’s a piece of memorization software that I can now use on the PC that will NEVER be ported to the Mac. Well, never say never.

Solid effort Lenovo!

Apple, get yo’ stuff together and build a $599 Netbook – I’ll pay a premium for it as long as you innovate. If you want to build a me too Netbook and charge $450 or $500 for it, I’m down with that as well since I’d be able to use OS X.

For now, this Lenovo Ideapad S10 has pulled me away from my Mac for at least a portion of my day. That wasn’t easy to do. I’m a Mac and I’m a PC even if Apple’s latest Mac/PC commercial is deadly funny.


 

Review and display complaints with Apple Macbook Core Duo 2

Here’s my review of a brand spanking new MacBook 2.4Ghz Core Duo 2 with 2GB memory, 160GB HDD, and Superdrive. Overall I’m very happy with the size, weight, craftmanship, OS, and performance. I’m comparing it to a 3+ year old PowerBook running the PowerPC 1.67Ghz chip. This machine blows that machine out of the water in every way but one. The display.

Now, to be fair the MacBook display doesn’t look all that bad to me when you’re just using it as a laptop and viewing the built-in 13″ screen. It’s not great, but not something I’d complain about. Hook up your MacBook to an external display though and you’re in for a very nasty surprise. It looks so bad running on my 22″ Samsung SyncMaster 225BW and my Sony 17″ LCD that I’m considering taking my new MacBook back and exchanging it for either the MacBook Pro or the 20″ iMac for $200 more (my MacBook cost $1,299, the base iMac is $1,499 and the base MacBook Pro is $1,999).

What I see on my external display is extremely bad pixelation of graphic images such as photos on iPhoto or on web pages (logos, fonts, images, etc.). It’s like seeing a highly optimized jpg file from a 1999 bannner ad gone wrong. Here are some example high resolution pictures of the display’s dithering problems I found on Apple’s forum. Here’s the forum thread where people are reporting all sorts of unexpected problems with build quality (inconsistency) poor display quality and pixelation like I talk about.

Frankly, I’m stunned that Apple has botched the implementation of the Intel GMA X3100 graphics processor with 144MB of DDR2 SDRAM so badly. You don’t read about these problem with other Wintel Machines with the same video card.

Formats available: Quicktime (.mov)

The depths of my stupidity

The depths of my stupidity? Let me count the ways.

Today I was loading the latest version of Last.fm on my Mac when my typical computing reverie was smashed with a simple little arrow that I had not noticed before.

Yes, the huge gray arrow in the picture above. In my defense, not all Mac applications for OSX feature an Applications folder within their install folder – just a lot of ’em.

What I’ve always done at this point BT (before today) is drag the in to my hard drive Applications folder. Presto, the app is installed.

“To install Last.fm on your Mac, drag the Last.fm icon in to your Applications folder.”

I’ve been doing it this way for the 2 1/2 years that I’ve been using my Mac. Today, that Last.dm graphic made me stop. And I wondered…Does this mean I can drag the Last.fm application to my Applications folder all from within this one window without needing to open my hard drive and Applications folder?

Yeah, that’s right. It works. I’ve been a bonehead for 2 1/2 years in one more area. This one is rather painful since I install apps almost every day and I am a ‘computer expert.’ Hah!

As for those written instructions that were designed for reading…

“To install Last.fm on your Mac, drag the Last.fm icon in to your Applications folder.”

First off, I stopped reading them after the first time I would have read them 2 1/2 years ago. Lock in – lock out. Second, they do say “in to your Applications folder” and not “in the the Applications folder in this window.” Third, not all apps have them. Example below. Then again, I’m probably in a small percentage of dufuses who interpreted the instructions incorrectly.

copy to applications folder on Mac OSX

[tags]Mac OSX, Apple, Mac[/tags]

I’ll throw out my Windows machine AND my Mac

Why would I do such a thing?

