Lenovo X201 Tablet; a critical opinion
Thanks to the folks at Allegiance Technology Partners and their wonderful demo program I was able to spend some quality time with an X201T over the holiday break.
Goal #1 was to try out a current generation "Touch" enabled tablet to see if the functionality would add anything to my user experience. (My last touch experience was with a first generation Dell XT2 and it was dissappointing at best.)
Goal #2 was checking out fit, finish, and function of the Lenovo X201 tablet. It's been a while since I've had any hands-on time with IBM/Lenovo products. Tablets are a considerable investment and I want to make sure that I choose a device that will hold up to daily use and abuse. I'm currently abusing an HP 2710p with a failing battery and need to decide whether to continue to invest in the 2700 series platform or move on to something else. I've also got a Toshiba M200 handy to compare with.
First impressions out of the box:
The demo came with a bumpcase. The carry case is certainly a scary looking S&M contraption. How do you even open it? (Oh, there it is.) Nope, not going to fall out of there by accident. It's constructed of a heavy padded vinyl/leather like material. There's screened windows all over the back and sides for ventilation. There's a velcro attached display cover panel, stylus storage loop and appropriate cut outs for button access while carrying in tablet mode. Plus a padded should strap. Not the most elegant design, but it would certainly work in a rough and tumble environment. Not what I came for though, moving on...
What do we have here?... A Lenovo X201 tablet.
For better or worse, first impressions can be everything. That first moment when you get to see, or touch something. The size and shape, the color, the texture, the weight and balance. Some subtlety of the design. My first thought was, "Oh, that's not as bad as I expected. Not bad at all. I might like this... a lot."
Ok yes, not a huge fan of Thinkpad basic black. But there's also no denying that it's a style that has stood the test if time and that it works. Most of the exterior is that tried and true matte finish polymer, though not as rubbery as it used to be. The interior is textured hard black plastic. Over the years you may wear away some of the texture and finish, but it'll still be presentable basic black.
The tablet looks and feels smaller than I expected. Or is it? The designers tapered the front edge of the base. When you pick it up, it fools your hand in to thinking that it's thinner than it really is. Comparing overall size apple to oranges, it's almost identical to my M200 and only slightly larger than the 2710p. The Lenovo has squared off corners and is half a screen thicker than the HP. (If you add the slice battery to the HP they're dead even). Also the 2710p has a bumped out swivel hinge where the Lenovo is straight across the back, so the chassis of the Lenovo is a little bigger. They also hopscotch each other in weight. The HP is a little lighter until you add the slice battery. Not a huge difference between the three and the X201T certainly falls comfortably in the range of other 12" machines. Overall, other than a little bit of typical tablet swivel hinge wobble, it's appears as solid as any other Thinkpad I've ever seen.
Then there's the extended battery... The "Handle" concept:
The demo came with the 8-cell extended battery. A different design path certainly than the HP underslung slice,the Lenovo extended battery is an over size primary battery module that allows for an extra row of battery cells hung out along the back. (That's why they made the chassis straight across the back.) They gave it a grippy surface top and bottom so that it can be used as a sort of handhold. I'm not completely sold on the idea though. Whereas the small ledge on the back of the M200 is a solid part of the chassis, the "handle" on the X201T is a separate element subject to stress loads. Plus the added width moves your supporting hand further away from the balance point, which increases the torque on the joint. The demo unit I'm using already has a little flex to it and I expect it will get worse over time. The battery can be replaced but what do you do when the mounting points on the chassis wear out? Another consideration is that you lose the space on the back for connection ports, so everything had to be moved to the sides.
So what else is there? Two USB, audio plugs, modem and stylus on the right. Vent, VGA, ethernet, USB, wireless switch, and express card slot on the left. Screen latch and card reader slot on the front edge, with a pair of speakers tucked underneath. There's also a fingerprint reader and a selection of clickable buttons on the screen bezel.
The keyboard is classic Thinkpad long travel keys. A little clackity, but very comfortable and familiar to type on. Too bad every manufacturer has different ideas about the miscellaneous keys around the edges. I'm always hunting around for that elusive Delete key
A standard issue Thinkpad point stick plus two rows of mouse buttons and a tiny touchpad give you input options. You can do multitouch functions on the touchpad but it's really pointless. There's just not enough space. But if the screen touch works as well as I hope it does, then that will become irrelevant. I'm already accustomed to two fisted typing and poking the screen with a stylus. I can't tell you how many times I've wished I could do even just basic navigation with a finger, so I'm excited to see how this actually works.
The stylus silo is a trade off between convenience and safety. It's a little akward at first to get the right technique to get the stylus out, but you're not likely to bump it and have the stylus launch out accidentally. Once you get it in motion, the stylus is suprisingly sensitive and accurate. Although the stylus side button seems a little odd at first with it's sharp edges and the flattened side of the stylus, it's actually very easy to find without looking when you want it.
