Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15 review: $400 is enticing, but you can get better features elsewhere

The IdeaPad 3 15 has a low price that appeals to many. But are you willing to accept its drawbacks?

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15 21:9
(Image: © Future)

Lenovo’s IdeaPad series offers a wide range of laptops, from very cheap ones that cost just a little more than $200 to gaming and premium Ultrabooks that cost well over $1,000. The IdeaPad 3 15 (model number 15IML05) that I’m reviewing here is close to the bottom of the price range, aiming for everyday use for anyone who needs a PC for homework or other productivity work at home. I’ve been testing this budget laptop for about a week to find out its pros and cons, and to see if it’s worth your money.

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15: Price, availability, and specs

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Future)

The IdeaPad 3 15 is available directly from Lenovo, where you'll generally find the most configuration options. This exact model costs about $460 after a common Lenovo discount. However, that's not as cheap as it gets. Amazon and Best Buy both have this same configuration on sale for about $400. That's quite an attractive price, especially if you just need a budget laptop around the house.

The IdeaPad 3 15's memory and storage can be upgraded fairly easily after purchase.

You can also check out the newer IdeaPad 3i 15 which costs about $585 at Lenovo with a discount. It has 11th Gen Intel Core CPUs, FHD display and fingerprint reader as standard, and a USB-C port. It’s more expensive, but it has some upgrades that might be worth it. For more choices, see our list of the best Lenovo laptops for more options.

As for the IdeaPad 3 15 I'm reviewing, I removed the bottom panel to check out what's inside. The device has 4GB of RAM soldered to the board to matter what, with another SODIMM slot accessible for upgrades. In this case, there's a 4GB stick in the slot that gives it dual-channel performance. You can upgrade with up to an 8GB stick for a total of 12GB.

There's a single M.2 SSD slot that comes with a 2242 PCIe NVMe drive, and it will fit a full-size M.2 2280 drive if you want to upgrade. Next to the SSD is the Wi-Fi 5 card's M.2 slot, which should technically be upgradeable to a Wi-Fi 6 card if you want to go that far. The laptop has a SATA drive bay next to the battery, though it's empty and doesn't appear to have any hookups. This is likely a holdover from a previous version. There's a rather huge fan inside with a single thin heat pipe running to the Core i3 chip.

Following are the exact specs found in my IdeaPad 3 15 review unit.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
OSWindows 10 Home
Processor10th Gen IntelCore i3-10110U2 cores, 4 threadsUp to 4.1GHz
RAM8GB DDR4-2666MHz(4GB soldered)Upgradeable
GraphicsIntegratedIntel UHD
Storage256GB M.2 2242PCIe NVMe SSDUpgradeable
Display15.6 inches1366x768 (HD)16:9 aspect ratioTN, touchAnti-glare220 nits
PortsTwo USB-A 3.2 (Gen 1)USB-A 2.0HDMI 1.4bSD card reader3.5mm audio
AudioDual 1.5W speakersDolby audio
ConnectivityWi-Fi 5Bluetooth 5.0
CameraFront-facing 720pShutter
KeyboardNo backlight
SecurityTPM 2.0Camera shutter
Dimensions14.26 x 9.98 x 0.78 inches(362.2mm x 253.4mm x 19.9mm)
Weight3.75 pounds (1.7kg)
MaterialPC + ABS
ColorAbyss Blue

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15: What I like

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Future)

The IdeaPad 3 15 has an Abyss Blue color with brushed finish, giving it a more expensive look than you might expect from plain plastic. The bottom of the laptop has a sizable air intake for the large fan, with an exhaust along the back edge between lid and hinge. It's all fairly straightforward for a budget laptop. It weighs in at 3.75 pounds (1.7kg) and measures 0.78 inches (19.9mm) at its thinnest point. That's less than something like the Dell XPS 15, which employs an aluminum chassis rather than plastic. If you want to take the laptop with you on the go, it shouldn't be too much of a bother in a backpack or messenger.

The keyboard, though it doesn't have a backlight, is comfortable to use during all-day typing binges.

The keyboard makes good use of the available space and includes a number pad for enhanced productivity and spreadsheet work. The keys have a satisfying travel and spacing that make typing more enjoyable than expected. However, the keyboard lacks a backlight and the navigation keys (PgUp, PgDn, End, Home) are only accessible with the Fn key instead of having dedicated keys. The keyboard in my photos is the Canadian version with French characters. Other regions should have the standard keyboard with a full Shift key.

The 720p front-facing camera is a lot better than I was expecting, showing a better picture than even my Dell XPS 13. It’s clear, it adjusts well to different lighting, and it’s suitable for video chats. The sound quality of the dual down-firing speakers is also impressive for a $400 laptop. They can get loud without losing clarity, but they lack some bass.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Future)

Performance from the Core i3-10110U processor is about where it should be compared to higher-end 10th Gen and 11th Gen chips. As long as you're not trying to do too much at once, the two cores will be able to keep up. Using the laptop for essay writing, finance spreadsheets, and video streaming shouldn't be much of an issue. Just don't mistake this for a laptop that can do everything at once.

