The TP X300: A new level of thinness?

Zatni Arbi ,  Contributor ,  Jakarta Post   |  Mon, 04/21/2008 10:36 AM  |  Sci-Tech

The ThinkPad X300, which is said to be the thinnest full-sized notebook currently on the market, is seen in this photo. With a hefty price tag of around US$3,000, the unit uses a solid state disk instead of a spinning hard disk. (JP/Zatni Arbi)The ThinkPad X300, which is said to be the thinnest full-sized notebook currently on the market, is seen in this photo. With a hefty price tag of around US$3,000, the unit uses a solid state disk instead of a spinning hard disk. (JP/Zatni Arbi)

If you have been reading my articles for a couple of years, you will know that I’m a fanatic admirer of ThinkPad notebooks.

You’ll also know that I’ve bought two T-Series — and both have been stolen from under my nose! And, boy, they were not cheap notebooks.

For more than one year now I’ve been without a notebook, as I’m saving enough money to buy a new ThinkPad T-Series.

But, recently, I read about the thinnest ThinkPad ever built — the X300. It was said to be as thin and light as the much coveted MBA (MacBook Air). So, I e-mailed a friend at Ogilvy, who once handled Lenovo. I asked her whether she could arrange a demo unit for me. To my surprise, in two days I had my hands on a brand new ThinkPad X300 (TP X300), complete with its own carry bag!

Apparently, the grace period during which Lenovo was not permitted to add its logo on the ThinkPad was over. “Lenovo” was conspicuously chiseled on the notebook cover, along with the white ThinkPad logo.

The most striking feature of the TP X300 is perhaps the absence of a spinning hard disk. The demo unit that I had came with a solid state disk (SSD), which resembles a giant flash memory disk. It is not removable like the USB flash disk, of course, but it doesn’t have any rotating part so it consumes less power and generates less heat.

In case you wonder how much better the SSD is compared with the conventional hard disk, you can visit Hot Hardware’s site: They have found out during their tests that the performance of an SSD can be up to 4.9 times better than a conventional 7200 RPM hard disk.

A lot of people will lament on the tiny capacity, but for me the 64 GB capacity of this model is more than enough. Don’t forget that a ThinkPad is aimed at business travelers, not for those who want to store tons of videos or watch movies during a long-haul flight from Sydney to Ottawa.

Still, there is a DVD-RW drive, in case you insist on using the X300 to entertain yourself. The drive is very thin, too. It should be, given the notebook’s overall thinness of around 180 mm.

Comparison with the MBA would not be entirely appropriate, as both units are meant to serve different purposes. However, while the MBA battery is not replaceable, the X300 battery is. So, you can buy extra batteries if you think you need to work for the whole day without access to electricity. The standard battery has enough juice for more than three-and-a-half hours on a strict power management setting.

The keyboard, as always, is the best in the industry. It was one of the reasons I always chose a ThinkPad over other notebook brands and models for my personal use. I haven’t seen the ThinkLight in other notebooks, either. Just press the “Fn” and “PgUp” keys, and a white lamp will illuminate the keyboard. It’s very useful when working in total darkness.

The expensive notebook — I don’t really know the exact price, but with the solid state hard disk it could easily top US$3,000 — comes with Microsoft Windows Business. Although the notebook has two gigabytes of memory, I think the overall performance will not really make it into the headline news. Still, it is enough for normal productivity work.

The touchpad and the TrackPoint pointing stick work well, although I had to train my thumbs to stay away from the touchpad panel — or else the pointer would jump around the screen. We can deactivate either or let them function in tandem.

At first, I was very frightened to see how small the bar and the icon tray were. The default resolution of the 13.3-inch widescreen display is 1440 x 960. My eyes are not capable of discerning the tiny icons on the tray.

In the past, I would immediately reduce the resolution to get larger icons and characters. When playing around with the X300’s Display Property, however, I was never able to get what I wanted. If I reduced the resolution, I ended up having a smaller display area and the characters remained painfully small.

When I thought this notebook was not for me, I tried to change the Graphics parameters in the utility provided by Intel. Yes! I got it. I was able to change the resolution to 960 x 600, and then I could read the characters without using the magnifier.

Interestingly, the display can be rotated in 90-degree increments. You can let the person sitting in front of you read the screen normally — although you will have to read it upside down.

What else does the notebook provide? It has three USB 2.0 ports, an RJ-45 for wired Ethernet, a VGA-out to connect it to a projector or a second monitor. It has nice-sounding speakers, a 1.3 MP Webcam on top of the screen and two audio ports. The built-in microphone has a noise-canceling feature.

And, in case you’re worried that the thin form-factor will compromise on sturdiness, I think that isn’t the case. The notebook still has a magnesium chassis, the bezel is deep enough to protect the screen and the hinges are just like the ones on the old ThinkPads.

The screen panel is perhaps the only thing that I’d like to complain about. You may have noticed that, in the past few years, more and more notebooks have bright screens with a good contrast ratio: They produce vibrant colors and the characters are sharp. Unfortunately, the ThinkPads have always come with rather low-brightness screen panels and the contrast ratio is not very high, making the characters less prominent. I wish Lenovo had used one of those brighter screens that is LED backlit instead of the traditional ThinkPad screen panel.

Another missing amenity is perhaps a PC-Card or ExpressCard slot. But, what the heck? Who needs it today? Even a HSPA modem now connects to the notebook via the USB, and so do most of the aftermarket card readers.

By the way, if you recall, during the GSMA World Mobile Congress in Barcelona this year, Lenovo and Ericsson announced that the next generation of ThinkPads would have Ericsson’s HSPA module already built-in. This was not yet the case with the X300 that I was touting around.

ThinkPads are known for the light-weight models. Even the T-Series is relatively very thin. So, when people saw the X300 that I was using, they didn’t really notice the thinness. It was only when I let them lift it with their own hands they began to realize the reduced thickness and light weight.

It shows that, like the other ThinkPads, the notebook is not meant to be a head turner. There are no polished, shiny parts. Everything is black and boxy. But, as my own experience, these notebooks are built for abusive people, like the business travelers that quickly toss their notebooks into carrying bags in the same compartment as the charger, plug adaptor, pens and other sharp objects.

But the price is staggering. It will be some time before I can save enough money to buy one. And, hopefully, by that time Lenovo would have put a brighter screen with a better contrast ratio on it.

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