ThinkPad X300

Though it has been all over the web for weeks, readers of this blog know that until we officially announce a product, I am not allowed to talk about it. That day is finally here and I've been chomping at the bit to be able to say something for quite a while now on our newest ThinkPad, the X300. Lots has been said around and about this product. There have been treatises, videos, proclamations, denouncements, songs, and thousands of column inches written. (Well, maybe not songs…I got carried away.) Some absolutely love the product. Some aren't quite as enthused, which is to be expected for any product announcement. Any diehard ThinkPad fan who has seen this system generally has the same reaction: "WOW!" My challenge was to come up with something different than what everyone else is writing about. I'll leave you to read the specs elsewhere. Perhaps I'll delve into some of them in more detail in future posts if there's enough interest. Here are some of the things you won't be reading in a review. When someone picks it up, that person comments on how thin and light it is. What happens shortly thereafter is almost as predictable as it is interesting to watch. Almost without fail, once someone holds one of these machines for a few minutes, that person starts to absentmindedly rubbing their hands over the top cover. The soft touch paint is absolutely intoxicating to run your hand across. It's unlike any other ThinkPad finish we've had before and even better than our black external USB hard disk drives. I'm sure there will be lots of comments about how Kohut's gone off his rocker, calling ThinkPad a fetish item, but try it out for yourself. You'll see what I mean. More practically, turn the system over. There are several things that have been improved and are worth noting. First, in direct response to customer feedback, there is one door access to the memory slots, wireless, and mini PCI card slots. Our engineers stopped using one-door access design when the original Roll Cage was introduced in order to give the card slots and memory protection via the Roll Cage. While they accomplished their goal, the drawback was that servicing these was harder than many customers liked. With the X300, ThinkPad engineers figured out how to give both serviceability and protection.

The rubber feet deserve special mention. Though the system uses solid state HDDs, the system still needs as much protection as ever from shocks and bumps. These rubber feet are an iterative result of years of research and development (and patents) for protecting ThinkPad systems. There are multiple layers of protection here.

  1. The shape of the foot itself. As an experiment, with the same amount of force, poke yourself with one finger and then three fingers in the same spot on your arm. Notice how when you use three fingers, the force is better distributed because it is not focused on a single point. ThinkPads have been using this design point for several generations and I have yet to see another vendor who has figured out this concept, much less implemented it.
  2. There are two kinds of rubber. Soft rubber provides maximum cushioning and dampening for minor bumps.
  3. Bonded to the soft rubber is a hard rubber. This is needed for harder bumps and falls when the softer rubber "bottoms out."
  4. The center nib (or nipple, if you insist) is an actual airbag which when depressed under force, acts to control deceleration to minimize damaging forces on the system.

 

Rumors of the demise of our trademark magnesium hinges are greatly exaggerated. They're still very much a part of ThinkPad design. Our design team just colored them black for this system.

Back by popular request (demand, is more like it) are the red and blue stripes on the TrackPoint buttons. David Hill wrote about those in his blog. You'll see a new Lenovo logo emblazoning the top cover, but don't worry, the ThinkPad name is ours forever. Also for the first time, we have a touchpad in an X Series ThinkPad. It's larger than any of our other touchpads, and has less of a lip around the outside edge. This way less detritus (i.e. cookie crumbs) gets caught in the crevices. Biscuit eaters around the world rejoice.

The speakers are MUCH improved, which is something we've needed to do for a long time. They're loud and they're clear. You won't want to dump your home stereo for them, but if you won't need to wear a headset to watch a movie in a hotel room any longer. There are other little touches evident throughout. Key buttons like the mute, CapsLock, and power buttons all have LEDs inside to show you when they're activated.

And to those who think that Lenovo has compromised quality by making a machine this thin and light, nothing can be further from the truth. This machine is rock solid (and more importantly, FEELS rock solid) thanks to what we're calling our Hybrid Roll Cage II design. The top cover consists of layered carbon fibers bonded together with a resin for superior strength. On the sides of the top cover are glass fibers which are necessary to give superior wireless performance. (Glass doesn't block the wireless signals like carbon fiber and metals do. Other vendors use plastic to get around this issue. That's what the strip along their top covers is. They are hoping you don't notice.) On the bottom part of the system, the frames around the keyboard and palm rest are both solid magnesium (outlined in red in the picture below). This continues ThinkPad's design point of having a full-contact frame to protect the display. When the system is closed, it becomes one solid unit, not two pieces put together. The result is that forces get displaced from the center of the top cover to the sides, where they can be effectively managed. The result is superior strength of which no other vendor can offer.

I'd switch over immediately save for one point. Sadly, for me, 64GB is not enough. But of course, time will solve that problem.