• notebookcomputer
  • 30/10/2022

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 14 Review

If you're in the market for a budget laptop, you're faced with some tough decisions. Balancing a tight budget with a feature set that mostly consists of the necessities isn't easy when you're evaluating a sea of machines that all look more or less the same. So when you come across a standout inexpensive laptop like the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 14, it’s a welcome reprieve. At $519, it leans toward the expensive end of the budget spectrum, but this 14-incher comes packed with just about everything you’d want for a notebook in its price range, including a full HD display, a sturdy chassis, and a comfortable keyboard, all pulled together by on-point performance and some unexpected luxuries for the money. It earns our latest Editors' Choice award for budget Windows laptops.

Peppy Ryzen CPU on a Budget

Lenovo's IdeaPad line of laptops is comparable to that of the Dell Inspiron or HP Pavilion series—midrange to low-end machines that run the gamut on price, size, and features. At around $500, the IdeaPad 3 14 sits comfortably on the cusp of both worlds, boasting an AMD Ryzen 5 5500U processor, 8GB of DDR4 RAM, and 256GB of SSD storage. Our review unit is available from Amazon.com with Windows 10 installed, but the retailer also offers a Windows 11 variant for $560.

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Outside of the OS choice, there are no customization options for this iteration of the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 14. But it's worth noting that savvy laptop users can swap one of the two unsoldered 4GB RAM sticks for an 8GB RAM stick and bump the total RAM to 12GB. Do this at your own risk, however, as it could violate your warranty.

(Photo: Molly Flores)

The stock memory and storage amounts are on the low side—we like to see 16GB of RAM and 512GB of solid-state storage these days. But the lower amounts are par the course for laptops of this price range, and the processor is the star of the show here. AMD’s Ryzen mobile CPUs have become formidable chips in recent years, and despite the 5500U being built on the older AMD Zen 2 architecture, the silicon still performs well and is a commanding starting point in the budget-laptop market. (Higher-end Ryzen 5000U-series CPUs are based on the newer Zen 3; the 5500U is an outlier.) Overall, the six-core, 12-thread processor has more than enough fuel in the tank for basic internet and word processor needs, as well as moderately complex tasks, without any noticeable lag.

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In the IdeaPad 3 14, this translates to standout performance, separating it from many of its competitors in the same price bracket. (Here's how to choose the best laptop CPU.)

(Photo: Molly Flores)

But enough about the insides—the outsides are just as important. Budget laptops can often feel and look cheap, with flimsy, plastic parts that make the devices feel more akin to Leapfrogs than a sophisticated laptop. (See, for example, the HP Stream 14.) Notably, the IdeaPad 3 14 bucks the trend and doesn’t falter in this regard. Measuring in at 0.78 by 12.76 by 8.49 inches (HWD) and just over 3 pounds, it's a sturdy machine with a unique blue finish that gives the laptop a slick, eye-catching look. Yes, it still is plastic pretending to be metal, but you could do a lot worse in this department.

(Photo: Molly Flores)

The IdeaPad 3 14 also makes some smart airflow enhancements. Using the Lenovo Vantage app, you can choose among three fan speeds that suit your performance needs. The rubber grips found underneath the laptop actually give the laptop an ever-so-slight airflow boost, since they keep the bottom of the chassis from sitting flush against your desk.

Budget Pricing, Modern Features

The 14-inch full HD screen is tucked in between four narrow-sided bezels that offer some serious screen real estate. The bezels are not as thin as those on, say, the XPG Xenia 14, but they're still plenty modern-looking. The IdeaPad 3 14 also features an Eye Care mode, which adjusts the color temperature of your display to filter out blue light, which can reduce fatigue when you use your computer for a long time. Nestled at the top of the display, you’ll find a 720p webcam, complete with a privacy shutter.

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 14 Review

(Photo: Molly Flores)

When put to use, the IdeaPad 3 14 is one of the better budget laptops I’ve handled. The keyboard is comfortable, with just enough give to make key presses satisfying. The touchpad is responsive, and there's even a fingerprint reader integrated into the power button. Unfortunately, the speakers, located under the touchpad, aren’t great. They aren’t very loud and give off a hollow sound. You’re better off using headphones or an external speaker.

Turning to the ports, the IdeaPad 3 14 features a good selection. On its right side, you’ll find an SD card slot and a USB 2.0 port.

(Photo: Molly Flores)

And on the left side, you’ll find a USB 3.0 Type-A port, an HDMI output, an audio jack, and the power adapter port. There's also an oval-shaped USB-C port here, a cutting-edge jack that still isn't a given on budget laptops. In the IdeaPad 3 14's case, it's limited to data transfers only and can't handle video output.

(Photo: Molly Flores)

Budget laptops can be full of unwanted preinstalled software known as bloatware, but the IdeaPad 3 14 is mercifully light on it. The usual offenders are here: Spotify, Disney Plus, McAfee Antivirus, and Alexa are just some of the apps taking up your precious storage space, but you can simply uninstall them if you don't need them.

Benchmarking the IdeaPad 3 14: Proficient Performance for the Bucks

So much for the IdeaPad 3 14's features; how does it do in a direct comparison with other laptops in its class? To find out, we brought in the Asus VivoBook S14, the Dell Inspiron 15 (3511), 2021's HP Pavilion x360 15, the pricier Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 13, and our previous Editors' Choice pick for best budget laptop, the MSI Modern 14. While these machines all make use of an Intel processor-and-graphics solution, they're in the same performance ballpark and share similar CPU and GPU setups.

