Out of the box, the first ThinkPad born of the IBM-Lenovo cross-breeding (starting at $1,899) is a thing of 21st-century beauty, a compact, sleek little black slablet that's a worthy addition to the ThinkPad line of portables.
(Full disclosure: I've always preferred slate tablets to convertible laptops; though arguably less versatile, they typically feel more portable and work more intuitively in more places. That said, I understand that economics dictate such a hybrid, and the X41 pulls the blend off with style.)
The first thing you notice about the X41 is its handy weight. At 3 1/2 pounds and 1.14 inches thick, the Thinkpad family's first tablet PC is quite manageable for a train ride, a room-to-room research mission or (sorry) playing with Google Maps while watching TV in bed.
The specs say battery life is normally 2.6 hours, but power management can push that somewhat further.
Upon first boot, the secret agent in me was thrilled to calibrate the X41's fingerprint-identification system, in which the digit of your choosing (or several digits, if you prefer) is scanned over a little embedded roller and encoded into the Windows boot so you don't have to type in a password. Calibration worked every time, even when I tried to fool it by swapping fingers; future security sweeps were equally accurate.
The screen? The 12-inch XGA display is bright and crisp. Speed? I'm a normal user, and the Intel Pentium M low-voltage microprocessor suited me just fine and didn't burn too hot. Peripherals? The tablet lacks a built-in optical drive; external drives cost extra. A docking station is also optional. External memory? The standard PC-card slot is augmented by a nice little dedicated slot for SD cards. Standard? 512 megabytes of RAM and a 40-gigabyte hard drive.
A beautiful little array of softkeys that line the side of the screen, including a carriage return, are invaluable for heavy tablet users who want to avoid the virtual keyboard. Also worth noting: The well-designed laptop keyboard that ThinkPad users are accustomed to has migrated to Lenovoland marvelously. And the physical conversion from laptop to tablet is smooth and seamless, with nary a feel that the screen might come off its hinge -- an alarming problem with some convertibles.
As someone who has experienced Chinese personal computers firsthand (I lived there for three years before moving back last year), I can attest that some are downright problematic -- to the point of pure frustration. Then again, China has a well-deserved reputation of making better products for export than it does for its own people. So it goes with this one.
That said, there were some minor but niggling problems with the test machine -- though, in fairness, each was offset by something good:
* The unit's screen feels wonderful, and its build approximates pen to paper better than any tablet PC I've used. Too bad that the pen calibration took three tries to get right, and even then the pointer occasionally wandered away from precision.
* The charging pack featured a three-prong plug, which will make it difficult for some overseas travelers with plug adapters to get power. However, the recharging process -- even while the system is up and running -- felt quite brisk.
In the end, my main problem with the X41 tablet was ergonomics.
As attractive and durable as the system is in tablet mode, it doesn't have a great hand feel. The battery pack sticks out to the right, which is fine in laptop mode when it's behind the screen but, as a tablet, makes the unit list in that direction if you're righthanded and lack really strong wrists.
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