by Jeremy Erickson
Lenovo ThinkPad X61 Tablet PC User Review
After the long wait for my X61 Tablet PC, it finally shipped and arrived four days later. Based on other users’ comments from the X60 and the few X61 owners who have already received theirs, I didn’t know what to expect, but the X61t blew all my expectations away. It is by far, the most functional and versatile machine I have used to date.
ThinkPad x61 converting into tablet mode. (view large image)
|CPU||Intel Core 2 Duo L7500 1.6GHz|
|OS||Windows Vista Ultimate|
|RAM||3GB DDR2 667 MHz (1x1GB Lenovo, 1x2GB Crucial)|
|Display||12.1" Superview SXGA+ (1400×1050) TFT|
|Graphics||Intel GMA X3100 graphics, Intel 965 Express Chipset|
|Hard Drive||100GB (7200 rpm)|
Separately included in X6 Ultrabase:
DVD Recordable 8x Max Dual Layer, Ultrabay Slim
|Battery/power||8-cell Lithium Ion|
Reasons for Buying
I am an incoming college freshman. I need a laptop for taking notes and staying organized at school in the fall, as well as browsing the Internet and running programs that I don’t know about yet (quite likely some form of CAD). I was originally looking for a high-end gaming laptop, but after realizing that my lack of actually playing video games was a waste, I started looking at more business-oriented laptops. I looked at the Lenovo T61 as a quality alternative to a gaming laptop, and while on the Lenovo website, I stumbled upon the X61 tablet. Other than the lack of a high-end dedicated video card, it had just about everything I could want in a computer: Wacom digitizer, great battery life, thin, super high resolution screen (for its size), Core 2 Duo processor, 7200 rpm hard drive, and all the other little goodies that come with computers these days.
I honestly am not sure I gave other tablets a chance, as I was pretty much sold on the X61 from the beginning, but I did take a look at the Fujitsu T4220, the other comparable tablet using the Santa Rosa platform. The main draw for me, of the X61 over the T4220 was the SXGA+ screen, three year on-site protection plan (which cost $350 by itself), my total cost was $2582.09. Add $90 for the 2GB stick of Crucial memory, $60 for a student license of Office 2007 (split the cost), and $45 for a laptop lock I have yet to buy, and we’re getting close to $3000.
Design and Build
The Thinkpad line is somewhat unique. Its matte black finish gives it that distinctive look. It is obviously a business laptop, but still manages to carry its own unique sense of style. Some love the look, some hate it. If you’re looking for a “pretty” laptop, this one might not be for you, even though my little sister thinks it’s “cute.” The 8-cell battery pack does stick out an inch or so when the laptop is closed, but for those who enjoy the business look or could care less, the tablet is constructed very well.
When pressing firmly on the back of the LCD screen to try and produce ripples, I saw absolutely no change in the view. It seems that Lenovo’s “magnesium roll cage” lives up to the hype. I don’t think I could bend the screen if I tried.
The X61 Tablet PC hinge. (view large image)
Screen wobble? What screen wobble? The screen is supported very strongly, especially for a single hinge. I was surprised how firm the hinge actually was. When you open the tablet from its closed state, sometimes the bottom lifts off the table slightly. The tiny bit of screen wobble that shows disappears in less than a single second. I use the computer in the car, which bounces around a bit, and at first I was worried about how much force was being put on the screen. After watching it for awhile, I’m not worried anymore. The screen rotates smoothly, in one direction only, and “snaps” into place nicely.
When walking around with my laptop tucked under my arm, I am continuously amazed at how small and light it is. Without the ultrabase, it weighs in at just less than four pounds. That is slightly more than half the weight of the gaming laptop I was originally intending to purchase. However, when I walk around with the ultrabase attached, it feels much heavier and slightly awkward.
I would also like to comment on how quiet the screen latch is. Many times I’ve shut the computer, listening for the tell-tale “click” of it latching shut, only to miss it and press it down more firmly before realizing. This is almost an annoyance, but I’m sure once I get used to it, I will appreciate it.
