Tools Of The Trade: Lenovo N100 widescreen laptop

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The Independent Online

When Lenovo bought IBM's PC division, it also bought the right to make computers carrying IBM's "Thinkpad" name. But, with this right due to expire after five years, Lenovo is understandably keen to establish its own brand in the PC market beyond its native China. The N100 is one of the first of the company's own-branded laptops to go on sale in the UK.

IBM's Thinkpad laptops became known for their rugged and chunky design. They were, though, aimed squarely at the business market, especially companies buying portable PCs in large quantities. IBM provided the machines with plenty of management and security tools, protecting them against accidental knocks, for example. But the Thinkpad scored less well on consumer-friendly, multimedia features such as video playing.

With the N100, Lenovo is trying to appeal to the fast-growing number of consumers who might not have considered a Thinkpad, as well as still incorporating enough business features to appeal to commercial users.

From a features point of view, this has been a success. The N100 has a consumer-friendly wide screen, built-in stereo speakers that are actually quite reasonable to listen to, and a drive that plays and records DVDs.

There is a multimedia slot for memory cards from digital cameras; a built-in IEEE 1394 (FireWire) port - a high-speed connection for peripheral devices such as hard drives or video cameras; and a webcam built into the machine just above the screen.

The 15.4-inch display, in particular, makes the N100 a good platform for editing graphics or movies as well as for watching DVDs.

The Lenovo's Intel Centrino Duo chip also provides the requisite horsepower. The Duo chips have two processor cores, rather than the single core of older designs. This does not quite add up to twice the speed, as the two still have to share resources such as the main memory, graphics card and hard drive. But it does make computing-intensive tasks far more practical than on single-core laptops.

The fast processor, along with the wide screen, makes the N100 a good bet for business users working with complicated spreadsheets or other analytical tools.

Businesses buying laptops have tended to dismiss wide- screen models as useful only for entertainment, but anyone who has enjoyed trying one out for a few days will find it hard to go back to a conventional screen.

The N100 also has some other features that will boost its appeal to the business market, including a fingerprint recognition system for security and software that automatically takes backups of the hard drive.

Unfortunately, the N100's features are let down by its rather clunky industrial design. The keyboard is sturdy and has a good feel, but the rest of the machine is a little flimsy and feels less solid than a Thinkpad.

The N100 is also rather large. Manufacturers such as Apple and Sony have succeeded in building widescreen laptops with slimline cases, but the Lenovo is a hefty piece of kit.

As such, it will suit buyers who need a powerful and feature-rich replacement for a desktop computer. But it is harder to recommend for the frequent traveller.

RATING: 3 out of 5.

PROS: wide screen, good feature set, good price.

CONS: too bulky for a road warrior.

COST: £930 plus VAT.