Laptops increasingly seem to be divided into two camps. One is the ultra-portables you can carry these light-weight wonders all day, but they lack the power, input and display capabilities to actually be useful for more than short periods. In the other camp are the powerful desktop replacements they have large displays and keyboards and processing power, but they can cause physical injury to those who run with them through airport terminals.
Lenovo's new ThinkPad T60p is a very successful if pricey attempt to bridge that gap. This laptop, descended from Lenovo's T43 line, has desktop power; a very usable keyboard; good input capabilities; a bright, powerful 15-inch display; and is highly connective. Yet at less than six pounds, it's an amiable travel companion.
It's also one of the first laptops with both dual-core processing technology and built-in wide area networking via Verizon's 3G EV-DO cellular data network. Those capabilities, along with Lenovo's long-standing security, usability and enterprise management features, make this a highly appealing option for road warriors and a viable desktop replacement for many users.
The standard ThinkPad T60 line starts at about $1300, but the T60p series, which Lenovo considers its mobile workstation line, starts at over $3000 and the T60p I tested was fully loaded and cost a bit more than $3800. Yet, at 5.8 pounds, including a standard long-lasting battery, the system falls squarely in the middle of the weight range of current laptops.
But while it's relatively light, the T60p is unusually powerful. It is one of the first laptops available with Intel's Centrino Duo mobile-optimized twin-core processor operating at 2.16 GHz. With a gigabyte of RAM and a 100 GB serial ATA hard drive, this laptop's performance is easily as brisk as mid- to high-end desktop PCs. I noticed no drop-off in speed and processing power compared to my day-to-day desktop computer, which specs out at 2.8 GHz and 512 MB of RAM.
That strong performance was augmented by equally strong display capabilities based on the ATI Mobility FireGL V5200 chipset with 512 MB of on-board RAM. This enabled a crisp 1600x1200 resolution on the unit's 15 diagonal inches of viewable display. This particular video adapter supports OpenGL, which means it can be used for graphics-intensive business applications like AutoCAD. It also supports an external display at these same specs, a necessary capability for a laptop that could be used to replace a desktop machine.
Given all these capabilities, its nine-cell battery performed admirably. Rated for as long as 5.2 hours, it provided more than four hours of usage while constantly connected to a wireless network, which causes greater-than-normal power drain.
In addition, the T60p comes with a built-in combo DVD/CD-RW drive, although it's hardly a multimedia powerhouse. Its built-in speakers sounded tinny and it doesn't have a slot for flash storage such as Compact Flash or SecureDigital. And its video capabilities, while strong for graphics-intensive business applications, doesn't even pretend to be appropriate for gaming.
Like most laptops these days, the T60p has built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. However, it is among the first laptops with built-in support for cellular data service. In this case, the laptop has a built-in radio for Verizon Wireless' EV-DO service, which provides typical download speeds in the 500 Kbps range. The built-in EV-DO support costs an extra $150, which is a bit more than the cost of an add-in PC card for the service, depending on the service plan you buy.
The Verizon Wireless EV-DO service worked as advertised. It's a great convenience because you can connect from anywhere the service is available, which is most U.S. large and medium-sized metropolitan areas. When EV-DO service is not available, the built-in radio falls back to older 1xRTT cellular data service, with speeds of about 100 Kbps.
However, the built-in service is not quite as seamless as it eventually will be. For one thing, it must be managed from an initially bewildering variety of interfaces. For instance, it is listed as a network adapter in the Windows XP Network Connections dialog, along with the built-in Ethernet adapter and Wi-Fi. It also appeared as a dial-up connection and Verizon's access management software was required to actually log on to the cellular data network.
To simplify matters, Lenovo includes utilities for managing all of its various methods of connectivity. Specifically, its slick connection management utility enables you to create profiles that make use of various combinations of connectivity and security. For instance, you could create one profile for using Wi-Fi in the office. A second profile for public Wi-Fi, such as hotspots in airports and coffee shops, could automatically load virtual private networking (VPN) software. A third profile could use the EV-DO connection when available. A fourth could seamlessly switch between EV-DO and Wi-Fi, depending on which provides the strongest signal.
Another consideration is that, while EV-DO can be a godsend, enabling you to log on easily from virtually anywhere in a metropolitan area, it is expensive about $60 a month with a two-year contract required. And there is no roaming – if you subscribe to Verizon Wireless' service, you can't use Sprint's or Cingular's cellular data services if Verizon's service isn't available. Also, you can't use the EV-DO capabilities outside the U.S., although Lenovo also offers a separate version of the laptop that works with Vodafone's GSM-based 3G network in Europe and Asia.
As a result, you may not want to lock into one type of service built into a laptop. Rather, if you want 3G service, a PC Card may be less expensive and provide more flexibility.
Before dual core processors and built-in 3G, the big story with ThinkPads was their exceptional usability, security and enterprise-suitability. Those familiar benefits haven't changed with the ThinkPad T60p. Some highlights:
The keyboard remains remarkably well designed with a spacious feeling, excellent tactile feel, and unusually deep key travel for a laptop. Also of particular interest is its touchpad and rubberized red-dot pointing button in the middle of the keypad, both of which provided, when I used them, precise control over the pointing-and-clicking process. While other laptop vendors have, of late, started copying these input capabilities, Lenovo's arguably remains the most usable of the lot.
The form factor also impacts on usability. The ThinkPad T60p is not only extremely powerful, but, as mentioned, its 5.8 pound weight (including an extended-life battery), makes it easy to use in confined areas and on your lap for extended periods.
Also present is the entire collection of Lenovo's (and, before that, IBM's) enterprise-readiness and security features, including biometric fingerprint security and a shock-mounted hard drive combined with a motion detector to automatically shut down the hard drive when it senses the device is falling. Other standard business-friendly features include sophisticated data recovery capabilities and tools to migrate data from other computers to the ThinkPad.
Lenovo ThinkPad T60p
Lenovo Group Limited
Price: $3849 as tested
Summary: The Lenovo T60p uses brand-new technology to powerful effect. An excellent travel companion, it has ample capabilities to replace your desktop computer. It doesn't come cheap, but for many users, the strong benefits will more than offset the costs.