The X61’s indicator lights and tablet buttons. (view large image)
One “flaw” seems to be that the Computer is difficult to disconnect from the ultrabase. You press the button, pull the latch, (both of which are simple) and have to pry/slide/wiggle the computer off of its docking station. The first time, I was afraid I was going to break something. Now that I’ve used it a few times, I seem to be getting the hang of it, but it is definitely a two-handed job. Perhaps it will wear in with use. Clipping the X61 in to the ultrabase, however, is very simple and easy.
The volume keys are quite handy, as is the thinkvantage button (assuming you don’t choose to uninstall it). On the screen portion, the indicator lights show wireless connectivity for both WiFi and Bluetooth, so you can easily tell whether you’re wasting battery power or not, and just above that are a few more helpful buttons (power, alt-ctrl-del, rotate screen, toolbox, and esc.)
My first thought when I turned on my computer and looked at the 12.1” 1400×1050 pixel screen was, "wow it’s bigger than my desktop!” (Which for the record, is 19”screen with 1440×900 pixels) I was amazed at how much space there seemed to be on the desktop. Sure, the text is small. At one point I experimented with the settings to increase the default OS font size, but when I looked at the two sizes side by side, I realized I wanted the screen “real estate” more. The screen itself seems to be flawless. If there are any dead pixels, I can’t see them. My dad ordered the same computer and his SXGA+ screen doesn’t have any dead pixels either.
Many users of tabletpcreview.com have asked “how big” the text on the x61 actually is. To that end, I have included this picture comparing the text size between this computer at 1400×1050 pixels to my desktop of 1440×900 pixels:
The X61 Tablet PC on the left. (view large image)
As I am writing this review, my screen is two feet away from my face, and I can clearly see the text I am typing. Though the text is somewhat small, it is very clear. Oh, and I have 20/30 vision, not perfect.
Indoors, the screen is more than bright enough. In direct sunlight, be prepared to get very close to your screen and squint. Driving down the highway with my computer in my lap and the sun shining through the window on my screen made it very difficult to read even with the screen on full (level 15) brightness. When we drove under a patch of shade, however, the screen was clearly visible again. The lighting is very even, and although not truly an outdoor screen, could make do in a pinch. Just expect to run your battery a bit more as full screen brightness is a must outdoors.
The tablet portion of the screen is excellent. The screen twists around and locks down, and the display automatically rotates into any of the four pre-specified orientations. I found Auto-rotate to be a fun thing to play with, but ultimately not practical. Walking from my living room to my kitchen, the screen switched orientation several times, making it effectively unusable unless held steady. The rotate button works just fine, and I don’t usually turn the computer over and start writing from the other side.
The Wacom technology is also great, although I don’t find myself using the touchscreen as much as I thought I would originally. It’s easier to use the pointer and leave my hand on the keyboard. It’s pretty much only good for inking, but it does that very well indeed.
The speakers on the X61 are honestly not very good, but much better than I was expecting. I had heard of the single speaker on the bottom, and sub-par music quality. I expected an extremely muffled and hard to hear speaker, but it turned out that the speaker is quite loud on full volume, enough to still be easily heard even when muffled. It is muffled though. The sound is somewhat tinny, but what else can be expected on a tablet. Overall, I’d rate the speakers acceptable for everyday use, but if you want to listen to music and care about audio quality, you’ll definitely want external speakers or headphones. As a side note, the ultrabase has two speakers on the front which replace the speaker on the actual tablet when it is plugged in.
Processor and Performance
My x61 tablet came with the Intel L7500 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo low voltage processor, 100GB (7200 rpm) hard drive, 3GB (1x2GB Crucial and 1x1GB Lenovo) RAM and Intel Turbo Memory. My computer is configured using the “custom install,” which means I did a factory reset of the entire computer and chose not to reinstall particularly useless applications (such as AOL and Norton). My computer is not as streamlined as it could possibly be if I had performed the “clean install,” but is plenty for my needs.
