It was a big night for Lenovo yesterday - it put on a show ferrying merry journalists up and down the Thames on a rather swanky boat and pushed liberal amounts of booze in our hands - for it was about to announce its first ThinkPad.
To be fair, we didn't need too much lubrication (though we took it anyway). The ThinkPad X41 Tablet is a pretty safe bet for the eastern giant since it comes from the development teams at IBM (there is no Lenovo branding to be seen), but it is significant product nonetheless. For a start, the X41Tablet is the first ThinkPad to be made in tablet form, and secondly at just 1.58Kg and 1.14in thick it claims to be the smallest and lightest 12 incher in its class.
The early (pre-lab testing) signs look good too: it incorporates most all of the functionality of a regular X41: (“Sonoma” Centrino, Intel 915GM chipset, PC2-4200 DDR2 memory, a/b/g wireless, optional fingerprint reader, blah blah, blah blah) without screwing with such essentials as the (personally speaking) class leading keyboard and traditional IBM design. Battery life should be good too with over six hours quoted on an eight cell battery and eight hours thirty minutes when tagging on the Extended Life Battery.
As for the tablet specifics themselves, the X41 offers 170 degree viewing on a screen with anti-reflective and anti-glare coatings and the motion of the swivel felt robust when I got my greasy mitts on one. Windows XP Tablet Edition 2005 will be installed as standard, meaning defacto support for digital pen and speech input, handwriting recognition and the tablet PC form factor.
The usual IBM ThinkVantage technologies are there too: Active Protection System (the motion sensor that braces the machine in fall), Rescue and Recovery (crash and restoration assistance software) and Access Connections (the wired and wireless management tool). Speaking of which, I could see no sign whatsoever of any Lenovo fumblings with the IBM standard. This can either be taken as a good indication for the future or simply that Lenovo has not yet had the time to meddle with anything (depending on your level of cynicism).
So Lenovo appears to have passed its first test, but it is a qualified pass since it should really be said that IBM has largely guided the company through its first product launch. The X41 Tablet will hit the streets on 15 July (prices start at £1,515 incl. VAT); shortly after which some scheduled software upgrades will see the gentle incorporation of Lenovo software and branding.
In sum, it is clear the company is taking cautious steps with its industry shaking purchase. As Greg Hansford, Lenovo’s new UK big cheese (above) succinctly put it: “We know ThinkPad is our biggest and most powerful marketing brand.” When I pressed him about a truly IBM/Lenovo co-developed machine, Hansford said work will begin in Q4 this year. “This will be the real test,” he enthused, “2006 is a big year for us and we must work to position our brands correctly.”
Consumers and rivals all over the world await these outcomes with baited breath.