When it comes to shopping for a budget-friendly laptop, sacrifices have to be made. One would think an affordable laptop will be heavy, slow, and poorly designed. These attributes, however, do not apply to the Lenovo U41. Starting from RM1,871, this could very possibly be the best value for money laptop you can get today.
While the Lenovo U41 starts from RM1,871, the model that we received is the top-of-the-line variant that is priced at RM2,999. Moving down the price point is the RM2,499 model, which is similar hardware-wise with the model we reviewed; other than the fact that it comes with a Core i5 processor instead.
The most affordable variant, on the other hand, comes with a Core i3 processor and a 500GB HDD. Its 14-inch display also has a lower resolution of 1366 x 768 rather than a 1080p panel that the top two models have. Keep this in mind when you go through this review.
At first glance, the Lenovo U41 looks just like any other laptop in the market, but it has a very surprising quality for a budget laptop: a metal construction. When I first took it out of the box, I was pleasantly surprised by its build quality. The top and bottom chassis are made out of metal, and the same is true for the inside of the laptop. Unfortunately, the bezel of the display is plastic. Then again, we’re talking about an affordable laptop here.
The U41 unit that we received is the red Core i7 model, and honestly, it looks pretty good. It has a slight shimmer to it, and it’s also nice to the touch. For a budget laptop, I’m impressed with how good it looks, not to mention its sturdy build quality.
Okay, so it’s nice to hold and nice to look at. How about its portability? Well, the U41 measures 19.5mm thin and weighs just 1.68kg, while the Yoga 3 Pro-like wedge design makes it look even slimmer. For a 14-inch Ultrabook, it is pretty easy to carry around. While it’s not the lightest or thinnest laptop in the market, I wouldn’t mind carrying it around in my bag for an extended period of time.
Interestingly, the display of the U41 can be tilted 180 degrees. While I’m not sure how many people out there would need to tilt the display to such extremes, it’s a point worth mentioning (just because). I did have fun showing it off to my peers though, although I would’ve liked it to be a convertible instead.
All in all, the Lenovo U41 is a well-built laptop, especially considering how affordable it is. For a slim laptop, it offers plenty of connectivity options, including a pair of USB 3.0 ports, a USB 2.0 port, a HDMI port, and get this: an RJ45 Ethernet port. The U41’s design may be “uninspiring”, but it blends in well with the other laptops in the market. Whether or not this is a good or bad thing, I’d say it’s the former.
Oh, yes, the user experience of the Lenovo U41. As mentioned, the review unit we received is the top-of-the-line model with an Intel Core i7-5500U processor paired with 4GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD that goes for RM2,999. There is also a more affordable variant with a Core i5 processor for RM2,499 (also with a 256GB SSD). The absolute cheapest model comes in at only RM1,871, but it only has a Core i3 processor with a 500GB HDD.
Needless to say, both the top two variants can be serious productivity machines.
Booting up the U41 didn’t take long, and I can immediately get to work once the desktop is loaded. Applications open up without much of a hiccup, and opening files is almost instantaneous. Once you get used to the speed of an SSD, there really is no going back to a laptop with a spinning drive. If Lenovo can fit in an SSD into a budget laptop, it makes me wonder why other manufacturers can’t do the same.
So far, the U41 has been impressive, but it’s not exactly the perfect laptop. For starters, we have the display, which is a…TN panel (yikes). In comparison to a more expensive IPS display, a TN panel is usually inferior. In this case, it holds true. The U41’s display has a wicked colour shift when viewed at an angle, and its not the brightest display in the market either. Thankfully, it’s a matte display with a 1920 x 1080 resolution, which is plenty sharp and pretty usable outdoors. Again, it must be noted here that Lenovo fits a 1080p screen into both the Core i7 and Core i5 models, which is really commendable.
The Lenovo U41’s keyboard, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. When I first started typing on it, I was disappointed at how little travel the keys have. It almost felt like typing on a flat surface, which is not a good thing if you plan on doing a lot of typing on it. That being said, I did get used to it over time. Thankfully, the keys have a nice tactile feedback to compensate for the low key travel. The standard keyboard layout (except for the short shift key on the right) and full-sized navigation keys – this is a big deal – are good to see as well.
In terms of audio quality, the U41 is…okay. Is it loud? Yes, but it also sounds rather tinny, which is expected of a slim laptop. I imagine the U41 will be fine for watching videos and movies, but if you want better audio quality, just plug in your favourite pair of earphones.
