Archive for the ‘Lenovo’ Category

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Vista Nags, Bugs and the Reader’s Experience

September 1, 2007

Vista bubble 1Vista bubble 2

I’ve been been quite the curmudgeon lately on the Windows Vista problems that are spoiling my ebook-reading experience on the Lenovo X61T.

Affirmation is nice at times, and in that vein, a Microsoft guy has posted an admirably honest list enumerating the peskiest of Vista’s interface quirks (via Fake Steve Jobs).

To these annoyances, add the serious wake-from-sleep bug(s) that have forced me to reboot the system three four times in the last three weeks. Never knowing if the system will actually work definitely puts a damper on my reading and other tasks, and being forced to work around the problem by waiting for a full shutdown/restart cycle every time I use the machine isn’t a whole lot better.

These apparently aren’t isolated incidents, as evidenced by the many frustration-filled discussions of Vista’s deep-rooted problems. The upcoming SP1 update is supposed to address certain sleep-related issues, but I would be very surprised if the fundamental interface design problems are ever fixed.

So is the bloom off the rose on Vista and the X61T? Yes. I haven’t thrown it out the window yet, but I am sometimes sorely tempted. It’s a shame, because actually reading ebooks is a pleasure on this machine but software problems are tarnishing the experience.

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Lenovo Explains My Reading Blues

August 13, 2007

Perhaps this story from Infoworld explains the crash that interrupted my happy ebook reading yesterday:

Windows XP was chosen to run on all PCs handling chores vital to the Olympic Games, and has been installed on most of the PCs delivered by Lenovo Group. Vista will only be used on PCs in Internet lounges set up for athletes to use during the games.

The Olympic Games require mature, stable technologies, said Yang Yuanqing, chairman of Lenovo, during a briefing in Beijing. The Olympic Games aren’t a place to try new technologies due to the size and importance of the event, he said. Everything must work smoothly.

“If it’s not stable, it could have some problems,” he said.

Indeed.

(To be fair, I’ve only seen the Blue Screen once, so it’s really too early to make my own judgment on Vista’s stability…)

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Reading the Blues: Windows Closes the Book

August 13, 2007

reading in the parkI wanted to enjoy the sunshine on a lazy Sunday afternoon, so I toted the Lenovo X61T to the park to read more of My Happy Life. The day was bright and cloudless, but the Lenovo’s transflective display was clear and beautifully legible. As I sat engrossed by Lydia Millet’s lyrical prose, the Lenovo jolted me with an unwelcome demonstration of the perils of using a Windows machine for ebook reading — the book page was abruptly replaced with the dreaded Blue Screen of Death.

Windows crashThe crash came without warning. The machine — which has nothing but up-to-date stock software installed — appeared to be idle, with only Acrobat Reader running in the foreground. I don’t know if Vista, Acrobat or background software like the bundled Norton security software was responsible, but it’s ultimately another example of the unpleasant overhead that Windows adds to the reading experience. I had to wait several minutes for a Vista reboot before I could return to my book.

I haven’t used Vista and this machine enough to know if this is an isolated incident, but stability issues on top of other Windows intrusions would definitely push me toward other platforms for my reading — whether a dedicated reader or a return to my Mac laptop.

I will keep you posted!

Update: More thoughts on this subject in Vista Nags, Bugs and the Reader’s Experience.

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Lenovo X61T: The Reading-on-the-Couch Test

August 10, 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 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

X61T on the lap

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, My Happy Life ) 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 approaches 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.

X61T vs. MacBook Pro Display

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.

Update: More face time with the Lenovo has given me the blues.

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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.

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On Order: the Lenovo X61T Tablet

July 25, 2007

Lenovo X61T Tablet PCYesterday, I talked a little about the various devices that might be used for reading ebooks. We decided to go ahead and order this guy — the one I put at the high end of the spectrum — a Windows-based tablet PC.

Looking at the various tablets that are out there, this one on paper sounds like a good candidate. At just over four pounds and a little more than an inch thick, it’s at least in the ballpark for a comfortable read while lounging on the couch. With a transflective screen that Lenovo claims is very readable outdoors, it could be a good read out on the park bench, too. A claimed battery life of seven hours means I could sit on that park bench in real life for at least 3 or 4. The 12.1 inch display should be big and sharp enough to comfortably display a full-size PDF without having to squint. The screen responds to both stylus and a finger touch, so page flipping and note taking can be done with the most appropriate tool.

With a walk-out price of over $1800, it’s obvious that no one would ever buy this machine solely for reading an ebook. On the other hand, if you’re like me, you might need to have a laptop handy most of the time anyway so this might be a viable option (or, in my case, a good-enough substitute until Apple makes its own Mac/iPhone hybrid tablet!).

When the machine gets here, we’ll know for certain and I’ll be sure to post the results here.

Have you had any luck using a tablet for ebook reading? How about for day-to-day computing?

Update: It’s in! Take a hands-on first look.