The SSD is surprisingly speedy, putting up numbers that beat even the new Surface Laptop 4 13. And as for battery, you're looking at about seven hours of real-world usage. Testing with PCMark 10's Modern Office battery rundown, the IdeaPad 3 15 lasted 8 hours and 13 minutes.

Take a look at how the IdeaPad 3 15 compares to other laptops we've recently reviewed.

The laptop’s price is another big plus. At only $400, it’s a great option for people who don’t want to spend a lot on the best Windows laptops available. The IdeaPad 3 15 has some flaws — which we’ll discuss in the next section — but none of them are dealbreakers.

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15: What I don't like

Budget laptops understandably have to cut corners to make up the price. Not everything can be a Razer Book 13, and that's OK. It's nevertheless good to know what you're getting yourself into when it comes to the IdeaPad 3 15.

The plastic chassis is much more flexible than aluminum or magnesium alloy. It feels a bit flimsy, so you’ll want to be careful not to bend it too much — especially the lid. But the laptop seems durable enough after carrying it around for awhile.

Port selection is another drawback. There's no USB-C, nevermind Thunderbolt, so you might feel like you're leaving behind modern accessories. The laptop does come with two USB-A 3.2 (Gen 1), USB-A 2.0, HDMI 1.4b, 3.5mm audio jack, and a UHS-I SD card reader. The laptop charges via proprietary barrel charging port.

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Future)

Elsewhere, the 1366x768 (HD) display is nothing to get excited about. This resolution at 15 inches gets a bit fuzzy, and a glossy finish due to the touch function doesn't help. The TN panel has rather narrow viewing angles, and the bezel is chunky. Is it functional for productivity work and email? Absolutely. Is it something you're going to love each time you open the lid? Probably not. There is an FHD IPS option listed in some documentation (which I highly recommend), though it doesn't seem like it's an easy configuration to find.

The color performance was disappointing, with only 62% sRGB, 47% AdobeRGB, and 46% DCI-P3. This is not surprising for a budget laptop, but it means you can’t trust it for photo editing, especially with the Core i3 CPU. The brightness was also low, with only 210 nits at maximum.

Another thing to note is that this laptop lacks a fingerprint reader or IR camera for extra security. This is not a big issue for a device at this low-cost, but you might be disappointed if you wanted biometric features. Some documents mention a fingerprint reader, but it doesn’t seem to be an option right now.

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15: Competition

Lenovo IdeaPad3 15

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Future)

Picking out a budget laptop isn't always easy. You need to be sure you're getting the right amount of performance, that the battery doesn't wimp out after a few hours, and that the display is to your liking.

If you are searching for another great budget laptop, the ASUS Vivobook 15 costs about $420 at Amazon. It has a 10th Gen Intel Core i3-1005G1 CPU, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB SSD. This is similar to the IdeaPad 3 15; however, the Vivobook has an FHD display with far thinner bezel, fingerprint reader for added security, USB-C port, and backlit keyboard. Check out our ASUS Vivobook 15 vs. IdeaPad 3 15 comparison for more information.

Those with just a bit more space in their budget will definitely want to check out the HP Pavilion Aero 13. Starting at $600 at HP, this laptop has outstanding AMD Ryzen 5000 Mobile performance, a lightweight and compact 13.3-inch design, beautiful display, and solid keyboard and touchpad. It's the best mid-range AMD laptop available now, but you will have to live with a smaller display.

Lenovo IdeaPad 3 15: Should you buy it?

Who it's for

  • People who don't want to spend more than $500 on a laptop
  • You don't mind an HD display
  • You want a comfortable keyboard with number pad
  • Those who want a camera with privacy shutter

Who it isn't for

  • People who want an FHD display with good color
  • Those who want a rigid aluminum or alloy build
  • You want a fingerprint reader or IR camera
  • If you need more serious performance or a discrete GPU
  • Those who want a modern selection of ports

As you might expect, the IdeaPad 3 15 for $400 has its pros and cons. The plastic body is not very sturdy, but the brushed texture gives it some style. The touchpad is so bad that I would use an external mouse if I had to work on this PC often, but the keyboard has a lot of travel and feels great to type on. The ports are outdated, but the webcam is clear and has a privacy cover, which is a nice feature that only some newer laptops have.

The display will likely be the biggest issue for a lot of people. If you can find this laptop with an FHD display, definitely spend the extra bit of money. The HD version with TN panel that I tested is dreadful with poor viewing angles, washed picture, and not a lot of brightness. It is touch, but on a notebook laptop it's not that useful.

Performance is about where it should be for a Core i3 CPU, meaning you shouldn't expect a whole lot of zip while multitasking. It will handle one thing at a time with relative ease, but don't expect to jump around between apps without it slowing down. And if you're looking for something that can handle a bit of fun, our roundup of the best gaming laptops should be seen.

The ASUS Vivobook 15 costs about the same, and it has a bunch of features the IdeaPad 3 15 is lacking. This makes the Lenovo laptop a bit more difficult to recommend. But if it's the only option around and you have less than $500 to spend, it's no doubt going to catch your attention.

Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt brings to Windows Central more than eight years of experience writing about laptops, PCs, accessories, games, and beyond. If it runs Windows or in some way complements the hardware, there’s a good chance he knows about it, has written about it, or is already busy testing it.