Monday, January 22, 2007

Spend about $2,000 for a notebook computer and you should expect some things.

One of the interesting surprises of the Lenovo ThinkPad X60 is what comes with it: 1 gigabyte of RAM, a 120 GB hard disk drive and the tablet display, which is activated with a pen-stylus device. All this in a package that weighs less than 4 pounds and has five hours of battery life — enough for a flight across the continent.

Now, that might not seem like an incredible value, but remember, there’s still an IBM logo on this thing. You are paying for image, style and cachet. Not to mention some pretty cool engineering.

During an initial “spin” with the ThinkPad, the computer impresses on several levels. There’s an integrated fingerprint scanner for added security. It’s a good idea, but apparently doesn’t work as well in situations with low ambient light(it failed to scan my index finger properly).

The built-in Wi-Fi wireless networking is quite good and easy to use, connecting to available work and home networks at 54 megabytes per second, which is a good speed; Bluetooth computer—cell phone-modem connectivity was a bit more tricky.

Other operations were rather pleasant, however; more than I might have expected. This is a computer with a display screen that measures 12.1-inch diagonally, and that might seem antediluvian in a world where the 15-inch display is a de facto standard and where Apple Inc.’s 13-inch display for the MacBook isn’t all that bad.

It took some getting used to for my eyes to accommodate the 12.1 inch screen — yes, even nine-tenths of an inch can make a difference — although in “portrait” display mode when used as a tablet, the screen seemed perfectly fine.

The keyboard on the ThinkPad X60 is a delight. I’ve long maintained the IBM-branded notebooks have been among those with the best keyboards around, and this new model doesn’t disappoint. That’s encouraging given that a Tablet PC, by definition, should be designed as much for pen input as for typing.

The keys are responsive and pleasant to use, especially for combinations of letters and control characters; this may not seem important, but experienced users will likely recognize a good keyboard, and this is a good keyboard.

The joystick/click-button combination for the mouse function — compared with the very popular trackpad setup used in many portables from Hewlett-Packard, its Compaq subsidiary and Apple — was for me a bit of a challenge at first, but I’m getting used to it.

Having a Wacom pen-based system in this Tablet PC is a good thing. Wacom’s stylus systems are among the best.

Because the machine arrived late last week, and because we’re on the cusp of Microsoft Corp.’s expected Jan. 30 release of Windows Vista, it’s going to take some time to see just how useful this kind of a machine really is. I’m not sure how many applications there are that can take advantage of all the pen-input capabilities a Tablet PC should offer, and I’m still a little uncertain as to whether it’s worth the hassle.

But for the executive-on-the-go, or for any other kind of road warrior, having a fair amount of power in a rather light package is not at all a bad thing. I’m hoping for positive experiences with this computer and will be sure to report back in a few weeks.

• Read Mark Kellner’s Tech Blog at

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