IBM Takes Note of Mobile Users Needs With Laptop

But unique Thinkpad Transnote PC/notepad combination might be too bulky to carry around

IBMs new ThinkPad TransNote combines a laptop PC with an electronic notepad in a unique folderlike form factor that represents a fresh take on clamshell laptop design and offers users who take extensive notes a way to better manage their work.

In eWeek Labs tests, the biggest drawback to the TransNote, which shipped last month, is its relatively large size and weight. The unit measures 12.6 by 11.1 by 1.3 inches and weighs 5.5 pounds—dimensions more befitting of a desktop replacement laptop than a machine meant to be carried as a portfolio.

The model we tested, which was configured with a 600MHz Pentium III processor, 128MB of RAM and Windows 2000, was priced at $3,148. The TransNote turned in a score of 23 on the Business Winstone 2001 benchmark, which measures performance on common office productivity applications. This score is similar to comparably powered notebooks weve tested.

A 64MB, Windows 98 version is available for $3,000.

ThinkScribe digital notepad comprises the TransNotes pen-and-paper half. ThinkScribe can save up to 50 pages of notes written with the TransNotes digital pen before transferring them, either automatically or on cue, to the units computer. ThinkScribe works with standard legal-size paper and can be used while the notebook is powered down.

The design of the leatherish portfolio to which the TransNotes writing pad and notebook halves are attached enables users to fold the writing pad half of the TransNote over the computer portion—or vice versa—to save space.

However, this flexible design makes the TransNote clumsy to use. To allow for the folding-over trick, the notebook and writing pad portions of the TransNote are attached to the portfolio in part by Velcro and had the tendency in tests to flop apart inconveniently unless the opened TransNote was sitting on a desk or other large, flat surface.

Using Ink Manager Pro software that ships with the TransNote, we easily saved, organized and viewed notes wed taken on the digital pad, but Ink Manager software does not perform handwriting recognition, so notes cannot be converted to text.

The TransNotes laptop features a 10.4-inch touch-sensitive display, with a maximum resolution of 800 by 600 pixels. When the display was flat, we could use the TransNote as a tablet PC, navigating and inputting data with the units touch-sensitive display.

The TransNote features an integrated NIC and 56K-bps modem, a 10GB hard drive, one PCMCIA slot, one CompactFlash slot, two Universal Serial Bus ports, an external VGA port, a standard infrared port and standard audio ports. Theres also a port to accept an external CD-ROM or floppy drive, neither of which is built into the unit itself.

The TransNote is powered by a lithium-ion battery that in our tests yielded an average of 2.5 hours of life between charges—a respectable figure compared with similar ultraportables.