How big can a netbook get before it stops being a netbook?
The guts of the Lenovo IdeaPad S12 are virtually identical to the IdeaPad S10 that we reviewed back in 2008—1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 CPU, 1GB DDR2 RAM, 160GB HDD, and integrated Intel GMA950 graphics. The difference is the body. At 11.4 inches wide, this is one of the largest “netbooks” we’ve ever tested. The S12 has a 12.1-inch WXGA screen with a 1280x800 native resolution—far superior to the netbook-standard 1024x600, and much more usable. The glossy screen is impressively bright even at low LED-backlight levels.
The S12’s keyboard features large, comfortable keys and is a joy to type on, although as usual, Lenovo has mixed up where the Ctrl and Fn keys should be. The glossy black patterned lid and matte-black ABS frame make the S12 one of the best-looking and best-constructed netbooks we’ve ever tested, although the battery is a little wobbly and the lid is a fingerprint magnet. Both RAM and hard drive are easily accessible and upgradeable.
You'd be amazed how much difference a screen with decent resolution makes.
While some S12s ship with VIA’s Nano platform and an Ion-based version is in the works, ours came with a standard N270, and its performance reflected that. The S12 took 708 seconds to complete our Photoshop benchmark—about the same as the Lenovo S10 and Samsung NC10, two other N270-based netbooks. In Quake III, the S12 grabbed a respectable 60.9fps, slower than the 63.8fps the record-holding MSI Wind U123 managed with the same settings. The six-cell battery lasted a respectable four hours, 15 minutes in our rundown test.
The Lenovo IdeaPad S12 is not the fastest netbook we’ve ever tested, nor the smallest—but that isn’t the point. It’s a competent netbook in a much more usable formfactor. The higher screen resolution makes everything better—from browsing the web to editing photos and watching movies. And at a three pound, 6.5 ounce lap weight, it’s only a few ounces heavier than the Asus Eee 1000HE or MSI Wind U123—still light enough to throw in a bag and bring to the coffee shop.
Some might argue that a netbook with a 12-inch screen isn’t even a netbook anymore. We think they’re wrong. It’s still cheap (on the low end of $500) and portable, has great battery life, and the combination of a great screen and excellent keyboard means that folks who dismiss netbooks as too small to be usable have another thing coming.