Beautiful aluminum design. Innovative screen bezels add to its sharp looks. Speakers surprisingly powerful. Comfy keyboard.
4K display upgrade downgrades battery life. Performance a step behind competing ultraportables. Runs hot. Narrow palm rest might annoy some typists.
- BOTTOM LINE
The Lenovo IdeaPad S940 is a gorgeous ultraportable but forces you to decide between 4K fidelity and full-day battery life.
Goodness in Iron Grey
The base configuration of the IdeaPad S940 features Intel’s 8th Generation Core i5-8265U processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive, a 14-inch screen with 1,920-by-1,080-pixel resolution, and Windows 10 Home. Our test model stepped up to a 1.8GHz Core i7-8565U CPU, 16GB of memory, a 512GB PCIe SSD, a 4K (3,840-by-2,160-pixel) display, and Windows 10 Pro. Like the VAIO SX14, the S940 does not offer a touch screen. If you want an ultraportable with touch support, our pick remains the Editors’ Choice Dell XPS 13.
Unlike the Dell and VAIO, the IdeaPad comes in one color and one color only: Iron Grey. That’s Lenovo’s description of the dark gray found on the lid, keyboard deck, and bottom panel, with matching rather than contrasting keys. The only breaks from Iron Grey are the glossy black, barely-there screen bezels and two small silver Lenovo badges on the edges of the lid and keyboard deck.
The most striking elements of the IdeaPad S940’s design are the curved bezels on either side of the display. They look more like the ultra-thin bezels of an iPhone than what you’d expect on a laptop and help make the S940 look even thinner than its 0.48-inch height off the desk. Continuing the smartphone design theme, the top bezel features a reverse notch that houses the laptop’s 720p face-recognition webcam. Instead of notching downward into the display, phone-style, it’s cut upward into the bezel so it doesn’t interfere with the shape of the screen. It also creates a useful lip for opening the laptop.
The S940 has more going for it than just really cool design elements. The aluminum chassis is thin yet rigid, with a footprint of 12.6 by 7.8 inches. It weighs only 2.6 pounds, which is a fraction lighter than the 2.7-pound Dell and a bit heavier than the 2.3-pound VAIO.
Instead of four rubber feet on the bottom as you’d find on most laptops, the IdeaPad features two small rubber feet on its front corners and a rubber bar that spans the entire length of the display hinge on the back edge. This creates a slip-free grip on any desk or table to prevent the laptop from sliding around as you type and use the touchpad.
The bottom panel also features a wide grille for dissipating heat. This series of small holes doesn’t feel rough against your hand when carrying the laptop, but the system does tend to get hot along its back edge. The cooling fan is fairly quiet but does engage regularly.
Despite its trim dimensions, the Lenovo offers a wonderfully comfortable keyboard and surprisingly powerful speakers. The keys offer shallow travel but boast a springy feel that makes typing responsive and immediately comfortable. (My primary laptop is a MacBook Pro with Apple’s butterfly keyboard, so I may be more accustomed than most to shallow travel.)
The keyboard also features backlighting, always an appreciated addition. The only caveat is the relatively narrow palm rest below the keyboard, which might not be ideal for typists whose palms press not against the top surface of the keyboard deck but against the sharp front edge of the laptop.
Speakers sit on either side of the keyboard and fire upward with impressively dynamic sound. Mids and highs exhibited good separation, and there was even a hint of a bass response for music playback, something I wasn’t expecting from such a thin notebook.
At What Cost 4K?
The standard display is a 14-inch IPS screen with 1080p resolution and 400-nit brightness, but my test unit boasted the optional upgrade that bumps the resolution up to 4K and the brightness to 500 nits. The display sits under a glossy screen coating, but it’s not too bad in terms of glare and reflections. The 4K panel itself is gorgeous, with stellar clarity, vibrant colors, and plenty of brightness.
Be warned, however: If you opt for the 4K display (which has four times as many pixels to light up), you’ll sacrifice hours of battery life. Lenovo estimates that you’ll get 15 unplugged hours with the 1080p screen and half that time with the 4K upgrade. As you’ll see in the next section, our test results are in line with this forecast.
The IdeaPad goes the MacBook route of offering minimal ports. On the right side, you get a pair of Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports…
On the left, you get a USB 3.1 Type-C port and an audio jack. You won’t find an SD or microSD card slot or any USB Type-A ports. Dell helps ease your transition from USB-A to USB-C by including a dongle with the XPS 13, but it’s BYOD (bring your own dongle) when you need to connect USB-A peripherals to the IdeaPad S940.
Sufficient, If a Step Behind
For our benchmark tests, I matched the S940 against four other high-end ultraportables, three of which—the abovementioned VAIO and Dell, and the Asus ZenBook 14 (UX433F)—feature the same Core i7-8565U processor. A member of Intel’s 8th Generation Core chip family, the CPU has four cores, eight processing threads, a base frequency of 1.8GHz, and a max turbo frequency of 4.6GHz. The Acer Swift 7 features the Core i7-8500Y, a 1.5GHz dual-core chip that draws only 5 watts to the Core i7-8565U’s 15 watts. All the systems here feature 16GB of RAM, Intel integrated graphics, and either a 512GB or 1TB solid-state drive.
