Lenovo X61T: The Reading-on-the-Couch TestAugust 10, 2007
The excitement of a in the house has subsided, so the Lenovo has now entered the reality phase with all of its simpler pleasures and niggling disappointments. This isn’t intended to be a comprehensive review of the hardware — I’ll instead cover my ongoing impressions of the machine, from the perspective of a book reader (and design curmudgeon).
Cracking Open an eBook: The Preliminaries
The real test in using a tablet PC as an ebook reader is, of course, in the reading. In settling down for an extended read, the first order of business is to actually get the ebook open. This isn’t as trivial a matter as it should be.
I’m perhaps starting to sound like a bit of a broken record on the issues with Windows overhead, but it’s a key part of the reading experience. When I pick up a print book, I can jump right in and start enjoying the contents. In the Windows Tablet PC world, I have to deal with assorted system and security software updates, Vista “do you really want to launch this program” confirmations and miscellaneous other intrusions far too often at the start of the reading session.
Fortunately, Vista’s sleep mode seems to be more reliable than XP’s, so I can at least avoid the lengthy startup process most of the time. I often leave the machine in tablet mode with the keyboard folded away and Acrobat Reader open to my current book (Lydia Millet’s strange but compelling novel, ) in full-screen mode. This greatly simplifies and speeds up the reading process, more closely approximating the spontaneity of a print book. I can wake up the machine, log in via fingerprint scanner, let it go through it’s relatively brief waking gyrations, and my book will be available immediately afterward without having to find the file or relaunch Acrobat. The screen sometimes blinks through horizontal and vertical orientations, as it tries to use its sensor to figure out which way to show the display. About half the time, it gets it wrong, but the hardware button on the tablet bezel makes this easy to fix.
Look and Feel
Actual reading is a pleasure when compared with other computer-based like desktops or laptops. The tablet form factor is a big differentiator, allowing the machine to handle in a familiar and comfortable way. At four pounds, it’s not as tossable as a Sony Reader, but it’s better than most standard laptops. The unit is noticeably heavier on the side that holds the battery, so the balance in-hand isn’t ideal. At the end of the day, though, it feels quite usable and comfortable for me.
The screen is crisp and legible with a reflection-taming matte finish and a very wide viewing angle. In bright sunlight, the screen is still quite legible, though direct sun reflection does force a little angle adjustment. It’s still much better outdoors than any laptop I’ve used.
The white background on text has a typical LCD’s blue cast (the photos give some sense of it), but I don’t find it objectionable or uncomfortable. The default screen brightness is set to the display’s maximum. This is quite a bit dimmer than a MacBook Pro’s, but it’s significantly brighter and higher in contrast than a Sony Reader’s e-ink display. In practice, the Lenovo’s screen works very well for reading in a wide range of ambient lighting conditions.
I don’t have much to say about the actual experience of reading — and that’s a good thing. Once I get into the ebook, paging feels very natural and the machine is generally unintrusive. One exception — the small, lighted status icons at the edge of the tablet are a little distracting, especially when the hard disk light is blinking. It would be nice if a “quiet mode” preference could be set that would shut down all of the indicators except for a low-battery warning. Better yet, these extraneous lights could be eliminated altogether. They offer nothing useful that isn’t already displayed on the screen (yes, hard drive activity isn’t normally shown there, but I’d argue that it’s useless information anyway).
Quibbling aside, I find reading on the X61T very comfortable. It is clearly a very viable platform for digital reading— it passes the Couch Test with just a few caveats. I’ll report back here with more impressions as I get a feel for the long-term experience.