Keyboard and Trackpad
The keyboard is probably one of the best parts of the U310. It is a joy to type on, and as I’ve said before, I’d swap it for the keyboard on my Asus Ux31E in a heartbeat. This is a chiclet-style keyboard with black keys that are slightly rounded on the bottom. The key travel offers great feedback without the keys being too loud. The chiclet-style nature of the keys means they have gaps between them which help to prevent mispresses.
The F-keys are half-tall keys which are bound by default to functions like volume +/-/mute, or WiFi radio toggle. This means you don’t have to hold the Fn key to activate these functions which is useful (you can change this to standard F-key usage in the BIOS). Using the Fn key will revert to an actual press of whichever F-key you hit.
The right shift key is a bit small, about one and a half times as wide as a standard key (while the enter key is more like two times as wide). I tend to use the right shift key quite a bit but it isn’t a crippling issue, just something to get used to after a few typing sessions. The left shift key is more appropriately sized.
If you are a U310 user you’ll definitely want to familiarize yourself with the Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn buttons; their convenient positioning makes them quite useful.
The trackpad is not centered, instead it rests a bit left of center. This strikes me as odd given that most people are right-handed and a centered trackpad would make more sense to avoid accidental presses from your palms. Alas, it is to the left a bit, but not enough to cause any issues.
The trackpad is button-less and feels like it is made out of plastic instead of glass, as most button-less trackpads are these days. Next to the UX31E’s glass trackpad, the U310’s plastic trackpad has more friction and doesn’t allow your finger to glide around as easily. With the right humidity it doesn’t present a problem, but in these summer days it can feel quite sticky. It has a fairly light press for a click toward the bottom. Move toward the middle though and the pressure required to get a proper click is a bit too much; oftentimes you’ll go to click and the pressure required is so great that the surface area of your finger will increase as it squashes as you press down, thereby slightly moving the cursor and sometimes making you miss your target. This can be very frustrating. U310 users may want to experiment with the tap-to-click function so that you can avoid this annoyance.
Lenovo seems to have decided to try to prevent accidental palm-presses by disabling mouse movement while the user is typing. It works fairly well but becomes a huge issue when doing any operation which requires moving the mouse and using the keyboard at the same time… which is a whole lot of applications, including most games. I found no easy or straightforward way to disable this function even after rummaging through all of the Synaptics trackpad settings; this seems to be a Lenovo-specific tweak and is sure to be a major point of confusion for experienced and inexperienced computer-users alike. The issue does occur when using an external mouse.
The 13.3″ display has a 1366×768 resolution; we’d call this baseline — not wanting to go any lower, but still reasonable. 1366×768 at 13.3″ sizes font very well and is perfect for using the U310 on the desk in front of you. The display is quite sharp given the resolution and the colors seem fairly accurate but poor contrast causes the brightest colors to sometimes blend together. By default the gamma seems off a decent amount, however you can use Windows built in color calibration to help (Start > search for ‘calibrate’ > Calibrate display color). The black level is one of the screen’s weakest components — you won’t be able to see much detail in very dark images or scenes. White saturation isn’t quite as bad as black levels, but again, in very bright white areas of the image some detail is lost.
This is a glossy display which some will naturally dislike. The brightness is adjustable using hotkeys bound to the F-key row and the range of dark to light is pretty good. The screen can get especially dark which, while not as useful as being able to get extremely bright, can be useful from time to time.
Horizontal viewing angles are pretty good but vertical angles… not so much. There is a sweet spot with this display which is easy to be outside of without constantly adjusting the tilt of the screen. If you aren’t inside the sweet spot, the contrast is not optimal. Some likely won’t notice, but for others this will be bothersome.
If you are going to do any audio listening on the U310, I’m recommending either desktop speakers or headphones. The U310’s speakers are among the worst I’ve heard on a laptop. At high volume, certain frequencies cause crackling. They are the epitome of ‘tinny’ sounding with absolutely no bass. The included Dolby equalizer does its darnedest to help, but there’s no recovering from these speakers.
Prior to this review we’ve written to warn potential U310 and U410 owners about a WiFi hardware defect on U310 and U410 Ultrabooks manufactured before to July 23rd. This defect causes unacceptably poor range and poor speed in most situations As of this writing, Lenovo will fix such devices under warranty, but doesn’t seemed to have recalled any units, leading to frustration from a number of customers.
The issue essentially cuts WiFi download speed and range in half. That Lenovo continues to sell affected units is seriously disappointing.