With weeks to go before we kick off the holiday shopping season with Black Friday, Lenovo announced two affordable notebooks in its IdeaPad U Series (that’s “U” as in, “ULV” or ultra low voltage): the 11-inch U150 (starting at $585) and the 15.6-inch U550 (starting at $650). Both notebooks have 16:9 1366 x 768 displays, wireless-N, optional 3G, 1.3-megapixel webcam with face recognition, and can accommodate Intel Core 2 Duo processors. Both have VGA and HDMI output, headphone and mic ports, an Ethernet jack, and a 4-in-1 memory card reader, but the U150 has two USB ports whereas the 15.6-inch U550 has three. In the case of the 11.6-inch U150, one of those USB ports double as an eSATA port. The differences between the two begin with design. While both have patterned, textured lids, the U150 has a metal keyboard, not unlike the notebooks we’ve seen from HP with the company’s DuraKey finish. Meanwhile, the U550 has a matte black design, which looks more staid. Feature-wise, the 15.6-inch U550 is unique in that it has an integrated optical drive, switchable graphics (Intel GMA 4500MHD and discrete ATI Radeon HD 4330 with 512MB dedicated memory), a number pad and fingerprint reader, can take up to 8GB of RAM, can house a hard drive as large as 500GB (it can also take a 256GB SSD). It also has an ambient light sensor, which automatically adjusts the screen’s brightness. The 11.6-inch U150, meanwhile, much like any netbook, lacks an optical drive, and the largest hard drive offered is 320GB (the largest SSD is 64GB). It can take 4GB of RAM, not eight. It also promises 7 hours of battery life with an optional six-cell battery, and has an accelerometer to protect the hard drive in the event of a fall. The U150 and U550 start at $585 and $650, respectively. Look for them in mid-November.