Monday, May 23, 2011

Worthy Netbook Computer At Last!

Netbook computers are a great idea – portables with good battery life and real keyboards that are less expensive, smaller and lighter than typical notebook/laptop computers, but up to now they have been flawed by poor performance (processor and graphics), small low-resolution glossy screens that are hard to read in bad lighting, poor keyboards, limited RAM memory, and lackluster design. It's no wonder that tablets like the Apple iPad have been giving them a run for their money. But now that's changing thanks to a new breed of netbooks powered by AMD Fusion APUs, which feature CPU and GPU on a single chip resulting in good performance with relatively low power consumption (good battery life).

The best of these new netbooks is the Lenovo ThinkPad X120e (awarded Best Affordable Business Ultraportable at CES 2011):
  • Very well built and supported
  • Superb full-size keyboard with both TouchPad and TrackPoint
  • Non-glare (matte) 11.6" screen with high 1366x768 resolution and LED backlight
  • Very good performance, more like a notebook than a netbook
  • Up to 4GB RAM
  • Fast 320GB 7200rpm SATA Hard Drive
  • Excellent connectivity (Wi-Fi, gigabit Ethernet, 3 USB 2.0, SD slot, Bluetooth)
  • Webcam
  • Small and light
Look for sales on the Lenovo website to bring the total price under $500 with free shipping. (Through May 26, 2011, a fully loaded configuration can be had for only $428 here, no Visa card needed, just apply displayed coupon at checkout.)

MY OWN REVIEW (based on 2 hours of intensive use of a ThinkPad X120e with 1GB RAM, should be faster with 2-4GB RAM)
  • Fit and finish is very good, case not rubberized like ThinkPad T-series, but still a nice matte black.
  • Machine itself is quite light, with much of the total weight in the battery.
  • Keyboard is very good, with nice key travel, albeit not quite as rigid as older ThinkPad T-series.
  • Both TouchPad and TrackPoint provide excellent response and accuracy.
  • Single headset (smartphone-type TRRS) socket instead of separate microphone and headphone sockets makes sense.
  • Screen is sharp, on par with higher resolution ThinkPad T-series.
  • Software (OS, utilities, Microsoft Word) is responsive and snappy, programs opening quickly and running cleanly, with little apparent difference versus a more powerful laptop, even when running more than one program at the same time.
  • Video playback was smooth even at full screen when accelerated, although it was sometimes a little jerky when not accelerated.
  • Did not test webcam, speakers or microphone.
  • As compared to ThinkPad T-series, screen has lower contrast and less even backlighting.
  • No ThinkLight or other keyboard illumination, a glaring (inexcusable) flaw.
  • No SSD option. 
UPDATE: The X120e is being replaced by the X121e, which may make the X120e more affordable until supplies are gone.

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