Tools Of The Trade: The Lenovo Thinkpad X41 tablet PC

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The Independent Online

The PC is based on the existing IBM X41 sub-notebook. The tablet version keeps most of the functions, including the finger- print-based log-on system.

In one change, the designers have moved the fingerprint scanner from the keyboard to the frame of the laptop's screen. This is a less natural place - making it relatively hard to access using the X41 in standard laptop mode -- but it is essential to allow the machine to work as a tablet PC.

Like most tablets, the screen on the X41 swivels and folds flat over the keyboard. The touch-sensitive screen then works in pen mode.

The mechanism for changing between the two feels strong and robust, however, and like previous Thinkpads, the X41 tablet should stand up to the rigours of a life on the road.

It comes with built-in wireless LAN, ethernet, two USB ports and a secure digital (SD) card slot, which is handy for users of digital cameras. And, as would be expected from a computer designed originally by IBM, the X41 has plenty of docking and expansion options.

The review model came with an X4 docking station - a hefty wedge of plastic that does keep the computer at a good angle for typing. The dock has a slot for an optical drive and extra ports, and Lenovo includes a spare power adaptor, which is a nice touch.

The X4 is really meant for desktop use. Its shape renders the X41 quite unportable and makes it hard, if not impossible, to use in tablet mode. A better alternative for someone on the move a lot might be a simple external CD/DVD Rom drive.

This column is not a great fan of "single spindle" lap- tops without removable drives. Some buyers might manage without a CD Rom, but most business users will want to be able to load software or other material on the move and back up files. A DVD drive can also preserve a traveller's sanity on a long flight or business trip.

Other manufacturers - notably Apple with its 12-inch Powerbook and iBook models - do squeeze a DVD drive into a compact machine.

Battery life is also a potential drawback with the X41 tablet. Even using the larger of the two batteries offered by Lenovo, our tests gave a battery life of only around two hours, with wireless LAN or a 3G mobile card connected. This was something of a surprise, as Thinkpads generally have a good reputation for battery life.

Nonetheless, the X41 tablet is a worthwhile addition to the Thinkpad line-up. It is too early to say how Lenovo's support will compare to IBM's, but based on physical appearances, and aside from a few niggles, the Chinese company seems to be on the right track.

THE VERDICT

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Pros: build quality, compatible with IBM accessories.

Cons: no DVD built in, battery life not great, expensive.

Price: base unit, £1,980; CD/DVD, £169; X4 dock, £166 - all not including VAT.

Contact: www.thinkpad.com

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