When I looked at a pre-production IBM ThinkPad T42p back in May, it pretty much met all my criteria for a notebook. All of the usual IBM build quality and features were there, along with a stunning 15in screen with a resolution of 1,600 x 1,200. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to see a production version of the T42p, but IBM has supplied me with a full retail ThinkPad T42 in the mean time.
The standard T42 is a far more basic model than its T42p sibling, but to be fair it’s also significantly cheaper. The chassis is the same as the T42p I looked at, but there is one major difference as soon as you open it up – the 15in screen sports a native resolution of only 1,024 x 768. Now there was a time when 1,024 x 768 was a great resolution for a notebook, but things have moved on. These days the average 14.1in screen will have a native resolution of 1,400 x 1,050, so a 15in display with 1,024 x 768 looks a little odd to be honest. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the screen on the T42 – it’s bright and evenly lit, while the colours are vivid. But the 15in physical dimensions seem like overkill considering the resolution. I would have preferred either a smaller notebook or a higher screen resolution, especially since I know just how great IBM’s 1,600 x 1,200 15in notebook screen looks.
Of course there are no doubt users out there who like the idea of a large screen running a lower resolution, and I imagine that IBM has done enough customer research to be sure that the T42 will appeal to a certain segment of users. And, to be fair, my own experiences have reflected this in the past. Many is the time that I’ve wandered around to a friend’s house and seen them running an 640 x 480 resolution on a 19in CRT monitor, and when I bumped it up to a more realistic 1,280 x 1,024 they would complain that everything was too small and ask me to change it back to the way it was. So, there is definitely method in IBM’s madness, but it’s not really what I want to see from a modern, high-end mobile computer.
Well, that’s the screen out of the way, and it’s pretty much the only complaint I can level at the T42 – although anyone who regularly reads my reviews of IBM notebooks won’t be too surprised to hear that. Also, the IBM ThinkPad T41 sported the same 1,024 x 768 resolution, but had only half the memory complement of the T42. So the new machine already has one big advantage over the old model.
As always with an IBM ThinkPad, the build quality is first rate, and this machine feels like it could handle a pretty hard life on the road if it had to. The chassis is very solid, but at 2.7kg it’s not overly heavy. It’s not the smallest notebook I’ve seen, and far from the smallest in IBM’s range, with the svelte ThinkPad X40 still still a fond memory in my mind. With dimensions of 329 x 268 x 31mm (WxDxH) the T42 can’t be classed as slim and light, but I never felt terribly burdened carrying it around with me over the past few weeks.
The keyboard is up to IBM’s usual exacting standards, and I’m still yet to find a notebook to rival the ThinkPad range when it comes to input devices. Not only is the keyboard a joy to type on, but it’s better than many examples I’ve seen with desktop PCs, let alone other notebooks. The true beauty with an IBM ThinkPad keyboard, like the one I’m typing on right now, is that each key feels fully and completely independent of every other key. There is none of the keyboard flex that affects so many notebook keyboards, and no matter how hard you type, the whole keyboard feels completely solid whitout the merest hint of a rattle. The travel on each key is also just right, with a perfectly weighted break that sends your finger back into a cocked position, ready for its next strike. I really can’t stress enough, how important good ergonomics are with a notebook computer, and the amount of research that IBM has put into its keyboards, ensures a comfortable and enjoyable typing experience.
But it’s not just the mechanics of this keyboard that makes it great, the layout is also excellent. The keys are all a decent size, so you really can achieve a typing rate every bit as fast as on your desktop keyboard. The Caps Lock, Tab, Shift, Backspace and Return keys are all a good size, while the cursor keys are dropped down from the main keyboard and feature three indentations in the wrist rest to make it easy to slide your fingers into place. The only disapointment is that the Fn key is located at the bottem left corner of the keyboard where the Ctrl key should be – this could annoy users who employ a lot of keyboard shortcuts. Above the main keyboard you’ll find the 12 function keys, as well as some of the less used keys, such as Esc, PrtScr, Insert, Delete etc. Also above the main keyboard are the power button, volume up and down buttons, a mute button and the blue “Access IBM” button.