The Folding Machine

Folding devices, even years after being introduced are somewhat of an oddity. I have been the first person I know to own or handle any and I cannot recall seeing one in public at the end of 2022 and the owners I met in 2023 I could count on one hand. I believe the general population is still trying to figure out where the folding device fits in their world and I completely understand the sentiment. For phones, it seems like an extra step to unfold your device to access it when we have grown accustomed to just pulling it out of our pocket and instantly having our technology ready for us. Thankfully Motorola sorted that out with newer editions of the Razr with a full screen on the exterior. The wearable concept they showed off at Lenovo TechWorld 2023 is also another example of this form factory gaining some legitimacy.

The portable computer of course has tablets that run operating systems that allow for differing levels of productivity but there are often compromises. Applications are centred around consumption, not production. Accessories are not designed with creation or productivity at the centre or if they are, the processing power for serious applications can leave many power users wanting more. There is also the issue of screen size and portability as many tablets prefer to keep a lower profile, perhaps to avoid comparison against their laptop counterparts. But what if a device invited that competition and tried to solve all these problems?

The Beginning

Enter the first-generation Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold. Announced at CES 2019 as the world’s first folding PC, the X1 Fold was a thought experiment that got the entire technology community talking. Understandably there were a lot of questions about how viable this brand-new form factor would be and I will admit to being one of those people who looked at it with curiosity, but also some skepticism especially the CPU configurations the original X1 Fold shipped with being so underpowered. The device was well built as a ThinkPad should be but there were worries about the size and power that the device was equipped with when it launched. The form factor also meant that the keyboard (not to mention the absence of the TrackPoint) that you could get with it was smaller than average which was noted by many reviewers at the time. It was clear that this was a challenging device to build and not many companies had the resources and innovation on hand to make it happen. For additional insights into some of the challenges, you might enjoy this short clip that Lenovo released in January 2020.

In many ways, it reminded me of the Lenovo ThinkPad X300. The X300 was Lenovo showing what it could do to push the laptop forward. It was, for the time, a bleeding-edge device in terms of specifications, design and size. If you want to learn about the importance of the device and what it set out to do, I strongly encourage you to watch my older mini-series, Project Kodachi. It will provide some insight into the conditions under which these devices are made and what the objective of their creation is on a grand scale. If you look at the machines after the X300, many trace their lineage back to that product. It made the Lenovo X1 Carbon line possible, one of the flagship models for the company and the brand. It was a halo product that would help launch many others and I think that is what we saw here with the X1 Fold Gen 1.

The Hype

While I might have been skeptical of the X1 Fold Gen 1, when rumblings of the X1 Fold Gen 2 were growing, I found myself very curious about what improvements were to be made. It was clear that Lenovo hadn’t given up on the form factor with this announcement but what had they improved? Was it just going to be a specs refresh or were they going to push the boundaries even further? When the teaser trailer dropped, I found myself going through the trailer with a fine-toothed comb along with anything else I could learn about it. If you want to see my efforts, consider viewing the article below.

Jul
13

Why the new X1 Fold might be exciting

Lenovo has been promoting this short trailer over the last few days and many believe it points to the teasing of a new X1 Fold. After taking a look at the trailer a few times and snooping around, here are some possible reasons to look forward to the new X1 Fold and some of the […]

 

The X1 Fold Realized

Through my participation with the Lenovo INsiders program, I was sent an early sample model of the ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 Gen 1 and I have to say that in all honesty, it met expectations and after using it for a few days, exceeded them in several areas. The packaging is unassuming and 100% recyclable. Once inside you are immediately greeted by the huge tablet, laying flat. It at first might be too big, but after folding it a few times, you realize the size is very important to its usability. 16″ (2560×2024, OLED Anti-smudge 600nit) unfolded in a 4:3 format means you can do anything you want on it with screen real-estate to spare. Once you fold it, you have a 12″ compact 16:9 format for everything else you need. The included full-sized keyboard with TrackPoint, stand and pen is also a welcome addition to the kit I was sent. There is a base model that is just the tablet and because of the size, you can get away with just using the on-screen keyboard if needed.

Calling the X1 Fold 16 a laptop or a tablet isn’t accurate, it’s a system. That’s how you know this experiment has been successful because it has achieved a device that is everything those devices are at any time it’s required but without any real compromise to the user experience. I cannot say the same for other tablet-style machines that also have a keyboard accessory. The internals in the model I was provided were top shelf with a 12th Gen Intel i7 CPU, 32GB of RAM (LPDDR5)  and 1TB of storage; everything you would want in a high-end ultrabook. Two Thunderbolt 4 and one USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 ports let you connect whatever you want with the correct adapter, dongle or hub. The two batteries (48 Whr plus an optional 16 Whr based on configuration) give you all day (10-11hrs) battery life for light and moderate tasks. Of course, you will want to keep the charger nearby for heavy lifting as that will tax the battery.

The hardware is impressive, no question. Hardware can be let down by clunky software if it isn’t up to the task. Thankfully, the experience with Windows 11 feels seamless. Logging in with the Windows Hello camera next to a 1080p web camera is the fastest I’ve ever experienced. The optional keyboard has a built-in fingerprint reader just to the right of the spacebar. Rotating the screen, adding the keyboard on top of the bottom half and having the magnets attach are also trivial and do not interrupt the productivity of the user.

Speaking of that keyboard, the TrackPad features a haptic technology where you can adjust the force feedback you get during its use. Good job from the team over at Sensel for producing this TrackPad while respecting the TrackPoint user experience. The TrackPoint buttons were not enabled by default but can be turned on with a quick click and you can adjust the feedback of the TrackPoint button area and TrackPad area independently to be two different experiences making it easy to tell where you are clicking from feel alone. Rounding out the experience is the introduction of the TrackPoint to the X1 Fold family and it comes with the same double-tap menu on the reintroduced Z series where double tapping the top of this iconic red cap gets you a radial menu you can customize.

To learn about what has changed between this device and the production version, check out this article: https://news.lenovo.com/thinkpad-x1-fold-still-defines-a-category-lenovo-created/

 While the device was delayed to make the improvements above, collecting and responding to that feedback was essential for a product that was going to wear the ThinkPad badge. A compromise here would be fatal for the form factor. As you can see from the images below, some of the testing I did seems to be visible in the report linked above. I would like to think in some small, very tiny way, that I was able to help make this device better. Regrettably, I have not had the pleasure of seeing any newer versions of the device so I cannot weigh into all of the changes and improvements that were made.

The Experience

So the software plays nice with the hardware and the hardware is functional; excellent. What is it like to use?

Coming from my daily driver, my Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano, the X1 Fold 16 is heavy and thicker but I’m completely okay with all of that. It looks and feels like a high-end journal that you might buy as a gift for somebody who is constantly writing notes in little books that go with them everywhere. The fabric-like textured surface that covers most of the X1 Fold 16 is excellent and wears nicely; no fingerprints to be seen. The rubberized Lenovo and ThinkPad X1 logos stick up and feel right at home. It doesn’t feel like any other device or even case for a device I’ve ever used and it gives a sense of quality and durability. The keyboard and stand are covered with an Alcantara-like soft touch fabric as well that you know will be kind to all surfaces it rests against.

