Cheap laptops are nothing new this time of year–they’ve been practically a holiday tradition since 2002 when Sotec released a decent laptop for $900, which was jaw-droppingly low for the time–but this year, Best Buy is selling a Lenovo Ideapad 100s for $149.99, which, while not jaw-droppingly low given the number of $199 laptops that were available last year, is still the cheapest name-brand laptop I’ve seen. Note: Best Buy has since raised the price to $199, but Ebay has limited stock of the same item for $129.
I’ve seen some reviews, but there is one thing I haven’t seen anyone bring up yet: This is a netbook in every way, except I think we’re supposed to call them cloudbooks now. So keep that in mind. The machine is probably worth $149.99, but it made some compromises to reach that price point.
Comparing it to my HP Mini 110 from 2009, it comes with twice the RAM, twice as much SSD storage, at least twice the CPU power (probably more like four times as much), and twice the battery life, while being about half as thick and weighing half as much and costing about half as much. That said, the Mini 110 was upgradeable. I upgraded it to 2 GB of RAM and put in a much larger, faster SSD. You can’t do that with this year’s models. In making them thinner and lighter and cheaper, upgrades went out the window.
So, with that overview out of the way, let’s dive into some more specifics.
The brand. It’s Lenovo. Lenovo hasn’t had a good year, and I don’t know if it’s possible to wipe it and install a clean copy of Windows 10 on it. (If I get a chance to find out, I’ll be writing a follow-up, but no promises.) According to the specs, Lenovo isn’t loading the crapware on it anymore, and I didn’t find any on it in 30 minutes of messing with one, but admittedly you’re taking a chance.
The keyboard. This is a netbook, therefore, the keyboard is about 90% the size of a standard one. For some people that doesn’t matter at all. I don’t touch type as fast as I used to, but the smaller keyboard frustrates me at times.
The trackpad. It has two buttons and a touch area. No scrolling, no secret hand gestures to keep straight, just move your finger and the pointer moves. To me this is a good thing–I’d rather remember keyboard shortcuts than hand gestures. To some people it’s been a showstopper.
The CPU. It has a quad-core, 1.33 GHz Intel Atom CPU, which is entry-level but won’t be bad for what most people are going to buy this for, which is likely to be watching video, social networking, and occasionally creating documents with Microsoft Office. Windows 10 can run on worse.
The memory. We’re doing the minimum here. On board there’s 2 GB of RAM and a 32 GB eMMC SSD, neither of which can be upgraded. Granted, Windows 10 is slimmed down enough that it will indeed fit on a machine with those modest specs and run fine, and Microsoft has integrated enough compression into the OS that it’s likely to continue to run fine, but this isn’t a barn burner. It’s going to be a casual-use laptop.
Expandability. You’re limited to two USB ports and a micro SD slot for expansion. You may very well be streaming your music and movies from another machine in your house most of the time.
The screen. It’s an 11-inch, 1376×768 (720p) LED screen without touch. Doing the minimum is a recurring pattern at this price point.
Software. It’s bundled with Windows 10 and a 1-year Office 365 subscription. That’s where Microsoft intends to make its money on this machine. I’d recommend picking up a copy of Microsoft Office 2016 Home and Student Edition, or using your employer’s Microsoft Home Use Program instead after the subscription runs out. In the long run it’s cheaper, even if you’re loading $114 worth of software on a $149 laptop.
Networking. It’s all wireless here, and it’s 802.11a, 802.11g, and 802.11n, so no 802.11ac. I suppose we should be glad to get 802.11n. For people replacing an old machine they plugged straight into a modem, this will be an issue–they’ll need to get a wireless router.
The verdict. For a travel machine, a machine for the kids, or an extra machine for experimentation, it’s fine. It’s an underachieving machine, but it’s $150, and Windows 10 will run better on it than Windows 7 would. Basically it’s an x86 tablet motherboard adapted to laptop use. But for $50 more, you might want to step up to Lenovo’s 14-inch model, which has a full-sized keyboard and a 14-inch screen and 64 GB of storage but is otherwise identical.