Lenovo X61T Hands-On: A Bookworm’s First Ride

August 5, 2007

X61T and Ebooks

As computer users migrate toward portables and revolutionary interface concepts like the iPhone drive renewed interest in touch screens, the Lenovo X61T — a nicely-equipped Windows laptop with a 12.1” screen that converts into a stylus- and touch-driven tablet — represents one evolutionary path that may eventually breed the long-awaited killer ebook reader. Such a device would finally enable the often-predicted but still unrealized revolution in the mainstream reading experience. In this context, I’ll take a first look at this machine and its capabilities as an ebook reader, touching on its laptop functionality only insofar as it affects that application.

This tablet shares the strengths and weaknesses of any Vista laptop, with the added wrinkle of the touchscreen and the grafted-on Windows touch interface. As such, it has the tremendous advantage of being able to get on the Web to access content directly, whether web-based books or downloadable content like that from WOWIO. Unfortunately, it also means having to deal with a seemingly-endless parade of Windows intrusions just to get to the content, from security updates to excessive Vista confirmation requests. Unlike the iPhone, the interface was not specifically designed for touch interaction, so many of the interface controls (like closing windows) were too small and ill-positioned for touch control, even after recalibration of the touch screen. I often had to resort to the stylus to get the required precision.

The hardware itself is very nicely designed. Even with the larger eight-cell battery (theoretically good for seven hours), the machine is light and readily held in one hand while in tablet mode. A small ledge with a rubberized grip provides an additional area for maintaining a secure and comfortable hold. In my initial usage, its light weight and compact form factor felt quite comfortable for casual ebook reading on the couch.

The screen is bright and sharp, and it rotates easily from standard laptop orientation (with a slightly-small but usable keyboard) to a screen-only tablet. A number of useful hardware control buttons are available on the screen’s edge, accessible for use in tablet mode:

  • a power/wake switch
  • a power switch lock to prevent accidental powering on and off
  • a reset switch
  • a screen orientation button that rotates the display in 90º increments
  • an escape button
  • a rocker control switch
  • and a fingerprint scanner

The last is a surprisingly useful addition, allowing a quick login into Windows with a finger-swipe in tablet mode without the hassle of switching to the physical keyboard in laptop mode or using the onscreen keyboard or handwriting recognition. The rocker switch functions are user-definable, but in Acrobat Reader it defaults to simple and intuitive forward/back paging controls. The screen orientation button quickly rotates the display, allowing an optimal view for either individual ebook pages in portrait or two-page spreads in landscape.

I started my reading with some relatively light fare — the comic book Abiding Perdition (below).

X61T and Comics

I initially viewed the comic in landscape mode, as a two-page spread. Unfortunately, Acrobat Reader’s full-screen mode (which blanks out all screen content except for the current PDF page) is not available with this setting, so I could only view it in reading mode (which reduces Reader’s screen clutter but wastes some space by retaining the Windows task and title bars). At this magnification, some of the text in the comic book was legible, but a little small and fuzzy for comfortable reading. Rotating it to portrait mode did not allow viewing of the comic’s natural two-page spread, but the text became very legible and the high-resolution artwork was reproduced with great detail. The reading experience in full-screen portrait mode was terrific — the compact tablet form factor mimics much of the experience of reading a print comic but with the bonus of having exceptionally brilliant artwork that leaps off the page, literally glowing with vibrant color.

I next read the poetry-novel Probable Lives (pictured at the top of this post). Here, a two-page spread was unnecessary so I went immediately to full-screen portrait. The text and layout are beautifully rendered, with the look of a “normal” printed page with slightly enlarged text. The size was comfortable for my corrected vision, and likely to be legible for those with some vision impairment. A single touch tap on the screen was the equivalent of a mouse click, which in Acrobat pages the book forward. The touch taps seemed a bit finicky though, requiring a specific touch duration. I found the rocker switch to be more reliable and flexible. All in all, this all-text reading experience was also excellent, providing a much more natural and book-like way to view the ebook.

While this initial glimpse confirms my expectation that a tablet-like computer would make an excellent ebook platform, a longer-term trial is needed to fully evaluate the reader experience. This will show the effects of additional concrete qualities such as battery life and display visibility in daylight, but it will also give a surer sense of the intangibles that can make reading a chore or a pleasure.

Stay tuned!

Update: Read novelty-has-worn-off impressions of the X61T.



  1. […] Update: It’s in! Read the first impressions. […]

  2. […] Update: Read my hands-on first impressions of the Lenovo X61T. […]

  3. The two-page spread problem is significant when reading comics, which are almost always intended to be read so. This is the sort of thing that points to the need for a real page display surface, not a computer screen doubling as one.

    The tablet does look great though, now, if only Apple would make one:)

  4. […] Lenovo X61T: The Reading-on-the-Couch Test August 10th, 2007 The excitement of a shiny new toy in the house has subsided, so the Lenovo has now entered the reality phase with all of its simpler […]

  5. […] Lenovo X61T Hands-On: A Bookworm’s First Ride « The Reader (tags: ebook books) […]

  6. Shajith, the proper display of a two-page spread is a problem both in comics and certain books, including a title I designed, The War of the Worlds. Acrobat Reader has a setting to allow for a spread, but it sometimes takes a little fiddling to get the proper pages to face one another. The 12″ screen on the Lenovo was just a little too small for comfort, as I wrote, but the 15″ screen on my MacBook Pro, with its wide aspect ratio is perfect. I’ll have to try it on my wife’s 13″ MacBook to see how it works there. I’d love to try it on the ModBook (a MacBook modified by a third party into a slate).

  7. Can I know specifically which display you chose for the tablet?

    Because there are two types and it may give different experience.

    Available displays for X61T are:
    12.1″ SuperView WVA SXGA+ TFT
    12.1″ MultiView + MultiTouch WVA XGA TFT

  8. Alan, the display installed on my X61T is the Multitouch XGA version.

  9. Very cool. Glad ya dug AP.

  10. […] usability issues that severely limited the comics-reading utility of the monochrome e-readers and bulky tablet PCs that came […]

  11. please in hebrew or spanish

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