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Thread: Lenovo X61 Tablet PC Review by kurttg

  1. #1

    Talking Lenovo X61 Tablet PC Review by kurttg

    The Lenovo X61 Tablet

    Reviewed by KurtTG

    For TabletPC Buzz



    Part 1 of 2



    Pros and Cons Quicklist

    Pros:
    • Good performance
    • The tablet form factor
    • Great keyboard
    • Solid build quality
    • Reasonable battery life
    • Responsive service
    Cons
    • A little bigger and heavier than I would like.
    • Unsatisfactory sensitivity for finger input around the edges of the display.
    X61 Tablet PC Specifications
    • Model: 7764CTO
    • Processor: L7500 core 2 Duo (1.6GHz, 4MB L2, 800 MHz FSB)
    • 12.1” MultiView + MultiTouch WVA XGA TFT Display
    • Windows Vista Business
    • Memory 2GB (PC2-5300 DDR2 667Mhz – 2 DIMM)
    • HD: 100GB 7200 rpm
    Accessories:
    • External USB powered CD read/write/ DVD read drive
    • Extra 8 cell battery
    • Extra 65Watt power supply
    • Tom Bihn Brain Cell case
    Background

    I've not driven a Ferrari. I have no doubt it is a very nice car. It isn't any good, however, if you need to car pool a bevy of first graders to ballet practice.

    So too, no computer, and especially no laptop, can be effectively evaluated without understanding the context of its use. A laptop that is perfect for a family to share from room to room as their only computer at home is going to be fundamentally different than the ideal laptop for someone who needs to lug a computer through airports across the country. So let me start with a bit about my needs and goals.

    I am a college professor. My tablet is a secondary machine.

    My functional goals for a tablet PC are several:
    • A small portable machine I can carry to the library and other off-site locations for research.
    • Something I can carry to meetings both for taking notes and for bringing relevant background materials with me.
    • A computer I can take to classes and to seminars for making presentations and for bringing relevant materials.
    • A PC that I can take to conferences and that will give me the ability to do work on the road.
    • A computer that can help me move towards a more paperless workflow.
    This review will reflect my personal perspective and experiences. There are lots of places to get the official kinds of reviews that compare gigabytes and megahertz. You can snag the detailed specifications on height and weight from the Lenovo site (www.lenovo.com). My goal here is to provide some reflection on how the X61 tablet has worked out for the functional goals that apply for my particular situation. I think there are a lot of other people with similar goals. At the same time, if your needs are quite different, you should be able to get a sense of where our tastes are likely to diverge.

    Why a Tablet PC?

    The tablet PC is the right form factor for my needs for several reasons.

    The biggest advantage of the tablet format is the ability to take it to meetings and classes without it getting in the way. Typing on a regular laptop with its flipped up screen is a relatively off-putting way to interact with people at a meeting or in a seminar setting. The tablet retains the notebook form factor that people are used to. At the same time, using it as a reader in portrait mode keeps it closer to the original format of many documents.

    This is also a great format for grading papers and marking up other documents (with the appropriate PDF annotation software).




    Combining the PC with a Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner, I have made significant progress towards a more paperless office. I have quickly become spoiled by the ability to carry my full file cabinet around in this three and a half pound package.

    The Thinkpad X61 Tablet

    This is a ThinkPad, and that says a lot already. It is matte black. It feels like a pretty solid build. The swivel hinge works well, with a minimum of flex. There is a satisfying chunk when you flip it around and lock the top down—a move that always gets a bit of attention from those unaware of the tablet form factor. And while it might have been a cutting-edge looker about ten years ago, the basic scheme may be getting a little stale. It won't offend anyone, but neither does the basic look and feel turn heads anymore.

    The keyboard is terrific, as it has been for most ThinkPads. Touch typing is very straightforward, and though I know this can be a matter of taste for some, it is not difficult to adjust to the eraser-stick mouse control. Mouse control can also be accomplished with the touch screen. The middle of the three mouse control buttons toggles a scrolling mode—a nice touch for speeding through documents or web pages.



    One thing missing on the keyboard front is the keyboard light that comes on other ThinkPads (the “ThinkLight” of course). It cannot be included, apparently, because of the tablet mechanism. The key for the light is still there, there's just no light for it to turn on.



    There are a number of helpful design touches. The bezel includes three buttons—an esc button, a button to rotate the screen orientation, and a button that brings up the ThinkVantage suite of controls. The left side of the bezel also holds a small indented button for doing Alt-Ctrl-Del and a power switch that in its default configuration puts the machine to sleep. On the right side is the fingerprint reader and a directional control ring that can take on different functions, but usually works for scrolling. There are indicator lights for the usual sorts of things.

