The new, improved notebook
Lenovo refines a classic with its first crop of IBM ThinkPad portables, successfully combining superior performance, useful new features, and darn good looks.
(FORTUNE Magazine) – THE WORLD MAY BE FLAT, ACCORDING to a popular Western business book about the flow of jobs to China and other Asian nations, but it certainly isn't square. That's the lesson from Lenovo's new Z60t ThinkPad notebook computer, one of the first ThinkPads to emerge from China's Lenovo since it took over IBM's personal computer business in May.
For years the basic-black and solidly square IBM ThinkPad has been the iconic notebook PC of first-class business travelers. The new IBM ThinkPad Z60 machines--Lenovo bought the option to use the IBM logo for a maximum of five years--come with either 14-inch- or 15.4-inch-wide displays. The wide screens make the ThinkPads friendlier to wide spreadsheets, better for DVD movie playback on long flights, and because a wide screen typically has a lower profile than a square one, just a bit less likely to be crunched when the oaf in front of you slams his seatback into full recline mode.
The Z60t I've been testing also sports a titanium (silver) lid, which is downright revolutionary for anyone who automatically equates ThinkPads with solid black. Lenovo still offers black, but the scratch-resistant titanium top is offered as a $25 option, and it may be worth it just to reduce the risk of erroneously picking up the wrong black ThinkPad from the airport security line.
But those are mainly cosmetic changes. Lenovo also deserves credit for improving on IBM's already legendary performance. Business travelers now have the option of ordering a built-in EVDO wireless broadband card and antenna, which allow them to connect to the Internet at almost broadband speeds without needing to be near a Wi-Fi hot spot. EVDO uses the wireless phone system to achieve download speeds of 500 kilobits per second or more, not very impressive compared with the wired broadband connection at your office or home but delightfully snappy compared with other cellular data plans. I've been using Verizon's EVDO system with a Kyocera cellular card and, despite a dispute with Verizon over its definition of "unlimited minutes," find EVDO to be much more convenient than sniffing around in coffee shops and hotel lobbies for an open Wi-Fi network. Sony deserves credit for pioneering the cellular Internet feature in selected VAIO notebook models earlier this year, but Lenovo's EVDO system is better.
IBM's ThinkPad keyboards are also legendary for their feel and responsiveness, not to mention the little pink TrackPoint cursor controller that many people prefer over touch-sensitive trackpads. Lenovo keeps the TrackPoint right where it should be, on the keyboard's G-spot, but it has made the keyboard even better, not just in feel and responsiveness but also in layout and the addition of both a fingerprint security scanner and a blue ThinkVantage key that safeguards important business data.
The ThinkVantage key is a one-button help desk and backup system, offering protection against lost files and other potential disasters. If the system crashes, as Windows systems are prone to do, the ThinkVantage key can automatically restore all system files and settings to a pre-crash level. When everything is working well, the button summons either online or built-in support services, including any patches or updates.
My test model was built around a 2GHz Pentium M processor, with one gigabyte of system memory, a 100GB hard drive, a built-in CD-RW and DVD combo optical drive, Bluetooth wireless networking, and a card slot for three flavors of secure memory cards (SD, MMC, and XD). It also boasts a PC Card slot, three USB 2.0 ports, and Ethernet and modem ports, but I was surprised to see a FireWire (IEEE 1394) port and an S-Video port, which greatly expand options for adding devices and high-quality video. Battery life was a bit over four hours, good for most plane trips, and the screen displayed DVD movies with good color and response. The Z60t isn't the best multimedia laptop I've tried, but at just a bit over five pounds it's one of the better combinations of performance and travel weight. The system I tested costs about $2,300.
All told, Lenovo's stewardship of this brand is off to a good start, with perhaps the best ThinkPad yet.