Initially, the computer ran slowly, as it was busy configuring itself. I also had some problems with lockups during the first three hours (or so) of usage while I was installing new software and configuring options. After those three hours, the system seemed to stabilize and I continued to configure my computer. I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that the Intel Turbo Memory is responsible for these lockups, and once it configured itself for my system, the computer became stable again. I haven’t had a single lockup since those first three hours, and most of my other minor problems can be attributed to user error.
This is by far the most powerful machine I have used. I frequently have iTunes, multiple Internet browser windows, Gmail chat, aim, windows explorer, perhaps copying pictures and uploading them to Facebook, as well as background programs like BitDefender antivirus open at once, and this computer runs them all with ease. I couldn’t be happier. I have yet to use it in any particularly processor intensive applications other than benchmark tests, however.
A complete boot up process took my computer 52 seconds to display the Vista welcome screen, 1:01 to show the desktop of my user, and 2:01 to have connected to my wireless router on the far side of the house and brought up www.tabletpcreview.com . It also took my computer 10.5 seconds to come back from sleep and log show the desktop after logging in. These times could be slightly lower, as I delayed slightly in scanning my finger and typing in the URL, but they will do for a rough estimate. I’m particularly impressed by how, after logging in, you can actually start running programs. I have not yet tried to run games on this computer, but other than an occasional game of Starcraft, I doubt I will use it for such very often.
Comparison Results for PCMark05
PCMark05 measures the systems performance as a whole:
|Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (Intel Core 2 Duo 1.6GHz, GMA X3100 graphics)||3,473 PCMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook T4220 (Intel Core 2 Duo 2.2GHz, GMA X3100 graphics)||4,171 PCMarks|
|Gateway E-155C (Intel Core 2 Duo ULV 1.06GHz, Intel GMA 950 graphics)||2,205 PCMarks|
|LG C1 (Intel Core Duo 1.2GHz, Nvidia Go 7300)||2,568 PCMarks|
|Toshiba R400 (Intel Core Duo ULV 1.2GHz, Intel GMA 950 graphics)||2,187 PCMarks|
|HP tx1000 (AMD Turion X2 2.0GHz, Nvidia Go 6150)||3,052 PCMarks|
|Asus R1F (1.66GHz Core Duo, Intel GMA 950 graphics)||2,724 PCMarks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X60t (1.66GHz LV Core Duo)||2,860 PCMarks|
|Panasonic ToughBook T4 (Intel 1.20GHz LV)||1,390 PCMarks|
|Asus R2H (900MHz Celeron M)||845 PCMarks|
|Toshiba Tecra M6 (1.66GHz Intel T2300E, Intel GMA 950)||2,732 PCMarks|
In the below results of Super Pi, where the processor is timed in calculating Pi to 2 million digits:
|Notebook||Time to Calculate Pi to 2 Million Digits|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (1.6GHz Core 2 Duo)||1m 10s|
|Fujitsu LifeBook T4220 (2.2GHz Core 2 Duo)||54s|
|Gateway E-155C (1.06GHz ULV Core 2 Duo)||1m 58s|
|LG C1 (1.2GHz Intel Core Duo)||1m 49s|
|Toshiba R400 (1.2GHz ULV Core Duo)||2m 10s|
|Asus R1F (1.66GHz Core Duo)||1m 20s|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X60t (1.66GHz LV Core Duo)||1m 24s|
|IBM ThinkPad X41t (1.5GHz LV Pentium M)||2m 02s|
|HP TC4400 Tablet PC (2.0GHz Core Duo)||1m 13s|
|Dell Latitude X1 (1.1 GHz ULV Pentium M)||2m 40s|
|Dell Latitude D420 (1.06GHz Core Solo ULV)||2m 11s|
|Toshiba Portege M400 (1.83GHz Core Duo )||1m 19s|
Comparison Results for 3Dmark05
3DMark05 tests the overall graphic capabilities of a notebook, and overall the X61 didn’t do bad considering it has integrated graphics.
