My new favourite thing is my Lenovo X61 Tablet. It’s a "convertible" 12 inch laptop with a Wacom tablet display and a bunch of of other things to help fulfil the diverse requirements of tablet PC users.
- Display: 12" 1400 x 1050 Wacom "Penabled" display which can rotate 180 degrees and fold flat over the keyboard.
- CPU: (Santa Rosa) Intel L7500 (1.6GHz Core2Duo with 4MB L2 cache)
- Ram: 2GB
- Video: Mobile Intel 965 Express 3D graphics decelerator
- Disk: 200GB 7200RPM Seagate "G-force" drive
- 1GB of Flash Memory divided 50/50 between Windows ReadyBoost & ReadyDrive.
- SD card slot
- Fingerprint reader
- Wireless A/B/G and Bluetooth
- Ultrabase Dock with DVD writer
- Windows Vista Business
How fast is it?
For Vista fans:
And for comparison, this is my desktop with Intel 6600 Core 2 Duo CPU, 2G of RAM, 7200 RPM drives and an NVIDIA 8800 GTX video card:
Notably, the tablet is often sluggish when being carried. This is because of a Lenovo-supplied tool called the "Active Protection" system which monitors the IDE hard disk’s accelerometers for signs of movement and actively parks the disk heads in anticipation of a drop or rough treatment. You can scale back the sensitivity of the utility, or uninstall it to regain speed with increased risk.
Missing and strange hardware
The main thing I miss is a trackpad. The X61 has a track point thingy, and after a couple of days I had the hang of it. Swapping from other laptops (especially J’s MacBook) requires little moments of brain readjustment and muscle-memory retraining to get used to again. It has a three (mouse) button arrangement under the space bar – with left, right and middle buttons.
The keyboard is generous, yet not quite full-sized. The feel is excellent, with quiet, comfortable clicks.
The strangest keyboard design decisions are:
- To put a browser back and forward key either side of the up part of the cursor inverted "T" formation on the right.
- To put the "Fn" key in the bottom left corner where I expect to find ctrl.
Laptop keyboard design is all about compromise. Even with the odd tradeoff decisions, the layout is generous. The keyboard offers sound control, Fn-qualified media control keys and full-sized alpha-numeric keys, which is something other portability-optimized laptops don’t always manage.
Another thing I miss is a DVI monitor output. Not that it really troubles me to use VGA cables from a laptop, but I thought I had retired my stock of VGA cables for good. Even the Ultrabase doesn’t have a DVI video socket.
Vista (or Lenovo’s wireless drivers and services) are too aggressive about saving power and turn off the wireless when you’re not connected or reach a point of poor reception. The wireless reception is good, but not great. I figured this out on a recent road trip where in a few hotels, J could get flawless reception on her MacBook where my poor tablet was able to achieve only intermittent connectivity.
You would think Lenovo could improve on IBM’s Stalinist-era design sensibilities, but the X61 Notepad is just a functional solid-feeling black brick.
I was always suspicious of fingerprint readers, but I’m beginning to wonder how I can get a fingerprint reader onto all the computers I use. They seem pretty reliable for me, though kid-sized fingers don’t scan reliably. Not having to pen-input your password when you’re in tablet or laptop mode is a great relief.
Let’s start with Vista. The X61 Tablet comes with Windows Vista Business and really, it’s not too terrible. I resisted XP Tablet edition because Vista’s handwriting recognition is allegedly better and the X61 comes with the on-board flash memory option that Vista takes advantage of.
I’ve used Vista before and found it to be annoying enough to warn other people to avoid it. Without having installed XP tablet edition I can’t compare – but I’m happy enough with Vista. The usual caveats apply, though. It’s sometimes hard to get software you’re used to on XP to run on Vista. The VPN client I used to access work isn’t yet available, for example. When I’m on battery, by favourite time-killer application (Art Rage) sometimes seems to freeze the entire computer – something that I thought Vista was supposed to make a thing of the past… The Tablet PC Input Panel – the little flying window that lets you recognize text and do without the keyboard – sometimes stops responding to input. It flies onto the screen and can be dismissed, but it sometimes doesn’t do what it’s supposed to – recognize text. The following is the text entry panel working in free-form recognition mode.
The most important software to talk about is what’s bundled in ThinkVantage Productivity Center – Rescue and Recovery. This utility is a backup system that provides the ability to perform master and incremental backups on a regular basis either to a network or other attached storage device, or to a hidden & protected folder on your hard disk. The Tablet’s hard disk is partitioned with a 5GB "rescue" partition that boots into a recovery mode version of Vista that lets you restore from a backup and a bunch of other repair and maintenance options. This seems superfluous given Vista Business’ perfectly-good built-in equivalent, but maybe I’m missing something subtle.
EverNote and OneNote both rock, and I have been using both. OneNote is winning the battle for my attention and has become my most-used application in a short period of time.
Is it fun and useful?
Having taken notes a couple of times in meetings and web conferences, the ability to use OneNote to clip, annotate and draw all over material is very natural and efficient. It’s light enough I can lug it around pretty easily in a backpack when I ride to work.
Technical diagrams are a breeze. I’ve been using Illustrator, Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, Visio (and *cough* Art Rage), and the ability to draw shapes and move them around directly in freehand takes some getting used to after the mouse, but is ultimately rewarding and feels like a small increase in productivity. The big gains are in scratching up diagrams to share. If you need to mark-up a presentation quickly, use Office 2007’s pen tools to scrawl all over the electronic copy. If you need to show someone a UML design you’re thinking about – scratch one out and email it, or even better – web conference it.
For the most part I use it as a pretty respectable lightweight notebook with a great keyboard. As a tablet, it has turned the tedious parts of note taking, drawing and general collaboration into something enjoyable.
PS: See also this post, on wireless troubles, and this post on anecdotal battery life and the the flaky tablet pen.