Lenovo Adds Touch Capability, Outdoor LCD to ThinkPads

By Jamie Bsales | Posted September 15, 2009

Today Lenovo took the wraps off several features set to debut on upcoming ThinkPad laptops that promise to make working with the laptops easier for field workers, road warriors and everyday business people. The enhancements will debut on the company’s ThinkPad X200 Tablet ultra-portable model and its workhorse ThinkPad T400s thin-and-light laptop, and will eventually propagate to other ThinkPad models.

For starters, both the X200 Tablet and T400s will benefit from the new touch-screen capabilities in the soon-to-debut Windows 7 operating system from Microsoft. “Touch input is everywhere—smartphones, GPS devices, the screens at the checkout counter—and young people especially are looking for touch capabilities,” said Aaron Stewart, senior human factors engineer at Lenovo. “Our focus was to allow you to interact more naturally with the PC.”

The next-generation screens on the X200 Tablet and T400s support a range of gestures or executing tasks. For example, a finger tap replaces the need to use the cursor control and mouse buttons to select an on-screen program icon or dialog-box button.

Lenovo Simple Tap
Lenovo’s SimpleTap utility will let customers with compatible touch-screen PCs take full advantage of Windows 7’s native touch capabilities.
(Click for larger image)
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You can move objects with the quick flick of a finger, and you can zoom in or out on an image or page by spreading apart or pinching together two fingers while touching the screen. The 12.1-inch screen on the X200 Tablet supports input from up to two fingers at a time, while the larger 14-inch screen of the T400s supports input from up to four fingers at a time for executing more complex gestures, such as rotating an object around a fixed pivot point or accepting input from two people simultaneously.

Lenovo claims that the new panels are an improvement over previous-generation touch screens, requiring a lighter touch. The company has also come up with a new coating that resists fingerprints and smudges better than past panels, while also being easier to clean. In addition, Lenovo will launch its SimpleTap utility, available as a free download in late October, to help Windows 7 customers with compatible touch screen–equipped PCs make better use of the operating system’s native touch capabilities.

Launching SimpleTap opens a floating pallet of semi-transparent touch-aware “tiles” for executing tasks. Out of the box, SimpleTap includes tiles for volume control, turning the Webcam on or off, locking the computer or putting it to sleep, adjusting screen brightness, and turning the ThinkLight (the small white LED that illuminates the keyboard) on or off.

Customers can add their own tiles to the SimpleTap dock to expand its functionality -- to launch a particular application or open a Web page, for example. You can easily move tiles around the screen with a quick swipe of the finger, gather them together in individual groups, or keep them organized in a neat grid by tapping on the utility’s grid icon.

In addition to the touch-screen panels and SimpleTap utility, Lenovo also announced a new outdoor-friendly screen for the X200 Tablet. Unlike traditional LCD panels, which are nearly impossible to use outdoors, the optional screen will let you see your work even in bright sunlight. Lenovo is targeting the option at field engineers, sales professionals, real estate agents and others who often find themselves working outside.

Lenovo’s outdoor screen combines an extra-bright 400-nit LCD with a unique coating that features a lower reflectivity quotient than typical notebook panels: just 1.2 percent, versus four percent to eight percent for standard LCD screens. Lenovo claims the new panel does not add any weight to the X200 Tablet while also delivering a bright, high-contrast image for indoor viewing. The ThinkPad X200 Tablet with the outdoor screen is available as of September 15 with prices starting at $1,704.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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