Great budget laptops can be hard to come by and while Lenovo has made some of the best in the past, can the latest IdeaPad 3 14in keep up the trend? Find out in our full review.
Buying a laptop is confusing enough but these days many manufacturers offer Intel and AMD powered options. While I’ve tested the Intel model, hence the 3i in the name, the regular IdeaPad 3 is also similar but has an AMD processor.
It’s the ‘81W’ either way but as with any laptop, check the specs of the SKU you’re looking at to make sure it’s got what you need. Much will be the same, but performance and battery life will differ from the Core i3 I’ve tested.
There are also 11.6- and 15in IdeaPad 3 laptops available but I’m testing the 14in here.
Design & Build
Lenovo has always made nice looking laptops, regardless of the price and this new IdeaPad 3 is no exception. It certainly doesn’t look like a budget laptop with its brushed aluminium lid and keyboard surround.
The underside and screen bezel are both plastic but the build quality is good and it’s nice to see an interesting colour with my review sample arriving in a stylish dark Cherry Red. There’s also an attractive Abyss Blue option, too, along with Platinum Grey and Business Black.
It’s not a particularly thin laptop at 20mm and even the taped corners don’t hide this much. It’s hardly unusual for a laptop this price and it’s a reasonable weight at 1.6kg.
Lenovo says the IdeaPad 3i has narrow bezels around the screen, but I wouldn’t describe them like that, especially at the bottom where it’s huge with not even a logo to break it up. On the plus side, there’s a physical privacy shutter on the webcam, but the camera itself is low quality at just 0.3Mp (not even 720p).
The main downside I’ve found with the design is the front edge is a little sharp so is uncomfortable on the palm of the hand when using the trackpad.
Keyboard & Trackpad
A wobbly keyboard and shoddy trackpad are not usual finds on a budget laptop but Lenovo has done a good job here.
The chiclet keyboard is well spaced out and there’s a dedicated function row at the top and the keys are a good size, apart from the usual up and down arrows. The typing experience is good with a nice balance between soft and crisp, with a nice amount of travel. The keyboard is not backlit though.
The trackpad is solid, a reasonable size and nicely responsive so I have no complaints here. It’s way above average for a cheap laptop.
Screen & Speakers
The 14in display offers a Full HD resolution and an anti-glare coating which works well. While Lenovo lists an IPS panel as an option, you’re likely to find a lower grade TN screen on most models.
That’s what I’ve tested here and it’s a common thing to keep costs down. While the screen is fine, it’s nothing more than that with a limited brightness of 189 nits tested with a SpyderX. It means that you’ll probably just leave it on 100% all the time and will be ok for indoor use if you’re not in direct sunlight.
The TN panel means viewing angles are not great so you may spend a while getting the lid in the right position. Colour reproduction is also nothing to write home about with just 64% of sRGB and 47% Adobe RGB.
If this doesn’t sound like enough for your needs, then seek out the IPS model – although I can’t see any for sale in the UK.
Lenovo promises ‘crystal clear’ sound from the IdeaPad 3i thanks to Dolby Audio. That’s pushing it a bit far, but this laptop does sound better than most budget laptops. The two 1.5W speakers are mounted on the front edge of the underside giving good projection and there’s a decent amount of power, too.
However, don’t expect anything amazing and the sound quality is lacking in bass and has a tinny, slightly harsh profile.
Specs & Performance
I’ve tested the IdeaPad 3i which gets you an Intel Core i3-1005G1 processor along with 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. However, you can get a cheaper model with an Intel Pentium Gold if you’re ok with less power.
As mentioned at the top, there are also IdeaPad 3 (no ‘i’) models with AMD processors and there’s more choice here with Ryzen 3, Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7 chips all available. The Ryzen 5 model gets you double the RAM and SSD storage while keeping things under £500.
You might not feel the need to spend extra, though, as the Core i3 sample I tested works perfectly well for day-to-day tasks with the fans rarely kicking in. The main limitation is the RAM so you’ll quickly run out of memory for things like Chome tabs meaning they will often have to reload when you click them.
You can see how the IdeaPad compares with similarly priced rivals in our benchmark tests below such as the Acer Aspire 5 and Avita Liber V.
Lenovo ships all of the IdeaPad 3 models (Intel or AMD) with Windows 10 S. This is the basic version that limits you to apps in the official store. If you want to download and install something from the web or similar then you’ll need to unlock it to full Windows.
That’s easy enough and free and I’ve had no issues using the laptop like this.
When it comes to connectivity, there’s no USB-C but the IdeaPad 3i does have a number of ports to offer including a headphone jack, full-size SD card slot, HDMI and a traditional barrel charger.
There are three USB-A ports, one of which is a slow 2.0 version while the other two are faster USB 3.1 (Gen 1).
The IdeaPad 3i doesn’t have much to offer when it comes to battery life, with a 35W cell able to last for up to nine hours according to Lenovo.
Using the laptop to write this review, along with other work like email and web browsing plus a 45-minute video call, it lasted for four hours. This was with the screen at 100% brightness which I needed to use it without squinting.
It kicked into battery saving mode after three hours and doesn’t charge quickly either, getting to only 26% from dead in 30-minutes.
The IdeaPad 3i start at a very reasonable £349 if you’re ok with the Intel Pentium model and Currys PC World has it for £329 right now.
A ‘web price’ for the Core i3 model I tested is £429 but both Lenovo and Currys PC World sell it for £379 as standard. It’s a good value for money figure if you’re needs aren’t too demanding.
If you need more power then there are AMD IdeaPad 3 options with a Ryzen 3 at £399. The sweet spot is the £479 Ryzen 5 model which comes with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.
You can also opt for a Ryzen 7 with a 512GB SSD but with a basic screen still and a £579 price tag, you’re better off elsewhere with rivals such as the Honor MagicBook 14 or Microsoft Surface Laptop Go.
Lenovo doesn’t officially sell the 14in model in the US, although you can get the Ryzen 5 model on Amazon for $529. You can get the larger IdeaPad 3 15in on the official store starting at $449.99, or $375.24 after multiple savings.
The budget market is a tough one so check out all your options in our best budget laptop chart.
The Lenovo IdeaPad 3i is a good budget laptop with many of the usual downsides that come with getting a model at the cheaper end of the market.
What the laptop gets right is a stylish design with good build quality, plus decent components, keyboard and trackpad – all for a reasonable price.
However, the screen is limited when it comes to brightness and viewing angles and battery life is poor. As is the quality of the webcam, even if it does have a privacy cover.
If you’re going to be using it indoors without leaving mains power for too long, then the IdeaPad 3i will suit you fine at a good price. However, look elsewhere if you’re wanting to use it out and about in brighter conditions and without access to mains power.
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