Lenovo IdeaPad 3 review: performance on a budget

The Lenovo IdeaPad 3 is an affordable option to handle the basics, but that means its super affordable

Lenovo IdeaPad 3
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

While the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 has its weaknesses, but it has key strengths too – not least the low price that you can now pick the laptop up for. If you're primarily concerned with day-to-day computing tasks, affordability and durability, it definitely ticks those boxes.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Robust, durable build

  • +

    Comfortable typing experience

  • +

    Affordable price

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Screen could be brighter

  • -

    Average battery life

  • -

    Low-powered components

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If there's one thing to take away from this Lenovo IdeaPad 3 review, it's that this is one of the best laptops on the market at the moment, but that not because of its eye-catching looks or its powerful performance – it's because it's not stupidly expensive. You'll really get the most for your money with a Lenovo laptop.

Of course, we've seen much faster and more polished Lenovo laptops in recent months, but if you're looking to spend as little as you possibly can on a cheap laptop then the IdeaPad 3 has to be worth considering. In our full Lenovo IdeaPad 3 review, we'll explain exactly why.

You're not going to be able to play demanding games or use it to start your career in video production but it has plenty of strengths worth shouting about: it's great for everyday computing and web browsing, dealing with emails and spreadsheets, and you'll be pleased with its TV and movie streaming as well. 

Lenovo Ideapad 3 review: what's different? 

The 3 Series is towards the affordable end of Lenovo's Ideapads, they're made to be used at home and at school for everything from typing out documents to streaming TV shows. If you have quite a heavy workload and need something with a bit more power, the Ideapad 5 series offers more advanced hardware in an equally compact body.

Want something even cheaper than the Lenovo IdeaPad 3? The Lenovo Ideapad 1 Series will be a better starting point. Or do you need a 2 in 1 laptop? The IdeaPad Flex Series will have you covered there. 

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 review: design and screen

The IdeaPad 3 comes with a compact 14-inch display running at a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, and it's a reasonably bright and crisp screen. The bezels around the display are thicker than you'll find on the very best laptops out there, and the viewing angles and maximum brightness aren't particularly top-notch, but this is a laptop that you need to judge in relation to its price – and for the money it costs we were very satisfied.

Whether you're browsing the web, writing up an essay, or sitting back and watching some movies from your favourite video streaming platform, the display of the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 holds up. It's not available as a touchscreen, but then you wouldn't really expect it to be at this price. While the 16:9 aspect ratio isn't as good as 16:10 for documents and webpages, it does work very well for video content, as we found from a quick YouTube binge.

Lenovo has been in the laptop game for a long time now of course, and that's reflected in the solid build quality and reassuring feel of the IdeaPad 3. The screen hinge feels robust, the outer plastic casing feels durable, and you get the impression that this is a laptop that's going to last and last. If the kids manage to get hold of it, for example, you won't have to worry about it snapping in half... probably.

It's worth mentioning the typing experience on the Lenovo IdeaPad 3. You don't get a full-sized keyboard with a number pad, but otherwise it's excellent: the key presses feel soft but substantial, the keys are well spaced, and you get the usual array of shortcuts on the function keys at the top (for volume, brightness, and so on). There's no keyboard backlighting, but we can live with that, and while the trackpad is on the small side it feels substantial and responsive.

Another nice touch is the privacy shield on the webcam just above the monitor, which gives you some extra peace of mind once your video calling is done for the day. Three USB-A ports, a HDMI-out port for an external monitor, a 3.5 mm headphone jack and an SD card slot mean that you're pretty well covered in terms of attaching peripherals and other gadgets up to your laptop too.

It's fair to say that the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 looks like what it is: a budget laptop. But at the same time it's a well-built portable computer, which at 1.6 kilograms (that's 3.5 lbs) isn't at all difficult to lug around the office or the house. Unless you need something really compact or a lot of screen real estate, this laptop hits the sweet spot between giving you lots of display to look at without sacrificing too much in the way of mobility. Despite the low price, we'd expect it to last you a good few years.

Need a laptop with more gaming power? Then take a look at T3's best gaming laptops guide.

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 review: performance and features

Lenovo IdeaPad 3

(Image credit: Lenovo)

Our IdeaPad 3 review unit came running a 10th-gen Intel Core i3-1005G1 processor – by no means the latest or greatest Intel chipset, but definitely enough to get you through some everyday computing tasks. The integrated Intel UHD Graphics G1 setup means that gaming and other graphically intense tasks are beyond the laptop (think high-end image and video editing), but for most tasks that most of us do with a computer it's perfectly fine.