    I've grown quite fond of the scrolling disk. Working the scroll with the left hand while using the pen in the right is a powerful combination.







    Fingerprint readers seem to be a sore point for many reviewers. In my experience the fingerprint reader has worked pretty well. It rarely takes more than two attempts to get it to register.

    The left side of the X61 has a USB slot, an external VGA display port, a modem port, an SD reader, a card slot, and the pen housing. It also has the fan exhaust, about which I'll say a bit more later.

    The front edge has the slider for opening the lid, as well as a slide-control for turning off the wireless radios (to save battery life).

    The right side has a couple more USB ports, and a headphone and microphone jack. It also has an Ethernet port, the AC connection, and a Kensington lock slot.

    All of these are the expected and appropriate ports. I'll raise, however, a small and perhaps idiosyncratic design complaint. Since one of the primary uses of my tablet is as a document reader, I most often use it in portrait mode. There are two and only two possible portrait orientations: battery and buttons on the left or battery and buttons on the right. I'm right handed and prefer the battery and buttons on the left. This reflects my usual usage at a desk or table. I can work the scroll ring with my left hand and write with my right hand. If you mostly use it standing up, I can see where you might prefer the battery on the right so that your arm (with appropriate heat shielding) could support the tablet from the bottom.

    When the battery and buttons are on the left the heat exhaust points right at you. Likewise, if you want to use the external video or the wired Ethernet port, you have those wires sticking out towards you. The power cord is in the best place in this orientation. If it had been up to me, and acknowledging that there are no doubt many difficult design trade-offs on the inside of these compact machines, I would have put the power, the heat exhaust, the video, the Ethernet and a couple of USBs all on the top side.





    The Battery and Power Issues


    The 65 Watt power supply is reasonably svelte and does what it is supposed to do. I particularly appreciate that it slips in alongside the X61 in the Tom Bihn Brain Cell case.



    The battery attaches easily on the back of the machine. I purchased two batteries for my machine – the 4-cell and the 8-cell. The 8-cell battery adds about an inch to the depth of the X61.

    I'll raise one minor complaint here—the battery form factor is pretty inelegant. Here, I'll make a comparison to my old Sony Vaio 505. The batteries were relatively compact tubes that hung easily on the back. The high-capacity battery was hinged to double as a stand for angling the keyboard. This form factor made an extra battery easy and straightforward to carry.



    The two batteries are a good combination for my purposes. The smaller battery keeps the X61 a little easier to manage and is more than adequate for 1-2 hour meetings. The larger battery lets me go for a three hour seminar with a reasonably bright screen.

    Between the two batteries and a few conservation efforts, I've not had any problems on long flights (though I'll admit I usually look for an outlet during long layovers).

    Like most such machines, it runs a little hot. While you probably wouldn't want it on your bare legs, I have not found the heat unacceptable. When it is just turned on and not doing anything, the back tends to vary between about 95 degrees and 104 degrees. That will crank up to about 112 when the disk is working harder. The hotspot is in the side by the power cord, where I assume the disk and the power functions hang out.





    It does have a fan, which is very quiet. If you put your ear right up against it you can certainly hear it, but I have not yet been in a situation where I felt that I was hearing it above the ambient noise.

    (continued...)
    Last edited by kurttg; 07-16-2008 at 10:39 PM. Reason: added pictures and links

  2. #2

    Default Lenovo X61 review (long - part 2)

    (Lenovo X61 review - continued - KurtTG)
    (Part 2 of 2)

    Performance

    The computer performs quite well. It is a solid business machine, as you would expect from a ThinkPad with these processor and disk drive specifications Not surprisingly, the graphics are the weak link. I am not using the X61 for games, so this isn't a real problem for me. If you're looking for a good Crysis machine, this probably isn't it.




    The more distinctive elements are in the performance of the X61 as a tablet PC. I have already mentioned the solid hardware elements. As a tablet I find the writing surface responsive and reasonably accurate. There is, of course, a little parallax, but it is easy to get used to. The active digitizer provides a marker for the pen tip, so it is easy to see where you are and to get used to the writing process.

    The display automatically changes orientation when you switch from tablet to laptop design. It will also automatically sense the computer orientation. Of course you can override the automatic orientation with the button on the bezel.

