Review: Lenovo S12 12″ netbook almost perfect

It's my top choice for a daily carry about, and highly recommend it.

In Review

Lenovo S12 12" Netbook

4.5 out of 5 stars
4.5 out of 5 stars - 'Right on the Money'
Price: $499
Build quality, superb full-size keyboard, battery life decent for a 12" netbook, the screen is gorgeous with high contrast and brightness, expandable with Expresscard slot
Battery won't lock completely and wiggles, uses aging Atom N270 processor
"Right on the Money"
A home run. The sweet spot of portable computing with sharp, expansive 12" display, enough power for cloud computing, all weighing about 3.5lbs.
Review by

Lenovo S12 netbook review

Whether this stellar Lenovo can be truly considered a “netbook” is debatable. After all, its 12″ screen size and 3.5lb weight are both more substantial than the typical 10″ fare many consider the sweet spot. But for me, this S12 at $499 (check for online discounts) is just about perfect. It offers a usable screen size, a full-size keyboard and enough battery life to get you through a road trip, flight or work day.

Design-wise, the S12 exhibits all the hallmarks of Lenovo quality. What it slightly lacks in ThinkPad tank-like robustness it more than makes up for in aesthetically pleasing design and portability. The glossy pattern on the lid is pleasant and modern without going bling overboard. Office partner, no problem. The battery does just out the back a bit, and worse, has an annoying wiggle. This was my only nit on an otherwise perfect design.

The keyboard is stellar for a netbook. This is a full-on, luxurious typing experience normally found only on bigger notebooks. The keys are nicely weighted, provide ample tactile feedback (with no clacky overdose) and are finished in a flat black finish that prevents any kind of slipping (like you may find on the Acer Timeline series, although an otherwise excellent notebook range). Speed-wise I could fly on this thing. The only caveat would be the reversal of the control and function key on the lower left, a well known Lenovo (and formerly IBM) idiosyncrasy. However, for existing Lenovo users this will be a non-issue. Otherwise all the keys are right where you want them including dedicated scrolling keys, page up and down, home and end keys. There are also volume control keys which come in handy.

The screen is terrific too, outperforming others in the market in several ways. First the display is 12″. But even better, the resolution is 1280×800 which makes a big difference when it comes to surfing web pages, reading through documents and managing your desktop. On a typical 10″ netbooks with 1024×600 resolution you need to get used to scrolling a lot. At times it can feel like looking out of a mail slot. Not so with the generous S12 screen. Also, compared to more recent 13.3″ CULV-based laptops, the Lenovo has notably better contrast, which can mean less eye fatigue over extended periods of time. It’s something you may not notice right away, but comparing, for example, Lenovo’s very own U350 to this S12 proved that the S12 netbook had the better display.

The trackpad is smaller than what you’ll find on a netbook such as the Toshiba NB205 even with its smaller 10″ screen. But I found the trackpad to be responsive and the buttons below are tactile, if a little loud. I did wish they would wrap along the front lip of the case which would make them easier to press.

Battery life is not quite up to 10″ standards. But it is close. If you can still manage with about 5-6 hours of battery life (vs. 8-9 for the smaller netbooks) then the trade-off may be worth it for the more useful screen and keyboard.

No doubt, this is still a lightweight. Based on Intel’s Atom N270 processor, don’t expect to run advanced applications, stream HD video, or play modern games. If you spend a lot of time in a web browser, working in the cloud, or running office applications then you should find the performance adequate. Our test unit shipped with only 1GB of memory which is standard for netbooks, but an upgrade to 2GB should help performance.

I tested Windows 7 on the S12 and it installed and ran superbly. This is the release that Vista should’ve been all along.

Other pluses, it never got hot, running almost cool the entire time. This made using the S12 comfortable on a lap. Also I could rarely hear the fan noise which is something you sometimes don’t appreciate until you experience a loud laptop in a quiet place. It can break my concentration. No worries again with the S12.

I love this netbook. It’s my top choice for a daily carry about, and highly recommend it. The only issue I could find was the slightly wiggly battery that didn’t seem to lock in to the unit perfectly. But it is quickly remedied with a wedge of paper. And I wish Bluetooth was included. Otherwise this netbook delivers a premium typing experience with a top notch display for a reasonable price, as long as you can live with the tiny Atom processor. If you need more graphics oomph, then you should wait for the NVIDIA Ion version of this netbook which will ship sometime later this year.

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