The screen latch isn't terribly sophisticated but it works well enough and seems like it will hold up. The Lenovo design is not going to pop open by itself no matter which way you move about, unlike certain "other" latching systems. Opening and closing all day I'd prefer a nice easy push button like the M200 over futzing with that really small slider though. Converted to tablet mode the screen is stable and well supported with no issues.
So, let's fire it up and see how it behaves!
Oh look!, the indicator lights and buttons are right there on the bezel where you can see them in laptop or slate mode, and not on the front edge where they're out of sight or blocked by your hands. Good choice. Too bad the volume controls aren't on the bezel also. They're covered up in tablet mode.
I don't know which LCD this is exactly, but even with a matte finish screen protector, the screen is clear and bright without the slightly muted haze of the HP screen. Plus it will easily go two notches brighter than the HP. The viewing angles are also excellent.
screen resolution 1280 x 800
camera integrated Ricoh 2MP
HITACHI TRAVELSTAR 7K320 320GB 7200RPM 2.5" SATA 1.5GB
More processing power than I'll ever need in a portable. I have a regular desktop machine for the heavy duty stuff. I don't normally run anything on my tablet that would even begin to stress this processor. All I can say is that everything loads quickly and runs without hesitation.
The tablet runs suprisingly cool and quiet. The only internal heat I feel at all is right at the heat exchanger vent. Unfortunately the bottom intake for the vent is right near the edge. If you're like me and plop down wherever is convenient with the tablet on your lap (with your legs near the edges for stability), the intake vent gets blocked. Even then it warms up a little but doesn't get what I would consider hot.
The extended battery does give you lots of juice. I've been running it all afternoon and it's not complaining yet. Figure in the 5 to 6 hour range.
I fiddled around specifically with toggling between pen and touch. The screen appears to start sensing the stylus at a range of about 7/8" to 1" and doesn't release until about 1-1/4". So long as you keep the stylus within that generous range while inking, palm rejection is a non-issue. I'm very impressed not only with the fact that it works, but with just how well it works. Pen, finger, pen, finger. Awesome! I could get used to this in a hurry!
There are several overlapping OEM utility programs activated through various buttons, icons, and finger taps. It would take a while to sort out what's useful and what isn't.
The finger print reader works well. You have to swipe a dozen times or so to register a finger in the setup utility. After that it's easy. Swipe and you're in. Sweet!
I played with the "Active Rotate" feature found under Tablet Utility/Settings.
Screen rotation does work, but it's a bit slow to respond, (several seconds), whether triggered manually or automatically. That led to the discovery of another interesting feature, "Resume upon removing the pen"! That's kind of cool, but it only aggravates a lingering pet peeve. If it can turn off when you close the lid, and it can turn on when you remove the pen, why can't it turn on when you open the lid? Why does pressing the power button have to be a seperate step repeated many times throughout the day?
I pumped an assortment of various software I use through it and everything ran just like it was supposed to. The Microsoft Touch Pack toys were fun for a while and GoogleEarth and Bing Maps absolutely fly, even with the 3d buildings! The touch interface is really slick. Whether swishing around in a browser, (PenFlicks seems to be the right helper), or stabbing at standard Windows icons and menus, it's very natural and responsive. Even small icons aren't that bad with a little practice. The non-flush bezel becomes an issue though. Many standard Windows functions are clustered around the screen edges where fat fingers just can't get to. A flush bezel lets you go a bit beyond the active display to compensate. Flipping back and forth between fingers and stylus is also very fluid and natural. No question that this is the way of the future. Right now there aren't a lot of programs that can take advantage of the multitouch functions but it won't be long in coming. I can't see investing in a new device that doesn't have multitouch input capability.
On my current penabled HP I use RitePen all the time. The customizable gesture macros and write anywhere features are terrific. On the touch enabled Lenovo however I was running in to conflicts between RitePen and PenFlicks and PanHand. Each is great in it's own way. It would just take a little time to sort out which to use when and how to tweak the settings so they don't interfere with each other.
I carried the tablet around on a couple forays away from my desk and like I expected the battery "handle" makes it feel big in the crook of my arm and somewhat off balance. For me tablet mode is strictly secondary landscape so I notice the extra weight hanging off the far edge more than someone else might. The touch functionality sure was nice though. Poke, poke, swish, got what I wanted and off to the next assignment. No need to resort to the stylus for quicky commands.
I offered to pass the tablet around the office but didn't have any takers, so I guess it's time to reluctantly pack it up and send it home.
Pros and cons:
It's a ThinkPad and everything that goes with that reputation.
Fast processor, Bright screen, Low heat and noise output
Extended battery gives good but not exceptional run times
All of the manual controls are finger friendly (except maybe the lid latch slider)
Somewhat pricy. You definitely pay up front for the Lenovo reputation.
This is already the extended battery configuration. There's no real option for more runtime other than grid power. I'm not enamored with the handle battery concept.
The raised bezel has got to go. It's interfering with the touch function.
It's good. Very very good and certainly worthy of it's current popularity.