    My X61 has “multi-touch”—which means that you can use either the stylus or your finger, rather than the newer iPhone meaning of multiple touch points. The active stylus works very well. I am less enamored of the fingertip performance. My expectation when I ordered this configuration was that having the freedom to use your finger would be helpful in a seminar or lecture setting when you don't want to be keeping track of the stylus pen. In fact I find the fingerprint input rather frustrating. It isn't that accurate in the regular mode and has rather poor performance around the edges of the screen—where many of the important menus are located (the picture below shows the problem with a non-active stylus rather than a finger for accuracy). A truly effective operating system for a finger-input tablet might automatically resize critical menus for finger input around the edge of the screen—or maybe some screens are just better at registering pressure at the edges of the display.



    So, if I had to do it again, I would probably get the higher resolution display without the multitouch.

    The X61 pen docks securely in the left front corner. The pen has the Wacom eraser on the back and while it is not quite a fine writing instrument, it is well-sized and performs adequately.



    Portability


    The X61 tablet is in the thin and light category, which seems to mean weighing in around 4 pounds and having a thickness less than one and a half inches. Here I will confess to having been spoiled by the Sony Vaio ultraportable at less than an inch thick and just below 3 pounds. I always expected that the march of technology would mean that I would never again have a laptop over the 3 pound mark. But, here I am. This seems to be a necessary compromise to get the tablet form factor with a reasonable keyboard and a snappy enough processor for Vista.



    So, while portability is clearly adequate, I give the X61 a little bit lower marks here. I'm sure many will take exception to my quibbling over less than a pound of travel weight and a half inch of thickness. My response is carry one for a week and then the other and get back to me. For me it makes a significant difference.

    Problems

    A confession: this is my second X61 tablet. I sent the first one back. It had the very irritating habit of returning to hibernation on its own just a few seconds after turning on. This was extraordinarily irritating, and a touch embarrassing. On several occasions I took the first machine to meetings or presentations only to find that I couldn't get it to turn on and stay on.

    The only upside to this is it gave me a chance to experience ThinkPad service responsiveness. I'm pleased to report that their responsiveness was consistently excellent. They always answered the phone quickly and were very anxious to help with my problem. When we decided that the machine needed to be sent in for service they sent a return box by DSL next day and the total turnaround was about three days.

    On the other hand, while responsiveness was great, they didn't actually succeed in fixing the problem. Instead they went through their service protocol and swapped out the motherboard. As so often with intermittent problems, it seems to have performed fine in the shop but not in the field.

    I then had to return the machine altogether and get a new one. Now, here is the interesting thing: the new one has the same problem. In this case, however, the time before shutting down is a bit longer. The first one would shut down after twelve seconds. The second one goes for two minutes and thirty three seconds before re-hibernating. Having had more time I have isolated the problem, which is absolutely consistent. When you use the fingerprint reader to come out of hibernation and then don't press any keys or use the pen it reenters hibernation after the two minutes and thirty three seconds. I don't know if the first machine would have had this same pattern, since I no longer have it.

    Apparently, the fingerprint reader isn't sufficiently registered to turn off the hibernation timer. I'm guessing that the difference between the two machines is something in the boot-up order, but that is just guesswork. I don't have the skill or inclination to sort this out further. My acceptable work-around is to use sleep more and hibernation less and to make sure to press a key after waking from hibernation.

    Surprisingly, I couldn't find any evidence online that others have had this problem and the ThinkPad service providers don't seem to have encountered it either.

    Accessories

    I purchased an extra battery, an extra power supply, and the USB powered CD read-write/dvd read external drive.

    The external drive is nicely compact and does the job it needs to. I don't need to use it much, but when you do need to do a CD install it's nice to have.




    Case

    I purchased a Tom Bihn Brain Cell case to carry the X61 around it (). It is a minimalist case that just does the job and is clearly well designed for effective protection. It could be about ¼ inch deeper for carrying the X61 with the extended battery. It is a great fit for the X61 with the regular battery and the power supply.




    Pre-Installed Software

    First, I have to register the traditional complaint about the loads of crapware that comes pre-loaded. My first action was a clean install using the custom option to prevent all of this from being reloaded.

    As a ThinkPad, it also comes with the ThinkVantage suite of utilities. Many of these seem reasonably helpful. My only complaint is that there are several that significantly overlap with Windows native utilities. It is sometimes difficult to keep track of which one is the right one to use, and I worry about potential conflicts. So, for example, the task bar shows both the Vista network and sharing center and the ThinkVantage Access connections utility. Likewise, there is both a windows power manager and a ThinkVantage power manager. Both are running. Which are better? How do they interact? I don't know!

    Additional Software Applications

    I use the X61 with a pretty normal suite of Office applications. OneNote is a terrific application on the tablet platform. I also frequently use the R statistical package, which runs fine for my purposes. Photoshop also runs well—and is a great program for the tablet functionality.

