With the ThinkPad X41 tablet, Lenovo has added tablet functionality to one of the best ultraportable notebooks on the market, the ThinkPad X41, without compromising on the screen quality or the security. At £1,515 (as of July 2005), this tablet's price is similar to that of convertible tablet competitors with faster hardware, but the ThinkPad X41 tablet's balance of portability, performance, and security make it one of the best convertibles on the market.
Its smooth, jet-black case may look just like the X41 notebook, but the tablet version is slightly bigger, measuring 34mm thick, 274mm wide and 241mm deep. And weighing 1.6kg, it's almost 500g heavier than the notebook. The extended battery pack adds about 25mm to the depth and 250g to the weight, but that's still significantly thinner and more than 500g lighter than either the HP Compaq tc4200 or the Averatec C3500. The X41 tablet's AC adaptor adds a tolerable 300g to the travel weight.
Like other convertibles, the ThinkPad X41 tablet has a split personality: you can use it like a standard notebook, or you can swivel the display and fold it over the keyboard to create a digital slate for writing, drawing or just doodling. Unlike other convertibles, the X41 tablet's screen doesn't wobble on its single hinge, and the digital grid layer required to interpret the pen's movements doesn't diminish the quality of the 12.1-inch XGA display. We did find that the slightly recessed screen makes writing a little awkward, though the glass surface closely mimics the feel of pen on paper.
The character recognition is still a work in progress, so you'll need to write slowly and carefully for scratches and scrawls of the pen to be correctly translated into editable text. In our usage, the X41 tablet recognised 86 per cent of our handwritten comments. Alongside the screen are helpful buttons for scrolling, rotating the display orientation, rebooting and calling up a system control panel, plus Enter and Escape keys -- everything you'd need to control your computer while it's in tablet mode.
The rest of the design matches what we've come to expect from ThinkPads, with a comfortable keyboard, a red TrackPoint pointing stick, two mouse buttons and one button for scrolling. The battery features a grippy rubber surface that makes it easy to hold the machine in one hand while writing with the other, like a clipboard.
The port selection on the ThinkPad X41 tablet, however, is weak. It lacks FireWire and S-video connectors, the latter of which is on the HP Compaq tc4200. The system does have headphone, microphone, VGA, modem, Gigabit Ethernet and two USB 2.0 plugs (one powered), two fewer than on the larger Averatec C3500. Its PC Card slot doubles for use with the upcoming generation of ExpressCards, and there's a handy Secure Digital flash card reader, though not the multiformat flash card reader we're seeing on traditional notebooks.
In addition to Bluetooth short-range radio, the X41 tablet comes with Intel's 802.11b/g Wi-Fi radio, which was able to stay in contact with our base station for an average 30m in our anecdotal tests; you can also choose an Intel 802.11a/b/g radio. Unlike the Averatec C3500, the ThinkPad X41 tablet lacks an optical drive, but the companion ThinkPad X4 dock has a modular bay that can be filled with a variety of drives.