Lenovo IdeaPad 730S review: A slick laptop with no gimmicks

A great thin-and-light laptop for touchscreen skeptics.

Lenovo IdeaPad 730S review: A slick laptop with no gimmicks By

PCWorld | PT

Lenovo IdeaPad 730S review: A slick laptop with no gimmicks
Jared Newman / PCWorld

The Lenovo IdeaPad 730S is notable not just for what it offers, but for what it doesn’t.

Unlike many other laptops in the $900-and-up price range, the IdeaPad 730S doesn’t transform into a tablet and doesn’t even have a touchscreen. It uses a modest 1080p display instead of a battery-chewing QHD or 4K panel, and its wildest flourish is a Dolby Atmos speaker system, which for a laptop actually sounds pretty good.

By trimming away fancy gimmicks, Lenovo has delivered a lightweight laptop that looks great and performs well for a reasonable price.

One word of caution, though: We’ve tested two of these laptops, and both had constant Wi-Fi connectivity issues across multiple networks. Lenovo’s suggested fix involved installing a newer Wi-Fi driver for a different laptop. This solved the problem, but the company hasn’t said when it will officially release those drivers for the 730S.

Price and specifications

Lenovo sent us the $1000 version of the 730S, which includes an 8th-generation Intel Core i5-8265U (1.6GHz) processor, Intel UHD 620 graphics, 8GB of DDR3 RAM, and a 256GB solid state drive. You can save $100 by opting for 128GB of storage, and you can upgrade to a Core i7-8565U (1.8 GHz) processor—in either storage configuration—for $200 more.

In all cases, you’ll get a non-touch IPS display with a resolution of 1920x1080. The maximum brightness we measured of 317 nits is surprisingly good for the price: not far behind the 337 nits we measured for Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 2, and well above the 250-260 nits that we consider to be average. The viewing angles are great.

Design

Unlike some rival thin-and-light laptops, the 730S doesn’t stamp a logo in the middle of the lid or underneath the display. The only sign that you’re using a Lenovo laptop—once you remove the obligatory stickers, of course—is a tiny embedded logo on the lid’s upper-left corner.

Lenovo IdeaPad 730S review: A slick laptop with no gimmicks Jared Newman / PCWorld

The lack of a large logo in the middle of the lid is a refreshing change from the showy stamps on other laptops.

Combine that tasteful approach with edge-to-edge display glass, narrow bezels around the screen, some distinctive shield-shaped keycaps, and a dark-gray aluminum frame, and you end up with a pretty slick-looking laptop. Lenovo even shaved a millimeter off last year’s IdeaPad 720S design, so the new model measures just 0.47-inch thick, and a very portable 2.4 pounds.

Given the absence of a touchscreen, the IdeaPad 730S’s lack of a 360-degree hinge makes sense. Still, the display does fold back 180 degrees to lay flat on a table. I’m not sure why you’d want to do this, but in theory you could prop up the laptop on a stand, plug in a mouse and keyboard, and use it on a desk without straining your neck. (If only Lenovo offered a docking station specifically for this purpose.)

Lenovo IdeaPad 730S review: A slick laptop with no gimmicks Jared Newman / PCWorld

The Lenovo IdeaPad 730S can fold flat, though we're not sure why we'd use it that way.

A couple of gripes: The laptop’s hinge isn’t stiff enough once it bends past about 120 degrees. As a compulsive leg shaker, I often found that the IdeaPad 730S display would gradually tip back with the computer on my lap. The 16:9 widescreen display is also a little too cramped vertically, at least with the 150% default display scaling. Dialing it down to 125% helped, but I’d love to see a taller version of this laptop altogether.

Keyboard and trackpad

Despite the laptop’s thinness, the IdeaPad 730S keyboard offers a lot of travel, along with two levels of backlighting when you press the Function key and space bar. In a typing test, I averaged 90 words per minute, versus 96 words per minute on my usual mechanical keyboard. The 730S keyboard’s frame does bend easily under pressure toward the center, and I would’ve liked the keys to be a little less rigid, but it’s a solid keyboard overall.

The trackpad, meanwhile, provides a large, practically frictionless surface that supports Microsoft’s Precision Touchpad drivers. This allows you to tweak the trackpad’s sensitivity and assign actions to three- and four-finger swipes. The only thing holding this trackpad back from excellence is the increasing pressure required to click on it as you move further up the surface. Folks who prefer tapping over clicking should have no complaints.

Ports, camera, security, speakers

Buying the Lenovo IdeaPad 730S means fully committing to USB-C and abandoning legacy USB-A. The two ports on the right side support Thunderbolt 3 for data transfer and external displays, and one of those ports offers always-on charging as well. The USB-C port on the left side is primarily for charging the laptop with the included power brick, though you could technically power up the laptop through any port. (I was even able to charge the laptop with a smartphone charger, albeit slowly.)

Lenovo IdeaPad 730S review: A slick laptop with no gimmicks Jared Newman / PCWorld

The IdeaPad 730S has only USB-C ports, but at least you get a headphone jack.

Lenovo did have the good grace to include to include a headphone jack, but if you want built-in ports for USB-A, MicroSD, or HDMI, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

The camera is your typical cheap laptop webcam, supporting up to 720p resolution. At least it’s mounted along the laptop’s top bezel, so you’ll avoid the unflattering camera angles that plagued some of last year’s thin-and-lights. The IdeaPad 730S does have a fingerprint reader just beneath the right arrow key, so you can log in without a password even though the camera lacks Windows Hello facial recognition.

