Lenovo ThinkPad X41
At a Glance
Lenovo ThinkPad X41 Express Notebook
This updated three-pound ultraportable now comes with a biometric fingerprint reader for extra security.
Lenovo's (formerly IBM's) 3-pound ThinkPad now has a fingerprint reader. The skinny rectangular slide sensor is embedded in the palm rest just beneath the mouse buttons. Biometric software walks you through the stages of enrolling the finger of your choice; thereafter, a single swipe replaces typing in multiple user names and passwords at the Windows log-on and at Web sites.
Otherwise, the $2049 ThinkPad X41 is mostly an encore of last year's IBM X40. At just 3.4 pounds with a 5.3-hour battery life, it makes an alluring travel companion. The X41 is sold standard with an eight-cell battery, which lasted twice as long in our tests as the four-cell-equipped X40 we reviewed last year. The four-cell battery, which is lighter and sits flush with the back, is now a $129 option. The X41's WorldBench 5 score of 64 is a good mark for an ultraportable with a 1.5-GHz Pentium M Low Voltage 758 processor. Memory and storage are user-upgradable. The notebook comes with a base 256MB of RAM built in, and a second memory slot sits in an easy-to-reach bottom compartment. You can pull the 40GB hard drive out of the front of the case after you remove one bottom screw.
Another major attraction of the X41 is its keyboard. With its near-full-size keystroke and spacing, the X41 offers a typing experience better than that of any other ultraportable (and some big laptops). The mouse buttons depress deeply for satisfying feedback. A spacebar magnifier, volume buttons, a dedicated launch button for the users' manual, and the ThinkLight--an LED in the screen frame that you can switch on in dark rooms--round out a great typing experience.
Now for what's missing. Like its predecessors, the X41 leaves touchpad fans out in the cold by offering only an eraserhead pointing device. The notebook's connections are limited to one PC Card slot; one SD slot; two USB 2.0 ports (including one powered); VGA, microphone, and headphone ports; and network and modem jacks. The 12.1-inch display is standard, not wide-screen, with an XGA resolution of 1024 by 768 pixels. Because there is no integrated optical drive, you'll either have to attach an external one via USB cable or opt for Lenovo's $199 ThinkPad X4 UltraBase Dock, which contains an internal bay that you can fit with an optical drive, a secondary battery, or a secondary hard drive. The X41 I looked at came with an UltraBase that held a $229 combination DVD-ROM and CD-RW drive for a total cost of $2049, not including business software.
If you need a docking station, you could do a lot worse than the UltraBase, a well-designed 1.3-pound bottom slice that snaps on and off the X41 in a wink, thanks to an intuitive fit and a big right-side release lever. The UltraBase replicates notebook ports and adds legacy connections, including parallel, serial, and PS/2 ports. But it lacks TV-out and FireWire ports, two fairly standard notebook connections. The UltraBase's stereo speakers, which override the X41's tinny-sounding monaural speaker, were mediocre for a docking station's. Though DVD movies looked fine on the X41's small screen, the base's speakers were too weak to support them adequately; I recommend using headphones.
The ThinkPad X41 is Lenovo's first ultraportable laptop to include a fingerprint reader. The X41 stands out for its excellent keyboard (if you're an eraserhead fan) and long battery life, but it requires an external optical drive.