    The two applications that make the biggest difference for my portable tablet PC life are Bluebeam Revu and Microsoft's Windows Live Foldershare (beta).

    Bluebeam Revu is a PDF markup program (www.bluebeam.com). It facilitates the easy conversion of other documents to PDF and then ink-based mark-up. This has been terrific for grading papers and for making notes on articles and other documents.

    Foldershare allows me to sync my home and office computers with the tablet all seamlessly over the internet (www.foldershare.com). It has worked very well and stays nicely in the background. As long as I remember to make sure the tablet has had a moment connected to the internet before taking it out somewhere, the work I do on the desktop machines is always available wherever I go with the X61.

    Assessing performance relative to goals:

    I started this review with a list of goals for the computer to meet. Let's grade performance on those dimensions.

    A small portable machine I can carry to the library and other off-site locations for research.
    Grade: B

    Something I can carry to meetings both for taking notes and for bringing relevant background materials with me.
    Grade: A

    A computer I can take to classes and to seminars for making presentations and for bringing relevant materials.
    Grade: A-

    A PC that I can take to conferences and that will give me the ability to do work on the road.
    Grade: A-

    A computer that can help me move towards a more paperless workflow.
    Grade: A

    A responsive machine that can serve all of my computing needs on the road.
    Grade: A-

    Overall Grade: A-

    The A- and B grades are all for it not being quite as lightweight or as thin as I would like. The A grades are for the tablet functionality—so you can see the trade-offs that are still involved for Tablet PCs. The grades would also be a little worse if we added in the still sizeableTablet PC price premium.

    The Bottom Line

    The Lenovo ThinkPad X61 tablet is a solidly built and excellent performer. I bought it because it strikes me as about the best implementation of the tablet form factor currently available. That said, I hope to see some strides towards a slightly more portable option that maintains the same high-quality keyboard and computing power. A tablet version of the Mac Air (with removable battery, please!) or the Lenovo X300 will really bring this all together.
    Last edited by kurttg; 07-16-2008 at 10:41 PM. Reason: Added links and pictures

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Location
    Macon, Ga, USA.
    Posts
    127

    Default

    Great Review!

    You really turned in a very informative and in-depth article. Also I was very impressed by the accompanying images and handwritten Notes on them. Especially the temps on the back of the running tablet.

    Thanks for putting in all that time and hard work.

    It is people like you , with reviews like this, that Continue to make the Buzz an outstanding resource.

    Thanks,
    TedRx
    GoDawgs!

    www.AdventuresOnTheHighFrontier.com
    (coming 2009)

  4. #4

    Default Great Review

    Hi kurttg

    Great review. Very thoughtful and thorough.

    Interestingly - I just got my x61t with the same basic configuration as yours, just a couple of days ago.

    Our usage scenarios are very similar (presentations, lectures, meetings...).

    My observations are similar to yours.

    Screen Resolution / Aspect Ratio
    I got this for several reasons - but the main one was because of the screen resolution - 1024x768. I have tended to prefer machines with higher resolutions (e.g 1400 x 1050 Toshiba M200). But with the recent trend toward wide-screen displays, there have been fewer machines with the 'older' aspect ratio 4x3.

    I recently got a Toshiba M700 (1280x800). While this is a very usable resolution, there are several places on my campus where I had annoying issues with older projectors. I got the X61 with lower resolution just to alleviate the anxiety of having to deal with the screen resolution issue.

    Touch Screen Accuracy / Calibration
    One thing though - I have managed to get the touch accuracy to be pretty good, even at the edges and the bottom of the screen.

    I did the an in-place upgrade from Vista Business to Vista Ultimate. Then I reinstalled the ThinkPad utilities. Then, I did the ThinkPad touch calibration - and finally I did the Vista calibration (Start "tabcal"). This IS the same utility you use for calibrating the active pen. Just use your finger instead of the stylus. It works - and it WORKs.

    I've put some notes together here:
    Upgrade to Vista Ultimate and getting things to work again

    Give it a try.

    I would certainly appreciate your help adding to this
    Lenovo X61 Tablet / FAQ
    Last edited by WNewquay; 07-18-2008 at 02:57 AM. Reason: formatting

  5. #5

    Default finger input

    Thanks for the nice feedback on my review!

    Thanks also for the pointer about getting the touch screen to work with finger input around the edges. That did the trick.

    I assumed that the calibration was just for the active digitizer.

    It also surprises me that the calibration could have been accurate for the bulk of the middle of the screen, but off around the edges. But, there you have it!

