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Lenovo S21e review: For those on the tightest of budgets, there's this sub-$200 laptop

Hayden Dingman | Aug. 18, 2015
I must admit--looking at the Lenovo S21e triggers a small bit of nostalgia in me. Nostalgia for a time when laptop manufacturers were seemingly obsessed with miniaturizing laptops. A time of pre-iPad, pre-ultrabook. A time when netbooks reigned supreme.

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We suspect the Lenovo S21e's ancestral tree has a netbook or two in it. Credit: Rob Schultz

I must admit--looking at the Lenovo S21e triggers a small bit of nostalgia in me. Nostalgia for a time when laptop manufacturers were seemingly obsessed with miniaturizing laptops. A time of pre-iPad, pre-ultrabook. A time when netbooks reigned supreme.

Okay, so it's not really nostalgia. It's more like "Oh yeah, that happened." But regardless, the S21e is a holdover from another era, when sub-12-inch screens and small keyboards were the norm. That might not sound super appealing, but you might change your mind when you hear the price: You can find the S21e for anywhere from $150-200.

Now we're talking bargains.

The design

I'm not joking--the Lenovo S21e is the prototypical (large) netbook design. It's an 11.6-inch miniature clamshell clad in silver, featuring a 1366x768 screen. It looks like someone traveled back in time to 2008 on a mission to bring back the world's most average of average computers.

The netbook wasn't a bad design though. It was rugged and utilitarian--a shape that says "I am for working." It's not sexy. It's not the type of computer you parade around town. But it's the kind of computer that will still be there for you even after you drop it on the ground once or twice. That's worth something.

The screen itself is exceedingly washed out, with quite a bit of light leakage and poor viewing angles thanks to a cheap TN panel. However, the low resolution isn't nearly as detrimental on a screen this size as it is on some of the 15.6-inch models we took a look at--text is fairly crisp, for instance.

The keyboard is undersized to match the scaled-down screen. The biggest casualties are the long keys--Enter, Shift, Tab, et cetera--although pretty much any non-letter key takes a hit. This can turn "Find the backspace key" into a fun little game, but means you'll otherwise be typing like normal. And the keys on the S21e aren't terrible, although they don't have a ton of travel.

Oddly enough, the trackpad on the S21e is one of the best we looked at in this review tier. It's fast, precise, and responds well to both clicking and tapping. I had a way better experience here than I did with Lenovo's larger IdeaPad 100, although the S21e's trackpad is predictably undersized to match the 11.6-inch screen.

Port-wise, we've got power, one USB 3.0 jack, and a micro-HDMI slot on the left, plus a combined headphones/microphone jack, card reader, and USB 2.0 jack on the right.

And the S21e also beats the tar out of the IdeaPad 100 in the audio department. I don't know how Lenovo got such a big sound to come out of such a small laptop, but I'm impressed. I initially scoffed when I saw the "Dolby" sticker on the S21e--and I'm still having a bit of a chuckle over it. This is no theater-quality sound system. But the S21e features surprisingly loud stereo speakers with a solid amount of low-end tone, though I'd be happier if the speakers weren't located right where you rest the laptop on your legs.

 

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