Not everyone wants to spend a month’s salary on the biggest, most powerful laptop. Many of us just want something that’s reasonably priced, and just does the basics. But although there are lots of budget laptops on the market, not all of them are that great to use in practice.
Lenovo’s IdeaPad 3i (not to be confused with the more expensive IdeaPad Gaming 3i or the IdeaPad 3 Chromebook) is one of the exceptions. This Windows device is not only nice and cheap, it’s one of the best lightweight laptops around today.
That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for you, though. So in this article, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about the IdeaPad 3i, to find out if it’s the best fit for you.
Should I buy the IdeaPad 3i?
The short answer is yes. A long as you don’t need to do any resource-intensive tasks like graphic design, professional Photoshop work, video editing or gaming. For basic tasks, though, like emails, word processing, web surfing, making Zoom calls and watching YouTube, it delivers everything you need.
It’s nice and light, and very portable. So as long as you’re happy with a 14-inch screen, and don’t need a bigger one, this is a good choice for a sub-£500 laptop.
What are the specs of the IdeaPad 3i?
The laptop measures 12 x 9inches (30 x 22cm) and weighs 1.6kg (3.5lbs). That means it’s not quite as light as some more expensive ultrathin laptops, such as the Dell XPS 13 (1.2kg), MacBook Air (1.29kg) or LG Gram (1.35kg). But it’s not far off, making it a great choice for commuting and travel.
The 14-inch screen features Full HD resolution (1,920 x 1,080), which is certainly good enough for streaming TV and movies. However, this is not the most premium screen you’re going to find. Firstly, it’s a TN panel rather than an IPS display. And secondly, it only offers a brightness of just 220 nits: good enough for indoor viewing, but not for outside in daylight.
The IdeaPad 3i runs Windows 10 Home in S Mode, and its makers promises a battery life of “up to” 7.5 hours. It boasts one USB-C port, two USB 3.1 ports, an HDMI port and a headphone jack.
When it comes to the internals, there are two varieties of the IdeaPad 3i: one powered by Intel, the other by AMD. The recommended retail price of the former is £429 and the latter £599.99.
The Intel version of the laptop comes with a 10th generation Intel Core processor, the i3-1005G1, Integrated Intel UHD Graphics, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage. The pricier AMD version, meanwhile, features an AMD Ryzen 7 3700U Mobile Processor, integrated AMD Radeon RX Vega 10 Graphics, 4GB of RAM and 256GB SSD Storage.
We’d probably opt for the cheaper Intel version, because although there’s going to be a difference in performance between the two, we don’t think it’s enough to warrant the price jump.
What are the best features of the IdeaPad 3i?
The best features of the IdeaPad 3i is, quite simply, its light weight and low price. We won’t sugar-coat it: this is not an outstanding laptop in any other respect. The processing power, graphics performance, screen quality, web cam and battery life are all fine, but nothing that’s going to win awards.
That shouldn’t be taken as a criticism, though. Rather than do anything showy, Lenovo has set out to create a laptop that allows you to do common computing tasks at an affordable price. And in that mission, it has succeeded well.
What else do I need to know about the IdeaPad 3i?
Mainly, that you may find this laptop limiting at times. Windows S Home, for example, restricts you to only using Edge for browsing the web, and only downloading apps from the Microsoft Store. You can turn these restrictions off with a little tweak, of course. But the very fact they're in place is a clear signal that this is not the fastest or most powerful machine on the market.
A maximum battery life of 7.5 hours isn’t great either, as in practice you’ll probably get a lot less, depending on what you’re using your laptop for. So if you need to use a laptop on the move a lot, it may be worth investing in a decent power bank, or just buying a more expensive laptop.
What are the alternatives to the IdeaPad 3i?
The IdeaPad 3i isn’t the only capable laptop around right now under £500, so there are a number of alternatives to consider.
Want a screen that’s bigger than 14 inches? Then one of our favourite budget laptops, the Asus Vivobook 15, has a 15.6-inch Full HD screen. Meanwhile if you’re in need of extra battery life, then the Acer Aspire 5 offers up to 10 hours compared to the IdeaPad 3i’s 7.5.
Would you prefer a tablet-laptop hybrid to a straight laptop? At a similar price to the IdeaPad 3i, you can get just that in the form of Microsoft’s Surface Go 2.
Finally, if even the IdeaPad 3i is too rich for your blood right now, and you can live without Windows, you could save even more money by going for a Chromebook. Lenovo’s own IdeaPad 3 is an excellent choice at a super-low price.
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