IBM makes high-quality notebooks, but unfortunately they tend to carry a correspondingly high price. When I looked at the ThinkPad T41P a couple of months back I rated it as the best notebook I had ever used, but with a price of over £3,000 it was well out of my price range. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when the ThinkPad R50 arrived in the office, sporting a far more affordable price tag.
Of course I'm always wary when a manufacturer produces a value orientated range, especially when it's built its reputation on the high-quality of its products. To this end I decided to put the ThinkPad R50 through its paces by taking it with me to CeBIT. Now with dimensions of 332 x 269 x 40mm (WxDxH) and a weight of 2.8kg, this isn't the easiest notebook to carry around everywhere with you. That said, I did just that for a few days at CeBIT, and although it was a little heavy, it was definitely manageable.
The R50 is based on the Intel Centrino standard, so inside you've got a Pentium M processor running at 1.5GHz. The memory complement is a fairly standard 512MB with one SODIM slot left empty for future upgrades, while the 40GB hard disk is smaller than some, but still more than enough for most notebook users. If you do want to free up some hard disk space, IBM has been thoughtful enough to include a DVD/CD-RW combo drive, so you can burn important data off to CD.
But for me it's not the base specifications that make IBM notebooks so special, it's the build quality and design. In my opinion, IBM makes the best notebook keyboards out there, and this R50 hasn't changed my view. Typing on the R50 for extended periods is a joy, with great feedback from every key depression. The travel on each key is just right and the break gives you positive feedback while typing. Important keys like Return, Backspace and Shift are all large for ease of use, while the cursor keys are laid out in the correct configuration and dropped slightly down from the main keyboard.
Nestling in the centre of the keyboard is a red TrackPoint which provides accurate and simple cursor manipulation. The TrackPoint is great since you never have to take your hands away from the typing position while you're using it. Below the Spacebar are the left and right selector buttons for the TrackPoint, while in between these buttons is a scroll lock. If you press and hold the scroll lock, you can then scroll up and down a document or page by moving the TrackPoint up or down. If you don't like using a TrackPoint, IBM has also included a touchpad, positioned below the TrackPoint buttons. The touchpad is slightly recessed and finished in the same matt black as the rest of the notebook. The touchpad also provides very accurate pointer positioning and directly below it are the two selector buttons.
The 15in TFT screen is a fine example of its breed - colours are bright and vibrant, while the lighting is even across the surface. The native resolution is 1,400 x 1,050 which is pretty standard for a notebook screen this size. This is a great resolution and I find it ideal for working on multiple windows. However, if you do need to quickly make things a bit bigger you can hit the Fn key and the Spacebar which will instantly zoom the resolution to 800 x 600. Of course dropping the resolution results in a loss of quality, but if you just want to quickly make some text larger and then switch back, it's quite a good feature. Driving the screen is an ATI Mobility Radeon 9000 with 64MB of RAM. This is by no means the latest mobile chipset from ATI and you probably won't be able to play the latest games on it, but it's still a lot better than the Intel Extreme Graphics 2 in the Dell Inspiron 510m, which used 64MB of system memory.
Since the R50 sports the Centrino logo it obviously has an Intel Pro/Wireless WiFi adapter built-in, so you can connect to any wireless networks whether in the office or via the growing number of hotspots. But IBM has covered all of the wireless bases by including integrated Bluetooth as well. So now there's no escape from your work emails - if you can't find a hotspot to download your mail at, you can simply dialup from your Bluetooth enabled mobile phone. And if you want to do things the old fashioned wired way, the R50 has a 56K V92 modem, and a Gigabit Ethernet adapter, which of course also supports 10/100 standards.