While opening and closing the X1 Fold 16 takes a bit of getting used to, mainly due to the size and strength of the magnets, I wouldn’t want it any other way. It might have annoyed me at the start but I think that stemmed right from it looking so much like a notebook or journal I wanted it to open up just as easily. You quickly adapt and find different ways to open it when you do not have a surface to put it on first. All of your accessories: stand, keyboard, and pen all attach with magnets to the exterior of the device. The keyboard no longer lives inside so if you want to use it, it is an extra step to detach it and then place it on top of the bottom half of the screen. 

The main modes that the X1 Fold 16 is designed to be used are with the tablet on the stand; either portrait or landscape or folded with the keyboard resting on the bottom half. You of course can also use the main device as a book or traditional tablet and leave the accessories packed away. I’ve also learned to enjoy opening the X1 Fold 16 and just using the onscreen keyboard or touch display for quick or casual use, or sometimes I will leave the device folded and use the Bluetooth keyboard beside it while it is folded and leave the stand attached to the keyboard. My eyes don’t seem to mind the crease and in some instances using the stand isn’t ideal.

The User

All this being said, who is the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 for? Is it for tablet users? Early adopters of folding technology? Artists, architects and digital pen enthusiasts? Lovers of ultrabooks?

The answer is all of the above but on different days of the week. If some days you need a laptop but other days you want a tablet and others want something in between, the X1 Fold 16 does exactly what you need it to do when you need to. Earlier I called it a “system” because it didn’t work in those other categories and I stand by that. Other form factors have flirted with the concept and even the original X1 Fold tried to achieve that but to me, this is the first real successful attempt. For many this device will be strange and not fit into their workflow naturally, especially if a standard laptop does everything you need. For those that have a more dynamic work environment that has constantly changing demands on their devices and changes to their workflow might be attracted to what the X1 Fold 16 has to offer. The key is each of these form factors has to be useful to the user or the ability for it to transform into that shape and serve that function will not be seen as value-added and will deter you from the steep entry price of ownership of the device.

When I travelled to TechWorld 2023, one of my fellow INsiders had his own Yoga Book 9i there and while that device impressed me in person, it was clear that they were adding features post-launch to get it up to speed with expectations, which is not an uncommon occurrence. The hardware was ready, but the software is still being rolled out. I felt the experience with the X1 Fold 16 was considerably more complete in comparison even if some of the hardware was dated. In short, both products have their fans and their niches and I do not believe one is a clear winner over the other in terms of functionality and their intended audience.

The Future?

Everything it sets out to do, it does. Due to the high-end internals and cutting-edge technology, design and engineering of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 G1, it will command a premium price point and that will mean that it isn’t the device for everyone, yet. Once the technology gets more affordable, I wouldn’t be surprised if this form factor catches on. I would daily drive this form factor, but the version I tested ships currently for approximately $5,000 Canadian without a sale and that keeps it out of my hands for now.

I do hope for price drops in the future and a G2 version with a newer CPU that is perhaps equipped with some AI tools to make this device sing.

When IBM sold their PC division to Lenovo, not all was well with the iconic ThinkPad brand. IBM was losing money and wanted to get rid of the PC arm of the business for several years. ThinkPad was one of the many components that made the purchase of IBM’s PC Division desirable. Towards the end of IBM’s ownership, corners and costs were being cut to try and save money where they could and that was starting to hurt what they could do with the newer generations of ThinkPad. It would seem if IBM kept ThinkPad, things were going to get worse, not better.

To learn more about this part of the history of these two companies and a great deal about the topic of this article, the ThinkPad X300, you need to learn more about Steve Hamm’s book, “The Race for Perfect.”

David Churbuk (VP of Global Digital Marketing at Lenovo from 2005 through 2010) recalls the atmosphere in a blog post he wrote for the 25th anniversary of ThinkPad. We are fortunate that David Churbuk wrote about these experiences so we can look back at them as part of a historical record:

Lenovo was a complete unknown when it was formed in 2005. Today it is number one in the market, ahead of Dell and HP. The name “Lenovo” was coined by an expensive brand consultant and always evoked an image of a French anti-cellulite lotion in my word-warped mind. The company was a partially state-owned enterprise that dominated the Chinese market for computers but was utterly unknown in the rest of the world. Lenovo launched in the hope of becoming one of China’s first true global brands and do for the country’s reputation what Sony and Toyota had done for Japan in the late 1960s, and Samsung, LG and Hyundai had done for South Korea in the 1980s — become a premier status brand associated with innovation and high-concept design and dispel the image of China being a low-cost, low-quality producer of dreck.

The negative sentiment expressed by the ThinkPad faithful towards Lenovo was intense, verging on racism. As I read the comments on the gadget blogs like Gizmodo and the independent ThinkPad forums, I discovered a cult of over-weening, obsessive, compulsive and paranoid cultists who knew down to the penny the precise bill of materials that comprised a ThinkPad almost as well as David [Hill]’s own staff. Each and every new ThinkPad released by Lenovo in 2006 was scrutinized by the horde for signs of cost-cutting or diminished quality. The rubber feet under the case. The feel of the rubberized paint on the lid. The fit and finish. The decals….The faithful were skeptical and on high alert.

In terms of timelines and based on the reading, research and interviews I’ve done over the years, the cost-cutting and outsourcing of manufacturing were happening often during the last of the IBM years. Examples of this can be seen through the changes in materials, designs and even the cost-saving decision for the ThinkLight to be amber since those LEDs were cheaper. Several models were being produced by Acer, LG and Lenovo rather than in-house by IBM. When the transition occurred, Lenovo understandably had a lot to learn about being a large designer and manufacturer of PCs in a global market. That is a significant jump for a company to make. It wasn’t perfect and neither was what they were handed.

So when it came time for Lenovo to build their own ThinkPad from the ground up without IBM, they needed to get it right. They had to prove to the world that they knew what they were doing and could do just as good or better than IBM. For this next part of the story, I recommend if you haven’t already viewed the Project Kodachi video series on my YouTube channel to get a better understanding of the context that brought about the ThinkPad X300. 

Laptop Mag in 2008 named David Hill, the chief designer of the ThinkPad X300, #19 on their 25 Most Influential People in Mobile Technology for his work on the ThinkPad X300 and compared it favourably against the rival of the time, the MacBook Air. Contrary to popular belief, the X300 was well into development by the time the Air was announced and was not created in response to the efforts of Apple. That myth came about as a result of the direct comparisons drawn at the time.

From David Hill’s archives, a photograph of the Lenovo ThinkPad X300 fitting inside of an inter-office envelope.

This comparison and rivalry would extend to the ThinkPad X301 and the sleek black box did well when compared to other machines of the day:

Apple came out with the MacBook Air — an incredibly thin, sexy and largely impractical notebook, while Lenovo brought out the ThinkPad X300, which shared the Air’s size but otherwise was almost the polar opposite. The X300 wasn’t anywhere near as attractive but was a product you could truly live on, being vastly more practical. The X301 improves on the X300, having more performance and the option of an amazingly fast 128-GB hard drive. I’m a huge fan of these solid state drives; they are dead quiet, use little power and have blindingly fast read rates. Unfortunately, they are also very expensive, but darned if they aren’t worth it.

The MacBook Air is arguably the most attractive notebook in the market, while the X301 is the closest to overall perfection. The market tends to favor appearance over practicality at the moment, but the true perfect laptop would be one that was as good looking as the Air and as practical as the X301. We’ll see if Apple or Lenovo gets there first.

