Thin-Pad – The Lenovo ThinkPad X300

By Jonathan Spira on 25 August 2009
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The ThinkPad X300 (left) is far thinner than its ThinkPad brethren.

When IBM sold its PC division to Lenovo back in 2005, I wondered whether the high level of innovation that IBM had pioneered in the PC field (after all, the company invented the modern PC) would continue.  My fears, it turns out, were completely unfounded.

Lenovo has not only been a good steward for the IBM product line, which includes ThinkPad notebook computers, but has released machine after machine that outdistance the competition.

When the ThinkPad X300 was released (the current model is the ThinkPad X301), around the same time as Apple’s MacBook Air, I was a bit skeptical.

Until that point, I had scrupulously followed the “bigger is better” principle when it came to laptops.  Only primitive computers had smaller screens and footprints.  It would be impossible to fit a proper keyboard into a small package (let alone duplicate the touch of the IBM/Lenovo keypad, which traces its origins back to the IBM Selectric typewriter).  So I moved up from 12” to 13” to 14” and then finally to 15” screen size, each with more computing power and heft, in the mistaken belief that I was doing the right thing.  I even considered moving up to a 17” machine.

In reality, all I was doing was adding more weight to the bag I carried on my shoulder as a frequent business traveler without adding anything else.  The X300 weighs only 1.3 kg and it measures less than three-quarters of an inch at its thinnest point.

So back to the X300.  When it first came, I didn’t even want to use it but, in order to test it, I realized I had to start somewhere.  So I installed my suite of software and took it on a trip.  Not bad, I thought.  Light, great display, and very fast.  In fact, very fast is an understatement – the solid-state drive makes it faster than any computer I have ever used both for start-up and in general use.

The ThinkPad X300 comes with a 13.3” LED backlit display and the aforementioned full-sized keyboard with the handy TrackPoint (which some refer to as the “eraserhead”) pointing device built into the keyboard.  With two batteries (both of which, unlike the Mac, are user replaceable), it has a battery life of eight to ten hours (long enough for transoceanic flights), and an ultra-thin built-in DVD burner (the second battery replaces this in the same bay).

What really makes this a game changer, beyond its size, is the variety of connectivity choices including WLAN, GB Ethernet, ultra-wideband/wireless USB, and WiMax, and my current favorite, integrated mobile broadband.

The combination of small footprint and mobile broadband changed my personal work habits (perhaps further blurring the work-life balance but that’s fodder for another time).  I found myself taking the ThinkPad with me not only on longer trips but on even the shortest ones.  I could easily open it and catch up on work or news (or even, on rare occasions, entertainment) anywhere I went.  And my shoulder thanked me as well.

The display is worthy of note: LED backlighting makes the 13.3” display crisp and vivid for images and documents and didn’t have problems outdoors except in direct sun, further contributing to my ability to use the machine anywhere.   Concerning travel and transport, the X300 is constructed with advanced carbon and glass fiber and its Next Generation ThinkPad Roll Cage helped protect the device from the perils of my road warrior lifestyle.

In addition to being small, the X300 is environmentally aware, consuming 25% less energy than its predecessors.  It received a favorable rating by the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) for “superior environmental attributes” such as low-voltage processors and LED displays.

The utilities that are included in the ThinkVantage Productivity Center are both useful (they cover maintenance, help, wireless, display, and security) and easy to use although it takes a while to sometimes find the right category for certain topics.

So I admit it – I was wrong.  When it comes to laptops, bigger is not better: the ThinkPad X300 is simply better.  Try one yourself and see.

–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.

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