Lenovo ThinkPad X61 Tablet Review

The 12.1″ screen ThinkPad X61 Tablet PC lets you wield the power of the pen, or finger, or simply the trusty old keyboard. That’s right, with the MultiTouch display the X61t allows you to use very accurate active pen input (that borrows Wacom table technology), or you can touch the screen as a method of input, or you can convert to notebook mode and simply type input. The X61 Tablet is powered by an Intel Core 2 Duo low voltage processor, can take up to 4GB of RAM, and can use a speedy 7200RPM hard drive so despite being small in size, it’s not necessarily short on power.

If you’re a student, having a Tablet PC can be a great asset for taking notes and storing them in a digital format. It’s easy to keep things organized and you can easily email notes or print them out. If you need to write down formulas and diagrams you’re not restricted to just having a keyboard, you can diagram and draw using electronic ink just as you can with regular pen and paper.

The X61 Tablet PC (hereafter referred to as the X61t) is a follow-on from the X60 Tablet PC. The only thing that has changed with this new model is the processor platform, the design remains precisely the same. That’s not all bad though, with the new Intel Santa Rosa platform onboard the X61t the performance boost is significant.

Lenova Thinkpad Tablet x61

I think that power is secondary to usability with a Tablet PC though. I mean, you could put a 15.4″ screen, full-fledged Core 2 Duo processor, and high-end graphics card into a Tablet device but then it would weigh 8lbs and you couldn’t possibly stand holding it to write on the screen. Having a small design form factor is pretty darn important for a tablet convertible device, so the 12.1″ screen is the way to go in my humble opinion.

System as Reviewed

The specs for the X61t as reviewed are the following:

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo L7500 1.6GHz / 4MB L2 Cache
  • Screen: 12.1″ XGA MultiView + MultiTouch
  • Memory: 2GB DDR2
  • Graphics: Intel GMA X3100 graphics
  • Hard Drive: 80GB 5400RPM
  • Wireless: Intel PRO/Wireless 3945ABG Network Connection
  • Optical Drive: None
  • Ports: 3 Universal Serial Bus (USB 2.0), IEEE 1394 Firewire, SD card reader, PC card slot, headphone jack, microphone in, RJ-11 (modem), RJ-45 (LAN), VGA
  • Dimensions: 10.8″ x 9.6″ x 1.1 – 1.3″
  • Weight: 3.8lbs
  • 8-cell Lithium-Ion Battery

Weigh in

One thing I like to always do with any new gadget I get is to take it to the scales and see if the weight matches what the manufacturer quotes. Lightweight is important with a notebook, doubly so with a Tablet PC that you’ll likely be standing and holding for use at times (think doctor or field engineer). Lenovo quotes the weight as being 3.8lbs with the smaller 4-cell, when I put it on the scale with the larger 8-cell battery it came to about 4.5lbs, which is quite a bit more than 3.8lbs. At 4.5lbs you’re well outside of the ultra-portable weight of a laptop.

Notebook: Lenovo X61t (12.1″ screen)

Manufacturer Quoted Weight: 3.8lbs

Actual Weight: 4.5lbs

thinkpad x61 review box open

Looks

The X61t is black, and squarish in shape. And I could probably end there with the description of how it looks! If you like a bit of pizazz to the design of your notebook then you won’t get that with a ThinkPad because these things are meant for business. I think the look is clean and professional and have no problems with it. If your personality is the get down to business type, that’s exactly what the X61t will tell the world when people see you using it.

Construction

ThinkPads are known for their durable build. The X61t is worthy of that reputation. Despite having only one hinge in which to open and pivot on, the screen feels very sturdy and lacks any wobble. The hinge is made of a quad-alloy material. The latch holds the screen down tightly, so no worries about the notebook screen coming open while it’s in your bag. There’s no flex anywhere on the case of the X61t, it simply rocks solid all over.

Ports

The X61t has a pretty good array of ports for such a small-sized notebook. Here’s the list of what you get:

  • 3 Universal Serial Bus (USB 2.0)
  • IEEE 1394 Firewire
  • SD card reader
  • PC card slot
  • headphone jack
  • microphone in
  • RJ-11 (modem)
  • RJ-45 (LAN)
  • VGA out port

Now let’s take a look at the port locations:

thinkpad x61 1

On the right side are the FireWire port, 2 USB jacks and the headphone out and microphone in port, modem port, and power jack.

thinkpad x61 2


On the left side are a USB port, VGA out port, LAN port, SD card reader slot, PC card slot, and pen silo.

thinkpad x61 3

On the backside is the battery — and that takes up all of the space!

thinkpad x61 4

On the front side, you can see wireless on/off switch in the middle, there’s also a latch and you’ll notice a bump that’s an antenna area for the built-in EVDO WWAN capability.

Keyboard

The feel and usability of the X61t keyboard are astounding for the size. Some keys are a little smaller than you might be used to, but mostly keys are full-sized and you’ll have zero problems adjusting to using this keyboard as compared to those you find on larger laptops. The feel of the keys is nice, they’re a bit stiff I would say so you have to make sure to push hard, but I kind of like that because you know when you’ve pushed a key in with such a feeling.

thinkpad x61 keyboard

One thing missing from the X61t is a touchpad. I like using the Trackpoint navigation method just fine (though I’m more used to a touchpad), but for those that are sticklers for using something familiar such as a touchpad, you might miss having this.The feel of the mouse buttons is nice, they’re not loud and have a good amount of travel. They are a bit small, but you get used to that.

