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Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had the opportunity to test and review the Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds mobile workstation – a computer designed with creative types (like graphic artists and photographers) in mind.
I’d heard about the W700ds when it first was announced – it was hard not to take notice with some of the features in the specs sheet:
Lets start this mini review with a disclaimer – I’ve not used a PC for years. I’m a Mac fanboy – to the point that this is my first experience of Vista! This of course impacted my use of the W700DS – but I’ll try to be neutral!
Also worth noting is that I’m reviewing the W700 DS more from a usability point of view than writing a hardcore tech review. There are plenty of other reviews of this machine around that drill down more into speed tests etc – let me just tell you about how I found using the W700 DS in everyday use.
This is no small laptop! Unboxing the W700DS the first thing I noticed before even opening it up was the size and weight of this machine. The first thought that came to mind was that I didn’t think I’d be taking this laptop far away from my desk and certainly wasn’t going to spend a lot of time with it on my actual lap or using it on a flight any time soon.
This is unmistakably a ThinkPad machine – it’s black, square and solid looking. It weighs in a 4.96 kg (around 13 pounds). Closed up it’s around 5cm (2 inches) thick. The word ‘sexy’ doesn’t really come to mind.
It has a full sized keyboard with full numeric keypad, trackpad with 5 buttons, track stick in the center of the keyboard, Wacom tablet built into the front right hand area of the machine and a digital pen to use it.
Overall it’s big and it’s heavy but with the secondary screen extended it’s an impressive looking machine that is bound to turn heads.
The main 17 inch screen is fantastic. Colors were excellent, brightness was great and visibility even looking from off to the side was good. This is a high quality screen.
The 10.6 inch secondary screen adds about 40% more screen real estate to the W700 (the combined screens can show up to 3200×1968). While not as large as a secondary screen on your desktop this is handy if you are out and about with your laptop.
I used it mainly to run email and other communication programs while working on main documents on the main 17 inch screen. In photoshop I positioned toolbars on the smaller screen leaving the main screen for the image I was working on.
The smaller screen is in the portrait format while the larger one is landscape – I quite liked having those two different formats.
Once extended the secondary screen can be angled in slightly or left to extend out flat from the main screen. I used it angled in as it improved brightness and image quality. At times I did worry a little about having the screen extending out beyond the computer – while it seems solid it is in a bit of a vulnerable position to anyone walking past the right hand side of your computer (including almost 3 year olds who go running by not expecting to see their father’s Gmail account open before them).
The image quality of this smaller screen is not as good as the larger primary one but it is a useful addition to have when you need the extra screen real estate.
Roomy is the word that comes to mind as one uses the keyboard. The footprint of this machine is significantly bigger than my Macbook Pro.
Small is the word that comes to mind as I used the touchpad. My MPB’s touchpad must be 2-3 times larger than the W700’s.
The other thing I’ll say about the layout of this machine is that I felt a little off-center using it. The number keypad off to the right is handy – but it does throw the rest of the keyboard off to the left a little. That’s where I spend most of my time so I constantly had a feeling of having my hands off to the left a little.
Once I got used to the differences in size I found both the keyboard, touchpad and pointing stick to be comfortable to use and responsive – although…. the touchpad really is small.
Wacom Digitizer Pad
I was particularly looking forward to testing the 5 inch Wacom digitizer. Having not used one before there was a bit of a learning curve to go through but overall the experience was quite good and I enjoyed the option to use the digitizer in photoshop.
I found it very responsive (almost too responsive at first) and the only beef I had was that at times it felt ‘wrong’ to have my right wrist leaning against it as I typed as it is placed directly in front of the keyboard area.
Color Calibration – this will be important to many readers of DPS who are looking to make sure the colors in their images are accurate. The calibration process was simple and showed improvement when I ran it. It uses Pantone’s Pro Color Control software and a small sensor integrated into the palm rest of the machine. To run it all you do is start the calibration program, shut the laptop wait around a minute for three beeps and you’re done. The only downside is that it’s just the primary screen you’re really calibrating here not both.
Webcam – I only used this once to do a call on skype but it worked seamlessly and the person I was chatting with remarked that I looked good (not sure if that was because of the camera or if it was just a good hair day. It’s only 1.3 megapixels so you won’t be taking any shots or video that are too amazing – but it being attached to an almost 5kg machines kind of rules that our anyway.
Connectivity – The W700DS has plenty of options when it comes to connectivity with five USB ports, VGA, 1394 FireWire, CF card reader, Express 64, dual-link DVI, DisplayPort, 7-in-1 card reader, ethernet and wireless.
Fingerprint Reader – I didn’t use it but if you’re concerned about security a useful feature.
As mentioned above – I did not run any speed tests on the W700 DS. That’s not my style so I wanted to keep this review authentic.
What I can tell you is that the W700 DS is fast and barely skipped a beat when running a variety of programs at once.
The words ‘Grunt’ and ‘Power came to mind as I used the W700DS.
Start up time was good, I’m yet to see any errors or crashes – all’s been smooth sailing for me and the only problems I’ve had have had more to do with getting used to using Vista as a Mac user.
The only thing I did notice with performance was that using the W700DS on battery alone only lasted a little over and hour and a half. I suspect this could have been improved by not using the secondary screen while not connected to the power outlet.
My lasting impressions of the W700DS are positive. It’s a powerful machine with loads of innovative features – many of which will be suited to serious photographers.
It’s not the cheapest laptop going around (Lenovo currently have them on starting at $2869 USD on their website) and may not be high on portability but if you’re looking for a mobile workstation with grunt and features like secondary screens and the built in Wacom digitizer then this is a machine you’ll want to seriously consider.
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