As for the aforementioned Dolby Atmos speaker system, it combines Dolby-designed hardware with some fancy equalization settings for louder dialogue and better-sounding music. This still a laptop speaker, so it’s not going to fill your room with rich audio, but YouTube videos came out sounding crisp even at full blast. It’s certainly a step up over most laptop speakers, especially when it’s on a flat surface, where the audio can project outward.

Performance

Lenovo IdeaPad 730S review: A slick laptop with no gimmicks Jared Newman / PCWorld

The gaps underneath the keys double as air intake sources.

The Lenovo IdeaPad 730S is among the first batch of notebooks with Intel’s “Whiskey Lake” CPUs, which should give it a modest performance boost under peak loads. We compared it to a group of recent mainstream laptops with similar CPU, RAM, and integrated graphics. 

Lenovo talks up the 730S’s thermal design, which pulls in cool air through vents in the keyboard and pushes it out through the back and bottom of the notebook. Supposedly this allows for both the slim design and a smaller fan. Although the 730S can become uncomfortably warm on the lap under the heaviest loads, it ran cool and quiet most of the time.

Lenovo IdeaPad 730S review: A slick laptop with no gimmicks Melissa Riofrio/IDG

Any laptop that scores over 2,000 in PCMark 8 Work Conventional can handle mainstream applications handily. The Lenovo IdeaPad 730S excelled within its group, posting a very healthy score well over 3,000.

We can certainly see the benefits of Whiskey Lake—and, perhaps, that thermal design—in the PCMark 8 Work benchmark. The IdeaPad 730S edged out every other thin-and-light laptop we’ve tested in the last six months, including some Intel Core-i7 U-Series notebooks and Dell’s rival XPS 13 (which has the same Intel Core i5-8265U processor).

That said, the XPS 13 pulled ahead in CPU-intensive tests, including Cinebench, which tests how the CPU renders 3D graphics, and HandBrake, which encodes a lengthy video file for Android tablet use.

Lenovo IdeaPad 730S review: A slick laptop with no gimmicks Melissa Riofrio/IDG

Cinebench is a synthetic CPU test that shows how a PC handles a brief burst of activity. The Lenovo IdeaPad 730S posts a good score here. 

It’s possible that Lenovo is dialing down the IdeaPad 730S’s CPU performance under heavy workloads to maintain the laptop’s slim profile and cool, quiet operation. If your goal is to get work done, that seems like a reasonable trade-off. 

Lenovo IdeaPad 730S review: A slick laptop with no gimmicks Melissa Riofrio/IDG

HandBrake stresses the CPU over a long period, often causing laptops to keep things cool by throttling performance. The Lenovo IdeaPad 730S erred on the side of thermals, posting a slower time as a result. 

As for GPU performance, don’t expect anything out of the ordinary for a thin-and-light laptop. 2D indie games like Shovel Knight and Mercenary Kings will work fine, and you might be able to scrape by in a Borderlands 2 session at 720p resolution and 30 frames per second, but this isn’t a gaming machine. The 730S posts a decent score compared to similar competition. 

Lenovo IdeaPad 730S review: A slick laptop with no gimmicks Melissa Riofrio/IDG

The Lenovo IdeaPad 730S has integrated graphics, so its 3DMark Sky Diver score is modest—and right in line with that of similarly configured competition. 

Battery life, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise. Although it has lower capacity than many other laptops in its class, it still wound up on the higher end of our video rundown test.

Lenovo IdeaPad 730S review: A slick laptop with no gimmicks Melissa Riofrio/IDG

DO NOT USE The Lenovo IdeaPad 730S lasted over 10.5 hours in our video rundown test, a very good score for a mainstream laptop. 

Lenovo says it’s using a more efficient display than last year’s IdeaPad 720S, which along with the non-touch 1080p panel likely contributed to the respectable score. The inclusion of rapid charging, which fills the battery up to 80 percent in an hour, is also a nice touch.

Should you buy the Lenovo IdeaPad 730S?

It’s always nice to see a laptop that knows what it’s trying to accomplish. Instead of attempting to be all things to all people, the Lenovo IdeaPad 730S is content to be a solid thin-and-light laptop with a strong sense of style. It’s ideal for people who want to perform office or other productivity tasks from anywhere, and don’t aspire to use their laptop like a tablet or turn it into a gaming rig. As long as the Wi-Fi issue I experienced doesn’t prove widespread—or gets patched in the near future—this laptop succeeds at cutting away the cruft.

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  • Lenovo's IdeaPad 730S is made for people who are tired of paying extra for touchscreens, convertible designs, and other fancy laptop features. By trimming away fancy gimmicks, Lenovo has delivered a lightweight laptop that looks great and performs well for a reasonable price.

    Pros

    • Runs cool and quiet except under the heaviest loads
    • Super-smooth trackpad and plenty of keyboard travel
    • Slim and classy design with no garish logos or labels

    Cons

    • The trackpad's top half is harder to click than the bottom
    • The display hinge could be stiffer
    • USB-C, headphones, or bust for connectivity

Jared writes for PCWorld and TechHive from his remote outpost in Cincinnati.

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