|Notebook||3D Mark 05 Results|
|Lenovo ThinkPad X61 (1.6GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA X3100 graphics)||812 3DMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook T4220 (2.2GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA X3100 graphics)||925 3DMarks|
|Gateway E-155C (1.06GHz ULV Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA 950)||500 3DMarks|
|LG C1 (1.2GHz Intel Core Duo, Nvidia Go 7300)||1,392 3DMarks|
|Fujitsu LifeBook S2210 (1.6GHz AMD Turion 64 X2 TL-52, ATI x1150)||810 3DMarks|
|PortableOne UX (2.0GHz Core 2 Duo, Intel GMA 950)||590 3DMarks|
|Toshiba Satellite A135 (1.73GHz Core Duo, Intel GMA 950)||519 3D Marks|
|Lenovo ThinkPad T60 (2.0GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||2,092 3D Marks|
|Fujitsu n6410 (1.66 GHz Core Duo, ATI X1400 128MB)||2,273 3DMarks|
Below are the results from running the HD Tune benchmark that tests hard drive performance:
Heat and Noise
The first day I used my tablet was a scorcher, and my mom doesn’t believe in A/C, so even the little bit of heat that this computer puts out felt horrible on my hands. Luckily, it wasn’t too unbearable. In cooler conditions, the computer feels only mildly warm, never hot, although it could be uncomfortable to leave your hand right by the vent on the left side. The palm rests do feel somewhat warm, although not uncomfortable. The air that comes out of the vent is much warmer than the computer itself. The fan does its job well.
And the fan is almost silent. I can barely hear the fan in a silent room. Sitting in the room with my old desktop, I can’t hear it at all. The optical drive in the ultrabase does “whirr” a bit, but is by no means loud. This is definitely a quiet computer
One thing I should mention, is that occasionally a high pitched squeal will come from the back of the computer. Apparently, Intel’s processor has a small problem switching from low to high intensity modes, but this will hopefully be updated soon. The noise doesn’t bother me personally, although from other users’ accounts, it does bother some people. If you can tune it, out, don’t worry about it.
The keyboard is excellent. It has very minimal flex. The keyboard feels sturdy and stiff. I felt comfortable holding it with one hand by the palm rest area, it feels that sturdy. This is, without a doubt, the best keyboard I’ve ever used. Desktops included. It may feel a little cramped, and I don’t particularly care for the location of the Function button in the lower-left, where Control is usually located, but I now completely understand why Lenovo is known for their build quality. There are plenty of easy-access buttons, as well as very convenient buttons for use in slate mode. There is even a button you can press in lieu of alt-ctrl-del.
The X61 keyboard and trackpoint mouse. (view large image)
I actually just had to remove the right Shift key on my keyboard because a kernel of rice had fallen behind it, blocking it from being pressed. The key popped off, and using a pair of tweezers (conveniently had them on me) and my fingers, I popped it right back on again, no problems.
There is not a touchpad on this model, but rather a trackpoint mouse, with which I am gaining increased proficiency. If you must have a touchpad, this may pose a problem, but the trackpoint is quite easy to use.
The X61 in tablet mode with pen. (view large image)
The Wacom pen is also nice. It slips into its silo along the left side securely. Sometimes it is annoying trying to get it to click in, as it has to be pressed in fairly far. The pen itself is constructed well in my opinion. The lower portion is textured similar to the top of the tablet, a matte black that is easy to grip. The “right-click” button on the side is sometimes a little hard to press as it is fairly high on the pen, and doesn’t move much when pressed. The pen feels similar to a regular pen in my hand, with the exception of the texture. The eraser is quite easy to use, and somewhat springy. You actually have to press the eraser spring down on the screen before it registers. Personally, I like it, as it contributes to the whole “pen(cil) and paper” idea. Overall, I’m pleased with the pen, and find it comfortable to hold and use.
Along the front side, there is only a switch to disable/enable wireless communications. The right side, has a four-pin Firewire port, two USB 2.0 ports, headphone and microphone jacks, a modem port and power jack. The left side, has another USB port, a VGA 15-pin, Ethernet port, PC Card slot, a tether point for the digitizer pen, SD card slot and silo for the pen. If you get the ultrabase though, it offers an optical drive slot and system lock, which blocks the power jack. It also offers a modem port, Ethernet port, headphone and microphone jacks, a parallel port, a serial port, a VGA port, two USB 2.0 ports, and another power jack.
