Review: 3 Windows 7 touch-screen laptops

New notebooks take advantage of Microsoft's touch-friendly OS

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Lenovo ThinkPad T400s

Rather than package touch-screen technology in an unfamiliar tablet, Lenovo's ThinkPad T400s puts it in a familiar notebook format. Unfortunately, it's expensive and lacks a pen for precise work.

Lenovo ThinkPad T400s

Lenovo ThinkPad T400s

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At 4.5 pounds, the touch screen-capable T400s is only about an ounce heavier than the standard T400s model. It boasts a 14.1-inch screen and measures 13.2 x 9.4 x 1.1 inches, making it slimmer than either of the other two. With the 10-ounce AC adapter, it has a travel weight of 5.1 pounds, several ounces less than the Fujitsu T4410, which has a smaller screen.

The ThinkPad's screen uses N-Trig's capacitive digitizer to interpret finger movements and complex gestures.

The screen has a comfortable feel when fingering around, although I couldn't resist the temptation to brace the screen lid with my left hand while tapping with my right. The hinge can conveniently fold flat for working horizontally on a tabletop, but it isn't quite as comfortable as working on a tablet.

Because the ThinkPad doesn't have a pen, fingers dominates the input equation. This is fine until you need precise control, such as when writing or drawing. Fingering works well with the unit's SimpleTap software, which comes up when you tap the screen with two fingers. Several large tiles appear that correspond to major hardware functions, like turning on the microphone or Web cam. It's fun to fling them around and watch them bounce off the screen edge. They can be snapped to a grid, and it takes a few seconds to add or delete any.

Lenovo ThinkPad T400s

SimpleTap

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While the ThinkPad's processor matches the LifeBook T4410's 2.5GHz speed, the ThinkPad's T9600 Intel Core 2 Duo chip has 6MB of cache (twice that of the T4410). Add in the system's 4GB of RAM (it can hold 8GB), a 128GB SSD and a DVD multi drive, and you have a $2,455 machine that's built for all-out performance. (The $2,000 base unit comes with an Intel SP9400 Core 2 Duo 2.40GHz processor, 2GB RAM and a 120GB hard drive.)

In addition to 802.11a/b/g/n (via Intel's Wi-Fi Link 5100), the ThinkPad has wired Ethernet. Unfortunately, you'll need to decide between having an ExpressCard slot or a flash card reader, a choice that you don't have to make with either of the other two systems.

The rest of the available connections on the system include both a traditional VGA external monitor port and a DisplayPort as well as three USB ports (one doubles as an SATA jack). The system has an annoying combo headphone-microphone jack -- if you want to use separate headphones and a microphone you need a Y adapter. You'll have to pay $20 extra for Bluetooth.

With its powerful processor and SSD drive, it's no surprise that the ThinkPad T400s was a speed demon, with a PassMark 7.0 Performance score of 939.9, making it one of the fastest notebooks I've seen. The price to pay for that is an uninspiring 2 hours and 31 minutes from its 3,900 milli-amp hour battery. It had a Wi-Fi range of 95 feet, the shortest of the group.

Its $2,455 price tag means that the ThinkPad T400s has a $400 premium over a non-touch T400s, and is the most expensive of this group. An excellent high-performance system that shows the potential of touch technology, the T400s needs a pen for when the finger is too blunt an instrument.

Conclusion

Each of these touch systems impressed and disappointed me in its own way. I really liked the familiar look and feel of the ThinkPad T400s -- and it's a speedster -- but is out of the price range of most and lacks a pen for precise work. The HP TouchSmart tx2z could be a good choice if you're working with a limited budget -- it costs less than half as much as the T400s -- but you'll have to deal with a somewhat heavier travel weight and mediocre performance.

My own choice would be the Fujitsu T4410, a digital jack-of-all-trades that does everything well -- just not spectacularly. Its size and weight was comfortable and it was just as good for typing as it was for writing.

Brian Nadel is a freelance writer based near New York and is the former editor in chief of Mobile Computing & Communications magazine.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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