Screen

The screen is a 12.1″ matte screen that’s multi-touch. Multi-touch means you can use the digitized pen as a method of input or touch it with your finger. The pen works great, it feels somewhat like a real pen as you write in applications such as Windows Journal or One Note. The touch screen comes in handy for things such as quickly opening menus or pushing OK buttons on dialog boxes by simply pressing the screen.

thinkpad x61 screen

The screen brightness is okay, it certainly could be a little brighter, but overall it’s adequate, especially for a business notebook. I should mention that there are a few options for the screen. The SXGA (hi-resolution) option will appeal to those that want to fit more onto the small 12.1″ screen. The regular XGA option (non-multi-touch screen) is the cheapest, it of course still offers digitizer pen input.

Performance

The performance of the X61t is quite amazing for such a small Tablet PC. If you configure it with 4GB of RAM and a 7200RPM hard drive it’ll scream. The only processor option is the Intel Core 2 Duo L7500 (Santa Rosa generation) and I’m very impressed with the performance of this processor, especially considering it’s an LV. Below is a graph of results for PCMark05 performance and a comparison of the X61t to larger laptops:

thinkpad x61 performance

You can see the ThinkPad X61t actually keeps pace with larger laptops, and even outperforms the Sony VAIO FZ140 Core 2 Duo notebook. That’s quite amazing, the faster hard drive on the X61t helped it score higher than the VAIO FZ140.

Noise

The fan on the X61t does seem to run almost constantly, but I wouldn’t call it loud by any means, and it spins at a very low RPM. In a silent room, you will hear the fan of the X61t, but with ambient background noise in your typical office environment, there’s no way you’re going to hear the fan. Given the power of the X61t, you can accept the fact it will need to spin its fans to keep the system cool.

Since there’s no optical drive on this device, there’s no issue with a loud optical drive spinning a disc! Also, the hard drive was silent, the X61t under review had a Hitachi made hard drive onboard.

Heat

I found that the right palm rest suffered from some heat buildup, it appears the processor is located under that area. Overall the X61t did not get warm even when under stress running a bunch of things at once. It is fair to say it gets warm and isn’t the coolest running notebook out there, but once again, given the power packed into the small space you kind of accept the fact heat will be part of the equation.

Battery

I wish I had the 4-cell battery so the system was overall lighter, but as it is I have the larger 8-cell battery. I get about 5 hours of battery life with this battery, but it’s just so darned heavy and makes the X61t more cumbersome to carry and hold. Especially for long periods. Ultimately I would recommend getting both the smaller 4-cell battery when you know you’ll be wanting to be unplugged for short periods and will be able to easily charge it again. If you know you’re going to be flying cross country or need battery power for more than 4 hours then the 8-cell is the weapon of choice.

Tablet PC Features

This is a Tablet PC, so we should talk about this feature at least a little! With the introduction of Windows Vista, the Tablet PC features are baked right into the operating system, unlike Windows XP where the Tablet PC features were a kludge on top of XP.

thinkpad x61 features

The digitizer pen for the X61t is very good, the input is smooth and easy, allowing you to write on the screen almost as if you were taking notes with a pen and paper. You find yourself having to write bigger than you normally would on pen and paper I find, and your handwriting will be slightly messier, but not by much. Though I’m not in school anymore, I’m a little bitter that kids today have this tool as an option in the classroom. I think those that are disciplined enough to take notes and like to reproduce them or mark them up hours after lecture could benefit from this. And what a boon for that industry that hires note takers for lectures hey? It’s super easy to reproduce notes from class when you have them in electronic form. Email them, print them, use them with a projector, post them to the web to share — the sharing possibilities are endless. Just get the guy with the Tablet PC to show up to class and he can take the notes for everyone!

Another cool thing about the X61t is that when you hold and rotate it, the screen orientates itself with you. There’s an accelerometer inside (just like the Wii and iPhone have) that’s able to detect how the X61t is being held and rotate the screen image accordingly so “up is always up” and the image appears upright to you the user. You can also manually rotate the screen with a button on the device.

thinkpad x61 start

There are some dedicated buttons along the bottom of the screen that becomes much more useful in Tablet PC mode. These buttons include an Esc button, rotate screen button, Think Vantage button (when pushed it pops up a list of Lenovo apps that help manage your system), and power on/off button. There’s also a navigation dial and fingerprint reader.

Pros

  • Great build quality
  • Excellent screen options with both MultiTouch and SXGA+ being options
  • Great keyboard and Tablet PC input, very usable
  • A cool feature that makes sure the screen rotates with the user when you turn it
  • Excellent performance in a small package
  • Great battery life with the 8-cell battery

Cons

  • Much heavier than the very light X61s, it weighs 4.5lbs with the 8-cell battery
  • Gets a bit warm on the right palm rest area
  • Slow shipping times when ordering via Lenovo.com
  • No optical drive built-in and no touchpad offered

Conclusion

The X61t is one of if not the best convertible notebooks out there. It’s solidly built, has very good performance for its size, and is highly useful in terms of the keyboard and pen input. The Tablet PC features can be a real bonus to those that can use them such as students or professionals that need to use a PC while standing. The X61t could be a bit lighter — it’s especially heavy with the 8-cell battery as it tips the scale at 4.5 pounds, that’s considerably more than the regular non-Tablet ThinkPad X61s that weighs just over 3lbs. The delays in ordering the X61t can be very frustrating, especially if you need the system promptly, but hopefully, Lenovo sorts out their shipping and supply issues.

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