Lenovo IdeaPad S340-15IWL review: Peppy quad-core performance, but a cheap display

This bargain-priced laptop puts up impressive performance numbers, but make sure to get one with an IPS display rather than the iffy TN variety.

Credit: Ben Patterson/IDG

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).

Design

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.

lenovo ideapad s340 15iwl lid Ben Patterson/IDG

The Lenovo IdeaPad S340-15IWL's design is plain, yet sleek.

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.

Display

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.

lenovo ideapad s340 15iwl display Ben Patterson/IDG

The TN display on this particular configuration of the Lenovo IdeaPad S340 suffers from poor viewing angles.

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.

lenovo ideapad s340 15iwl keyboard Ben Patterson/IDG

We liked the Lenovo IdeaPad S340's comfy keyboard, and you get a dedicated numerical keypad, too. No fingerprint reader though.

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.

Ports

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.

lenovo ideapad s340 15iwl left ports Ben Patterson/IDG

Left-side ports on the Lenovo IdeaPad S340-15IWL include a full HDMI port, a USB-C port, and a combo audio jack.

On the right, we have a pair of USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports, plus a 4-in-1 media card reader.

Ben Patterson/IDG

Two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports and a 4-in-1 media card reader sit on the right edge of the Lenovo IdeaPad S340.

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

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Ben Patterson

PC World (US online)
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