Because both Microsoft and Apple are both in system lock down mode around music and movie content. Copy protection in the extreme. On the Apple side, they use DRM with iTunes that applies to any music you buy off the iTunes music store. If you don’t have an iPod and you want to listen to the music you purchased on iTunes, you’re out of luck. There’s an answer to that: open source music. Look for solutions to come from the same people who bring us linux and offshoots like ubuntu. As a consumer I dropped Apple once before due to their arrogance and proprietary infringement on me being able to do what I want with my computer and accessories,
including listening to music that I own. Piss off Apple DRM. Here’s more on the subject.

Cory Doctorow of boing boing reports here

The New York Times report is here.

ars technica reports here.

On the windows Vista front things may even be a bit worse. The Music and Movie industry (especially the movie biz) has managed to get Microsoft to be the fall guy in creating new software (and by extension hardware that the vendors make to be compatible with Vista) that will be highly sensitive to pirated movies. Again, I should be allowed to copy movies I own so when my kids trash them, I don’t lose the $20 to $30 I plopped down for a DVD. Beyond that, these changes will impact Vista users in the form of impeded system performance and instability that have never before been seen from an outside agent like copy protection. Hear about it on the Security Now podcast on twit.tv or do a search for Peter Gutmann and Vista and you’ll see about a 100 links on this story – like this one. Here’s the original content as published on Gutmann’s blog. Credit Gutmann for bringing attention to this and bloggers for amplifying it a hundred times over. Here’s the executive summary from Gutmann.

“Windows Vista includes an extensive reworking of core OS elements in order to provide content protection for so-called “premium content”, typically HD data from Blu-Ray and HD-DVD sources. Providing this protection incurs considerable costs in terms of system performance, system stability, technical support overhead, and hardware and software cost. These issues affect not only users of Vista but the entire PC industry, since the effects of the protection measures extend to cover all hardware and software that will ever come into contact with Vista, even if it’s not used directly with Vista (for example hardware in a Macintosh computer or on a Linux server). This document analyses the cost involved in Vista’s content protection, and the collateral damage that this incurs throughout the computer industry.”

And what will I buy when I throw out my old PC and Mac? Well, maybe there will be an Apache laptop by then… 🙂

Netcast: Better Productivity – Less stress. Tips on how computer LCD size and background light increase productivity and lower stress

Gabcast! Julians.name #3

Here are my Netcast Links:

Twit.tv’s Leo Laporte and Amber Mac Netcast on MacBreak Weekly 11: iPhone Home
Merlin Mann, of productivity and life hacking goodness on 43Folders (I read him all the time)
Computer World article: “Could a 30-in. monitor help you do your job faster?” on Pfieffer Consulting study commissioned by Apple (this story has a link to the pdf of the full Pfieffer study)
Poynton.com article (pdf) on reducing eye-strain, glare and stress from your computer display
Scott Bourne, publishes iLifeZone (also featured on Twit.tv’s netcast) publishes a blog on getting the most out of your Mac and recently launched a blog on podcast gear that I’m interested in checking out (right now in fact).

Crunk Open Source Ad Server

I’ve just finished mucking about installing an open source ad server called phpAdsNew. Within an hour I had the application set up on my host and connected to my database and ready to serve ads. It took a little poking around the documentation to get my first ad to serve but a little patience was all it took. It’s funny to have led teams of people and vendors through three different major ad server migrations over the course of months and to now essentially mimic the core process in 60 minutes.

As for the ad server it certainly appears capable, nothing that you would confuse with a full featured paid system but more than adequate for running sponsorship ads on our company blog.

I REALLY like that you can set ad text in the ad server application (this is the text that reads ‘Julians.name Sponsor’ right below the ad. In my experience with enterprise ad servers this wasn’t an option – you could code it in to your ad tags but that increased file size so we avoided it (performance and cost issues). Many content management systems address this but it’s much easier to populate it in the ad server since customizing the message is useful.
My only complaint is that the UI for the software seems to hiccup on the Mac. I’m surprised by this since the app is supposed to be stable in Mozilla and I rarely see differences between FireFox on the PC and Mac platform.

For now, you can see my live test on the bottom right of my sidebar of Julians.name where I have an MMC ad running (and IAB standard 125X125 that I ripped off CNET). Go ahead, click on that ad. The company will no doubt take the free traffic. 🙂 I think I need to change the sponsor text to read “Looky Looky!”