With a nice keyboard, strong performance and lightweight design, Lenovo's Ideapad 100 makes a strong case as a low-cost work laptop for commuters. You also get a better selection of ports than on other budget laptops. But the $339 machine has its shortcomings, including mediocre battery life and a display with shallow viewing angles. So are the Ideapad 100's strengths enough to make it a low-cost contender for business users?
The Ideapad 100's basic design isn't bad looking, but it won't impress anyone in the office. The lid is made from a rough, textured plastic that looks cheap and attracts smudges and fingerprints. I also noticed a fair amount of flex in the machine's plastic casing, which makes it feel a bit flimsy. In other words, the Ideapad 100 looks and feels like a budget laptop. The notebook's keyboard deck looks nice, though, with a matte-black paint job and clean accent lines.
At just 3.2 lbs., the Ideapad 100 is lighter than the Windows-based competition, including the 3.4-lb. HP Stream 13. That means it won't weigh you down on your daily commute as much as other options will. The Ideapad 100 is far from the lightest budget laptop, though; Toshiba's Chromebook 2 weighs just 2 lbs., though it has a smaller display.
The Ideapad 100's display is sharp enough for basic business tasks, but it's far from impressive. The 14-inch, 1,366 x 768-pixel panel has shallow viewing angles, so the picture starts to wash out when you turn the machine slightly or tip the display by about 15 degrees. It's also a bit dim, topping out at 260 nits of brightness, which is below the 274-nit average for notebooks. Brighter displays are easier to view outdoors or in direct sunlight
For all its shortcomings, though, the Ideapad 100's display is roomier and brighter than the 13-inch screen on the Stream 13.
Keyboard and touchpad
Lenovo didn't sacrifice a quality keyboard to cut down on the price of the Ideapad 100. The keys are large and well spaced, with snappy feedback and a good amount of travel, making the notebook comfortable for extended typing sessions. I also appreciate the full-size arrow keys, which make it easier to navigate around documents.
Unfortunately, the touchpad feels like a budget component. It has a rough, matte surface that doesn't let your finger glide easily, making cursor control feel like a bit of a chore.
The Ideapad 100 comes equipped with an Ethernet port on its left edge, which is a feature that budget laptops like the Stream 13 lack. That's good news if you want to connect to wired Internet or secure office networks. Otherwise, the Ideapad 100's selection of ports is pretty standard, with two USB ports (compared to three on the Stream 13) and an HDMI port for connecting to larger monitors or projectors.
The Ideapad 100 is powerful enough for basic productivity tasks, with an Intel Celeron N2940 processor and 4GB of RAM. The machine sped along at a good clip, even during moderate multitasking sessions, such as when I streamed HD video from YouTube while editing a spreadsheet, with more than a dozen tabs open in my Firefox Web browser in the background.
It also easily outperformed its closest competitors on the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, with a score of 2,446. That beats the Stream 13 (1,802), even if it's far short of the consumer notebook average of 4,503, which includes scores from many pricier machines.
The Ideapad 100 didn't excel on every performance test, though. The machine took a glacial 18 minutes and 6 seconds to complete our spreadsheet test, which tasks a computer with matching 20,000 names to their addresses in OpenOffice. The Stream 13 was quicker, finishing the test in 15 minutes and 12 seconds. The average notebook is much faster than both, finishing in just over 8 minutes.
Don't forget to pack your charger if you're taking the Ideapad out of the office. It lasted a meager 4 hours and 45 minutes on our battery test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi. That's just a bit behind the budget laptop average, although several competing notebooks lasted far longer, including the Stream 13 (6:26) and the Chromebook 2 (7:48). In other words, the Ideapad 100 is a poor choice if you need a notebook that can last through a long business flight.
The Ideapad 100 ships with a relatively clean copy of Windows 8.1, without a lot of the useless preloaded programs you'll find on many budget laptops. A handful of good productivity apps come installed, though, including OneNote for taking and saving notes, and Skype for basic videoconferencing.
Like all Windows 8.1 laptops, the Ideapad 100 is eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 10, the latest version of Microsoft's desktop operating system. It's accessible through the standard Windows Update utility, and adds a bunch of nice productivity-boosting features. Those include Cortana, a voice-activated personal-assistant app that can perform all sorts of functions, from adding events to your calendar to tracking down specific files on your system. Other highlights include the Action Center, a central hub for alerts and notifications, and virtual desktops, which let you group your apps to avoid clutter.
At just $339, Lenovo's Ideapad 100 offers a decent bang for your buck. With a nice keyboard, lightweight build and relatively strong performance, it's worth a look for business users with only basic computing needs.
On the other hand, its short battery life makes it a questionable choice for frequent travelers. HP's $209 Stream 13 runs for longer on a charge, though it's not quite as fast as Lenovo's notebook. Toshiba's $279 Chromebook 2 is also a decent low-cost option for travelers, offering a sharper display and a lighter design than either of those laptops, but most business users would be better off with a Windows-based system.