Lenovo IdeaPad S340-15IWL review: Peppy quad-core performance, but a cheap display
- 12 November, 2019 22:34
Those looking for solid productivity power, a roomy screen, and a comfortable keyboard should give the Lenovo IdeaPad S340-15IWL a fair shake, but make sure you pick up the right model. While we were pleased with the benchmark results for the S340-15IWL ($730 list, but generally closer to $500 online), the configuration we tested comes with a cut-rate TN display saddled with poor viewing angles. you can upgrade to a superior IPS panel for a modest amount of cash (as in $40 or so) while keeping the same internals, so you have options. A svelte design rounds out the package, although we do wish Lenovo had managed to wring a little more life out of the S340’s battery.
Price and configuration
Lenovo’s 15-inch S340 line includes models ranging from $630 up to $830, although Lenovo’s continual “instant” deals typically shave a couple hundred or more off the manufacturer’s list prices. Our review model (the SKU is 81N8003SUS), for example, has a $730 list price on Lenovo.com, but at the time this review was written, Lenovo’s website was selling it for $510 after a $220 “instant” discount.
Here’s what you get for that $730—er, $510 price tag:
- CPU: Quad-core Intel Core i5-8265U
- RAM: 8GB DDR4-2400 RAM
- GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 620
- Display: 15.6-inch 1920 x 1080 TN display
- Storage: 256GB SSD
On paper, those are some pretty decent specs if you manage to buy the S340 at its $510 sale price. The quad-core Whiskey Lake processor will serve you well when it comes to daily computing chores, and even some CPU-intensive activities such as video editing. The 8GB of RAM gives you some headroom when it comes to multitasking, while the relatively roomy solid-state drive has enough space for Office and your go-to programs, if not your entire media library. The integrated graphics core is fine for light photo editing and maybe a game of chess, but not much more.
There is one red flag for this particular configuration, however: the TN (twisted nematic) display. While TN panels are fast and responsive (gamers with split-second reflexes love them), they’re also known for their poor viewing angles, which means they tend to look blown out unless you’re directly facing them. We’ll let you know how the full-HD display looks in real life in a moment. (Spoiler: not great.)
If you want to save a little more cash, there’s a $630 (or $430 on sale) model of the S340 with the same basic specs as this version, except it has a dual-core Intel Core i3 processor rather than a quad-core CPU. You could also pony up a bit more cash (starting at $830, or $550 on sale) for an S340 with an IPS display, or go for a version with a cutting-edge 10th-gen Ice Lake Core i5 processor ($710 list, which is less than the MSRP of some of the 8th-gen models but minus any instant savings).
When we think of Lenovo, we generally picture those black, boxy, all-business ThinkPads, but the S340 manages to cut a relatively stylish profile. Measuring 14.1 x 9.6 x 0.7 inches and weighing in at 3.9 pounds (or 4.4 pounds if you include the AC adapter), the S340 feels pleasingly thin but a tad heavy. The laptop’s Platinum Gray shell (Abyss Blue is another color option) looks plain yet stylish, with a flat, featureless lid save for a small Lenovo logo on the side.
Open the lid and you’ll find the 15.6-inch display with slim side and top bezels, although the bottom bezel is somewhat fatter. The grey keyboard and palmrest are unremarkable, although it’s worth noting that the power button sits just above the top-right corner of the numeric keypad, making it much less likely that you’ll press it by accident.
Bargain laptops often come with cheap displays. While this $510 (when it’s on sale) configuration of the S340 barely qualifies as a bargain laptop, its iffy display certainly falls into the cheap category.
While we are talking a full-HD (1920x1080) display here rather than the fuzzier 1366x768 you see in many sub-$500 laptops, the S340’s screen brightness tops out at an anemic 205 nits (or candelas) according to our readings. We generally prefer a laptop display to have a 100-percent display brightness reading of at least 250 nits, and we consider 200 nits to be barely adequate for comfortable indoor viewing.
