Lenovo – ThinkPad X61 Tablet review

Santa Rosa Reversible Tablet
Photo of Lenovo – ThinkPad X61 Tablet
£1,800 + VAT

It seems entirely appropriate that there’s a comprehensive guide to the Lenovo range of ThinkPad laptops on Wikipedia, because the list is simply enormous and we mere mortals need all the help we can get to navigate ourselves to laptop bliss.

IBM built up the ThinkPad brand by offering businesses a huge range of choice so they could have the exact list of features that they wanted and Lenovo, the new owner of ThinkPad, has very sensibly followed this business model. The result is that you can choose from the R, T, X and Z families of Core 2 Duo laptop as well as this variant, which is a convertible Tablet based on the X61.

Convertible, as you probably know, means that the screen of the laptop rotates on a pivot so the X series is a fine starting point as the screen is pretty much square, so it’s easy to switch between portrait and landscape modes, and the chassis is the lightest that Lenovo makes.

The extra weight of the Tablet hardware adds a few hundred grams to a basic X series so the X61 Tablet measures 274mm wide by 267mm deep and is 33mm thick, while the weight is 2.02kg according to our kitchen scales. This is achieved by using magnesium alloy in the chassis that allows it to be light and also very stiff, which helps to protect the delicate innards.

That’s a good starting point for a Tablet but the first downside of the square form factor is that the 12.1-inch screen has a lowly resolution of 1,024 x 768 pixels. That’s not too bad if you use Windows XP, however Lenovo has chosen Windows Vista Business Edition which is an Operating System that craves a widescreen layout.

It may seem as though Lenovo has failed to think this point through, but you need a specific version of XP to get Tablet features while Vista supports Tablet (and Media Center for that matter) as a core part of the OS.

This X61 model is an update to the X60 that moves to Intel’s new Santa Rosa platform. This uses the 965G Express chipset with ICH8-M Southbridge which includes Intel’s latest GMA X3100 graphics and this has allowed Lenovo to ditch the Radeon X1400 graphics that it used with the 945 chipset on the previous X60 model.

Connectivity consists of a V92 modem, Intel Gigabit LAN, Bluetooth and Intel 4965AG wireless. Lenovo has allied this chipset with a 1.6GHz Core Duo L7500 processor, 1GB of PC2-5300 memory and a 120GB, 5,400rpm hard drive but you don’t get any form of optical drive, not even an external unit. If you want to install software – and who doesn’t? – you’ll need to buy an X6 UltraBase which isn’t included in the already stiff asking price.

Our loan sample came with an extended eight-cell battery with a claimed life of seven hours which actually achieved two and a quarter hours of continuous use in testing, so you can equate that to four and a half hours of regular use. If you’re desperate to save weight you can choose a regular four-cell battery that has a claimed life of three hours or you can go for maximum working time and add a second battery to the eight-cell unit for a total claimed life of 9.5 hours.

The list of ports and connectors is somewhat limited and includes one mini Firewire, three USB 2.0, VGA output, an SD card slot and a Type II PC card slot. There are two issues there; firstly it’s daft to limit the card reader to SD media and secondly the manual says you can use the PC card slot to accommodate a 34mm ExpressCard using an adapter, but there was no adapter in the box.

So we’ve got a Tablet that runs Vista but which doesn’t have the Aero interface or much room for the awful Sidebar, however there is method in Lenovo’s apparent madness as Vista Business Edition supports the TPM 1.2 module that it has used along with a fingerprint reader to protect your data.

Performance isn’t too inspiring with a relatively slow processor driving Vista, but from the usability standpoint Lenovo has done sterling work. The keyboard, mouse controls and TrackPoint perform as superbly as you would expect with a ThinkPad and the various function keys that allow you to control screen brightness or to enable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi make life as easy as can be.

Lenovo’s ThinkVantage System Update 3 software is a significant step forward from previous versions as it all runs in Windows instead of DOS, and about time too.

So what about the Tablet features, you may be wondering? Every Tablet we’ve seen uses a digitiser behind the screen just as Microsoft intended, which is why you need to use a special Wacom stylus. Lenovo has done things differently and has added a touch screen function that is intelligent enough to ignore your hand when your rest on the screen to jot a note yet it can detect when you want to write with your fingertip or the end of a biro. It’s very clever and works well.

You also get a number of control buttons around the screen to help you navigate and change functions and, as a final neat touch, Lenovo has installed an internal accelerometer that automatically switches the screen around when you shift between portrait and landscape modes.

Company: Lenovo

Contact: 0808 234 4690

As a laptop the X61 has relatively low performance and costs a small fortune, especially considering the lack of optical drive. But the build quality and engineering are second to none and this shines through with the Tablet features which have been executed with something close to genius. And did we mention that it's very expensive?