OS: Ubuntu for Netbooks Remix
CPU: Intel Atom (1.6GHz)
Dimensions: 292mm x 216mm x 22-28.9mm
Rugged construction and big keyboard. Good battery life and enough power to do the jobs it was designed to do. Good-looking too.
Not the best value for money, solid build costs money and you might be better off waiting for the Nvidia ION version of this laptop.
Lenovo is cranking out the netbooks so fast, it’s hard to keep pace. Recently, this major manufacturer (the fourth biggest PC maker in the world) released the IdeaPad S10 netbook, and now the company has birthed the updated S12. The differences are astounding – while the new unit is similar in size and has the exact same processor, the S12 is a more rugged unit that lacks the plastic, low-end enclosure of the first-gen S10 model. Loaded with Moblin or Ubuntu for Netbooks Remix, the S12 just zings – and will likely run even faster once Google releases its Chrome OS. This netbook ultimately falls in an in-between land, however, as the next S12 model to ship later in 2009 will include a powerful Nvidia ION chipset.
A 12-inch netbook is a bit of an anomaly – the previous 10-inch model is still available, and most netbooks use the smaller size, but the S12 has a full-size 100% keyboard and a bright display that looks as good as previous Lenovo models in this size. The S12 netbook uses the Intel Atom 1.60GHz processor, which makes it sluggish for all but the most basic web browsing, email and docs.
For now, on Ubuntu for Netbooks Remix, the S12 ran acceptably fast. We tried loading Unreal Tournament and the graphics capability is just not up to task at all. That will change with the Nvidia ION version of this netbook, which promises to blend a low-cost Atom processor with the 9400M graphics power. In a long OpenOffice document – running to about 120 pages – the Atom processor lagged during simple page-down tasks and adding a header. Movie playback was choppy at best. Once again, the ION version of the S12 will address high-def movie streaming with a much more capable chipset.
The S12 is not meant for any of those tasks, of course – it is just a handy substitute until you can get back on your desktop machine. This model supports 802.11g wireless without any driver downloads required, and we had no trouble connecting at a public hotspot. Under the netbook, there is a slot where you can load a SIM card for 3G access. The S12 comes with 1GB of RAM and a 160GB hard disk. It also has a four-in-one memory card reader that supports MMC, MS, MSPro and SD formats. There’s an ExpressCard slot and an Ethernet port.
The most impressive finding with the S12 is that it is just constructed better than the S10, or the Asus and even Acer competing models. The keyboard feels rigid, the harder plastic construction means the unit will likely withstand some abuse long-term. With the more solid construction, you might be more inclined to take the S12 on trips – especially since the S12 is just as long-lasting as 10-inch netbooks at about six hours of average use. The S12 also has a built-in 1.3‑megapixel webcam with microphone, three USB ports, and a VGA port (but no CD drive).
So where does the S12 fit? It is not as small as some netbooks, but weighs about the same. It does not compete with the processing power of a standard laptop or with the upcoming ION-powered version, which has an HDMI port and supports games and movies. For most, the S12 is a good compromise for the price if you need a netbook now. If you can wait for the ION version or pay more for a laptop with a standard Intel dual-core processor, we recommend that.
Good performance minus games and movies and the all-white, solid plastic enclosure is almost Mac-like. There’s no HDMI port but it sports plenty of USB ports and good Wi-Fi. You can get better deals as the size and ruggedness come at a price. A good all-round netbook that competes favourably with the HP Mini.
HP Mini 110 Mi £280
The HP Mini is just a hair more rugged than the S12, but the keyboard is more cramped and we did not like the trackpad – which is almost useless.