I’ve been using tablet PCs as far back as 2004 when I bought the HP TC1100 with Windows XP Professional Tablet edition. The TC1100 is more of a slate than a tablet PC since you can detach the keyboard and use tap on the screen with a digitizer pen to input commands and text by way of a soft keyboard. On one occasion my daughter borrowed my Tabby (yes, we give names to our computers at home) and many of her classmates thought it was a “cool, new” computer. Once on board a plane I took out Tabby to do some work and the passenger next to me asked what device I was using. I could never fathom why HP would decide to kill this product in favor of a conventional tablet PC with a swivel screen. You can see the slate formfactor of the TC1100 on first season of Bones.

Anyway, Lenovo had its Tabby equivalent in the form of the X61 and more recently the  X200T. The next iteration is the soon to be available X201T.

With Tabby being six years old and nearing retirement I’ve been on the lookout for a  replacement machine. I’ve checked out HP’s TX2 and Dell’s XT2 (ever get the feeling some product marketeers just aren’t that creative?). Both are too heavy for a  truly portable experience. The growing popularity of netbooks certainly made me think of  the possibility of a netbook equipped with a digitizer. True enough a number of tablet  netbook (netvertible) have recently cropped up (see list at the bottom).

The success of the iPod Touch and iPhone shows the possibilities. But even the latest Apple product – the iPad – can’t be construed as a true productivity tool because of its technical limitations. To get a sense of what I mean, click here to watch this video.

One vendor that has been pushing hard and fast in the netbook craze is Lenovo. Lenovo has branded its netbook offering under the label ‘Ideapad’. Early this year, Lenovo launched its first tablet netbook. What is unique about this tablet netbook is Lenovo’s use of a capacitative touchscreen (the same technology used on the  iPhone). This is important because capacitative screens are one of the reasons why the  iPhone and iPod Touch became popular. Unlike resistive screens which require you to put  pressure on the screen to register an action, capacitative screens uses static electricity to initiate an action. The net result is a more fluid experience.

The Lenovo Ideapad S10-3t uses the new Intel Atom Processor N450 which  offers a 40% reduction in power consumption. It is rumored that when the N470 becomes  available, the S10-3t will offer this option as well.

The fact that this is a netbook and not a laptop means you have to be prepared to take things in stride. A standard feature in most laptops and desktop computers is the ability to multi-task, i.e., run a number of applications at the same thing. The good news is that on a netbook you can still multi-task (unlike iPhones, iPod Touch and iPad). The bad news is that depending on the applications you are running, the experience may not be as smooth or satisfying. For example, watching a video while surfing the Internet will result in the inevitable skips or pause in the viewing experience. Don’t fret! This is hordes better than on an Apple iPad where you can’t surf the Internet while writing your memoirs. The Apple iPad OS simply doesn’t support this today.

Hardware Observations
The keyboard of the S10-3t is 26 cm wide compared to 28.5 cm on a Logitech keyboard (coincidentally the Lenovo Thinkpad X200 keyboard has a width of 28.5 cm). The 1.5 cm difference may seem negligible but you can feel the difference. But this is not sufficient to make typing uncomfortable on the S10-3t.

Like most netbooks and laptops that I’ve had the opportunity to checkout, the S10-3t gets relatively warm on its underside. Much of the heat is concentrated around decorative air vents on the bottom of the netbook. There is a small fan that pushes hot air out of the left side of the S10-3t. While the fan is not quiet, it is still easy enough to ignore.

The S10-3t comes with a 10.1″ SWVGA LED screen with a 16:9 aspect ratio. Lenovo has sensibly elected to use capacitative technology for the S10-3t. It supports 2-finger multi-touch which I found pleasantly responsive most of the time. I say most of the time because the S10-3t does take time to launch some applications. This is afterall a netbook and its computing capability are thus restricted when compared to its more powerful Core 2 Duo or Core i equipped cousins.

The S10-3t has an accelerometer enabling the display to automatically shift position to either landscape or portrait mode depending on the position of S10-3t. But I found this option to be squirky at times.

The screen can be turned 180 degrees to the left or to the right, and then laid flat on the keyboard. If you happen to have the 8-cell battery, this can be used as a handle for holding the tablet. The build is solid and you don’t get the feeling you might break the thing as you turn it left or right.

There is a 6-in-1 card reader on the front of the tablet. I don’t know who designed this on the S10-3t as you need a fingernail to pull out the cover. 

There are three buttons on the lower left side of the screen. The top most button launches the Natural Touch program. The middle button allows you to reposition the screen from landscape to portrait and back again. The bottom button is to mute the speaker.

There are six tiny activity indicators or white lights on the lower left side of the screen. These are for power, battery/charge, wireless, hard drive access, numlock and caps lock. Speakers are on either side at the bottom of the screen. A small built-in microphone is located towards the front left side of the tablet.

Lenovo has been skimpy with the trackpad. There are no visible left and right mouse buttons. Instead there is a pair of red dots flanking the lower left and lower right bottom of the trackpad. Contrary to what some people have written, this is not a multi-touch trackpad.

There is a wireless on-off toggle switch on the front right side of the S10-3t. 

Software Observations
The S10-3t comes installed with Windows 7 Home Premium. Lenovo has pre-installed the S10-3t with several applications, including Lenovo NaturalTouch which lets you get productive with this netvertible straight out of the box.

The Lenovo NaturalTouch includes several applications: video, photo, eBook, Music and Quick Notes. These can be access by swiping the screen left to right, or right to left. To launch requires a mere touch. Nine other applications are visible from the dock. These include Calculator, Chess Titan (game), Control Panel, IE, Paint, My document, Recorder, My computer, and Purple Place (game). You can customize the apps on the dock.