A bigger problem than brightness, however, is the cheaper TN (twisted nematic) panel technology it uses, which (as we noted before) suffers from poor viewing angles. Indeed, the S340’s display looked a little blown-out and contrast-deprived even when I was viewing it dead-on. Once I started moving my head in one direction or another, the screen almost immediately began to fade. The colors went inverse when I looked down at it from a 45-degree angle. In short, the display on this version of the S340 offers a poor viewing experience, whether you’re working on an Office doc or watching a Netflix video.
Keep in mind, however, that there are S340 models with IPS (in-plane switching) displays that should (on paper, anyway) look much better. In fact, there’s an S340 configuration (SKU: 81QF0005US) that’s identical to this one save for an upgraded IPS screen, and its “instant” savings price is $550, or just $40 more than the model we’re reviewing here. That additional forty bucks would be money well spent.
Keyboard, trackpad, and speakers
The S340’s backlit keyboard felt comfy and refreshingly snappy to my fingertips, with enough travel (that is, the distance the keys move when they’re struck) to keep them from feeling too shallow, along with a nice tactile bump and a springy rebound. You also get Alt-enabled hotkeys for disabling the microphone and webcam, plus dedicated media keys above the numeric keypad. Speaking of which, yes, there’s a 10-key numeric keypad, although it looks a little squished compared to the rest of the keyboard.
The medium-sized trackpad on the S340 sits centered below the main keyboard, which means it’s placed a bit to the left of the overall chassis. The trackpad let me move the cursor precisely without too much jitter, and it also did a nice job of rejecting accidental inputs from my palms. It takes a fair amount of pressure to click the trackpad, but that’s pretty standard when it comes to laptops in this price range.
Lenovo says the S340 comes equipped with Dolby Audio, and indeed, there’s a Dolby Audio app that lets you pick between Movie, Game, Voice, and Music profiles. But while the Dolby Audio app does a decent job of expanding the soundstage and creating a virtual surround effect, it can’t do much for the audio quality of the S340’s muddy, bass-deprived speakers. The S340’s 2-watt drivers are not bad; they’re simply standard-issue laptop speakers. For better quality, you’re better off plugging in headphones or pairing it with a decent Bluetooth speaker.
Missing in action is a Windows Hello-enabled fingerprint reader, which you won’t find even on the pricier S340 configurations.
The Lenovo S340 comes with a solid array of ports and connectors given its price range. Starting on the left side, there’s a full-size HDMI port, a USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C port, and a combo audio jack, along with a barrel-shaped charging port.
On the right, we have a pair of USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports, plus a 4-in-1 media card reader.
Overall, that checks off most of our boxes in the ports department. Sure, a Thunderbolt 3 port would have been nice, but you generally won’t see one in a laptop this inexpensive. The 4-in-1 memory card reader is a welcome upgrade over the typical microSD card slot, and USB-C lets you connect a reasonably speedy external storage drive.
Read on for details on the solid performance and battery benchmarks
With its quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and integrated graphics, the S340 has all the hallmarks of a productivity workhorse—in other words, a machine that’ll cruise through Office chores and occasionally put the pedal to the metal when multi-core power is required. As you’ll see in our benchmarks, the S340 doesn’t disappoint, and we were pleasantly surprised by a couple of its chart-topping results.
PCMark 8 Work 2.0 Conventional
Given that most users of the Lenovo S340 will be using it as an Office and general productivity machine, our first benchmark results bear good tidings.
PCMark 8 is designed to simulate such daily computing activities as composing word documents, tinkering with spreadsheets, online shopping, and video chat. A PCMark 8 score of 2,000 or higher generally means a system can run Office without breaking a sweat.
As we can see, the Lenovo S340 leads a pack that’s bunched relatively close together, with every laptop in the chart breaking the 3,000 mark. In other words, all the systems in our comparison will handle Office with ease, including that Lenovo ThinkPad at the very bottom. Indeed, the Office performance of a laptop with a 3,500 score on PCMark 8 won’t feel significantly better than one with a 3,150 result; instead, they’ll purr more or less equally while you’re web browsing, dealing with Excel, or performing most other daily PC tasks.
