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Under Review: Good old Thinkpad lurks under shiny lid

Under Review: Good old Thinkpad lurks under shiny lid

While it may not be as sexy or as comparatively compact as it namesake, the Mercedes Benz SL500, the Lenovo Thinkpad SL500 is certainly better looking than previous models in this line.

Thinkpads have long been known for their utilitarian, if somewhat dowdy design. And herein lay some of their charm – they looked and felt like workhorses and were much closer to a reliable Land Rover, than a flashy Merc.

Therefore, it was a little surprising to discover the piano black finish on the lid of the SL500. To be frank, sticking a piano black lid on a Thinkpad is a little like coating that Land Rover you’re about to take bushwhacking in shiny metallic paint.

But the bold looks on the SL500 may change this, especially since under the lid the familiar and reassuring Thinkpad design and features are still to be found.

This includes the Thinkpad’s trademark matte black and durable enclosure, sturdy, decent-sized keys and of course the ever-present Trackpoint.

Lenovo is aiming the SL range, comprising the SL400 and SL500, at small to medium businesses. It claims the range is designed to meet the needs of small business users wherever they work – at home, the office, the park or a coffee shop.

However, as the larger model in the range, the 15-inch SL500 is certainly not built for the mobile worker.

Weighing 2.88 kg it is a bulky machine and while it is not pitched as a desktop replacement either, this is likely where the laptop will find its most common application in practice.

Nevertheless, a good combination of connectivity options and multimedia features will see this model taken away from the desk more often than its lack of portability suggests.

In addition to the standard wifi and ethernet connections, the SL500 model tested included Bluetooth, which is optional across the range.

Some SL models also feature built-in mobile broadband, provided by Lenovo in partnership with Vodafone.

On the multimedia side this machine stands out, as it boasts an HMDI port – still a rare find in business notebooks.

While the SL500 that was tested did not include a Blu-Ray disc drive, this is another optional extra.

Although features such as HD support are nice to have, it’s the machine’s small business credentials Lenovo is trying to push.

The machine ships with Lenovo Care Tools, a suite of software tools that the company says aim to assist SMEs whom often do not have dedicated IT support.

These are easily accessed through a dedicated Lenovo Care key to the left of the keyboard. This button launches the Lenovo Care Centre – a handy hub from which all these tools can be accessed.

The care tools can also be launched directly from the Start menu.

Included in the suite of tools is third party offering PC-Doctor 5 for Windows, which enables users to diagnose hardware problems, as well as Lenovo’s own Access Connections, Client Security Solutions, Rescue and Recovery, Presentation Director and System Update.

While such tools will be useful, this reviewer questions their true value, as they often add unnecessary clutter to the desktop. Plus, functions such as network connection controls are built into Windows anyway.

In fact, I found the Lenovo Access Connections internet connection wizard unnecessarily clumsy and thought it just created another layer of complexity.

Overall the Thinkpad SL500 delivered solid performance – and certainly retains much of the character of previous models.

With a 2.4 Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 2 GB of DDR2 memory, it ran Windows Vista Business with no issues.

Visually the screen performed well on its 1680 x 1050 resolution backlit display, powered by the highly-rated 256 MB Nvidia GeForce 9300M graphics chipset.

Nice extras for a business notebook are the SD memory card slot, integrated webcam and fingerprint reader, which meshes with Lenovo’s assertion that the SL500 is ideal for users who work from a variety of locations.

While the SL500 is slightly curvier than preceding Thinkpad models, it was one of the smaller touches that elicited some of the best reaction from colleagues – a red illuminated dot on the “i” in the Thinkpad logo on the lid.

This was described by observes as “cute and cool”, but it seems to have little function apart from acting as a power-on indicator.

While the SL500 is not likely to a find a following among travelling salespeople due to its size and weight, it should appeal to small business owners, directors or managers who want a hardworking machine with a just a dash of style. After all, if they are after something showy, then a Thinkpad would probably not have been high on their list in the first place.

Pricing for the SL500 starts at $1299.


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