The first benchmark test we run is PCMark 10, a test that simulates a variety of Windows programs to give an overall performance score for office workflows. In this test, a result between 4,000 and 5,000 points is a clear indicator of excellent performance. While most of the pack falls right in the middle, the IdeaPad 3 14 pulls away from the pack and exhibits strong numbers.

We didn't have enough data to add PCMark 10's Full System Drive storage subtest, which measures the program load time and the throughput of the laptop's boot drive. (That test does not run on some budget laptops due to insufficient RAM or a lack of storage space.) But the IdeaPad 3 14 was able to run the test and scored 1,321 points—not the greatest result we've seen for an SSD-equipped laptop, but in the budget laptop sphere, more than enough to run productivity circles around the present company.

The next test we run is video transcoding using the HandBrake 1.4 app, which is an open-source tool for converting multimedia files to different resolutions and formats. Converting video files is a CPU-heavy task, so we don't expect much from budget laptops on this score, as they normally use weaker processors with fewer cores.

Now, you probably wouldn't do any serious multimedia work on a budget laptop, but if you did, the IdeaPad 3 14 wouldn't be a bad choice. Despite the 10-minute completion time, the IdeaPad 3 14 stands tall among the competition on this test, with the VivoBook S14 at a distant second place.

With CPU performance in mind, we switch to the Cinebench R23 benchmark, a multi-core test meant to exercise all of a processor's cores and threads. The Ryzen 5 5500U's six cores come in handy here, as the IdeaPad 3 14 easily bests its competition.

And finally, our productivity tests come to a close with the Geekbench test, yet another CPU stress test meant to simulate real-world activities. The IdeaPad 3 14 does score top marks here, but just barely. The Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 13 comes within striking distance. Overall, the IdeaPad 3 thumps the competition in every productivity test, but what about our graphics benchmarks?

Every laptop in this comparison makes use of integrated graphics—either Intel's newer Iris Xe silicon, the standard Intel UHD Graphics found in many budget laptops, or in the IdeaPad 3 14's case, AMD's Radeon integrated GPU. Graphics benchmarks are sometimes hard to run on budget laptops, as some don't have enough memory or a strong enough GPU.

To test the laptop's gaming performance, we run 3DMark, a graphics test suite for Windows that contains several subtests for different GPU functions and software APIs. We run two DirectX 12 tests in particular: 3DMark Night Raid and 3DMark Time Spy. Here's where the IdeaPad 3 falters a bit, coming up short behind the Asus Vivobook S14 and the Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 13. The higher the number, the better, however, and not a single laptop truly impresses in this area aside from the (much pricier) Galaxy Book Pro 13. That's true of both the more demanding Time Spy, and the modest Night Raid.

Our next benchmark is GFXBench 5.0, a graphics simulator that stress-tests both low-level and high-level routines. We run two of its subtests, Aztec Ruins and Car Chase, rendered off-screen to accommodate different display resolutions and make comparisons valid. The IdeaPad 3 14 struggled in the 1440p Aztec Ruins test, clocking an average of 23 frames per second (fps). It fared better in the 1080p Car Chase test, but still never held a consistent 60fps. Still, with some configuration tweaks, I imagine it would be possible to get a slightly higher frame rate if you're playing less-demanding games.

Solid Battery, So-So Display

To test laptop battery life, we first charge up the battery to 100% and then play a locally stored copy of the open-source Blender movie Tears of Steel on a loop at 50% brightness and at 100% volume, along with a few other battery-testing tweaks to ensure accurate readings across all devices. If the laptop doesn't have enough space to store a copy, we'll play the movie off of a drive. We also put the laptop into Airplane mode.

The IdeaPad 3 14 did well, tapping out after 10 hours and 32 minutes. A valiant effort—but still coming up short when compared with the Asus VivoBook S14, the HP Pavilion x360 15, and the Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 13.

The final trial in our benchmark gauntlet consists of display brightness and color tests. Using Datacolor's SpyderX Elite calibrator and its software tools, we measure display performance, screen-brightness output levels, and measure gamut settings for the three most relevant color spaces for laptop users: the sRGB, Adobe RGB, and DCI-P3 standards.

The IdeaPad 3 14's colors were generally average, par the course for most budget laptops, though it was a little worse than the competition (and a lot worse than the Samsung Galaxy Book Pro 13's great AMOLED panel). Screen brightness, on the other hand, fared a lot better. If it can't be colorful, it should at least be bright.

A Budget Baron

A cheap laptop doesn't exist without compromise, but despite being sold at a budget price, the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 14 feels premium. Its snappy performance, sturdy build, and additions like a USB-C port, Wi-Fi 6, and a fingerprint scanner help the IdeaPad 3 outclass its competition.

While it might still have some of the usual budget-laptop shortcomings like uninspiring speakers and a dull display, the IdeaPad 3 14 is still worth the price of admission and is one of the best inexpensive notebooks you can buy. It's our new Editors' Choice pick for budget laptops.

4.0Editors' ChoiceSee It$579.99 at AmazonMSRP $519.00View More

The Lenovo IdeaPad 3 14 is a knockout budget laptop, with excellent performance and a bevy of modern trappings that almost make you forget it rings up at less than $600.

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