September 10, 2006 Last November, we had a chance to test the new Z60t and Z60m Thinkpads. These devices were the first of Lenovo's 60 series products, and were the first to offer integrated EVDO service from Verizon in the US. They were also the first Thinkpads built to a new set of internal standards for docking station and power supplies that are compatible across the entire 60 generation of products. The Z60 was followed by the T60 and X60 Thinkpads in February, which added Intel's current generation of dual core processors, but unfortunately the Z60 was released too early to get these new gems, and an expected upgrade to the specs of the Z60 didn't materialize when we thought it would. The new Z61t and Z61m laptops refresh their Z60 forbearers, and the Z61p is a new wide screen workstation model based upon the Z61m chassis.

Enter the Z61

Apparently, Lenovo was saving up their enhancements for a more substantial release, and have recently managed to quietly upgrade the Z60 into the Z61 adding high resolution displays and support for the fastest dual core CPUs. We haven't tested the Z61m or Z61p, but have put the Z61t through its paces. For a travel conscious consumer, the Z61t crams a very powerful PC into what we think is the smallest reasonable form for a business notebook.

Wait, before you say, "What about the X60? Isn't that Lenovo's smallest and lightest device? And what about those Sony TX models?" When we last wrote about the X60 we took some heat for saying that we didn't care for the small keyboard, the 1024x768 low resolution screen. The Z61t, in contrast, has all the features of the X60, but adds a full size keyboard, both a TrackPoint and touchpad pointing device, a 14.1" 1440x900 display, and an ultrabay port (for an optical drive, additional battery, or hard drive). In exchange for these extras, the device weighs approximately 1lb more, is about 1/4" thicker, and is maybe 2" wider. Now 2" may seem like a lot when you're crammed into an economy class seat, keep in mind that the Z60t is about the same "height" when opened as the X60, so where it actually matters, the Z60t is as compact as it's diminutive sibling. The only area where the Z61t is inferior to the X60 *is* in the battery life department. When equipped with its standard 4 cell battery the Z60t lasts about 2.5 hours, or close to 1/4 the time of the less power hungry X60s (which comes with a considerably larger 8 cell battery). Even if you choose to order a 7 cell extended battery for the Z61t, the X60s will still last more than twice as long. Notice we haven't said much about the Sony TX models. While they're very small and have nice bright (and relatively high resolution) 1366x768 11.1in displays, their relatively slow single core low-voltage Pentium M processors and minuscule chiclet style keyboard really make these devices contenders for people who's ONLY concerns are small size and weight.

It comes down to different strokes for different folks, and while the X60 has better keyboard ergonomics that all the other ultra-portable laptops we've seen (Sony TX's included), we just don't think that the design sacrifices that were necessary to meet the X's size were worth it. And while the Sony's TX sacrifices fewer features than the X60 they've ended up with a device that's significantly underpowered and very difficult to type on.

So is the Z61t the Perfect Traveler?

Ironically, the entire Z series of Thinkpads are supposed to be more multimedia friendly than X and T models. All the Z models have S-video TV outputs, Firewire ports, as well as SD card readers, and the Z61t even adds a webcam! The X models include Firewire and the SD card reader, but are missing the camera and s-video output, and the more powerful T60p models have none of these useful features. We found that the integrated webcam makes it easy to have a video conference from your hotel room (doesn't everyone use Skype now for international calling?), and the S-video output can come in quite handy for presentations. In fact we'd like to see these features migrate to the entire Thinkpad line. As with the entire ThinkPad line, all models can be equipped with embedded EVDO radios for high speed WWAN service from Verizon Wireless in the US.

The flaw that irritates us the most is the Z61t's lack of DVI support. Although NONE of the 60 series Thinkpads have DVI-I ports (all include an ancient VGA port), the T60 laptops do support digital video output up to 1600x1200 in resolution when attached to a docking station. Unfortunately, although the Z61t can display 1600x1200 as well, it only supports analog VGA output, even when docked. We've been a told by Lenovo that DVI output through the dock is a feature that's expected to creep into the next version of the Z, and we're looking forward to it. We've found that the T60p Thinkpads that we've used with docking stations and digital LCD monitors double quite well as complete desktop replacements. Unfortunately without a digital output from the Z61t, the video displayed on the same setup that looked perfect and crisp with the T60p, looks washed out, blurry and was hard to look at for extended periods of time.

We're hoping that next generation of Thinkpads finally cuts the VGA cords and adds DVI-I ports directly to the laptops. Apple's has done this so long ago that we can't remember a Mac notebook that DIDN'T have a DVI port! It's long overdue for the Windows world to catch up in this respect.

Overall Impressions

So if you haven't guessed by now, we're impressed with the Z61t. Lenovo has taken an already solid product and added some very useful enhancements. The 3 major upgrades over the Z60t are the webcam, processor and display, and all are top notch. So Goldilocks, if the tiny X60 is too small to type on for you, and the large T60 is to heavy for you to carry, you may just find that the Z61t is the bed that's "just right" for you. Just don't spill the porridge on it; while the keyboard is spill resistant, we're pretty sure it's not completely waterproof.

;-) Dave Weinstein

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