Thinking about the X41 Tablet PC one month later…

I’ve been evaluating a Lenovo IBM X41 Tablet PC for about a month now and while I still have concerns about performance and occasionally am baffled by the subtleties of Windows for the Tablet PC, I’m finding that it integrates nicely into my workflow.
This morning when someone commented on my X41 Tablet PC entry with the question:
“Dave, interested to know whether you think its the hardware or the OS that is letting you down. Seems like its mostly the OS. Let me know please as I am looking at the x41 vs other Tablet PCs.”
I thought it would be useful to move the answer into its own weblog entry, as a logical followup to my two previous articles on the X41 and Windows for Tablet PC: Lenovo IBM X41 Tablet PC: I’m Not Impressed and, a few days later, Windows for Tablet PC Handwriting Recognition is Superb.
To me, the key question is whether the cost and hassles of managing with yet one more piece of sophisticated technology is outweighed by the benefits of the unit. And at this point, I’d have to say yes, the X41 Tablet PC is a good solution. Let me explain my thinking, though…


Rather than look for new solutions with the X41, my goal was really to try and drop it into my existing work environment, where I attend lots of lectures and talks, go to multi-day meetings and strategic planning sessions and spend a fair amount of time consulting with clients on the phone.
The second barrier is that my preferred operating system is Mac OS X, not Windows XP, so everything else being equal, I’d much rather have a Tablet Mac (what I call a PowerPad Mac). But at this point in time, the only OS choice seems to be Windows for Tablet PC, so that’s what I’m running.
And you know what? It’s a great addition to my professional life, and the combination of light weight, long battery life and wifi connectivity, coupled with the low profile layout, have proven quite attractive once I started using the X41 regularly.
As an example, one area where I’ve already found the Tablet PC indispensable is with my phone consultations (and phone calls in general): by running Windows Journal I can scribble down notes and to-do items as I go along, all without my clients being distracted by a single key click. Very useful, and doubly so when coupled with a nice headset (and VOIP, but I digress).
Then, instead of having piles of notes disorganized on my desk, I have a folder for each client and a set of easily viewed notes. I am finding that I don’t even need to worry about the ability to translate my scribbles into text, interestingly, though I can certainly envision an environment where that would be valuable.
I also review a lot of documents, both in PDF form and as email or Word files. Email can be answered and Word files can be edited or revised, but Grahl Software’s splendid PDF Annotator is an amazing program that lets me use regular Tablet PC notational conventions (circling words, scribbling in margins) on any PDF, with it then saving a new version of the PDF that includes the marginalia and commentary. This is almost a “killer app” for the Tablet PC by itself, in my line of work.
But the X41, for all its benefits and sexy design, is still slow. When I wake the unit from standby, I sometimes have to wait 30-60 seconds or longer before it’s fully functional, what sounds like a tiny delay but still feels darn long. Launching programs is puzzling too: sometimes I can double click on a file or app icon and a few seconds later have everything going great, but other times nothing happens and a few minutes later I’ll “right click” and choose “Open”, just to find, a few minutes later, that I now have two versions of the app running. It feels like an old PC in this regards, enough power to run applications, but not necessarily enough to fly, if y’know what I mean.
I also still miss the human factors engineering that I’ve become accustomed to within the Apple community: a one-button sleep function, for example, is sorely missed. The overall design is typical IBM (though the X41 is the first product actually designed by Lenovo, they’re clearly not straying far from the IBM design guidelines yet) and, well, it’s boring and pedestrian. Not a show-stopper, but I really want to see a sleek brushed aluminum Tablet PC that has just one or two key buttons on the screen and otherwise feels less like a technological wonder and more like a digital pad of paper.
And, finally, when my evaluatory period is up, am I going to buy an X41 Tablet PC from Lenovo or one of its outlets? That’s probably the $64,000 question (adjusted for inflation), and at this point I’d say that I’m leaning towards buying one, but I really want to experience a few different solutions from other vendors: I’m convinced that for all its flaws and hiccups I can work well in Windows for Tablet PC and, down the road, Windows Vista for Tablet PC, but the X41? I’m not at 100% yet…

11 comments on “Thinking about the X41 Tablet PC one month later…

  1. I wisk I liked my X41 more than I do – I really want to like it, but it IS slow and I get a blue screen each time I touch the screen with the pen if its been docked in the docking station!
    I have not called IBM yet as I imagine I am going to have to spend hours on the phone with someone and I dont relish that thought.
    I just cant figure it out – why is this machine so slow – everything takes an age. Any ideas?

  2. I hear you on that one, Barrie. In fact, I’ll have to send the unit back in a week or two and, well, I’m not going to buy one. Too slow, too frustrating. Nice form factor, and Windows for Tablet PC is very cool, but the X41 isn’t good enough for me to allocate $2000.

  3. The biggest performance boost I’ve found is to remove IBM Access Connections. While it is a nice program, it is ungodly slow, and If you don’t make use of a lot of its features it is almost better to not use. When uninstalling Access Connections, you should also uninstall the Intel wireless monitor program (Add/Remove it, and then unselect the second checkbox, and keep the first checkbox (for the actual driver itself). This reduced the time it took my system to boot and get network up from about 5 minutes to 1 minute.

  4. I too have an X41 and it seemed peppy enough when I first acquired it back in the middle of January.
    I was just running Spybot S&D on it thinking that perhaps there was some nasty spyware or similar on it that was slowing it down. But that wouldn’t explain why it takes so long to even load up Windows. Googling “X41” and “Slow” brought me here and I’m encouraged to see that this is not just a glitch on my own box.
    I’ve been getting around the boot up issue by only sleeping / hibernating the unit but the quirky “post standby” behavior described above has been my experience as well. That plus the occasional double-launching has led me to try to tweak this unit. My T42 (from work) is positively wonderful and helped inspire my X41 purchase. But the two units are not even on the same playing field in terms of performance.
    After I do some more researcy, I will most likely try removing the IBM Access Connections – it’s quirky all on its own anyway – and see if I can get the boost described by “Anonymous” above.

  5. I’ve recently realized that I can create my own blue screen by undocking and using the touch screen. A bit unsettling when you can create your own blue screen on demand.
    Was researching this issue before calling IBM about it.

  6. The X41 is crippled out of the box by Lenovo for some reason. The processor is configured to run at much lower speeds than advertised, even when on AC power.
    You can go into the Bios of the system and easily change this setting. It has made a huge improvement in my experience. I went from being ho-hum with my 1/41 to being in love.

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