A somewhat more demanding test than PCMark 8, our HandBrake benchmark measures how quickly a laptop can encode a 30GB MKV file into a format suitable for an Android tablet. It’s a CPU-intensive test that reliably spins up a laptop’s cooling fans, and it favors systems with the most processor cores.
Again, the quad-core Lenovo S340 acquits itself well, managing to reach our HandBrake finish line in less than 4,000 seconds (or slightly over an hour). That’s a score that earns the S340 an impressive bronze in our comparison, besting some pricier laptops in the process. Of course, the S340 is somewhat larger than some of the competitors in our chart, and thus easier to cool.
It’s worth noting that while the S340 runs on a Whiskey Lake CPU rather than the older Kaby Lake Refresh chip that powers most of the other laptops on our chart, general performance tests have shown that Whiskey Lake processors enjoy (on average) only a tiny speed boost over Kaby Lake Refresh systems (both are 8th-generation Intel CPUs, by the way), so it’s not like the S340’s Core i5-8265 chip is an unfair advantage.
Lagging far behind at the bottom of the chart is a dual-core Acer Aspire 5 model, which goes to show what a difference a quad-core processor makes when it comes to video processing and other CPU-intensive chores. That said, if you’re not planning on crunching massive video files on a regular basis, you might consider saving some cash with a dual-core laptop.
Another benchmark that’s designed to push a CPU to its limits, the Cinebench test involves rendering a 3D image in realtime. Just as with HandBrake, laptops with the most cores generally snag the best Cinebench scores.
And yes, it’s another nice showing from the S340, topping its quad-core competitors with room to spare. In addition to putting up a nice multi-threaded Cinebench score, the Lenovo S340 also posts the best single-thread result on our chart, demonstrating the efficiency of the S340’s individual CPU cores.
3DMark Sky Diver 1.0
With its integrated Intel UHD graphics core, the Lenovo S340 isn’t much of a gaming machine. While the S340 locks up third place in our 3DMark Sky Diver benchmark, that’s not going to help it cross the 60-fps mark (or even approach it) when it comes to Fortnite.
What our Sky Diver chart illustrates is the gulf in graphics performance between a laptop with a discrete graphics card and one with integrated graphics. That big blue line at the top represents an Acer Aspire E 15 with a discrete GeForce MX150 graphics card (and that's just an entry-level GeForce card, mind you). Way behind are the rest, which are mostly saddled with integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620 cores.
The sole exception is last year’s Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 6 14 with a discrete GeForce MX130 graphics card, which should have put up far better numbers than it ultimately did. We’re still scratching our heads over that one.
All that said, not everyone needs a laptop with discrete graphics. Unless you're a gamer or you're planning on doing video work, integrated graphics are probably just fine, not to mention cheaper.
We test battery life by looping a 4K video using the stock Windows 10 Movies & TV video player, with screen brightness at about 250 nits (because the S340’s display can’t get that bright, we simply cranked its brightness setting all the way up) and volume set to 50 percent, with headphones plugged in.
The S340’s average result (we ran the test three times) of 503 minutes, or a shade under 8.4 hours, is a bit of a disappointment given how its competitors fared. Indeed, with its 52 watt-hour battery, the S340 fared considerably worse than other laptops in our chart with smaller 48 watt-hour batteries.
Now, this could simply be a factor of Lenovo's tuning the S340 to favor performance over energy efficiency (although we should note that our benchmarks were performed on AC power), and in any case, eight hours of battery life is nothing to sniff at. Still, we were hoping the S340 would snag better numbers given the size of its battery.
The Lenovo IdeaPad S340 isn’t the first solid laptop line to come with lower-end TN-equipped models, and as such, we wouldn’t condemn it on the basis of the particular configuration we tested. Indeed, criticizing a TN panel for its poor viewing angles is like dinging a turtle for being slow; that’s just the way they are, take ‘em or leave ‘em. Swap in an IPS display for the TN panel (which you can do fairly cheaply, if you pick the next step-up model), and you’re most likely looking at an impressive value.