At long last: a ThinkPad tablet
With the ThinkPad X41 tablet, Lenovo has added tablet functionality to one of the best ultraportable notebooks on the market, the ThinkPad X41, without compromising on the screen quality or the security. At $1,899 (as of July 2005), this tablet’s price is similar to that of convertible tablet competitors with faster hardware, but the ThinkPad X41 tablet’s balance of portability, performance, and security make it one of the best convertibles on the market.
Its smooth, jet-black case may look just like the X41 notebook, but the tablet version is slightly bigger, measuring 1.1 inches thick, 10.7 inches wide, and 9.5 inches deep. And weighing 3.6 pounds, it’s almost a pound heavier than the notebook. The extended battery pack adds an inch to the depth and 0.5 pound to the weight, but that’s still significantly thinner and more than half a pound lighter than either the HP Compaq tc4200 or the. The X41 tablet’s AC adapter adds a tolerable 0.7 pound to the travel weight.
Like other convertibles, the ThinkPad X41 tablet has a split personality: you can use it like a standard notebook, or you can swivel the display and fold it over the keyboard to create a digital slate for writing, drawing, or just doodling. Unlike other convertibles, the X41 tablet’s screen doesn’t wobble on its single hinge, and the digital grid layer required to interpret the pen’s movements doesn’t diminish the quality of the 12.1-inch XGA display. We did find that the slightly recessed screen makes writing a little awkward, though the glass surface closely mimics the feel of pen on paper. The character recognition is still a work in progress, so you’ll need to write slowly and carefully for scratches and scrawls of the pen to be correctly translated into editable text; in our usage, the X41 tablet recognized 86 percent of our handwritten comments. Alongside the screen are helpful buttons for scrolling, rotating the display orientation, rebooting, and calling up a system control panel, plus Enter and Escape keys–pretty much everything you’d need to control your computer while it’s in tablet mode.
The rest of the design matches what we’ve come to expect from ThinkPads, with a comfortable keyboard, a red TrackPoint pointing stick, two mouse buttons, and one button for scrolling. The battery features a grippy rubber surface that makes it easy to hold the machine in one hand while writing with the other, like a clipboard.
The port selection on the ThinkPad X41 tablet, however, is a little weak. It lacks FireWire and S-Video connectors, the latter of which is on the HP Compaq tc4200. The system does have headphone, microphone, VGA, modem, Gigabit Ethernet, and two USB 2.0 plugs (one powered), two fewer than on the larger Averatec C3500. Its PC Card slot doubles for use with the upcoming generation of ExpressCards, and there’s a handy Secure Digital flash card reader, though not the multiformat flash card reader we’re seeing on traditional notebooks.
In addition to Bluetooth short-range radio, the X41 tablet comes with Intel’s 802.11b/g Wi-Fi radio, which was able to stay in contact with our base station for an average 100 feet in our anecdotal tests; you can also choose an Intel 802.11a/b/g radio. Unlike the Averatec C3500, the ThinkPad X41 tablet lacks an optical drive, but the companion ThinkPad X4 dock ($219 as of July 2005) has a modular bay that can be filled with a variety of drives.
In a nod to corporate buyers who may be purchasing a fleet of laptops, the ThinkPad X41 tablet features the same start-up software as some other ThinkPads. Major components and software are expected to remain unchanged for at least a year to help with long-term deployments, and when you’re ready to upgrade, Lenovo will recycle your old equipment. In addition, the X41 tablet’s security is every bit as good as its traditional counterpart. The TPM-based encryption hardware can protect data on the hard drive, and a fingerprint reader helps with authentication on the road or consolidates a user’s passwords into one swipe of the finger.
The ThinkPad X41 tablet features midrange components that prioritize battery life over performance. Our test unit included a 1.5GHz Pentium M processor; a sluggish, 4,200rpm hard drive with a 40GB capacity; and 512MB of quick 400MHz memory. It’s no surprise, then, that the X41 tablet scored in the middle of the tablet pack in CNET Labs’ mobile benchmarks. The X41 tablet lagged about 20 percent behind the HP Compaq tc4200, which relies on a faster, 1.8GHz Pentium M processor and a speedy, 5,400rpm hard drive, but it scored significantly higher than the 1.6GHz Athlon XP processor in the Averatec C3500.