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Lifewire / Jason Schneider
Solid, premium build
Modern I/O and tons of ports
Slow with low processing power
Slight washed-out display
Lacking in the camera/audio department
The Lenovo Ideapad 14 is not meant to be your workhorse machine, but if you want a great-feeling, affordable laptop for a student or a traveler, it could be a good buy.
This 14-inch model of the Lenovo Ideapad line has more than a few issues dogging its otherwise premium look and feel. On the one hand, the screen looks bright and passable, and the build quality is way above the price grade. On the other hand, due to a combination of less onboard RAM and the full Windows 10 Home OS, this laptop tends to choke up a little in the performance department. I tested the machine out for about a week. Read on to see what I think about this budget laptop.
Lenovo knows how to design a laptop, full stop. Even at the very lowest end of the price range, the Ideapad line truly shines with solid-feeling plastic, sleek, sharp edges and a really thin chassis. The 14-inch option really impressed me right out of the box, most notably because it measures just 0.7 inches thick and is only 3.17 pounds. Considering there’s a 14-inch display packed in here, I was really happy to see that Lenovo kept things this slim. What’s more, is the matte silver finish on the outside, and the slightly trapezoidal hinge, paired with the Lenovo logo in the upper right rather than the middle of the chassis, makes the Ideapad a really attractive offering. In other words, it seems like it costs a lot more than it actually does.
Anyone who’s set up a Windows PC knows the drill here: upon booting up, you’ll get a Cortana-guided setup process, opting into your region and logging into your Windows account. However, once you’ve made all your selections, the churn process of getting everything kicked off felt notably slower than some of the other budget laptops I’ve tested. This is largely because it’s firing up a full Windows 10 Home OS, rather than the lighter S software. This is a misstep in my opinion that I will dig into later on, but it’s an important note at the setup phase.
I’ve been really impressed with Lenovo’s screens basically across the board. At the lowest end of the price range, you’ll find specs that match the budget tendencies. The 16:9 display features the same low-end LED panel with a 1366x768 resolution that you’ll see on most budget laptops from any manufacturer in this range.
However, thanks to the matte finish Lenovo chooses to put on their displays, as well as the decent dynamic range, I find the display much better here than on something from, say, HP. To be fair, there’s still plenty of washiness in color response, and the display leans blue, so you’ll need to warm it up with Windows’ Night Light mode. But overall, for the price, I was expecting something much softer and much less defined. This will definitely pass for basic video viewing.
Looking at the dual-core Intel Celeron N3350 processor (with 1.1GHz standard clock speed) on the spec sheet, I was expecting similar performance to the other low-end Celeron laptops I’ve tested. However, this simply wasn’t the case.
Loading standard webpages, as well as switching between apps, took easily 50 percent longer than even the 11-inch Ideapad I tested earlier this year. Why is that? There are two key reasons—for starters I bought a configuration that features only 2GB of DDR3 RAM onboard, because I wanted to see what a lighter-load laptop could do. This might have been fine if Lenovo chose to load in Windows 10 S, rather than Home, but because of the heavier workload involved with Home (including some bloatware from Lenovo), and the requirement for third party security and encryption, this simply will not cut it for anyone who needs a heavy-use machine.
The 14-inch option really impressed me right out of the box, most notably because it measures just 0.7 inches thick and is only 3.17 pounds.
With that said, as long as you stick with Microsoft Edge (Windows’ default browser) you should be able to browse the web and perform basic work tasks with ease. Just don’t expect to open more than a half dozen tabs at once, and certainly don’t expect to game or do heavy media streaming. As a result, the Intel HD 500 graphics processor built-in really doesn't get a chance to show me what it can do, because the processor chokes up before any heavier games even get a chance to load.
As a result of the low-level performance, you really can’t expect to have a ton of spreadsheets and browser tabs open, so I wouldn’t recommend this machine for a main work laptop. However, as is the case with virtually the rest of Lenovo’s laptops, I found the keyboard and trackpad to be very impressive. The slim-height keys don’t actually feel that slim, and they give you a satisfying amount of action. They do feel a little softer than a more traditional keyboard, but if you can deal with that, the plastic and build on these keys feel great. Even the trackpad, with a notable click and gesture support, gave me inklings of a much more premium device.
