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A few weeks ago I reviewed the Sony VAIO VGN-X505VP and proclaimed it the coolest notebook computer ever, and while I still stand by that statement, if I was going to put money on the table and buy an ultra-portable notebook, it would be this one – the IBM ThinkPad X40.
So what is it about the X40 that would lure me away from the ultra-sexy, featherweight Sony? Well, to be honest, there are a number of reasons why I love the X40, not least of which is the fact that for me, a notebook is a tool, and the easier that tool makes my life the better. In the X40 IBM has created a notebook computer that is slim and light, but still fully featured enough to keep me working on the move, no matter what I want to do.
With dimensions of 268 x 211 x 23.8mm (WxDxH) and a weight of 1.24kg, the X40 definitely falls into the ultra-portable category. In fact I took the X40 with me to Computex in Taipei a couple of weeks ago and I barely noticed that it was in my bag the whole time I was wandering around the show.
Whenever I see a notebook this small I worry that the ergonomics will suffer. When thinking of buying a notebook, there’s nothing more important than ergonomics. You might think that having the fastest processor or the biggest hard drive is paramount, but if the ergonomics are bad it won’t matter what the specification is. The ergonomic performance of a notebook is dependant on the keyboard, the pointing device and the screen, and a problem with any one of these components can ruin an otherwise excellent unit.
Upon opening the X40 I was thankfully greeted with a keyboard that’s up to IBM’s usual high standard. Despite the diminutive dimensions, IBM has still managed to fit a superb keyboard inside the X40, complete with almost full size keys. The travel on each key is perfect and the break is solid enough to spring your finger back for the next keystroke. The problem with many notebook keyboards is that the whole thing flexes when you’re typing. However, this is not a problem that affects IBM notebooks, where each key seems to be completely independent of the others and there is no keyboard flex no matter how hard your typing style. The Return key is large to facilitate easy striking, but the Backspace key remains small. The latter is unfortunate, but you have to accept some compromises in a chassis this small. The cursor keys are in the correct configuration and are set slightly away from the main keyboard. Also, as is traditional with IBM, the palm wrest is slightly cut away in front of the cursor keys to make it easy to slide your fingers into place. Finally, IBM’s customary keyboard light is also present. You may not think that this is a necessary addition, but if you’ve ever had to use a notebook in a dark environment, you’d be very glad to have the ability to illuminate the keyboard.
Anyone who’s a fan of touchpads will be disappointed with the X40, but personally I prefer TrackPoints anyway. The advantage of a TrackPoint is that you don’t have to take your hands away from their position over the keyboard when you’re using it. Also, the TrackPoints fitted to ThinkPads are the best I have ever used, and if you desire, you can even tap the TrackPoint and use it like the left selector button. Below the Spacebar are the left and right selector buttons, as well as a centrally mounted scroll lock button – when this is pressed you can move the TrackPoint up and down to scroll through a web page or document.