The Lenovo X61 Tablet
Reviewed by KurtTG
For TabletPC Buzz
Part 1 of 2
Pros and Cons Quicklist
- Good performance
- The tablet form factor
- Great keyboard
- Solid build quality
- Reasonable battery life
- Responsive service
X61 Tablet PC Specifications
- A little bigger and heavier than I would like.
- Unsatisfactory sensitivity for finger input around the edges of the display.
- 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
- External USB powered CD read/write/ DVD read drive
- Extra 8 cell battery
- Extra 65Watt power supply
- Tom Bihn Brain Cell case
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:
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.
- 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.
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.