Other aspects of the U41 are what you’d come to expect of any capable laptop. The trackpad works well enough, and the laptop hardly gets loud unless it’s put under load. Heat management is pretty good as well. The palm rest area stayed cool even when I was using it for an extended period of time.
The Lenovo U41 offers an impressive user experience. The SSD drive keeps everything zippy, and the Core i7 processor offers plenty of processing power. Unfortunately, the subpar display and keyboard aren’t exactly top of the line (especially the former). If you’re transitioning from a laptop with an IPS display and a decent keyboard, you’d have trouble getting accustomed to the U41.
Then again, it is affordable, and it just needs some getting used to.
Seeing how the Lenovo U41 is equipped with a Core i7-5500U processor, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything to complain about with its performance. As a productivity machine, the processor is actually bordering on overkill, but it’s always better to have more power.
When it comes to gaming, however, don’t expect too much out of it. Equipped with an NVIDIA GeForce 920M graphics card, it should run casual games well. It’s any day better than an Intel HD 5500 integrated graphics, that you can be sure.
I’ve tried playing Counter Strike: Global Offensive on the U41, and for the most part, it can run the first-person shooter game well enough. Of course, most of the settings have to be turned down to achieve a fluid frame rate (I’m talking about frame rates of more than a meagre 30fps), but it runs well enough with the resolution set to 1920 x 1080.
The Lenovo U41 offers more than enough performance for a slim, light and affordable laptop. While its not the best laptop to do some serious gaming, it’s very capable of running more casual games. For a laptop at this price point, you’re getting some serious value for your money.
As a productivity machine, the Lenovo U41’s battery life is very important. To test just how long it can last, I used the PCMark 8 home conventional battery life test. Here’s the result:
Yeah, it doesn’t exactly have the best battery life in the market, but over three hours of usage with the display set to maximum brightness isn’t all that bad. It’s slightly better than the Dell XPS 13’s result, but then again, the XPS 13 has a very power-hungry 3200 x 1800 display.
Slim, fast, lightweight, and most of all, affordable. These four words perfectly illustrate the Lenovo U41. But, there’s another laptop that has all of these attributes as well: the Asus ZenBook UX305.
First of all, the UX305 is much slimmer and lighter than the U41. It only measures 12.3mm thin and weighs a meagre 1.2kg, making it 7.2mm thinner and about 480g lighter than the U41. The UX305 also has Asus’ trademark “concentric circle” finish on the lid, so design-wise, it might have an edge over the U41, depending on each individual’s personal preference.
Other than that, the UX305 also has a much superior display than the U41. After all, we’re talking about an IPS display versus the TN panel of the U41, which is no contest, really. That being said, the UX305’s display is slightly smaller at 13.3-inch, but I’d gladly take a smaller display for the better viewing angle and colour reproduction.
Well then, the UX305 seems to be the much better buy, so why would anyone consider purchasing the Lenovo U41? That’s simple: it’s in the processor. To achieve a fanless, lightweight and slim build, the UX305 is powered by an Intel Core M processor, which is definitely outclassed by the Lenovo U41’s Core i7 processor. This aspect alone gives the U41 a definite edge over the UX305.
In terms of pricing, the most affordable Asus ZenBook UX305 goes for RM2,499, and it comes equipped with a Core M-5Y10 processor paired with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. For the same price, the Lenovo U41 has a Core i5-5200U processor, 4GB of RAM and a much bigger 256GB SSD. Based on these specifications alone, it’s a no-brainer to say that the U41 has the edge in terms of value for money. Then again, you’d have to live with the less than stellar display and slightly less portability.
The Lenovo U41 is an excellent, excellent laptop, especially for its very affordable asking price. It has a fast processor, SSD storage, and a solid metal construction. All things considered, the Lenovo U41 is perhaps the best budget Ultrabook out there in the market today. The generous 256GB SSD alone makes it a standout in the budget laptop segment.
However, sacrifices have to be made, and in the case of the U41, it’s the display. I’m really particular about the display of a laptop, but even then I’d say this is one laptop I can live with. After all, it’s still a 1080p matte display, and the colour shifting is a non-issue when viewed in “proper” angles.
Most importantly, it also doesn’t cost a bomb for such a well-packaged Ultrabook.