Lenovo’s X301 is arguably the closest thing to notebook perfection, but if sales volumes are to reflect this, it will need to improve its appearance and find an economically more attractive entry price. In the end, however, this is all about choice — and Apple, Dell and Lenovo are providing ever-more-interesting ones. Being a fan of choice, that has to be a good thing.

Apple vs. Dell vs. Lenovo: Got to Love Choices by Rob Enderle December 8, 2008

A Lenovo ThinkPad T430s and X1 Carbon Gen 3. Both owe some of their design language to the X300.

The ThinkPad X300 launched a new era of ThinkPads. It would lead to the creation of the ThinkPad X1 and the first ThinkPad X1 Carbon which is the industry standard for a business laptop. The DNA and design of the ThinkPad X300 would be transformed in the X1 series but would continue with a few changes in the emergence of the ThinkPad T400s and subsequent T410s, T420s and T430s models. The location of the ports and features of the device would harken back to the layout first configured on the ThinkPad X300. David Churbuk seems to agree:

Ah ….. This thing took all the glory of our X300 — the notebook Businessweek called the Perfect PC — and puts it into a serious heatseeker of a laptop. You can, if you are inclined to spend the big dollars, make this thing behave like a serious workstation. Configure it with a big SSD drive, max the RAM and you’re talking one of the most powerful laptops ever conceived. Super thin, and loaded. I could see toting this around for the next two years with never a regret.

Google Translate:
How can you make a great notebook PC even better?
・Further improve the functions of the T series
・Equipped with new technology developed for X300
・The thinnest and lightest in the series
・Inherits the features of the excellent T series
・Reduction of system price
14-inch 1440×900 WXGA+ LED-backlit LCD with wide display area
Optical drive with a height of 9.5mm
・Blu-ray, DVD super multi-drive
Uses a standard voltage processor with excellent performance (25W)
Extensibility with new docking station Mini Dock Ⅲ
Original Image: Marasu Kamikura

Without the creation of the ThinkPad X300, it is uncertain if Lenovo would have the success it has enjoyed with the ThinkPad brand. While the X1 Carbon and T series often steal the show in terms of most popular choices for a quality business laptop, neither would be where they are today without the ThinkPad X300.

A quick way to start a debate

One thing that will get long-term ThinkPad users talking is the differences between all of the ThinkPad keyboards and which version is best. This can be a hotly debated topic with a lot of feelings, nostalgia, personal preference and use cases but there are some things I’d like to start with and that is, you are allowed to like them both for different reasons and both have their strengths. When I say “both” what I mean is what most people will talk about and that is the difference between the six-row and seven-row keyboards. There are many that will state that the “classic” or seven-row keyboard remains superior to the six-row or “island” style modernized version. Specific groups will target different models of the seven-row keyboard all the way back to the buckling sleeve M6 and M6-1 variants and if you are getting lost already, you may want to visit Sharktastica’s excellent website on keyboards. This article isn’t designed to make you change your opinion one way or the other, but to provide some information that I have found is often left out of the conversation. Hopefully, you will learn at least one new thing reading this information to either bolster or steel your existing argument or perhaps make you ask some questions.

The “classic” seven-row keyboard is a much-loved keyboard for several reasons, some of which are:

  • The number of rows of keys,
  • The dedicated keys that are removed or repurposed,
  • The switch type,
  • The key shape,
  • The key travel.
The “classic” seven-row ThinkPad keyboard as seen on the ThinkPad T420s. Note the square-shaped keys, additional row and blue-coloured enter button.

Some of the above are objective preferences and others will be more subjective in nature but before we dive far into the weeds, I’ll mention this isn’t even the first time I’ve written about ThinkPad keyboards. I strongly suggest you read my first article which looks at a scientific study on key travel that is related to this conversation as it helps shed some light on why we favour certain keyboards over others using ThinkPad keyboards as a test case.

Jul
13

It isn’t all about Key Travel

This article was made possible by the excellent and very interesting study linked below. Coppola, Sarah M., Philippe C. Dixon, Boyi Hu, Michael Y.C. Lin, and Jack T. Dennerlein. 2019. “Going Short: The Effects of Short-Travel Key Switches on Typing Performance, Typing Force, Forearm Muscle Activity, and User Experience.” Journal of Applied Biomechanics 35 (2): 149–56. https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/jab/35/2/article-p149.xml […]

IBM did it before Lenovo

While working on this article, Admiral Shark of Sharkastica, the excellent keyboard website I mentioned at the start of the article, pointed out that IBM was releasing several ThinkPads with six-row keyboard designs before the modern version was even released on the X1. ThinkPads like the IBM ThinkPad 500 and 300C keyboards for example featured six rows. In that regard, the six-row configuration has been around since the beginning. It was certainly not as common as the seven-row design that was found on the flagship models, but there is an undeniable history of six rows present essentially from the beginning.

Christopher Ross Hind, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

The Reception and Development of the Modern Six-Row

The more modern six-row ThinkPad keyboard as shipped on the T430s. Note the removal of the ‘IBM’ blue and ThinkVantage text. The island-style keys have spaces between them, but the key shape on the top remains largely unchanged. More modern versions see the removal of the physical buttons above the keyboard with the exception of the power button.

When the new island-style keyboard launched on the ThinkPad X1 in May 2011, it caused quite a stir, so much so that it was addressed in a blog post in July of 2012 trying to explain all of the hard work that went into the design and function of the keyboard. One particular Question and Answer stands out for the level of testing that went into developing the new keyboard:

“We often conduct different evaluations and user tests to maintain or improve the ThinkPad keyboard. However, to determine if and how we would make the changes to our keyboard in 2012, we embarked on one of the most in-depth keyboard studies ever conducted for ThinkPad. We did 350 hours of user testing with people in four countries. With each participant, we conducted 90- to 120-minute one-on-one interviews with hands-on use of different keyboard conditions to understand the latest about keyboard use and design preferences.”

Change Is Hard: Why You Should Give In to the New ThinkPad Keyboard by Gavin O’Hara

As an aside, the X1 is the spiritual successor to the X301/X300 line of ultrabooks and would evolve into the extremely popular X1 Carbon lineup. In 2019, I got to take a look at an X1 in the video below.

Thanks to Marasu Kamikura, we have some insights as to why the change was made to the six-row keyboard. It turns out that the dedicated keys were being used less and less so they wanted to consolidate the spaces to reduce the overall footprint of the keyboard to make room for other components. Other details about how the laptop closed, TrackPoint height, screen bezels and other design decisions are detailed in the images below. You can click on each image to see a Google Translate version of the text from this briefing on the X1 and the new keyboard. If any readers can provide a better translation, please reach out. I’ve also included a quote from the article above that mentioned the movement of these keys to their new home and how long it takes on average to adjust. All this to say; as users evolved and software changed, so too must the devices we use.

“We have seen end-users comfortably adjust to these changes in less than an hour. Depending on personal use of these functions, other users may require a bit more time for the change to feel natural. However, this reset has occurred for every end-user in our extensive testing, typically with an ultimate preference for the new layout over the old. Legacy functions like Pause, Break and Scroll Lock are no longer overtly labelled on key tops, but remain accessible via key combinations using the Fn key (e.g., Fn+P = Pause).”

