MORRISVILLE, N.C. – With one announcement Monday, Lenovo clearly demonstrated it plans to be a major player in the fast-growing netbooks market and also is responding to critics of these cheap machines.

The newest IdeaPad S10 netbook, called the S10-2, generated a lot of headlines and positive news coverage for the world’s No. 4 PC maker. Reports noted a slightly larger keyboard – a major point of criticism for most netbooks, which are smaller, lighter, cheaper and less capable than traditional laptops.

Plus, the S10-2 is packed with features that provide it with power. Lenovo’s recently revamped management team obviously still values the engineering of its IBM ThinkPad legacy while striving to cut costs wherever possible in order to become a bigger player in a market that is growing while other PC and laptop shipments falter.

“The redesign is an attempt by Lenovo to iron out kinks in its netbook products as the category evolves,” IDG News reported. “Netbooks are low-priced laptops designed for applications like Web surfing and basic word processing, but have been criticized for limited hardware. An Apple official late last month trashed netbooks for having cramped keyboards and junky hardware.”

The criticism of the S-102 is likely to be more muted.

For example, Lenovo will offer wireless 3G capability as an option. The S10-2 also is even thinner and lighter than the original, comes in several different colors, and still will retail for around $350 when it goes on sale in the near future.

The new model also comes equipped with a Microsoft operating system, which is no surprise since a Lenovo executive recently trashed Linux as an alternative. Yes, Linux would save money up front for buyers, but lack of familiarity with the OS led a lot of buyers to return the netbooks. That’s a headache Lenovo didn’t need.

Lenovo came a bit late to the netbooks business with arch rival Acer driving up global market share last year by selling hundreds of thousands of the machines. But the PC maker, which operates headquarters in Morrisville and Beijing, is anticipating selling hundreds of thousands of the netbooks in China alone this year.

eWeek described the S10-2 this way: “With a price starting under $349, the S10-2 is thinner and lighter than the IdeaPad S10, but features a closer-to-standard keypad, a larger touch-pad and improved battery life. …

“One criticism of the original S10 was its tiny keyboard, and with the S10-2 Lenovo has addressed this, expanding the keyboard to 90 percent of the size of a standard keyboard.”

PC Magazine adds: “The S10-2 has slimmed down to a mere .71 inches thick and a starting weight of 2.2 pounds. The new model also comes equipped with Dolby speakers and a new chassis design that comes in black, white, pink, or gray.”

Adds InformationWeek: “With a 10.1-inch display, the S10-2 is large enough for a keyboard that’s about 90% the size of a standard keyboard. The netbook also has shift keys on both sides of the keyboard and a larger touchpad.

“The mini-laptop is powered by an Intel (NSDQ: INTC) Atom N270 processor and comes with 1 GB of memory and a 160-GB hard drive. The system ships with Windows XP Home edition, a built-in 1.3-megapixel camera and a six-cell battery that delivers up to six hours of power. The device will be available in the summer with 3G wireless technology for connecting to carriers’ networks. “

And IDG News reported: “The S10-2 includes a 10.1-inch screen and will be available worldwide by the end of May starting at US$349. It will be powered by an Intel-based Atom N270 processor and will come with the Windows XP OS. It will support up to 1GB of RAM and up to 160GB of hard-drive storage. …”

The S10-2 may be thin, but it isn’t thin on power or features. It could be a big winner.