One downside I’ve found with most low-end Lenovo machines is that the onboard speakers just aren’t up to snuff, even when factoring in that this is a laptop. Truth be told, I couldn’t even discern where the speakers were firing from—sometimes sound seemed to be emanating from the bottom of the machine toward my lap, and other times it seemed to be coming from beneath the keyboard. When on a solid surface, the sound is allowed to travel a little better, giving you full response, but if it’s on your lap, expect muffled, tinny sound.
Lenovo has shifted a lot of the overhead on this budget laptop toward ensuring modern I/O capabilities. First off, the onboard wireless card uses the more modern 802.11ac protocol, instead of the n system, which means that you’ll take advantage of reasonably fast speeds, and the Bluetooth connectivity works well out of the box.
There are 2 full-sized USB 3.0 ports and one USB Type-C port, meaning that data transfer speeds should be adequate with peripherals. Lenovo has also put in a full-sized HDMI port for an additional monitor and a microSD card slot. The latter is important because this configuration only features 32GB of flash-style storage, so you’ll inevitably need to expand that eventually.
As with most laptops, budget or otherwise, the camera is really nothing special. Lenovo isn’t clear about the specs, but the software-centric graininess and the poor low-light performance make this an obvious negative for the laptop. Video calls are fine, but you’ll run into more problems with performance than with the webcam’s resolution. Overall, I can’t fault the laptop too much, as even higher-dollar options lack in this category.
The two-cell lithium-ion battery included is a standard offering for most laptops in the class, and Lenovo states that you’ll get about 8 hours on a single charge. That number is impressive considering the larger 14-inch display (more pixels = more power consumption), and the fact that this machine is doing its best to run a full build of Windows 10 Home.
With standard use, this laptop did give me close to 8 hours, if you’re comfortable running it into lower percentages. You will need to charge it once a day with normal use though, so don’t expect this to come with you on multi-day business trips without the need to charge up.
On this laptop, the full build of Windows 10 Home is just too much for the 2GB of onboard RAM. Everything from setup to standard browsing felt slower as a result.
The more I review budget laptops, the more I’m convinced that these lower-end machines simply can’t handle a full build of Windows 10 Home. Many of the lower-priced machines out there will opt to load in the lighter Windows 10 S, giving you a more controlled environment, and limited bloatware. Plus, you can only get apps directly from the Windows store. This does limit you in capabilities, but as I’ve seen here on the 14-inch Ideapad, it also picks up the slack for an otherwise low-end machine.
On this laptop, the full build of Windows 10 Home is just too much for the 2GB of onboard RAM. Everything from setup to standard browsing felt slower as a result. However, if you have some patience, you can load on third-party apps with ease, and you get a free year of Microsoft Office 365, which is a bonus. All things considered, this machine would have gotten much higher marks with Windows 10 S.
I think this is mostly a good buy, provided you can find it for the right price. At the time of this writing the machine goes for $170 on Amazon, which is a really good deal for a full Windows laptop. I have seen it go for closer to $200, and I can’t help but think at that level, your money would be much better spent on something with Windows 10 S. But, if you can find this Ideapad for $150–170, it might be worth it for a student or someone looking for a less valuable, lower-risk machine.
I tested out two laptops in the 14-inch range, and I think they’re an interesting comparison, because they each do their own things well. The Ideapad looks and feels much better from a build perspective, where the Asus X441 feels thick, clunky, and dated. There’s flash storage on the Ideapad, and a slower, noisier HDD on the Asus. But, the Asus performs just a bit better with more RAM, and it still gives you the full Windows Home build. It’s a toss-up that really depends on your priorities.
Lacking in power, but affordable enough for light browsing.
This is not a powerful laptop by any stretch of the word, but neither is anything at this end of the price range. The Lenovo Ideapad 14 would do much better with more RAM and a lighter OS, but the build quality and reasonable display, paired with modern I/O and some solid attention to detail, make it a good deal, if you can find it for the right price.