The Lenovo IdeaPad 320S is an entry-level laptop that looks, from arm’s width at least, similar to ones costing £600-1000. Sub-£400 models don’t have to be dumpy or ugly anymore.
Normally we struggle to recommend a laptop as low-power as the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S. However, we’ve finally reached the point where Windows 10 and a low-end Pentium processor can get along. It’s time to celebrate.
The Lenovo IdeaPad 320S is a great match for someone with a low budget and no truly CPU-crunching tasks to do. Don’t come expecting a great screen, though, as it’s glaringly worse than that of a laptop from the next tier.
Price and availability
The Lenovo IdeaPad 320S is an affordable laptop, costing £349 in the spec we’re reviewing. This has a low-end Intel Pentium 4415U CPU, a 128GB SSD and 4GB RAM.
If you’re after a low-price laptop that also has a Core-series processor, the i3 Lenovo IdeaPad 320S costs £475.
There’s also a much higher-end version, with a Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM, 1080p screen and 128GB SSD, for £649.99. It’s a viable alternative to the £200-more IdeaPad 720S, although really a totally different laptop to the one we’re reviewing today, outside of the shell.
The Lenovo IdeaPad 320S comes with a one-year warranty.
It’s available to buy from Currys PC World here.
Design is a primary appeal of the Lenovo IdeaPad 320. This is unusual for a laptop of this price.
From a distance you could easily believe it costs £600-1000. It doesn’t have the thick frame or unsophisticated lines of the average budget laptop. Instead, The Lenovo IdeaPad 320S has an ultrabook-like shell, but one made mostly of plastic rather than aluminium.
The lid is aluminium, but Lenovo has sensibly chosen to favour a classy look instead of showing this off, using the same block colour for the entire shell.
It feels sturdy too. There’s minimal flex to the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S screen and only a small part of the keyboard flexes under pressure, and even then you have to be looking for faults to notice it.
Look closer and you’ll notice the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S isn’t quite as slim or as light as a premium slim laptop, though. At 19.2mm thick, it’s portable but thick enough to be a noticeable presence in your rucksack.
That said, we’d be happy to use it as a laptop carried around daily. Lenovo also says the 320S weighs 1.7kg, but that must relate to the higher-spec version as this one is just 1.435kg according to our scales.
Until now we’ve been recommending the HP 250 G5 as a top budget laptop buy. While more powerful than the IdeaPad 320S, this Lenovo is certainly far better-looking and more portable.
It even offers the latest laptop design trend: very slim screen surrounds. While not as slim as those of, say, the Dell XPS 13, the slimmed-down borders do give the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S a very sharp and modern look. For a budget laptop.
The Lenovo IdeaPad 320S has what is fast becoming the crowd-pleasing standard of connectivity. There’s one USB-C port, the new style of connector, and two older full-size USBs.
As you might guess given the price, these are not all top-spec connectors. One of the USBs is a 2.0 socket rather than 3.0, and the USB-C does not support the ultra-high bandwidth Thunderbolt 3 standard.
None of this matter too much in a £350 laptop like the Lenovo IdeaPad 320, though.
The full-size HDMI and SD card slot are far more important. For the average buyer the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S has much more useful connectivity than a £1500 MacBook, even without truly high-end ports.
There’s no fingerprint scanner, an increasingly common feature in laptops. However, we don’t expect to see one in a machine this cheap.
Keyboard and touchpad
The Lenovo IdeaPad 320S keyboard and trackpad don’t feel radically worse than those of the much more expensive IdeaPad 720S. There are budget-related compromises, but none are too glaring in this area.
Like other slim laptops, the keys are a little shallow and their resistance a little lower than the IdeaPad 720S’s, but typing is comfortable. This is one of the benefits of getting a 14in laptop like this rather than a much smaller model: the keys feel well-spaced.
There is no backlight, though, meaning you need to touch type at night.
The trackpad below is a fairly standard plastic pad, with buttons built into the surface. Its click sound is a bit loud, and the surface not as smooth as a glass pad. However, like the rest of the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S, it’s a fairly convincing impersonation of a much more expensive machine’s touchpad.
The Lenovo IdeaPad 320’Ss screen is the one part that instantly marks this out as cheap laptop. It uses a TN-style screen rather than the IPS LCD kind seen in almost all more expensive laptops at this point.
