The New ThinkPad: Light, Thin And Pricey

Lenovo ThinkPad X300 PC
I'll get right to the point: The new Lenovo ThinkPad X300 notebook PC is a joy to use.

It's also one of the thinnest and lightest PCs on the market and, partially because it has a solid state drive instead of a hard drive, it's also very fast and more energy efficient than most notebook PCs.

The downside: It's expensive and it has only 64 gigabytes of storage.

Thanks to Apple this isn't the thinnest or lightest PC on the market. Apple's recently released MacBook Air - only 0.76 inch thick and weighing 3 pounds - takes that honor. But at less than one inch thick, the new ThinkPad is thin enough.

The weight ranges from just under 3 pounds to 3.5 pounds depending on how it's configured. The model I'm testing with a DVD player/recorder and a long life battery is at the higher end of that spectrum.

Unlike the MacBook Air, the ThinkPad comes with an optional internal optical drive that can read and write CDs and DVDs. Sure, there are ways to install software without a DVD or CD drive but - truth be told - I love having one so I can rip CDs and watch movies.

Apple, of course, is more than happy for people to buy their music and movies on iTunes. And speaking of movies and music, the X300 has very nice stereo speakers mounted just below the screen. My previous Lenovo lightweight model - the X61 - had a speaker on its underside, perfectly placed to muffle the sound. Apple's MacBook Air has a mono speaker.

Of course, you don't spend nearly $3,000 on a laptop just to watch movies (yes, the fully loaded version of this puppy is expensive) which is why Lenovo - keeping up with the high standards of its predecessor IBM - pays a lot of attention to user amenities, like the keyboard and pointing device. [Lenovo bought IBM's PC division a few years ago.]

To begin with. it has a full-sized keyboard with lots of travel on the keys. Anyone accustomed to a desktop PC will be happy with the keyboard. And Lenovo gives you a choice of pointing devices. Like most notebook PCs, it has a touchpad that you manipulate with your fingers or thumbs but (again in the IBM tradition) there is also a red TrackPoint device that sticks out like an eraser in-between the G, H and B keys. Some people hate this pointing device and some love it, but this machine lets you choose which pointing device to use.

The 13.3-inch-high resolution screen is extremely clear and bright, whether watching a movie or working in a word processor or spreadsheet. There are two USB ports (the MacBook Air has only one) and a firewire port for a camcorder. There is no PC card slot or SD slot.

The lack of a PC card slot upset me at first because I was planning to use it for a Sprint wireless cellular modem card. I've been using the Sprint service for several months and find it fast and reliable. But the good news is that X300 as it was configured for my review has a built-in Verizon cellular modem which, in my tests, works well. I've had no trouble connecting from a variety of locations with speeds ranging from 800 kilobits to 1.2 megabits per second. Verizon advertises speeds between 600 Kbps and 1.4 mbps. Service plans for the cellular modem start at $39.99 a month.

Like the MacBook, the ThinkPad has a built-in camera, which means people might actually use it.

The most interesting and expensive feature of the X300 is its 64 gigabyte solid state drive (SSD). Apple offers an SSD drive as an option on its MacBook Air but also offers a much less expensive model with an 80 GB hard drive Lenovo decided to standardize on the SSD which is the reason for its high price. (An SSD on an MacBook Air adds $999 to its price making it as or more expensive than the ThinkPad.)

Aside from price, the disadvantage of the SSD is the 64 gigabytes capacity, though higher capacity SSDs are around the corner. The advantages are several: It's extremely unlikely to be damaged from shock, and since there are no moving parts, it's much faster and more energy efficient than a hard disk. The X300 starts up and shuts down faster than most Windows laptops, and because all "disc" access is actually memory access, it's also faster when starting programs or saving files.

At prices ranging from about $2,550 to just under $3,000, the X300 is definitely an expensive luxury for the road warrior on a generous expense account.

A syndicated technology columnist for over two decades, Larry Magid serves as on air Technology Analyst for CBS Radio News. His technology reports can be heard several times a week on the CBS Radio Network. Magid is the author of several books including "The Little PC Book."
By Larry Magid