Lenovo X61T Hands-On: A Bookworm’s First RideAugust 5, 2007
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 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. , 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 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 (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 that a tablet-like computer would make an excellent ebook platform, a longer-term trial is needed to fully evaluate the . 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.