Change Is Hard: Why You Should Give In to the New ThinkPad Keyboard by Gavin O’Hara

A further connection to ThinkPad heritage

A promotional photo of the Lenovo Skylight showing off the keyboard.

But there exists a connection to the origins of the ThinkPad brand and this newer design that most fans are not aware of and for that, we need to talk about Skylight. Skylight deserves its own deeper dive so I won’t summarize it all here but for the purposes of this article, one should know that device was where this new keyboard was first tested and it makes perfect sense. Both the original ThinkPad and Skylight were designed by Richard Sapper.

Skylight at CES 2010 Photo by Masaru Kamikura. Note the “D” shaped keys on the keyboard.

The keyboard present on the Skylight prototypes and demo models was close to the original wooden prototype ThinkPad that was constructed by Richard Sapper in the early 90s. He referred to these as “D” shaped keys. David Hill discussed this in his blog back in October 2013 which can be found on the Wayback Machine, pictures included.

What I would like to call attention to in this blog is something embodied in Sapper’s work that never quite made it to market on the original ThinkPad 700c. Richard imagined a new key shape that would have a unique contour and profile. He described it as a “D” shape. The intent was to cradle the finger and create a human-oriented soft form that would contrast the strict rectilinear geometry of ThinkPad.

The latest ThinkPad keyboard we introduced on products such as the X1 Carbon actually has a key shape reminiscent of this 20+-year-old concept. I made a push to simplify and purify the visual expression of ThinkPad, and I thought the time was right to finally dust off the “D”-shaped key. It took months of hard work, experimentation and analysis to develop and tune the final key shape and relevant force curves. I feel confident that we finally harnessed Sapper’s original intent for our latest ThinkPad designs.

While Skylight would not make it to market, being cancelled six months later its announcement at CES, the keyboard lives on and was introduced on the ThinkPad X1. Taken all together, the six-row modern keyboard has just as much right to be called a ThinkPad keyboard as the seven-row, possibly even more given the connections to its past.

Playing favourites and Retro resurrection

So getting back to the heart of our discussion around ThinkPad keyboards, there is history in every keyboard that has graced the ThinkPad design and they all have good pedigree and merit to their design. As for which is ultimately superior will always be a  question riddled with subjectivity right down to the manufacturer of each iteration. Yes, one model or version of a keyboard is often made by several different companies and sometimes small variances end up existing enough though they are supposed to be all built to the same specifications. Some users will even report a different feeling of key presses between backlit and non-backlit variants. 

The classic seven-row keyboard did have one last triumph that should be mentioned and that of course is the ThinkPad T25.

The retro-style keyboard that was included on the ThinkPad T25 anniversary model. This keyboard can also be retrofitted to a T480 with modifications.

When David Hill was working on designing the T25, the 25th anniversary ThinkPad, a poll was conducted on the type of keyboard that people wanted to see in that model and unsurprisingly, a retro keyboard was preferred for a retro-styled machine. Considering this machine was being built to harken back to the past, it was appropriate that this specialized keyboard was commissioned for the T25. One should be careful though not to read the data below as an overall preference between the two designs as this device was targeted at a specific group of people and not a wide-scale product. That data would look very different. Needless to say, it is well-loved by many people. As time moves on, fewer and fewer will make this comparison as the older keyboard becomes rarer.

“Preference for a 7 row keyboard was a strong winner. This is clear in both the survey responses and the comments. I’ve included a bar chart on this topic for everyone’s reference.”
https://web.archive.org/web/20151112171550/http://blog.lenovo.com/en/blog/retro-thinkpad-survey-2-displays-keyboard

ThinkPad knows everything about making a keyboard

One thing is certain in my mind and that is ThinkPads have the best keyboards when compared to any other laptop brand on the market and that is not a surprise to me. When you have spent over 30 years making laptop keyboards, you are going to know a lot about how to do it correctly. That isn’t even counting the years of research IBM did on typewriters and how that research would have bled over to the typing experience in the early days of notebooks. So whether you prefer six or seven rows, backlight or not, picking a ThinkPad keyboard is always a winning move. As for me, I enjoy both keyboards and use them frequently. While this article will likely not change anyone’s mind on such a longstanding and polarizing issue, I hope that it might help inform the conversation better and potentially change some of the language used in those conversations.

Few ThinkPads have such a strange line-up as what made up the T430 family. It contained several machines that prior to it and after that were unique. Out of all of the modern T400 series, there are more unique models in this era than any other. It seems like a lot of experimentation was happening during this time and that seems to line up with all of the different features, and chassis variants that we see in the T430 lineup.

Let’s unpack what is on the table. The following models make up the line:

  • T430
  • T430s
  • T431s
  • T430u
  • T530 (Honourable mention as it is the same generation)

As you can see, some normal contenders like the T430 and T530 make up the 14″ and 15″ models respectively. The T430s was also a common sight since the T400 introduced the “s” suffix to the T series. However, the T431s and T430u are exceptionally unique, both in how common they are and what they brought in terms of design to ThinkPad.

The T430

Possibly one of the most loved ThinkPads of the 2010s, this ThinkPad was one of the last ones that allowed you to upgrade the CPU and other key components. It would inherit most of its design elements from the T420 with the exception of the newer style keyboard replacing the classic seven-row. The x30 series also came equipped with both the ThinkLight and the new backlit keyboard option, being the only generation to feature both on one machine. The T430 was the only of the family with the exception of the T530 to be socketed for the CPU allowing for easier upgrades. This caused quite a ruckus among some fans of the 7-row, but ultimately it prevailed. To learn more, check out this article and the video below:

Jul
13

It isn’t all about Key Travel

This article was made possible by the excellent and very interesting study linked below. Coppola, Sarah M., Philippe C. Dixon, Boyi Hu, Michael Y.C. Lin, and Jack T. Dennerlein. 2019. “Going Short: The Effects of Short-Travel Key Switches on Typing Performance, Typing Force, Forearm Muscle Activity, and User Experience.” Journal of Applied Biomechanics 35 (2): 149–56. https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/jab/35/2/article-p149.xml […]

 

The T430s

The T430s is a lighter and slimmer version of the standard T430. It had less in common with its bigger, more modular brother. Battery life was a bit of a challenge since it maxed out at 44Wh. The machine thankfully can take an UltraBay Slim battery to help with the battery life. It also featured a carbon-fibre-hybrid lid with a magnesium base and roll cage to help with durability. As I mentioned above, the  “s” suffix all started with the T400s which has a lot in common visually with the X300 and X301 right down to the battery construction and placement and port selection. While I have featured the X300 and X301 in Project Kodachi, I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing a T400s.

The T431s

Probably the most controversial model in the T430 family, this machine introduced several changes that would be loved by some and vilified by others. The complete redesign reportedly took about nine months to complete. It was released after the T430u and was the thinnest in the T series lineup to that point. It removed the ThinkLight, introduced a new keyboard layout, introduced the ClickPad with the integrated TrackPoint buttons, only one RAM slot and overall had the beginnings of the design that the T440 and onward would take. With one RAM slot, 12GB is the maximum RAM possible on these machines. Web cameras, fingerprint readers and backlit keyboards were also optional. It is worth noting that the T431s and T430u listed below are the only two machines that do not have support for the 1vyrain BIOS mod. Like the T430u, it also sports an internal battery pack and no Optical Drive Bay.

