June 2, 2006 By Miriam Jones
The tablet automatically reorients the screen when you swivel the display, making it very easy to work with. Southpaws can orient the display with a couple clicks of a tablet button. And the screen correctly orients itself when returning to laptop mode.
The tablet has an excellent handwriting recognition capability, but reads printing more easily than cursive. Despite my occasional awkwardness with the digital pen, it worked remarkably well and interpreted my sloppy writing into the intended English words. The spelling and punctuation suggestions are appropriate for the most part.
I found the digital pen a lot easier to use than the TrackPoint cursor-pointing device, which includes the pointing stick (what I like to call the red nubbin) and buttons that perform similarly to a mouse.
My control of the nubbin is poor; the cursor flies all over the screen and causes me much frustration. While the TrackPoint's center button has some useful features if you're willing to set them up, I still prefer a touchpad, but the right click is a nice property, and the center button can be used for scrolling or magnifying glass functions (including the amount of zoom: 1x, 2x, 4x or 8x). For those who enjoy the nubbin, three TrackPoint cap choices allow you to further tailor the notebook to your needs: classic dome, soft dome or soft rim.
The test unit came with fingerprint recognition. While my index finger was very difficult to enroll, my thumbprint took very little time, and after testing it out, the tablet quickly and consistently recognized my thumbprint -- at least for a while. Then it started to give me trouble, and recognition was difficult again despite re-enrolling my prints. The fingerprint sensor, however, is nicely located to easily permit the swipe of a thumb in laptop or tablet mode.
The arrow keys and page backward/forward keys for Web browsing are conveniently located on the keyboard. It's also good to have the repetition of some vital keys on the tablet's side: power, escape, quick launch, enter and page up/down are quite handy. Because the unit is lightweight, that means some sacrifices, such as no optical disk drive. But you can get various drives by purchasing the X4 dock: DVD-ROM, CD-RW/DVD-ROM combo or Multiburner Plus.
Being lightweight also has its benefits. For instance, the ThinkPad X41 is comfortable to hold for extended time periods and maintains a cool temperature, even after operating for several hours. The unit opens effortlessly with a one-handed latch release, and the eight-cell battery -- while it extends beyond the tablet -- has rubber grips on the top and bottom to ease holding.
The eight-cell lithium-ion battery operated for four hours before warning -- with about 5 percent charge remaining -- to charge the battery before the laptop lapsed into hibernation. It took about three hours to fully recharge the battery with the machine running.
The four-cell battery is designed to operate for 2.6 hours, and the eight-cell battery is designed to operate for up to 6.3 hours. Optional extended-life batteries are also available. The Active Protection System uses an integrated, user-configurable motion sensor to continuously monitor the tablet and temporarily stop the hard drive to help prevent some hard drive crashes when a fall or similar threat is detected.
Rating: 4 out of 5
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