There was a time, not too many years ago, when $ 999 was considered the limit price for a budget laptop. How times and expectations have changed. Today, along with the $ 50 Amazon Fire tablets and smartphones under $ 200, you can get a reasonably functional PC experience for far less than you might think.
The latest example of this new low-cost computer trend is the Lenovo Ideapad 100S, an 11-inch clamshell laptop that retails for $ 199 in the US (£ 179 in the UK, AU $ 299 in Australia). It’s among the finest of ultra-budget PCs, but it’s not the first. Note that as of December 2015, Lenovo is selling the system online at a discounted price of $ 179 in the United States.
The $ 200-and-under computer (using US prices) has been on the rise since mid-2014, thanks to products like the $ 200 HP Stream 11 laptop and the Intel Compute Stick, a tiny desktop PC that can be found for just $ 119. All run Windows 10 and Intel Atom or Celeron processors and are primarily intended for web browsing and cloud apps (note the very small amount of built-in storage, ranging from 8GB to 32GB).
The benefit is that, unlike a similarly priced Chromebook (a simple laptop running Google’s Chrome OS, which is essentially the Chrome web browser and little else), you can install and run regular Windows software, such as photo editing programs or browsers. Alternative webs, such as as long as they fit on small hard drives. You won’t be doing professional-grade photo editing or playing PC games, but at these prices there’s virtually no good reason to choose a Chrome OS system if you only have $ 200 to spend.
With a colorful chassis (our model was bright red) that doesn’t feel too flimsy and a typically excellent Lenovo keyboard design, this could easily be the clear winner in the ultra-budget category, if not for an issue. The touchpad here isn’t a simple clickpad-style model, as seen in the HP Stream 11 and nearly every other laptop available today. Instead, it’s an older design with separate left and right mouse buttons. But more importantly, the older touchpad design doesn’t currently support common gestures like two-finger swipe. For someone who does a lot of long online reading, this can be a headache, but you’ll have to judge for yourself if the excellent keyboard makes up for it.
Lenovo Ideapad 100S
Price as reviewed
Screen size / resolution
11.6 inch 1.366 x 768 screen
1.33 GHz Intel Atom Z3735F
2048 MB DDR3 SDRAM 1333 MHz
32MB Intel HD Graphics (dedicated)
Wireless 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0
Microsoft Windows 10 Home (32 bit)
Design and features
The challenge of any ultra-budget laptop is to appear to cost just a little more than it actually is. Nobody expects an aluminum unibody chassis or sleek edge-to-edge glass on the display, but a flimsy hinge, a lid that bends and flexes when you move it, or a creaky body that looks like it won’t hold up even modest handling it’s not worth it at any price.
Lenovo avoids these missteps by building the 100S into a slightly larger and thicker body than other 11-inch laptops, giving the system some protective footprint. The sturdy hinges also fold back 180 degrees to stay flat, so you get plenty of useful viewing angles. The matte red exterior color, which covers the back of the lid and bottom panel, is resistant to fingerprints, and the darker red color also looks more refined than the glossy black plastic on so many budget laptops.
Inside, the keyboard retains the same basic design as most other Lenovo laptops, with widely spaced island-style keys that curve slightly at the bottom of each key, offering a slightly more usable surface to hit. For example, it’s far beyond the keyboard on HP’s Stream 11.
The touchpad, however, is the single biggest obstacle to the 100S. The pad loses valuable surface by splitting the left and right mouse click functions into separate physical buttons. It’s a style of touchpad that is rarely seen anymore, and for good reason. The pad here is also not set up for multitouch gestures. It’s important to note that standard two-finger scrolling won’t work, nor will two-finger tapping on the pad for right-click action. It makes the system more difficult to use when scrolling through long web pages and is a shortcoming to seriously consider before buying.