The T430u

If the T431s was a leap into the unknown the T430u was the frontier before it. While it had many new features, it maintained just as many but with slight tweaks and variations. For example, it still has a ThinkLight, but one, unlike any other ThinkPad. It has no backlit keyboard option at all. Like the T431s it had no display hooks. It also had no docking port, optical drive or traditional roll cage found on the T430. One of my favourite features has to be the removable base plate. It is also the first T series that featured an aluminum display lid. It had a larger ClickPad than the other T series devices of the era.

The T530

Of course, the T530 is the 15-inch version of the same era, but it has more in common with the W530 than the T430 series. It even shares the same Hardware Maintenance Manual with the W530 and T530i.

Which is your favourite?

There are lots of different and interesting models in this line-up, which is your favourite and why? Feel free to reach out and chat about this article on Twitter or Mastodon if you prefer.

As many of you will know if you follow me on Twitter, I am a huge fan of e-ink displays and technology. There are huge savings in terms of battery life running these panels and their readability in intense sunlight is well known. At CES 2023, Lenovo showcased two devices sporting the technology. This is exciting as there is a hope that this will drive the cost of e-ink technology down by increasing the opportunity for its adoption.

ThinkBook Plus Twist

The ThinkBook Plus Twist brings back the classic twist and fold style hinge that debuted back on the ThinkPad X41t which you can learn more about the history and the device in my video.

The device sports respectable specifications in its own right and the design reminds me of a mix between the ThinkBook line, the ThinkPad Z13 and the X41t. One item of course that separates the ThinkBook Plus Twist from the rest is of course the colour e-ink display on the back of the lid. This will potentially be a great solution for those that want to take notes on the go and have a solid tablet and laptop experience all wrapped into one.

The colour e-ink display is on the back of the lid of the ThinkBook Plus Twist.

The display is 12 inches can last several months on a single charge and features a 12Hz refresh rate and touch glass surface. The ThinkBook Plus Twist will be priced at $1649 and is expected to be available starting June 2023. For detailed specifications, see the chart below. Some might worry though about having a screen on each side of the lid when it comes to storage and transportation so fingers crossed it is built with durability in mind.

ThinkBook Plus Twist
Performance Processors Up to 13th Gen Intel Core Processors
OS Windows 11
Memory Up to 16GB LPDDR5X
Storage Up to 1TB PCIe Gen 4 SSD
Graphics Intel Integrated Graphics
Displays 13.3-inch 2.8K OLED with touch glass and pen support, 400nits, 60Hz, 100% DCI-P3, Dolby Vision support 12-inch front-lit Color e-Ink Touch display with pen support
Audio Lenovo sound with dual speakers and dual-array microphones, Dolby Atmos® support
Camera FHD RGB camera with shutter
Battery 56Whr
Physical Security Smart Power-on Fingerprint Reader Camera Shutter
Connectivity Ports 2 x Intel® Thunderbolt™ 4 USB-C ports
1 x 3.5mm audio jack
Wireless WLAN Intel Wi-Fi 6E 802.11 AX (2×2)
Bluetooth® 5.1

Lenovo Smart Paper

The Lenovo Smart Paper is the device I’m the most interested in between the two at the moment. There are several solutions for taking notes on an e-ink device but some are cost-prohibitive and rely too heavily on subscription services.

It comes equipped with a 10.3″ E-Ink screen that is dual-color and has an auto-adjustable front light. Lenovo also claims a great feeling while writing with a stylus that supports 4,096 levels of pressure, tilt and more for a robust writing and sketching experience.

The video above features the device in a few different settings but you get the impression that education is one of the sectors that they hope the device will catch on. Cloud storage is possible as well but exists behind a subscription paywall. Hopefully, it is more affordable than the competition.

Currently, the cost of the Lenovo Smart Paper is stated to be $400 USD and the subscription service is not known. That potentially puts it at the premium end of these note-taking devices but if the subscription service isn’t essential like it is for some of the competition, then paying more for the hardware would be acceptable. Speaking about the hardware, it does rather well in that department. For detailed specifications, see the chart below.

Lenovo Smart Paper
Processor(s) RockChip RK3566
4x 1.8 GHz
Operating System Android AOSP 11.0
Memory 4GB+64GB
Display 10.3” E-Ink Display, 1872 x 1404 resolution, 227ppi
Front light Dual Color Front Light
24 Brightness Levels (automatic screen adjustment)
24 Adjustable Temperature Tones
Microphone Dual Mic
Sensor Accelerometer (G) Sensor, Ambient L-sensor, Hall Sensor
Battery 3550mAh (Typ.)
Reading Time: 8500 pages in one charge
Note Taking Time: Write 170 pages of notes in one charge
Dimensions 195mm x 226mm x 5.5mm
Weight ~408g (~0.9 lbs.)
Colors Storm Grey
Ports USB Type-C 2.0
Wireless Wi-Fi
Bluetooth 5.2 support BLE
Software

Email
Calendar
Clock
Calculator
ebooks.com app

Compatible Accessories

Lenovo Smart Paper pen
Lenovo Smart Paper folio case

Looking ahead

There are a growing number of solutions for those seeking e-ink, note-taking capable devices and that is a good thing. The more choices, the better for the consumer. The challenge we have right now is that many common cloud or software packages do not natively support e-ink content creation which means that you need to invest in one of the existing platforms to produce, store and access your content. Eventually, it would be nice to see some common or even open-source software that can run and load notes between all of these devices. That way, you might not find yourself artificially locked into one particular platform or subscription. Regardless of all this, having two more choices to pick from offered by Lenovo, a well-established company, follows others and hopefully adds additional legitimacy and demand of these devices.

Foldables and Dual Screens

CES 2023 saw the introduction of the Lenovo Yoga Book 9i which has got a lot of people talking. There is clear DNA being shared between it and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 Gen 1. In fact, one of the patents that I thought would end up belonging to the Fold line-up actually appears to belong to the Yoga Book. Regardless, if you are making the choice between these two machines, you are likely in a niche bracket with some unique demands for your computing needs.

A patent that I found while digging around the archives as I was researching the X1 Fold 16 Gen 1 teaser trailer.

While both devices have a similar form factor initially there are a lot of differences between the two that make choosing between them relatively easy. For example, both have keyboards and pens and can be used without them. Both have a stand to help utilize them in a variety of configurations.

However, the keyboard accessory for the Yoga Book does not have a TrackPad or physical mouse input of any kind, meaning you are going to have to rely on the touch interface, pen or virtual TrackPad that appears on the bottom half of the screen and that might take some getting used to for many. One thing to note is it would appear the Yoga Book comes with all of the accessories in the box whereas the X1 Fold may ship with a version without the keyboard and pen. The Yoga Book also is designed to have its own unique style which will be appreciated by some, but not everyone. I suppose the problem with picking a colour that isn’t black is it doesn’t please everyone. We currently do not know if other colours will be available. 

The Yoga Book in its various configurations with and without its accessories.

Specifications Compared

If you are curious, you can see the specifications of both devices below compared where relevant. Some notable pieces are the Yoga shipping with 13th Gen CPUs versus the X1 Fold 16 Gen 1 currently shipping with 12th Gen CPUs. The Yoga also sports a larger battery but the reported battery life is actually similar to the X1 Fold with its dual battery system when both screens are in use.

