Analyst Opinion – As some of you know, I actually like the Macbook Air but found the Lenovo ThinkPad X300 to be a vastly more useful product in the class. I’m one of the few folks that have been using an early version of the HTC Shift , a smaller screened ultra light tablet with a keyboard and a touch screen which is superior to both offerings in some ways and just released on Amazon.com for $1500 (someone screwed up, this wasn’t supposed to happen until next week). This got me thinking: The perfect next generation ultra-sexy notebook should be a blend of all three products.
I’ll do a quick summery of the ThinkPad X300 and MacBook air because both have been out awhile and then spend some time on the HTC Shift which most of you have never seen or heard of before.
ThinkPad X300 and MacBook Air
Both of these products are very thin. The Macbook Air leads on design and price while trading off usability. The X300 is vastly more practical in use but is nearly twice as expensive as the entry level Macbook Air and it is not as attractive. This comes down to battery life, flexibility, price, and appearance.
The X300 has, with a bay battery, the ability to hot swap batteries and you can carry spares, which means you will have as much battery life as you need. It has an optical drive if you need it, and it comes with a second generation flash drive as standard, providing extra durability and performance.
It is massively wireless with WiMax, WAN, Ultra Wideband, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth radios. It also has a full ThinkPad Vantage load of tools: Security and enterprise support typically associated with a ThinkPad.
The Air is drop dead gorgeous and currently the thinnest notebook on the market from any branded vendor. But with only 2.5 hours of battery life and a fixed battery it really isn’t that portable. However, it is far more affordable at around $1800 (without a slower older SSD than the X300 comes standard with).
As Monty Python would say, now for something completely different.
The HTC Shift
The HTC Shift weighs in at well under two pounds (a little over half the weight of the Macbook Air) and has a small 800 x 480 pixel 7” touchscreen, built in Sprint WAN, built in GPS and has about 2 hours of battery life when running Windows Vista.
But, what makes it interesting is that it has a second mode using a limited version of Microsoft’s mobile platform that provides the device with massive battery life for email, calendar, and contact management. Basically, you hit one button and move from Windows to Windows Mobile which is a vastly more limited but also a vastly more power efficient mode.
This is the first Origami 2.0 device I’ve had a chance to use and it is much improved over Origami 1.0. This provides more of a Media Center like experience under Vista and rapid access to pictures, videos, and Music. In Origami, which loads much like Media Center does on top of Windows Vista, you get something that probably approximates to what the Mobile Internet Device experience will be in the next generation Atom (Silverthorne) systems that Intel has been talking about with even smaller devices.
In use, unless you have really small hands, the keyboard is too small to touch type, but if you can hunt and peck it is a great little keyboard.
Another really cool feature is a touchpad that sits to the right and, even though it is tiny, it performs its function very well (I actually liked it better than the touch screen). The device comes with a fingerprint reader for security as well and implies it can be used for business successfully.
Unlike the first generation Origami and UMPC products, this thing is actually surprisingly snappy, but it won’t set any performance records. By the way, it was fully functional when connected to an external monitor, keyboard and mouse.
At around $1600, it is cheaper than the better looking Macbook Air and provides a better mobile experience, but the Air is still more useful as a laptop thanks to its larger screen and keyboard. However, battery was another thing and with the option of an extended battery (an extra $50) and spare batteries I’d be more comfortable with the Shift on the road. Strangely enough, in my case, I could actually live with the screen just fine. But the keyboard is simply too small and I found myself using an external keyboard whenever I got the opportunity.
But, when I looked at all three products, I could see a blend that could be the perfect laptop.
Blending the X300, Air, Shift Into the Perfect Notebook: The New ThinkPad Butterfly?
Starting with the Shift, the dual mode long battery life aspect is wonderful and it is also the most affordable of the three. The Lenovo is the most practical, usable and comprehensive product and the Apple is one of the most beautiful notebooks that is currently available. In addition, the perfect product needs the battery life and wireless capabilities shared by the Lenovo and HTC products and, were you to wrap all of this up in a bow, I think you’d have a laptop that a lot of us would favor over anything else.
The HTC Shift is a very innovative product for the right kind of user and it is well worth looking at for an idea of what is to come. I believe that the Shift, the ThinkPad X300, and the MacBook air all indicate that the industry is starting to aggressively hunt for the ideal next generation notebook, which will be a blend of what these products currently offer at a price we can afford. Whoever gets this right, will have an amazing product. Of course, some may remember the ThinkPad folks may have been close to right with a product called the ThinkPad 701 Butterfly in 1995 that stared in a James Bond movie. Maybe someone can make that concept more practical.
Rob Enderle is one of the last Inquiry Analysts. Inquiry Analysts are paid to stay up to date on current events and identify trends and either explain the trends or make suggestions, tactical and strategic, on how to best take advantage of them. Currently he provides his services to most of the major technology and media companies.