The review unit we had was fitted with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD internal storage – you wouldn't really want to try and run Windows 10 on anything less, but again you can get by with this sort of spec. We tried some web browsing, some emailing, and some media playing on the Lenovo IdeaPad 3, and everything moved along at a fair clip. If you really try and overload the laptop with a lot of browser tabs or a lot of open applications you might run into problems, however.

It is worth noting that the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 stayed nice and quiet during our time with it, with the fans only spinning up occasionally when the laptop was put under pressure. Note that the computer comes with the restricted Windows 10 S Mode enabled – you can switch to Windows 10 proper for free in about a minute, but you do lose some benefits in terms of performance and security.

In general we found the IdeaPad 3 ran applications and websites smoothly and well. The integrated Dolby audio system isn't going to win any awards anytime soon, but it's better than you might expect for a laptop at this price, and it's more than adequate for some quick bursts of music or for the dialog and audio accompanying movies and TV shows. We had no complaints with the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 as a media player.

We were seeing battery life of 3-4 hours with standard, undemanding use – that's with the screen set on maximum brightness, so if you're happy to dim it a little you'll get more time between charges. This isn't a laptop that's going to last a whole day away from a power socket, but it'll be fine for a train journey or an afternoon at a coffee shop. Other laptops will get you much more battery life of course, but they'll cost you more too.

An uninterrupted 2 hours of video streaming – again with the screen on maximum brightness – knocked down the battery from 100 percent to 75 percent in our test, suggesting around 8 hours of video playback in total if you're not doing anything else with the laptop in the meantime. That's not too bad at all, and if you're just watching videos then you can make it from morning to night.

Are you a student and need a system to go to college or university? Then check out the best student laptops on the market.

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 review: verdict

Lenovo IdeaPad 3

(Image credit: Future)

You might think from our review so far that the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 is a rather underwhelming laptop – but it's all relative depending on the price, and this computer is very cheap indeed. Check the widgets embedded on this page for the latest deals on the web, but it's typically available now for under £400, and at that price we're willing to put up with a few issues. You can get an even better price with one of our Lenovo discount codes

Yes you can pay more for a laptop with a sharper, brighter screen, longer battery life and more powerful components, but when it comes to value for money and bang for your buck the IdeaPad 3 is difficult to better – that's why we've been happy to name it as a budget choice in our best laptops list. As long as you understand what you are getting and what you aren't getting from the IdeaPad 3, it could be the right purchase for you.

With just 4GB of RAM, the laptop isn't really suitable for stacking up lots of images in Adobe Photoshop or trying to run anything but the most basic games, but the i3 processor and the SSD storage mean that you do get some decent speed for your day-to-day computing tasks. We could very happily get through a day of work on the IdeaPad 3, and it's lightweight enough to be carried around without a problem.

The typing and trackpad experience is definitely worth mentioning again, because it's one of the best aspects of the overall IdeaPad 3 package. If you've got a lot of essays, reports or spreadsheets to get through then you'll find the Lenovo laptop is very much up to the task – it might not use the most premium of materials, but it feels durable and solid, and ready for extended work sessions.

Windows 10 continues to get better and better too, whether you stick with S Mode on this laptop or not, and can run capably on slower components too. It's worth bearing in mind that you simply can't get a Mac laptop at this price at the moment. Chromebooks are of course an option, but get Google Chrome installed on the IdeaPad 3 and you've got everything that Chrome OS offers and then some.

When weighing up the Lenovo IdeaPad 3 you have to take the price into account first and foremost, and then consider everything else: while we think the screen and the battery life could be improved, the laptop scores highly in terms of overall usability, the typing experience, the connectivity options you get, and the Intel Core processor fitted inside. If you're shopping for a budget laptop then it's worth getting this on your shortlist.

Also consider

And talking of lists, be sure to take a look at T3's best lightweight laptops guide if you want a portable PC that doesn't weigh much.

It's actually the Lenovo's cousin, the IdeaPad 3i, that makes it onto that list (at the time of writing), so be sure to check out the newer alternative, which does cost more but it's more up to date. 

David Nield

Dave has over 20 years' experience in the tech journalism industry, covering hardware and software across mobile, computing, smart home, home entertainment, wearables, gaming and the web – you can find his writing online, in print, and even in the occasional scientific paper, across major tech titles like T3, TechRadar, Gizmodo and Wired. Outside of work, he enjoys long walks in the countryside, skiing down mountains, watching football matches (as long as his team is winning) and keeping up with the latest movies.