Yoga Book 9i  ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 Gen 1
Processor(s) 13th Gen Intel Core i7-U15 Up to Intel vPro with 12th Gen Intel® Core™ U9 i5 and i7 Processors
Operating System Windows 11 Home
Windows 11 Pro
Up to Windows 11 Pro
Graphics Intel Iris® Xe Intel® Iris® Xe 
Memory LPDDR5X 16G Up to 32GB LPDDR5
Storage PCle SSD Gen4: 512G/1T Up to 1TB PCIe Gen 4 SSD
Display 13.3” 2.8K, 400 nits, OLED/DCI-P3 100%, 60Hz, 16:10

4-side narrow bezel (91% AAR) HDR, PureSight, Dolby Vision

16.3-inch (2024×2560) foldable OLED 600nit HDR/400nit SDR, DCI-P3 100%,

Dolby Vision, On-cell Touch with Pen support

16.3-inch when open / 12-inch when folded

Audio 2 x 2W

2 x 1W

Bowers & Wilkins speakers, Dolby Atmos

Dolby Atmos 3-speaker system (2 speakers work at any one time)

Dolby Voice enabled – 4x microphones (2x mics work at any one time)

Camera FHD IR+RGB (5M USB) Webcam with Privacy Shutter 5MP RGB+IR with Intel VSC option
Battery 80WHr 48Whr (optional additional 16 Whr based on configuration)65W AC Rapid Charge
Dimensions

(mm) 299.1 x 203.9 x 15.95

(inches) 11.78 x 8.03 x 0.63

Unfolded: 276.1 x 345.7 x 8.6mm (10.87in x 13.6in x 0.34in)

Folded: 176.4 x 276.2 x 17.4mm (6.9in x 10.87 x 0.68in)

Weight 1.38kg System: 1.28kg / 2.82 lbsSystem with Keyboard and stand: 1.9kg / 4.19lbs
Hinge 360° 180°
Colours Tidal Teal Black
Ports 3 x USB Type-C (all full function and Thunderbolt™4.0)

2 x Intel Thunderbolt 4

1 x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2

Nano-SIM card tray

Wireless Wi-Fi 6E

HW Support Bluetooth 5.2 OS Just support Bluetooth 5.1

Wi-Fi 6E 802.11 AX (2×2)

Optional 5G Sub 6 (LTE supported) Bluetooth® 5.2

Cost

The Yoga Book 9i (13”, 8) will start at $2,099.99 and is expected to be available starting June 2023.

The ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 Gen 1 was expected to be available from Q4 starting at $2,499. Whether this price is still accurate, we will need to wait until the launch window and configurations are confirmed.

Choosing

Ultimately, the device you choose will depend on a few simple choices.

  1. Do you trust the Foldable OLED screen on the X1 Fold 16 Gen 1? If not, the point goes to Yoga Book with two physical screens.
  2. Do you prefer 4:3 16″ or 13.3″ 16:10? If you prefer 4:3, then the point goes to X1 Fold 16.
  3. Do you want a TrackPoint on your keyboard? I know I would. If so, point to the X1 Fold 16.
  4. Do you want a larger battery and potentially more battery life in some situations? If so, point to the Yoga Book.
  5. Do you need 5G connectivity? Then the X1 Fold 16 takes it.
  6. Do you need more than 16GB of RAM? Then the X1 Fold 16 will win that too.
  7. Want to spend less money? Then the Yoga Book wins points in that category from what we know right now.
  8. Do you need vPro? Think about the X1 Fold 16 Gen 1 then.
  9. Black? ThinkPad, Blue? Yoga Book.

Some things that are likely not going to be factored in your decision as the specifications are more or less the same are:

  • Wireless and Bluetooth configurations.
  • Ports (The Yoga Book has one more Thunderbolt 4 port, but realistically, it won’t be a deal breaker for most.)
  • Weight, dimensions. (The colour and looks WILL matter though.)
  • Camera setup (The specs are the same, the Yoga Book sports a privacy shutter.)
  • Speakers
  • Storage
  • Integrated Graphics
  • CPU (It is a bit too early to say how these two will compare in real-world use.)
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 Gen 1 with TrackPoint Keyboard.

Personally, for me, I think the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Fold 16 Gen 1 takes it but that is because I really enjoy my ThinkPad experience, TrackPoint and all as well as the aesthetic that the design team has come up with to make the X1 Fold look like a really nice journal. That to me is right at home. My gut also says the ThinkPad will be more durable than the Yoga Book but the proof will be in the real-world experience of those that buy them. The other specifications are nice too but for me, sight unseen compared to the Yoga Book, that sleek black wins me over more than the crisp blue. However, I do realize that the slim and sleek nature of the Yoga Book is going to win many people over and rightfully so. Perhaps the Yoga Book 9i is designed to be more accessible X1 Fold 16 for everyone, but that will again be determined by those people that buy them.

Overall, it is great to have the choice between these two devices and I think Lenovo is trying to show this market they are trying to create is for everyone, not just business customers. Time will tell if people are ready for this emerging form factor. Feel free to let me know which machine you prefer wherever you saw this article posted and let’s have a conversation.

2022 has been a very busy year for the channel with nearly 100 videos published. This year saw the beginning of many new projects, some that I have yet to announce and the continuation and expansion of others. To help celebrate, here are my Top Picks for each month of 2022.

January 2022

The year started strong and it was a tough race between an interview I did with David Hill regarding the TrackPoint cap and the ThinkMods NVMe to Express Card Adapter. Since it is my list, I refuse to choose and give you both of those fantastic videos.

February 2022

February saw the one-year anniversary of my Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano ownership which was a milestone to be sure. SaotoTech did steal the show a bit with their 3D-printed TrackPoint caps. See the video below to learn more about how to get a modern version of a classic TrackPoint cap.

March 2022

This month was especially busy with lots of laptops and Think Design Stories. My favourite has to be David Hill’s story about the Hardened ThinkPad Concept. Special thanks to Brian Leonard for the best photos that exist of this important concept.

April 2022

I finally looked at the IBM ThinkPad 600 which was a very important model for the ThinkPad lineup as it laid the groundwork for the T series that would shortly follow. Lots of design choices that are still with the ThinkPad brand started with this model. Special thanks to Tommy for getting this model to me.

May 2022

This was a quieter month in terms of easily stand-out machines but it did see me tear down the ThinkPad E580 which went to show that good value still exists in series outside the T series.

June 2022

June soldiered on and several machines came and went but one that couldn’t quite go fast enough is one of the least repairable laptops ever made, the Surface Laptop 2. It is impossible to over this device without destroying several components.

July 2022

July was insane with 17 videos released. Two of my favourites from this time were my review of the Keychron K8 and Q0 keyboard and number pad. I did particularly enjoy the IBM ThinkPad A20m video as it gave me the chance to highlight Rob Herman’s work again as I finally got the chance to look at the first A Series on the channel.

August  2022

This was easily the quietest month of the year since I was already hard at work on my celebratory planning for ThinkPad 30th’s birthday. A lot of work was going on behind the scene so the fewest videos were produced during this time. I did manage to squeeze in a few videos and the Lenovo ThinkPad E14 Gen 1 was one of the good ones..

September 2022

September began the rolling release of the videos that celebrated ThinkPad’s 30th anniversary. I collaborated with not only David Hill, but Tom Hardy who shared some amazing stories about their time with ThinkPad and Design. Here are some of the many videos that were produced:

October 2022

With the ThinkPad 30’s celebrations in full swing, there was a lot to talk about. I strongly recommend you check out the playlist of Interviews for all the goodies that were happening at that time.

