I've been in the tech biz for a long time (I started when there was this hot new TV show called Seinfeld), and if there's one question I'm asked more than any other, it's this: "Rick, how'd you get to be so handsome and clever?" Wait, no, that's what my wife keeps asking. On the tech front, it's this: "What laptop should I buy?" If your budget is around $400, the answer is easy: Buy the Lenovo Ideapad 3, a well-equipped workstation for the money. It's not perfect, but many users won't mind the issue I have with it. Here's my Lenovo Ideapad 3 review.
The 4-pound Ideapad 3 should appeal to a wide range of users, everyone from students to seniors. It's spacious and comfortable to use and suitable for mainstream computing tasks: web browsing, word processing, Zoom meetings and so on. The 15.6-inch screen is accompanied by a full-width keyboard, one that includes a dedicated numeric keypad for spreadsheets and the like. Alas, it's not backlit, but that would be a rare find at this price point.
I like the overall design of the machine, which has a glossy, brushed-metal look on top and smooth, textured plastic underneath. The paint job: a subtle, stylish gold (which Lenovo refers to as almond). The matte touchscreen does a fine job repelling fingerprints, an important consideration for anyone planning to put their mitts on it. (Me, I'm happier with a mouse.) Just take note that because of the screen size, this laptop may push the boundaries of a typical backpack.
Lenovo Ideapad 3: Features and specs
As for the guts, you get an Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive. Those are modest specs, to be sure, but sufficient for the aforementioned basics. In my informal tests, the machine took all of about six seconds to go from a cold boot to the sign-in screen, and I found that even with half a dozen browser tabs open (one of them playing a video), everything felt quick and responsive.
This could change, of course, if you're running multiple apps or typically keep a couple of dozen tabs open. More RAM would help, but the Ideapad 3 has a less-than-ideal upgrade path: 4GB soldered to the motherboard and 4GB in a memory slot. You can remove the latter but replace it only with an 8GB module — for 12GB total. Still, that would afford a bit more breathing room for apps and tabs.
Given the entry-level pricing of this machine, I expected a mushy keyboard, but I was pleasantly surprised. The keys felt firm and responsive, with very little give in the center even when I exerted extra pressure. The touchpad also worked well; it's roomy and smooth and responds instantly to various gestures. (There's also a function key that can quickly disable/enable the touchpad, great for those who tend to graze it accidentally while typing.)
Do you Zoom? The Ideapad 3's webcam tops out at 720p resolution, which is fine for most video calls. As with most laptop webcams, you need good lighting; I started looking mighty grainy when the room was dim. If needed, you could plug a better webcam into one of the system's three Type-A USB ports. It has no USB-C, though, and all three ports are on the left side; it would be nice to have one on the right to better accommodate multi-peripheral desk setups.
Lenovo Ideapad 3: What I didn't like
That's a minor complaint; my big one is with the 1366 x 768 screen resolution. That's just too low for a 15.6-inch display. The result: Most websites look crowded and some text appears less than sharp. It's readable, just a little fuzzy. The screen itself is reasonably bright and offers decent viewing angles, but anyone accustomed to a full-HD (that is, 1920 x 1080) display is likely to find this disappointing.
Unfortunately, although there's an HDMI port for connecting an external monitor, you can't increase the resolution even if the monitor supports more pixels.
Lenovo Ideapad 3: Should you buy it?
Even with the lower-than-ideal screen resolution, can you still get your work done? Absolutely. Can you stream Netflix and join meetings and all that? Definitely. Not everyone one will mind — or even notice — the low pixel count. So although that's a dealbreaker for me, I have no qualms about recommending the Ideapad 3. It's a well-rounded, well-constructed machine with more style than you'd expect and a very affordable price.