Review: Lenovo Ideapad 330s 15″

Lenovo has long been associated with exceptional performance in both the business sector and, to an extent, the gaming sector with it’s Thinkpad and Ideapad lineups.


Case and point my main machine for a couple of years was an Ideapad Y500 gaming laptop, with a Core i7 processor and SLI Nvidia 650M graphics cards.


What they’ve never really done well with is the middle sector markets of reasonable performance and usability at a reasonable price point. Enter the Ideapad 330S

If you believe the marketing spiele from Lenovo then the 330S is designed for pretty much everyone out there. Unfortunately this is far from the truth, although it would seemingly satisfy quite a large sector.

The difficulty with this line-up is that there is a huge variance in specs within it, with some options only being available in certain regions. To prove my point, the 330S in most regions can be configured with anything from an Intel Pentium chip all the way up to an 8th Gen i7-8550U. Similarly the graphics chipset can be anything from an integrated Intel offering all the way up to an Nvidia GTX1050, with a spattering of AMD card in the mix as well.

Reviewing this laptop becomes very difficult then, we’re actually talking more about a product range than we are an individual machine, so where do we start?

In the absence of a clear steer this review will focus largely on the usability and features of the laptop rather than performance, but for reference the unit I’m using has an Intel Core i5-8250U processor and an AMD Radeon 530 graphics card.

Appearance and Feel

The 330S looks great from a distance, and pretty good from only a few inches away. The metallic casing screams prestige and the lines of the chassis are modern and tastefully rounded. It’s only when you get the 330S in your hands that you realise it’s actually mostly plastic, and not even a nice feeling plastic.

To be fair the screen surround is painted aluminium, but the lower part of the chassis is plastic. I wouldn’t charecterise it as cheap, but it’s certainly not premium, and I’m left wondering just how resilient it will be to the toils of life on the road. Already my unit has some scrapes and scratches from being forced into one-too-many hotel safes.

It’s not uncommon for laptops at this pricepoint to have a hard plastic chassis, and at least the 330S does a good job of imitating a more resilient metal offering, but I can’t help but think that at the higher end of the range we’re talking about a £599 machine with a cheap plastic case, and that just seems wrong.

If you’re looking at the lower end offerings (around £399) then a plastic case becomes more acceptable, and you’d be pushed to find better. It’s certainly better than the fingerprint-magnet high-gloss finishes of old.

Unfortunately being plastic it does lend itself to a fair amount of body flex, which is another major sticking point if you’ll be actively travelling with this machine. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a machine with a plastic chassis as my daily driver and I can’t say I care for it.

All that said, the screen has reasonable small bezels which allows for quite a compact design, you’ll be hard pressed to find a 15″ machine in this price range that’s as compact as this.

Overall, it gets a unenthusiastic thumbs-up from me. It’s by far not the most impressive design, but it gets the job done and it’s reflected in the price.

Using It

Aesthetics and build issue aside, actually using the 330S is not a bad experience at all. The keyboard takes a little getting used to but after a while is perfectly comfortable for long periods. You also get a full number pad and the whole thing is backlit, which is great for typing in low light environments.

The trackpad is similarly usable, it tracks well across the screen and feels comfortable to use. Like most 15″ machines it’s slightly offset to the left which can cause issues with accidental righ-clicks if you drive it with your right hand, but it doesn’t take long to adjust and personally I get along just fine with it.

The screen is a 15.6″1080p matte-finished offering and stands up well for productivity use and even some light gaming (depending on the graphics chipset). it’s comfortable for long periods but being a TN unit is limited in terms of backlighting and colour representation.

In terms of IO you get a surprising amount of connectivity compared to a lot of modern devices, there’s a full-size HDMI port, 2 X USB 3.0 ports, USB C, SD card reader and a headphone jack. One noticeable ommission when compared to the previous generation Ideapad 330 is the absence of a wired network connector, but this seems to be a growing trend among current generation laptops and in the event that you do need wired internet, a USB dongle won’t set you back a bunch.

One negative point in this field is the fan noise. The fan curve is quite aggressive and ramps the fan speed up as soon as the CPU moves above idle temperature. This means that even under a modest load; typing a document while streaming some music, the fan ocassionally spins up loudly. This is definitely distracting if you’re trying to concentrate and is a big thumbs down from me.

Lastly we come to the battery and, well, it’s pretty dire. In general use I’m lucky to squeeze out two and a half hours use, and under heavy loads such as gaming or video editing it will drain itself completely in less than an hour. In this day and age other similar models are boasting 6-8 hour battery life, so if you’re planning to use this thing on the road a lot you might as well not bother.

Personally I bought this machine so that I could get work done while travelling and because of the poor battery life it’s pretty much useless in that regard.

Performance

The user experience on a 330S will vary greatly depending on which model you go for. The higher end offerings with Core i5 processors and discreet Nvidia graphics will run rings around the baseline Pentium versions. Additionally the storage available seems to differ greatly depending on the model, some have small SSD drives, others feature larger mechanical drives and there’s even an Intel Optane offering thrown in to complicate things further.

My model came with a traditional 1TB hard drive, and it was noticeably slow at booting and loading applications. Thankfully upgrading the drive yourself is within the realm of most DIYers, and with NAND storage becoming a lot cheaper adding an additional SSD boot drive was a sensible option for me:

The 8th gen Core i5 processor in my unit handles most things with ease, I’ve even done some light video editing on it with no issues. Again, those looking at the lower end models should consider whether the limited processors contained there-in will limit their usage of this machine.

The discreet AMD Radeon 540 graphics in my machine is a welcome addition for light gaming, but you can forget running the latest titles on anything other than the lowest of settings. Older or less demanding titles such as Portal 2 or Rocket League run pretty well, but you wouldn’t want to game on it exclusively. The higher end versions of the 330S come with Nvidia 1050 graphics, which is a better option if you’re interested in playing more demanding titles, at least on medium to low settings. Those not interested in gaming can save some money and pick up a version with Intel integrated graphics.

When it comes to sound the speakers are good enough to enjoy streaming content from hotel rooms and at a push are listenable for music too. They’re loud enough to fill a room but as with most laptops the quality doesn’t stand up to a half decent bluetooth speaker. It’s not going to win any awards, but it’s fine.

Verdict

With more cash available would I have considered the Lenovo Ideapas 330S? Probably not. Its an overall usable laptop but it has too many fundamental flaws for me to consider if I had the money for something better.

What it does do well is offer a reasonable level of performance at a good pricepoint, with some concessions. Thus far it’s performed admirably as I lug it on and off planes, in spite of my concerns over the fragility of the plastic chassis, and it does seem to perform solidly in most tasks even if it sounds like it’s about to take off while it’s doing it.

That being said the poor screen and battery life are a major buzzkill for me, and I can’t see myself keeping this laptop for any longer than it takes me to save up for a better one.

If I had to categorise it I would say it’s “just fine”. It doesn’t particularly excell at anything, but for most general users it will do a reasonable job and it won’t require you to remortgage your house to do so.

Prospective buyers should pay particular attention to the specifications when ordering as these vary greatly depending on pricepoint and location. Models featuring the Nvidia 1050 graphics chipset will offer the best gaming performance, but other models feature more storage and RAM. Which model you go for should be carefully considered.

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