November 2022

This year seemed to have been dominated by ThinkPads. November saw the examination of the X390 which was the last three-digit X model before they went to the X13 variants. It is a strange evolution that I got the pleasure of unpacking for the channel.

December 2022

December and much of November were very busy months for me, unfortunately not channel related so there were many projects that I didn’t get started, or finished. I hope to start the next year strong and wanted to get two wonderful donations filmed. The Lenovo ThinkPad X61s and the Lenovo ThinkPad T430u. Thanks to Justin and Kemish for making that possible.

Looking Ahead

Looking into 2023 I feel like there is much left undone. I’ve been generously provided several donations I still need to film. I have several collaborations in the works that need to be continued that ideally, would be further along and I am definitely the slow factor. As I mentioned earlier in the article, things got busy outside of the channel and I never was able to claw that time back.

I’m excited and optimistic about the opportunities that are new that have also come my way that I cannot wait to share them with everyone. All of it, every success the channel has had this year and years previously has been a direct result of your kindness and support of what I do. Laptop Retrospective remains a wonderful hobby that I’m excited to work on every time I sit down to write notes for a video or edit together the next episode. I hope you will join me in the year ahead, we have so much to explore together.

Update: This article was updated on March 18, 2023 thanks to the help of Dan Basterfield who worked for IBM UK PC Company. His knowledge has helped increase the overall accuracy of this article.

ThinkPad enthusiasts will likely know that at the very beginning of the history of ThinkPad, black was not the only colour used for these iconic machines. As hard as it might be to believe there do exist Beige/Pebble Gray ThinkPads, it is a strange sight to behold. You can tell by looking at it that the hard work and consideration that Richard Sapper and Kazuhiko Yamazaki put into the design is impacted when the machine isn’t the colour it was designed to be. The Pebble Gray colour choice was available on several models, not just the 700C.

Early ThinkPad Models
Back row: N33sx, ThinkPad 300, ThinkPad 350
Front row: ThinkPad 700c beige, ThinkPad 700C, ThinkPad 720C beige
Photo by Dan Basterfield

According to the IBM Mobile Systems Hardware Maintenance Manual Volume 2: ThinkPad Computers April 1995the following models had “gray” part options that were designated “For Germany.” They are listed below:

  • IBM ThinkPad 700 and 700C (Cream in colour)
  • IBM ThinkPad 720 and 720C (Cream in colour)
  • IBM ThinkPad 750, 750P, 750Cs, 750Ce (Grey)
  • IBM ThinkPad Dock I
  • IBM ThinkPad 300 Monochrome (See PSREF below)

There was also a Japan-exclusive ThinkPad 330C (5523-JVB) that was beige. This was released on May 16, 1994 and did not feature a TrackPoint and other more recognizable ThinkPad features. We will talk more about that shortly.

It is worth noting that the different colour parts are shared between some models. For example, the 700 and 720 share the same housing components.

So where and why do these machines exist? Let me try and offer as complete of an answer as I can using the information I have collected, some of it recently.

The “Why?” question was partially answered by Arimasa Naitoh during the 20th Anniversary of ThinkPad.

The ThinkPad models in the 1990’s had documentation stating that they are to be made in black cases, in accordance with Richard Sapper’s guidelines set in his collaboration with the Boca Raton Team. Why were there variations from this, where, for instance, the 700/ C, 720C and 300 are in grey?

Naitoh-San: In the 1990’s, we had the retail models of ThinkPad painted in grey to be distinguished from the original enterprise models.

Happy 20th birthday, ThinkPad! Lenovo Forums Post

Naitoh-San is likely referring to the Japanese-exclusive ThinkPad 330C (5523-JVB) I mentioned earlier. You can see a gallery of photos of this device that were taken by ThinkPads.com Forum member Bondi.

Official IBM documentation of the Beige/Pebble Gray ThinkPad is spotty at best. In the Personal Systems Reference IBM ThinkPad Notebooks 1992 to 2001 – withdrawn January 2001 – Version 214, the only model not listed as being offered in black was the ThinkPad 300 monochrome model and it was listed as “Charcoal grey” (page 4) as opposed to black. We know from the Hardware Maintenance Manuals from above that there was a more comprehensive offering of ThinkPad in Beige/Gray. This is likely to do with the markets they were sold—more on that in just a moment.

To answer the “Where?” part of the question, we can look at the keyboards and see that nearly all of the photographed examples have one item in common and that is a QWERTZ keyboard layout. I found one example sporting a French European keyboard layout. Both of these keyboard layouts are exclusive to Western/Central Europe and the QWERTZ layout is often simply referred to as the German keyboard layout. Now, this raises an interesting and somewhat plausible connection to the interview I did with Tom Hardy where he discusses the challenges he had with German DIN standards and IBM Germany at the time. See the video below for that whole story.

It is impossible to know how many of these machines were produced but it is highly likely the German DIN standards of the time had an impact on their creation. If we assume Naitoh-san is correct in the above statement at least as it pertains to the Japanese market, where the retail models were designated that colour, Dan Basterfield, a former IBM UK PC Company employee and ThinkPad collector who contacted me also shed some light on how all these histories can co-exist.

“Naitoh-san’s comments about the retail models being grey and business models being black were clearly true for the Japanese market, which saw a proliferation of ‘PS/Note’ branded models for both markets (many of which never made it to the US or EMEA), but not in the context of the non-black 700/720/750/755 models. Yes, the PS/Note 182 was grey, as was the ThinkPad 300, both of which were marketed outside Japan, both were entry-level machines. I acquired a 300 about eight years ago. It is nowhere near as sharp or as iconic as the 700/720, and side-by-side they are clearly different machines. I’d never seen one even in my time at IBM, and it feels disappointingly like a generic laptop dressed up with IBM badges and design cues; IIRC it was manufactured by a 3rd party. The odd texture and the fact that it wasn’t black only emphasised the ‘wrongness’ when I finally got hold of one.

The retail/commercial divide had nothing to do with the cream 700/720 and grey 750/755. These were all due, as you correctly surmised, to the German DIN regulations regarding contrast of visual display units which effectively precluded black (or white) screen surrounds. Not a problem for any of the desktop ranges then, as all the PS/1, PS/2, and ValuePoint monitors were acceptably cream, but a problem for the black ThinkPads, hence the non-black German-only variants. The manufacturing and localisation guys at Greenock confirmed this to me – I asked back then because I’d once had a close look at a peculiar beige/black hybrid ThinkPad, left on a desk in PC Co HQ back in Basingstoke in 1994: black keyboard sitting in a white chassis. I never saw another one like it, even with keeping my eyes open and having good access to oddities and curiosities. I thought it had been a prototype or development chassis, but realised then that this must have been a beige German-market 700/720 that had been retrofitted with a black non German keyboard – presumably UK layout for a UK user. I recently picked up a NOS grey 750/755 German keyboard, like you do, and of course it really is grey (not beige).

