Lenovo X201 tablet review – first impressions

01May10

A few weeks ago I was pretty upset with Lenovo after they cancelled my order for an s10-3t netvertible. My last update flagged that Lenovo had been in touch, and I wondered if there might be a happy ending? There was, as Lenovo came back to me promising an s10-3t as soon as they hit UK shores. Sadly that hasn’t happened yet, and their arrival seems to be slipping further back, so in the mean time they’ve given me an X201T to play with.

Spec

It’s got a 2GHz Core i7 (620), which is dual core with hyperthreading. RAM is a somewhat miserly 2GB, which turns out to be barely adequate to run Windows 7 and a bunch of apps. Since I’m already seeing some long pauses for virtual memory management I have another 2GB on order, which should sort things out.

Stepping up to the latest and greatest silicon is a double edged sword. It’s certainly a fast and responsive machine, but then I’ve been living with an Atom netbook for the last year. Battery life seems to have been compromised though. Given that it has a pretty big extended battery on it I’d hope for something that can manage a transatlantic flight (at least when new), but I’m typically seeing the battery meter saying that it will manage somewhere between just over 1 to 4 hours on a full charge (depending on the energy mode selected, which can automatically switch when playing video etc.).

The screen is 1280×800 in a wide format. It’s not quite as gorgeous as the 1440×1024 that I used to have on my old X60T, but it’s still a decent chunk of real estate. The Intel HD card that drives the screen seems adequate. At least Windows 7 on this seems to be able to play (standard definition) video, which was always a struggle with Vista on my X60T (which was ridiculous considering that my old 400MHz P3 T20 could play video just fine).

Integrated WWAN

I’ve been bleating for some time that laptops, netbooks and tablets should have 3G cards built in (or at least have the option), but it seems that too few do. This machine has an integrated Qualcomm Gobi 2000, which should work on just about any network. I’ve tried it out with 3, O2 and Vodafone SIMs, and it’s worked pretty flawlessly with everything I’ve thrown at it. Vodafone seem to have excellent coverage along my commute, so I’ve been running a PAYG SIM for the last few days. It’s given me the best mobile connectivity experience that I’ve witnessed yet. This is probably something to do with the ugly and fragile looking antenna on the top of the screen. I’m worried that it’s going to break, but it certainly seems to help with reception.

Lenovo have done a good job with the tools for managing WWAN, and in most cases you can just throw in a SIM and it figures out what it needs to do when you press connect. What a shame that SIMs are so hard to come by for the sort of globetrotter who’s likely to go for a machine like this.

GPS

The WWAN card also does GPS, and the antenna hump seems to help here too. Reception is quick, and it seems to find more satellites when compared to my old MS USB device. It doesn’t really work indoors though, so it’s more one of those things for the train or car (and it’s certainly fun to watch the map whiz by on MapPoint, particularly when somewhere unfamiliar).

The supplied Lenovo software seems to be little more than a Google Maps mashup, so some proper mapping software is certainly a good plan.

Things I like

Trackpoint – I’ve been a long time user of ThinkPads, and I’ve always considered the TrackPoint to be superior to the TrackPad (especially since the centre button was introduced for scrolling). As soon as I started using the X201 the muscle memory came back. The silly part was that I tried to use the non existent TrackPoint on my s10e when I went back to that. Why don’t Lenovo’s netbooks have TrackPoints – it would be a great addition to the range, and help differentiate them from other netbooks?

USB power when off – this seems to be a common feature these days, but it’s very welcome (and this is the first machine in my hands that has it). The geek travel pack has plenty of things to charge gadgets (USB and otherwise), but I have in the past often found myself having to leave my machine on just so that I can have a fully charged BlackBerry or iPod (both of which seem especially fussy about power) in the morning.

Gigabit ethernet – something else that the old X60T had, and very useful for moving video off my main box.

Stuff that’s missing

Fingerprint reader – this is clearly an option that my particular model doesn’t come with, as there’s a little bit of plastic over where it should be. This really should be standard on a tablet, as putting passwords in when using tablet mode is no fun at all. I guess that Lenovo could use their VeriFace technology and the built in webcam, but that’s not on offer here.

SD card reader – my old X60T had a great one of these where the SD card went in flush, and my s10e at least had the slot even if the card did poke out when in use. This is a surprising and annoying omission in my view, and having a full size ExpressCard 54 socket doesn’t seem like a fair trade to me. Update – somehow I managed to miss this. It’s on the front rather than the side, and it does hold an SD card nice and snug. Next thing is to see if it can boot from it (handy for BackTrack etc.)

HDMI port – the ThinkPad Edge models that I got for the guys in the office have HDMI, but not this higher end model with its grand claims to HD graphics. Again I’d happily trade the port real estate taken by the ExpressCard.

Niggles

WiFi switching off – for some reason that I haven’t yet fathomed it seems that the X201 keeps switching the WiFi off and back on again. It doesn’t seem to interrupt my work in any measurable way, but it is a distraction. In fact the whole network management is a bit too clever clogs, with the machine constantly trying to assert profiles based on locations.

Audio volume – one of the nice things that the s10e does is remember different volume settings for different outputs, so I can have it loud through my earphones when watching a video on the train, and quiet (or muted) in the office so that tweets don’t disturb my coworkers. With the X201 it seems that there’s only one volume setting, so you constantly have to adjust to the environment.

Video playing on resume – when I pause a video before putting my machine to sleep I don’t want to start watching it again the moment it wakes up.

Keyboard – the keyboard is a decent size and has a good feel, but it needs to be hammered. I seem to keep on having missing letters (more often vowels) because I haven’t hit it hard enough.

Cursor control – my X60T had a handy little cursor control circle in the bezel beside the touch screen, which was great for navigating PDFs and eBooks when in tablet mode. If this machine was multitouch (it isn’t) then I’d expect that I could use some gesture to scroll, but without either means it’s pretty clumsy work getting around with the stylus.

The wrong way around – with an extended battery the natural way to hold this thing in tablet mode (for a right hander like me) is with the battery in the left hand and stylus in the right. Unfortunately I get ‘Display cannot switch to secondary portrait with this configuration’ the moment that I hold the machine this way – it lets me put the screen in that orientation, but flips back and gives me the error message as soon as I pick it up. WTF, and what configuration do I need to change to make this stop. Looking at the icons down the side of the screen it seems that the whole thing has been designed for left handed usage.

Overall

I’ve enjoyed using the X201 over the last few days. It’s positive features are certainly more than enough to make up for the niggles. I’d just love for there to be an X202 that gets things even better.

Of course the one overwhelming issue is the size and weight. I’ve become very accustomed to having a machine that slips into my bag with space beside it for a decent paperback, and the extra 700g over my s10e is noticeable when I pick up my bag. The machine I originally ordered, the s10-3t, would almost certainly deal with these issues; and I bet it would be great with built in WWAN.

Update 11 May 2010 – I did a follow up post of week 2.



2 Responses to “Lenovo X201 tablet review – first impressions”


  1. 1 Kindle 3G – it’s a trap « Chris Swan's Weblog
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