Front view of the X61 Tablet PC. (view large image)
Right side view of the ports. (view large image)
Left side view of the ports. (view large image)
Back view of the X61 Tablet PC. (view large image)
Under side view of the X61 Tablet PC. (view large image)
My computer came with the Intel Wireless WiFi Link 4965AGN and Integrated Bluetooth PAN options. The WiFi works perfectly on the $27 wireless G router I bought the other day just for this purpose. The router is on the other side of the house, with three walls and a TV entertainment system almost directly in the way, and I have been getting either “Very Good” or “Excellent” signal strength. I have also connected it to my home network via Ethernet, and a WiFi hotspot for the city in which I work. As this is my first tablet, let alone wireless Internet machine, I’m ecstatic at how well it works. I drove home from work today and was greeted by my email notification popping up because I had gotten in range of my home wireless router and was connected to the Internet.
The Bluetooth was slightly problematic trying to get it to work with my cell phone. Compared to the apple computers in my school journalism class that sync automatically, the process to transfer files was somewhat complicated. I’m used to being able to (on my cell phone) find the file and “send via Bluetooth,” search for Bluetooth devices, find the one I want, and enter in a PIN to connect them. The Bluetooth could find my phone, but had problems syncing with it. Eventually, I had to change the preferences on my phone so that I could access the files on it from my computer and go “grab” them from my phone. The transfer worked quite well at that point, so the Bluetooth is perfectly functional, and perhaps there are options I still need to configure to allow my phone to “send” files to my computer. However, the Bluetooth did sync flawlessly to my dad’s Targus wireless Bluetooth mouse.
I am quite happy with my battery life. It’s funny, because my cell phone has abysmal battery life and has to be charged every night. The battery on my computer, by comparison, seems almost the same, which for a computer is amazing. The computer actually gets more usage hours than my cell phone gets talk hours. On default settings, the battery life indicator shows 4:16 hours remaining with a 96% charge. On max battery life setting, the screen goes dim, but is still readable indoors (although not particularly comfortable), and shows 5:11 hours remaining. If I turn off wireless communications, it shows 5:22 hours left and I have the 8-cell battery.
NOTE: These are the estimated battery life times provided by the Thinkvantage Power Manager. I’ve only run the battery down a couple times. Overall, I’m very satisfied with the X61’s battery life.
Operating System and Software
My computer came with Vista Ultimate 32bit preinstalled and a recovery partition on the hard drive. Lenovo will not provide standard OS install disks. I asked. They will, send you a recovery image disk if you call them and ask. The computer comes bundled with Diskeeper Home, Norton Antivirus trial, Thinkvantage software that integrates nicely with the OS, and many other programs, much of which I disabled during the custom install to increase performance.
There is a bit of bloatware on this machine straight from Lenovo, but I can’t say exactly how much performance has changed since the custom install since I hardly used it before doing so. I can say that I feel my computer is relatively streamlined, and startup times are fast. I didn’t find the custom install at all difficult to do, and with it done, there is only the thinkvantage (and anything else you choose to keep) bloatware remaining. Not too bad.
Overall, I am completely satisfied with this tablet. Like any computer, it has its little bugs, but compared to anything I’ve used before, this blows it out of the water. Every interface you use (screen, keyboard, etc.) is excellent, and the system performance is astounding for such a small machine. The size and battery life make this one heck of a mobile computer.
I would recommend this tablet to anyone not interested in gaming, willing to dish out a little bit more than a comparable laptop for excellent tablet functionality and who needs portability.
- Excellent screen, plenty of real estate
- Keyboard is easy to type on, no flex
- Sturdy, light, and great battery life
- Fast operation and boot times
- Wacom digitizer
- Great protection plan
- Comes with a bit of bloatware
- No optical drive (without ultrabase)
- Sometimes difficult to see screen outdoors
- Bluetooth is funny with data transfer (with my phone)
- Sometimes difficult to disconnect computer from ultrabase