    I'm still unsure about the resolution/touch screen trade-off. Now that you've fixed my problem around the edges I'll have to work with it a while to see how much I use it. I have gotten more comfortable more quickly than I expected with just always having the pen in my hand.

    The FAQ-wiki pointer is also helpful--I'll see if I can make any contributions.

    Thanks, again.

    -Kurt

  6. #6

    Thumbs up

    I would also add my thanks for your review. I am currently playing with Dell's XT to provide feedback for our IT folks, and really dislike the display (foggy and gives me headaches) and the docking scenario. It's a multi-touch screen.
    I have really looked at the lenovo. Do you dock and undock frequently/at all? I would run it as my main machine with an external monitor. I'm interested in peoples thoughts on that subject.
    Also, how does the lenovo's multi-touch screen "look". Do your eyes treat it like a standard laptop display, or does it take visual effort to look at it (does that even make sense?)
    Thanks again. A well thought-out review with context.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Location
    St. Louis, MO, USA.
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    Default

    <<...[the Tom Bihn Brain Cell] could be about ¼ inch deeper for carrying the X61 with the extended battery...>>

    ...Did you know that the Brain Cell has a modest range of adjustment (at least mine does)? Pull the "hammock" out of the interior of the case. You should find that the two halves are joined by a strip of Velcro (tm). You can peel the halves apart and reseat the Velcro to give yourself a bit more depth...

  8. #8

    Default

    Steve S. -

    Wow, thanks! It is a great thing to write a review and then get feedback to fix some of these minor irritants.

    Mine too, of course, proved to have a little adjustment room. I suspect lengthening the hammock reduces the shock absorbing qualities a little for a pure drop on the bottom, but I'll fiddle a bit to find the right tradeoff (that will be through intuitive testing rather than drop testing).

    One could find the right trade-off depending on whether you use the regular or extended battery more.

    Now, if only it was one of these new TSA-approved cases. I suspect we'll see a redesign soon but without the metal snaps--other than that I don't see why the Brain Cell wouldn't meet the TSA requirements.

    -Kurt

  9. #9

    Default

    Geoloser -

    I don't find the screen visibly problematic. But I'm sure this is very much matter of taste. The only real issue is the tendency to pick up finger/hand prints--I don't think there is any tablet that can avoid that. I'll wipe them off every few days, but frankly, they don't bother me too much (which may suggest that my tastes in screen visibility aren't particularly refined).

    I don't have the dock (superbase). I just don't see that it gets you that much. I do have two power supplies (one at home, one at the office) and regularly plug in when I am working at my desk, but I don't use this as my only machine, so when I am at my desk it functions more as an additional screen for reading things, for keeping notes, or other multi-tasking. I can get to my printers and scanner over the wireless network, so don't have any other cables to worry about.

    As I intimate in the review, the one problem would be if you use it in portrait mode, as I tend to, the VGA port is on one side and the power cable is on the other so the cables would be a little intrusive. I don't know if the Lenovo superbase would fix this. My suspicion is that it isn't really set up to be optimal in portrait orientation either. Then again, if you aren't using the tablet screen while you are docked I guess the cable frenzy doesn't really matter so much.

    -Kurt

  10. #10

    Default Ultrabase for X61 Tablet PC

    Kurt -

    Thanks for the very informative review! We recently deployed several of these X61 Tablet PCs for use in a consulting environment where we tend to have days or weeks of intensive on-site client meetings (including presentations, interviews, data collection and collaboration) followed by days or weeks of analysis, e-mail, and report generation.

    For on-site meetings and presentations, and for plane travel, the tablet mode provides distinct benefits. The notebook mode is preferable for many of the keyboard-intensive analysis and reporting tasks.

    The Lenovo X6 Tablet Ultrabase provides several benefits in notebook mode. We ordered ours with an Ultrabay CD/DVD drive for software installs, backups, etc., rather than the external USB CD/DVD.

    The Ultrabase also enables attachment of most cables from the back of the unit (in notebook/desktop mode). This becomes the side of the unit in portrait Tablet mode, so the power, USB, video monitor, audio, and ethernet connectors can attach from the left side of your portrait-oriented tablet. If you use the larger 8-cell battery on the X61 machine, its rounded overhang beyond the base unit may actually help make the assembly + cables easier to hold and balance in lap-top mode. (I don't have the smaller battery, to compare.) The Ultrabase also provides some thermal insulation for lap-top use. ;)

    However, the trade-offs may be unacceptable, in terms of your selection criteria: the Ultrabase adds 0.75" to 0.9" of thickness (it is thicker at the back/left side). And it adds about 1.5 lbs to the weight, even without an Ultrabay device (CD/DVD, second HDD, etc.) installed.

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