Other applications
Lenovo DirectShare syncs all files and data between the S10-3t and any USB drive in the local network. This makes it easy to backup all data. I wasn’t able to test if this software would work in a wireless LAN environment with a NAS server.

Lenovo VeriTouch is touchscreen control software. With VeriTouch, you can log in, log off, restart and shut down the PC simply by touching the screen. I couldn’t really figure out what this software does though.

Lenovo VeriFace 3.6 is a face recognition software. When I first got this laptop, I found this feature unreliable. During the test period I was unable to make it work as the inbuilt video camera wasn’t working properly.

Lenovo Redicom is a utility to manage connectivity via WiFi and Bluetooth. I read a forum that questioned the need for this software.

OneKey Recovery is a utility to help re-install the Windows operating system should the need arise.

Recovery Options
Some years ago, I was told that one of the quirks of Windows XP is the need to reinstall the OS after 18 months of use. The reasoning is that as you add and remove applications, changes to the Registry causes some instability in the OS. I’ve seen this first hand and have done the re-install process at least twice in the lifetime of each laptop I was given. Take my word for it the OS installation is tiresome and a drain on your patience. Lenovo has taken the pain out of the process of bringing back the S10-3t to its original state. On the upper lefthand corner of the laptop is a tiny almost unoticeable switch (see photo below). This activates the “One Key Recovery” software that allows you to reinstall the operating system in the event you find it necessary to rebuild you S10-3t.

User Upgrades
There are five small screws on the bottom of the laptop easily removable with a standard Philips screw driver. You can install a 1GB DDR2 RAM card. I was told that while you can replace the 2.5″ harddrive it is not recommended. In addition to the Windows 7 Home Premium OS, Lenovo added a number of software to enhance the user experience with the laptop. I also understand that the S10-3 series includes an 3G support. However, I was certain whether the unit I was provided to try out is equipped with a 3G module on-board.

Overall Experience
The touch experience is not always smooth especially when scrolling a long document or surfing a long page. This may have to do with the narrow scroll bars. Lenovo placed the power button on the lower right side of the screen. It is easy to accidentally touch this button.  Good thing Lenovo intuitively placed a toggle switch below the power button to lock and unlock it so you won’t accidentally press it when moving the S10-3t. I’ve actually press the power button several times unintentionally of course. The experience has taught me to use this toggle switch as often as possible.

I found the sound quality to be low on the S10-3t. Even at maximum volume setting I still had to strain to hear what I was playing. The S10-3t is equipped with a headset jack so keep a pair of headsets handy with this netvertible.

I also found that if you inserted an SD card into the built-in multi-card reader and reboot, the S10-3t appears to hang with the only indication of activity being a white cursor appearing on the upper left corner of an other wise blank screen.

I also found my early experience with this netvertible annoying when it came to connecting to the Internet via WiFi. At one point I was thinking of returning the S10-3t back as I found it frustrating trying to figure out what was not happening.

I found the location of the in-built webcam to be the most annoying part of netvertible in an otherwise great design. Placing the tiny webcam one-third on the right side of the LED panel meant that it would be ackward to conduct a Skype or video call since you have to move your face to the right side of the laptop and veer your gaze towards the center o th screen to view the other party.  The location of this webcam also made it rather annoying if you decide to run the VeriFace recognition system as part of the login process.

One More Thing
My initial impression when I took the S10-3t out of the box was how heavy the netvertible was for a netbook. I didn’t really appreciate the effort put to building a solid netbook. At 1.5 kg with the battery, this is not a laptop you can keep holding for long periods of time in your hand. Having tried to read a couple of ebooks on this netvertible I can now say I’d rather get a eReader to do my reading.

This is the best tablet netbook I’ve seen so far. Lenovo and Microsoft still need to work on creating a seamless experience on these machines if they ever want Windows to become a true contender in the touch computing experience.

Would I buy this machine? I would seriously consider Lenovo’s tablet netbook over Acer, Asus and even HP (if they come with one). It is a decent machine. My concern is that the hardware is underpowered relative to the software. A better configuration for anyone seriously consider buying the S10-3t is to get it with a 2GB RAM and if possible one of those solid state hard drives. But the latter would make this model expensive (at least for now). For my money, Lenovo’s on the right track with the S10-3t.

Technical Specs

CPU: Intel Atom Processor N450 (1.66GHz, 512KB L2 Cache)
OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 32-bit
RAM: 1GB DDR2 667MHz (expandable to 2GB)
Storage: 160GB 5400 rpm serial ATA (upgrade to 360GB)
Display: 10.1″ SWVGA (1024×600) LED 16:9 widescreen with multi-touch
Video chip: Intel GMA 3150 Graphics card
Connectivity: BCM 4313 B/G/N wireless, Fast Ethernet 10/100, Bluetooth 2.1, optional 3G,  WiMAX
2 stereo speakers, 5.1 Dolby headphone
I/O: 2 x USB 2.0, 1xexternal VGA, 6-in-1 card reader, headphone, mic
Camera: 1.3 megapixel integrated camera,
Preinstalled software: VeriFace face recognition, Onekey Resource System,  Quick Start, Lenovo Direct Share, APS harddisk protection
Battery: 8 cell lithium-ion battery 10 hour operations (also available with 4 cell)
Weight: 1.5 kg, including battery
Dimensions: 27.94cm x 17.53cm x 2.03cm

Photos below





Other tablet netbooks (netvertible)
Gigabyte TouchNote T1028x (http://products.liliputing.com/products?id=539)
Asus Eee PC T91MT Netbook (http://hothardware.com/Articles/Asus-Eee-PC-T91-SwivelScreen-Netbook-Review/)