ThinkPad X41 Tablet PC review
Not the unequivocal thumbs-up ThinkPads habitually earn. The X41 tablet is solid but lacks the flair we've come to expect from this product line, and comes at an embarrassing price.
After Chinese giant Lenovo's takeover of IBM's ThinkPad division, all ThinkPads are set to lose their IBM badge. But the ThinkPad range remains and will continue to be developed: the X41 Tablet PC is the convertible tablet version of the standard X41 ultraportable released last month, and comes with Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005.
With the ThinkPad reputation for innovative but solid engineering, we were hoping for big things when it came to this, the very first convertible ThinkPad. But alas, the X41's approach to the perennial problem of converting to tablet mode and securing the screen follows a well-trodden path: a central swivelling hinge supports the screen, and the latching mechanism is an inelegant affair. A single centrally mounted catch has to be pushed through the back of the lid to lock the screen into tablet mode, and pushed forward again when you come to shut the lid in notebook mode. In addition, the swivel can't be locked when the X41 is open in notebook mode, giving the machine a propensity to spin out of your grip if you pick it up by the screen.
The feeling of disappointment continues with the keyboard. Make no mistake, it's still leagues ahead of most others, with a solid action that allows full-speed typing. There's just a hint of the generic about it though: the keys rattle slightly and key travel is a little less generous than the standard X41. But one thing we really can't forgive is the placement and retention mechanism for the tablet stylus. It slides into the left-hand side of the main body, retained by a push-to-lock, push-to-release spring mechanism. It's perfectly designed to spring straight through your fingers and down the side of your airline seat. Placing it in the lid of the machine would at least mean you'd have a chance to catch it.
The extra complication of the tablet conversion mechanism makes its presence felt in a noticeably increased weight too: it weighs in 400g heavier at 1.9kg. This doesn't sound like much, but the uneven distribution of weight towards the rear of the body makes it unwieldy - the last thing you want in an ultraportable.
Base specification is much the same as the standard X41. A 1.5GHz Pentium M processor coupled with 512MB RAM, 8MB of which is taken for the integrated GMA 900 graphics by default. Hard disk capacity is an adequate 60GB. As expected, performance is fine for standard applications, the unit returning a benchmark score of 1.37. The star of the show, though, is the screen. Despite being a 12.1in unit with a humdrum native resolution of 1,024 x 768, IBM has managed almost to eliminate the usual viewing-angle and sharpness problems associated with the extra layers needed for Tablet PC pen-position sensing. The end result is a fine-looking, evenly lit display with good contrast that you'll be happy to work on for extended periods. And extended periods are easily possible with the eight-cell battery supplied with the X41, allowing a full seven hours, ten minutes of light work, dropping to three hours under full load.
But focusing purely on the hardware side of things does the ThinkPad an injustice. As always, the ThinkPad's level of software integration is absolutely unrivalled, and it starts with the blue Access IBM button (presumably soon to be renamed). Press it at boot-up and you can go into an operating-system-independent graphical Recovery and Restore environment, complete with the ability to recover individual files or the complete contents of your hard disk to an external USB storage device. You can use the wired Gigabit Ethernet connection too; a special version of Opera is included for web browsing.