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Lenovo set to take on Apple's MacBook Air

Analysts say new ThinkPad ultrathin laptop could help spur the ultraportable market

February 26, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Watch out, Apple. The MacBook Air now has some serious company.

Lenovo Group Ltd. today unveiled its ThinkPad X300 laptop, an  ultrathin machine that weighs in at 2.9 lbs. and measures three-fourths of an inch at its thinnest point.

Apple Inc. announced the MacBook Air in January, when CEO Steve Jobs pulled the Hollywood-thin notebook out of an interoffice mail envelope in front a foot-stomping crowd of Apple devotees at the Macworld Conference in San Francisco. The Apple machine is thinner than Lenovo's X300, measuring just 0.16 in. at its thinnest point. 

Nonetheless, analysts expect the new ThinkPad to give the MacBook Air a run for its money.

"I think this is pretty exciting. It's Lenovo carrying on with the innovation legacy it inherited when it acquired the ThinkPad business from IBM," said Richard Shim, an analyst at IDC. "Together, the two machines are helping to reshape the ultraportable category. From a market share perspective, this category has been stuck. Part of the reason is when you buy an ultraportable, you're paying a premium but sacrificing performance. If you pay more, you should get more. These two machines challenge that obstacle."

Shim noted that both the ThinkPad X300 and the MacBook Air have 13-in. displays, compared to most ultraportables, which have 12-in. displays and are slightly heavier, at 3 to 4 lbs.

However, while the MacBook Air is consumer machine, the ThinkPad, as always, is built to be a business tool.

The new ThinkPad has replaceable batteries and a replaceable optical drive. It also has three USB ports (compared to one on the MacBook Air) along with a VGA port that can be used to hook it up to a monitor.

The ThinkPad, though, also comes with an executive-level price tag. Available immediately, pricing for the Lenovo machine starts at $2,799.

This is a product for a top executive who's always on the go, according to analyst Rob Enderle, president of Enderle Group. "In all seriousness, anybody buying the MacBook Air is doing it because it's sleek and cool. Anyone buying the Thinkpad is doing it because they really want to do some work with it.... This is the product you give your very top people. It's not going to be for everybody because of its price."

Enderle, though, noted that even as a business machine, the ThinkPad X300 is a sexy device.

"It's the first ThinkPad since the mid-'90s that I actually think is sexy," he added. "Thinkpads are known as solid products, but not really for being sexy. It's just very thin, very light. It's kind of a technology showcase. This thing has all the bells and whistles that you could possibly aspire to in a notebook."

Shim noted that Lenovo's new thin design for the ThinkPad should work with Apple's sleek MacBook Air to move the ultraportable laptop market forward. "It will help to redefine the ultraportable market and help to spur some growth," he added. "They push the bar on thinness, allowing some of this innovation to trickle down in the market over time."

Read more about Laptops in Computerworld's Laptops Topic Center.

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