Review: Lenovo V110-AST

Bought on a budget, the new slimline workhorse laptop has a respectable AMD A9 processor, 8GB of memory and 1TB of storage. So far so good.

Otherwise this Lenovo is a letdown; truly terrible battery life from a non-removable battery; a dead keyboard with an irritatingly inconsistent layout, placement and use of keys; a 15.6in display out of the 1950's; and the worst sound ever since sound was installed on a laptop.

At first sight this is a good value proposition for £378; AMD A9-9410 processor, 8GB RAM, massive 1TB hard drive - not too slow - a big 15.6" HD display in 16:9 widescreen format with 'antiglare technology'; less than one inch thin and weighing under 2.1 kg; this is a huge improvement in portability over my old Lenovo G580. It still has a DVD RAM drive and an ethernet port on either side, so it packs a lot into the slim chasis.

The Good
I gave up on benchmarks years ago; what matters to me in performance terms is: does the machine feel laggy, am I waiting for it to load up, does it task-switch quickly, will it run Oracle VirtualBox without me banging the lid in frustration?

This is my first ever AMD machine, and I was a little suspicious of any processor that is tagged with 'Turbo' mode; how very 1998. Happily Windows 10 runs briskly - well, as briskly as it ever does on spinning metal disks - both as a native OS and as a virtual machine guest. Dual-booting Ubuntu Linux gives me a good lick of speed for real work, so no complaints on that score.

Just about everything else, however, is a compromise.

The bad
The keyboard is lumpen and dead; it has no feedback, yet is still thumpy and clicky. The layout is so abysmal that after a month I am still struggling to type any longform text at all. Lenovo has opted for a layout that is out of kilter with every other keyboard I have used or am using. The arrow keys are somehow so badly positioned I hit the wrong ones constantly. The navigation keys integrated into the number pad change function according to the application, so I still don't know when I will get home/end or nothing at all. Similarly function keys may require alt-fn, ctrl-fn or just fn; take a wild stab and see what happens. Just terrible.

Worst of all, this thing has a single key sized right-shift, when everything else I've ever used has a double-sized right-shift. And it's one place further to the right. So after 30+ years of typing, I now hit the up arrow instead of shift. Eight times in ten.

I just about get used to the positioning when I use another keyboard, come back to this monstrosity and start hitting up arrow all over again because right-shift is in the wrong frickin' place. I cannot describe just how much I loathe and detest this awful keyboard. I hate it. Hate it, hate it, hate it. It is driving me insane.

The screen is spectacularly unimpressive. The colours are flat, the contrast is contrast-less. I'm in a shady room with the brightness fully up and I swear this thing is going to make me blind inside a year. It's like being in permanent night mode. The definition of 'anti-glare technology' seems to be 'requires night-vision goggles'. With a low resolution of 1366x768 over such a big screen, the pixels aren't especially sharp and the Radeon R5 graphics processor actually installed in this thing compares poorly with the integrated Intel on-board from my previous Lenovo of six years ago.

The sound is the worst I've ever had. Bar none. Play anything; it will sound like a wasp trapped in a bottle. There is no range, no bass, no volume. If you can somehow levitate the thing so the speakers don't face straight down onto a surface, you might get some extra decibels. But it will still sound like a wasp trapped in a bottle. Headphones make little difference, the audio sub-system is just poor. Even my little JVC-Mini from fifteen years ago sounds better than this. Back in 1980 I had an AM/FM pocket radio. It sounded better than this. Actually, two bean cans and a piece of string sound better than this. It's rubbish.

The downright ugly
Unlike my ridiculously shiny Lenovo G580, the 2001 Black Monolith, the V110 is a rectangle of stealth technology; the all-matte black finish sucks the light and life out of any place you put it. It is a gadget that style forgot. It is ugly as sin; a child only its' designer could love; an anonymous, style-free lump of plastic. I could have styled something more attractive from old cereal boxes. Actually, I think that's how Lenovo came up with this. Even in comparison with Lenovo's other dowdy plastic lumpss (I am surrounded by them), this is an absence of style. You will not be one of the cool kids taking this out of your rucksack.

Well, what's done is done; I went for the price/performance combination never expecting so many let downs from a solid work-horse manufacturer, but this is what I got. Compared to the G580, much of the V110 is just nasty. To add insult to injury, last Summer I bought my young lady a Dell Inspiron 15 3552 - a solid low-end performer if ever there was - for almost £100 less and in nearly all respects than performance, it beats the V110 hands down. I wonder if she'll notice if I swap? RC

Lenovo V110 (80TD004DUK) 15.6" Laptop; AMD A9-9410 / 2.9 GHz (3.5 GHz Turbo) Processor, 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD, Windows 10 Professional.