When tilted back too far, the colours invert and the screen appears cast in shadow. Tilt it towards you and the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S looks washed-out. Vertical viewing angles are poor, making the screen look bad unless viewed dead-on.
Resolution is limited too at 1366 x 768 pixels. However, this is currently the most common resolution at the price. And it doesn’t appear aggressively pixellated.
Colour performance is relatively poor, covering just 56% of sRGB, 39% of Adobe RGB and 40% of DCI P3. This is low enough to make undersaturation immediately apparent. Playing a movie on the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S right next to the IdeaPad 720S, the latter appears far richer.
Contrast is very poor too, another characteristic typical of a standard TN panel, at 205:1. Black levels are clearly imperfect even in a well-lit room.
And finally, brightness isn’t very good either, with maximum intensity of 263cd/m. We like to see levels over 300cd/m.
The display is the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S’s biggest disappointment, and perhaps the best reason to consider spending a little more on a laptop with an IPS screen. More expensive models in this range use IPS panels too.
However, if your budget is limited to £350 you’ll likely have to put up with a lower-quality display like this unless you switch to a Chromebook or Android hybrid instead of a Windows 10 computer.
Its matt finish is the display’s lone saving grace. This makes the screen easier to see outside, or when near reflection-causing windows.
The Lenovo IdeaPad 320S is a low-end laptop. It uses the Intel Pentium 4415U CPU a dual-core with four threads and a base clock speed of 2.3GHz.
We normally advise against buying a Windows 10 laptop with a Pentium or Intel Atom processor, as they are often a chore to use. Even system navigation can be slow to the point of annoyance.
However, the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S proves we’re back at a point where an Intel Pentium laptop can be a good buy. Windows 10 feels fast, there’s no waiting for basic elements of the OS to appear and general responsiveness is remarkably close to that of a Core i3 laptop. This is, in part, thanks to the use of a 128GB SSD rather than a slower hard drive.
Conscious that there’s still a question of how much an Intel Pentium CPU with 4GB of RAM can really hack, we tried opening a dozen browser windows, a few documents and running Minecraft in the background. The Lenovo IdeaPad 320S still didn’t fall over, although looking at Windows 10 Task Manager’s CPU usage stats it’s clear the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S is made for light tasks. Processor usage was fairly high with this kind of low-level multi-tasking.
If you want to do video editing, use Photoshop or music production software, we’d highly recommend a Core i-series laptop instead. That said, for the kind of work we tend to do: browsing, writing documents and relatively simply editing of photos, the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S fares surprisingly well.
Compared to our earlier reviews of older Pentium laptops, the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S performs fairly well in benchmarks. It scores 4995 points in Geekbench 4, compared to the 3211 of the older-generation Pentium CPU Asus VivoBook Max X541SA and the 6000-plus of a Core i5 system.
We’re rather impressed with the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S, and could happily use it as our main work machine. Until we needed to edit video or do some serious image editing, at any rate.
Gaming performance is much worse than a Core i5 alternative, though. Where a Core i5 laptop like the Acer Swift 3 can play Alien: Isolation at 720p and manage an acceptable 30fps average, the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S averages an unplayable 16.7fps.
At 1366p this slows to 11.6fps. We’d normally test at 1080p, but the Lenovo IdeaPad 320’s screen isn’t that high-res.
Deus Ex: Human Revolution is unplayable no matter the setting. At 720p Low it shuffles along at 7.7fps, dropping to a painful 2.7fps at native resolution, Ultra settings.
The Lenovo IdeaPad 320S can play Minecraft happily. We tried it. But don’t expect too much more than that.
One benefit of using such a low-end CPU is that while there is a fan, it’s never remotely loud. Even after a series of gaming tests, the Lenovo IdeaPad 320S was very quiet.
This laptop doesn’t get into the teens of hours of battery life like some low-power laptops. However, it does nudge its way towards all-day stamina when simply playing locally stored video, at 120cd/m brightness.
It lasts just over eight hours of 720p movie playback, which is a fairly light task even for an Intel Pentium CPU. You should see similar results when simply catching up on emails or writing docs, with 7-8 hours perfectly feasible at the sort of screen brightness level you might use indoors. Lenovo promises seven hours’ use, and delivers.