What I never even thought to ask about was whether the N33/N55 precursors of the 700/720 were ever sold in Germany (if so, what colour?) since the DIN standard you link to dates from 1984. A lot of big German companies and banks were very loyal IBM customers at that time. I do recall that the cream L40sx was sold in Germany, and I’m pretty sure the one I scrounged for the Helpcentre had a German keyboard. Perhaps IBM didn’t market the black pre-ThinkPads into Germany for this reason… but then again the ThinkPad 350 (re-badged Yamato PS/Note 425, successor to the N33/N51 in that same chassis) is listed in the HMM as having a German keyboard option but no grey casing options, so were presumably sold as standard black, in contravention of the DIN regulations. Maybe they didn’t offer the 350 in Germany, and the German keyboard option was for Switzerland, Austria, etc where presumably the DIN regulations did not apply?”

Here is a possibility of how all this comes together by working under the assumption that all the information we have is accurate.

Firstly, as Tom Hardy stated in the interview, the section of the German DIN standards that did not allow computers to be black was revoked sometime after the release of the ThinkPad 700C, this would mean that black could be used for Enterprise machines as Naitoh states in the interview. If the DIN standard was no longer required however then why spend the money to create the gray models for a German market that would no longer require them?

Changing standards takes time and I suspect between Tom Hardy leaving IBM and German businesses slowly moving away from the DIN Standard took just over a year. David Hill also mentioned that recalled some pushback against changing the standards to allow for black machines. If the last ThinkPad that was offered in gray was made in November of 1993 (began manufacture), the standard likely would have been revoked around that time. Some German businesses would be able/willing to overlook the standards and buy the black machine regardless, however, others might have not had that flexibility and the pebble gray was brought in to meet their needs. Perhaps IBM Germany just passed on the cost in the price of the machine. 

I also suspect that Japan may have been stuck in the middle of these standards or perhaps wanted to diffeniate a “professional” machine from a consumer one.

After the product lifecycle was complete, it wouldn’t need to offer the gray/beige machines afterwards, standardizing the line and reducing manufacturing costs. Perhaps any remaining inventory was sold off as retail units as Naitoh stated in the interview above. What we can say for certain is, after 1994, no ThinkPads were made in the pebble gray/beige colour.

David Hill also stated in the book “ThinkPad: A Different Shade of Blue” there were other challenges to making ThinkPad the classic black we know today:

“There were a lot of barriers to getting the original IBM ThinkPad design approved. Many were opposed to using black as the color of the notebook. At the time, black was very radical in personal computing, even though it was accepted in earlier computer products. If you went back and looked at the IBM System 360 mainframe from the 1960s, it was primarily black. It was in the computer room behind glass windows and was supposed to look outstanding. The black color allowed clients to show off their prize possession to visitors.

“But personal computers weren’t black at the time. That’s because we wanted to make PCs fit naturally into the office so they wouldn’t be noticed. So, we made all of them in pearl white, a sort of cream color that no one would notice. But, then along comes the ThinkPad, and we wanted to make a bold statement that was just the opposite. We wanted everyone to notice it, so we adopted black. A lot of people objected to our using black as the color of ThinkPad, thinking it wasn’t like ‘IBM.’ Eventually everyone saw it as something that would really differentiate IBM.

-“ThinkPad: A Different Shade of Blue” by Deborah A. Dell and J. Gerery  Purdy, Ph.D.

What do you think about these ThinkPads? Have you ever seen one in person? Let me know by @ me on Twitter. As always, if any new information is acquired, I will update this article accordingly.

While I was hunting around for new and interesting patents, I of course found the dual screen patent I posted earlier. This was exciting since it could mark the return of the style of laptop we haven’t seen since the W700ds and W701ds. It could also mark a departure from an over-focus on thin and light where users might happily trade some weight for some additional features.

Oct
02

The Return of the Pull Out Screen (The W701ds Lives Again?)

The ThinkPad with two screens might live again in the discovery of a new patent application for a dual-screen laptop. The ThinkPad W700DS and W701DS are insane systems to behold for two reasons: They are one of the largest, working production ThinkPads out there. They have a pull-out screen for extra productivity. You can see […]

But it wasn’t the only patent I found that was interesting. It looks like Lenovo is freeing up some space inside their machines for a different kind of storage; a place for you to put some wireless earbuds or several other devices. You can see one of their ideas on how this would work in the patent drawing at the top of this article. The earbud version of this modular system has already been announced on a ThinkBook device but the rest of the items in the patent detail some devices that we have yet to see. Thanks to Twitter user Benni for pointing this out.

The patent shows some details on how they would fit inside and charge when the mechanism is closed. There are also some drawings of another potential storage method which are illustrated below (Figures 13A to 13C). But more importantly, at least to me, there are also some diagrams and claims about this storage bay being used for other devices such as lights, cameras or speakers (Figures 16A-16D). This is where things get really interesting. We have seen other companies like Framework explore modularity in laptop design, but that was limited to whatever fits in a very small space and ultimately needs to connect to a USB-C connector. The Lenovo patent seems to be using a similar USB-based solution but making an internal component rather than an external one.

The patent describes everything from cameras, biometric devices, SSDs, speakers and more being able to sit in the tray. It is clear they want to take advantage of the additional space they have created as other components get smaller.

One of the things I find curious is the willingness to make room for the feature as it probably means the laptop that houses this technology would need to be a minimum thickness to properly hold the earbuds or other items in question. 

What do you think of this idea? Is this something that you would use or seek out in your next laptop or do you think the effort might fall on deaf ears? I have to admit the idea of having a high-quality camera I can take out and use with my laptop intrigues me greatly. Let me know what you think by @ me on Twitter. As always, the patent document is below for your review and I will update this story as new information becomes available.

US-11457303-B2_I

The ThinkPad with two screens might live again in the discovery of a new patent application for a dual-screen laptop.

The ThinkPad W700DS and W701DS are insane systems to behold for two reasons:

  1. They are one of the largest, working production ThinkPads out there.
  2. They have a pull-out screen for extra productivity. You can see it demonstrated below.

These have captivated people and collectors for ages and now, it looks like Lenovo might be thinking about making another one.

I was diving into the patent database again and came across a new patent filed on September 27, 2022 with these drawings:

That patent also directly references the Lenovo ThinkPad W700, W700ds, W701 and 701ds Hardware Maintenance Manual under “Other Publications” strengthening the connection. But they aren’t stopping at just remaking the classic, it looks like they have plans on improving it as well.

The patent details this new system as rather than having a second screen, it is in fact a tablet computer. This isn’t too surprising looking at what Lenovo has been doing with their ThinkBook line and integrating a tablet into the palm rest. This, however, makes a lot more sense to me. The tablet can be used as an additional screen like the W700ds and W701ds but it can also possibly be removed and potentially reoriented or used in a wireless mode. It can be a bit tricky to tell what exactly the final product will look like from patents as they try and cover variations within the claims. This secondary screen or tablet also is mentioned to have its own web camera that would be activated once the secondary display is removed a certain distance from the housing.

It also appears from the description that it might be able to detect the position of the secondary screen/tablet and only use the exposed screen real-estate. Figures 7 through 15 illustrate the methodology of several screen states and their effect on how the secondary screen would behave.

Now which model this could ship on is anyone’s guess right now. Like many patented ideas, it might never come to pass. If I had to make a guess though, this seems like it would be at home on a workstation-class machine like a P-series. Time will tell if it makes it to production.

To see the complete patent, please click the link below and feel free to @ me on Twitter to let me know what you think about this new patent. If I learn anything new, I will update this article accordingly with new information or corrections.

US-11455015-B2_I