Lenovo's (formerly IBM's) 1.4 kilogram ThinkPad now has a fingerprint reader. The skinny rectangular slide sensor is embedded in the palm rest just beneath the mouse buttons. Biometric software walks you through the stages of enrolling the finger of your choice; thereafter, a single swipe replaces typing in multiple user names and passwords at the Windows logon and at Web sites.
Otherwise, the ThinkPad X41 is mostly an encore of 2004's IBM ThinkPad X40. At just 1.5 kilograms with a 5.3-hour battery life, it makes an alluring travel companion. The X41 is sold standard with an eight-cell battery, which lasted twice as long in our tests as the four-cell-equipped X40 we reviewed previously. The four-cell battery, which is lighter and sits flush with the back, is now an option.
The X41's WorldBench 5 score of 64 is a good mark for an ultraportable with a 1.5GHz Pentium M Low Voltage 758 processor. Memory and storage are user-upgradeable. The notebook comes with a base 256MB of RAM built in, and a second memory slot sits in an easy-to-reach bottom compartment. You can pull the 40GB hard drive out of the front of the case after you remove one bottom screw.
Another major attraction of the X41 is its keyboard. With its near-full-size keystroke and spacing, the X41 offers a typing experience better than that of most other ultraportables (and some big laptops). The mouse buttons depress deeply for satisfying feedback. A spacebar magnifier, volume buttons, a dedicated launch button for the users' manual, and the ThinkLight--an LED in the screen frame that you can switch on in dark rooms--round out a great typing experience.
Now for what's missing. Like its predecessors, the X41 leaves touchpad fans out in the cold by offering only an eraserhead (TrackPoint) pointing device. The notebook's connections are limited to one PC Card slot; one SD slot; two USB 2.0 ports (including one powered); VGA, microphone, and headphone ports; and network and modem jacks. The 12.1" display is standard, not wide-screen, with an XGA resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels. Because there is no integrated optical drive, you'll either have to attach an external one via USB cable or opt for Lenovo's ThinkPad X4 UltraBase Dock, which contains an internal bay that you can fit with an optical drive, a secondary battery or a secondary hard drive. The X41 I looked at came with an UltraBase that held a combination DVD-ROM and CD-RW.
If you need a docking station, you could do a lot worse than the UltraBase, a well-designed 0.6 kilogram bottom slice that snaps on and off the X41 in a wink, thanks to an intuitive fit and a big right-hand side release lever. The UltraBase replicates notebook ports and adds legacy connections, including parallel, serial and PS/2 ports. But it lacks TV-out and FireWire ports, two fairly standard notebook connections. The UltraBase's stereo speakers, which override the X41's tinny-sounding monaural speaker, were mediocre for a docking station's. Though DVD movies looked fine on the X41's small screen, the base's speakers were too weak to support them adequately; I recommend using headphones.