The IdeaPad S940 felt peppy throughout my testing. Windows 10 Pro ran smoothly, and the laptop handled multitasking and media editing without any hiccups. My only complaint was that the rear edge of the system tended to heat up during demanding tasks.
Productivity, Storage, and Media Tests
PCMark 10 and 8 are holistic performance suites developed by the PC benchmark specialists at UL (formerly Futuremark). The PCMark 10 test we run simulates different real-world productivity and content-creation workflows. We use it to assess overall system performance for office-centric tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet jockeying, Web browsing, and videoconferencing. The test generates a proprietary numeric score; higher numbers are better.
PCMark 8, meanwhile, has a Storage subtest that we use to assess the speed of the system’s storage subsystem. The result is also a proprietary numeric score; again, higher numbers are better.
The IdeaPad S940 posted a mildly disappointing PCMark 10 score. It trailed the other Core i7-8565U systems but did finish well ahead of the Acer Swift 7.
Next is Maxon’s CPU-crunching Cinebench R15 test, which is fully threaded to make use of all available processor cores and threads. Cinebench stresses the CPU rather than the GPU to render a complex image. The result is a proprietary score indicating a PC’s suitability for processor-intensive workloads.
The S940 claimed another fourth-place finish in this event, well off the pace of the other three ultraportables with the same processor. It’s a puzzling result and will have creative pros looking elsewhere.
Cinebench is often a good predictor of our Handbrake video-editing trial, another tough, threaded workout that’s highly CPU-dependent and scales well with cores and threads. In it, we put a stopwatch on test systems as they transcode a standard 12-minute clip of 4K video (the open source Blender demo movie Tears of Steel) to a 1080p MP4 file. It’s a timed test, and lower results are better.
Another media test, another disappointing result. The IdeaPad S940 again underperformed considering its Core i7 processor.
We also run a custom Adobe Photoshop image-editing benchmark. Using an early 2018 release of the Creative Cloud version of Photoshop, we apply a series of 10 complex filters and effects to a standard JPEG test image. We time each operation and, at the end, add up the total execution time (lower times are better). The Photoshop test stresses the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM, but it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up the process of applying filters, so systems with powerful graphics chips or cards may see a boost.
The IdeaPad fared a little better in our Photoshop test. It still finished next to last but was much closer to the other three Core i7-8565U machines.
3DMark measures relative graphics muscle by rendering sequences of highly detailed, gaming-style 3D graphics that emphasize particles and lighting. We run two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, which are suited to different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but Sky Diver is more suited to laptops and midrange PCs, while Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to strut their stuff. The results are proprietary scores.
Don’t get too excited about the IdeaPad S940’s relatively high scores here. Like any laptop that relies on integrated graphics, the Lenovo is strictly for casual and browser-based games and unable to play the latest, demanding titles.
Next up is another synthetic graphics test, this time from Unigine Corp. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and pans through a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes. In this case, it’s rendered in the company’s eponymous Unigine engine, offering a different 3D workload scenario than 3DMark, for a second opinion on the machine’s graphical prowess.
Same story here—none of these laptops will be mistaken for a gaming rig.
Battery Rundown Test
After fully recharging the laptop, we set up the machine in power-save mode (as opposed to balanced or high-performance mode) where available and make a few other battery-conserving tweaks in preparation for our unplugged video rundown test. (We also turn Wi-Fi off, putting the laptop into airplane mode.) In this test, we loop a video—a locally stored 720p version of the same Tears of Steel short used in our Handbrake test—with screen brightness set at 50 percent and volume at 100 percent until the system conks out.
The IdeaPad S940 ran into the same problem as the VAIO SX14—its 4K display consumes more power than a 1080p panel would, exacting a heavy toll on battery life. Like the VAIO, the IdeaPad won’t be able to get through an 8-hour workday on battery power alone. Its four-cell battery lasted for 7 hours and 42 minutes, slightly exceeding Lenovo’s estimate but far short of the 11-plus hours that the Dell XPS 13 managed with its 4K display.
When Bezels Are the Key to Beauty
The Lenovo IdeaPad S940 is a beautiful ultraportable, fitting a stunning 14-inch screen into a sleek, highly portable package. Despite its good looks and innovative contoured bezels, however, it fails to unseat the Dell XPS 13 as our Editors’ Choice. The XPS 13 has the looks department covered, too, and offers superior battery life with a 4K display.
In addition, the Lenovo was half a step behind its similarly configured competition in most of our benchmark tests. Still, it has more than enough muscle for general Windows use and offers a host of winning design elements, including a comfortable keyboard (check out the narrow palm rest before proceeding, however), surprisingly sufficient speakers, and Thunderbolt 3 connectivity.
Copied from pcmag.com
Lenovo IdeaPad S940
- Good low light camera
- Water resistant
- Double the internal capacity
- Lacks clear upgrades
- Same design used for last three phones
- Battery life unimpressive