If one huge, high-resolution display on a notebook is good, two must be better, right? That’s exactly what Lenovo’s design team is banking on with the new Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds.
The W700ds isn’t a replacement or a refresh of the original, but rather, an optional upgrade to the same basic platform that makes good on Lenovo’s long-rumored promise to launch a notebook with dual displays. As NBR editor Jerry Jackson noted when he took a look at pre-production W700ds last month, one crucial area where desktop replacements have proved to be no replacement for a good desktop workstation is in the ability to pack up multiple displays and take them with you.
With a sliding 10.6 inch display that pops out from the space behind the original W700’s 17 inch panel, the W700ds still doesn’t have the screen real estate of two full-size desktop displays. But it also gives the W700 platform yet another leg up on its rivals, and, especially, another enticement for graphics pros on the go.
Lenovo ThinkPad W700ds Specifications:
The W700ds sports a base price of $3,663, which is already more than a grand higher than the single-screen version. And as configured – with top of the line processing and graphics options – our test model will set you back considerably more. Dressed as seen in this review, you’ll need a spare $5,309 to cover the cost.
Because our W700ds features the same fundamental technologies under the hood as the recently reviewed original ThinkPad W700, we’ve reused sections of that review where appropriate. All performance testing and benchmarking, however, is specific to this particular review unit.
Build and Design
In our original review of the original W700, I jokingly called the single-screen variant "the laptop designed to make normal people feel small." But as Jerry noted in checking out the W700ds for the first time, clearly big wasn’t big enough for the folks at Lenovo. While the basic chassis appears unchanged (with a basic footprint of 16 by 12 inches), the addition of that second slide-out screen behind the primary panel is felt in a line that’s thicker than some slender notebooks all by itself.
All closed up, the entire notebook measures some over two inches thick, with the computer’s rubber feet adding another quarter of an inch or so to this measurement when the machine is sitting on a desk.
Open the W700ds up, press gently on the right-hand side of the lid, and the second display emerges from its spring-loaded compartment. When extended, the portrait-orientation secondary screen juts out an addition seven inches or so on the right side – well into the personal space of those seated next to you at coffee shops or on airplanes. Even more amusing is the W700ds’s total width measurement with the screen extended: about half an inch shy of two feet across.
As with all desktop machines, portability is relative here, though the W700ds’s weight and bulk makes it less fun to move around than even the majority of 17 inch notebooks. For starters, the dual screens further up this model’s already considerable heft – to nearly 11 pounds on its own, or a whopping 13 pounds and change when you pack along the very bricklike power brick as well. Unfortunately, a year’s supply of chiropractic work wasn’t included among the accessories and options on Lenovo’s customization page. Conversely, even tipping the scales at an inauspicious 13 pounds, the W700ds is still a fair bit easier to manage on the road than the original W700 plus a second monitor, even a small one.
As before, build quality with the W700ds is everything Lenovo is known for, with tight fitment all around and an impressively small measure of panel flex for a laptop this large. I was initially concerned about whether the second screen’s attachment mechanism would seem flimsy, given its sliding design. But true to form, Lenovo has engineered a solution to this problem as well, with second panel exhibiting little flex at its attachment point and really not feeling at all precarious.
As we noted with the original W700, the W700ds certainly doesn’t look like a notebook aimed, at least in part, at creatives and graphics pros. Next to the shiny, ultra-modern aesthetic of the MacBook Pros that are ubiquitous in the photo/graphics world, the W700’s business-like shape and matte gray finish have about as much sex appeal as Soviet agricultural equipment. That said, Lenovo build quality is nothing short of legendary, and while I’ve long used Macs almost exclusively for graphics work, I grew to love the sturdy, down-to-business appeal of the original W700 in a long-term test with that machine. Those who love ThinkPads do so with good reason, and even with the addition of a potential weak spot in the sliding secondary screen, I was unable to find a serious charge to level against the W700ds’s build quality.
As with the original W700, our W700ds review unit came packing Lenovo's high-end 17 inch primary display with 1920x1200 (WUXGA) resolution and 400 NIT brightness. Rivaling a good desktop display for brightness, clarity, and even size, the W700ds's premium LCD panel continues to be one of this model's key selling point for power graphics users.
Like we saw the first time around, the display is smooth and crisp with more brightness and appreciably better contrast than we're used to in a laptop screen. A light reflective coating protects the screen, but glare is well controlled (the screen's native brightness certainly helps in this regard). Backlighting is relatively even, though a careful inspection reveals some slight brightness fall-off toward the top of the panel; it's a nit-picky consideration for sure, but in a display option costing this much, there's no reason not to be particular.
Viewing angles are excellent side-to-side, though only acceptable on the vertical axis. Like some other laptop screens we've looked at, the W700ds's display has a marked sweet spot for vertical viewing, with contrast washout coming quickly if you're viewing from too high up, and false excessive contrast introduced from too low. The viewing window for precise color reproduction is certainly less than 10 degrees wide on the vertical axis, but to the positive it's fairly easy to tell when you're "locked in."
The W700ds's wide-gamut display covers a claimed 72 percent of the Adobe RGB color space, a significant improvement over your typical laptop LCD. Nonetheless, Lenovo's decision to use a twisted nematic (TN) panel across the W700 platform rather than an in-plane switching variant as is the standard in professional desktop applications was a cause for concern on our first go-round with these ThinkPads. Interested users can check out my original W700 write-up for more detail, but basically the TN display used here performs admirably when calibrated/profiled, and gamers will love its fast refresh. You can certainly find areas in which color reproduction doesn’t keep pace with a high-end desktop display, but you have to be pushing the W700ds pretty hard to do so. As before, at saturation extremes, you will run up against some noticeable color flattening and out-of-gamut issues; photographers and graphic designers who prep for print as well as web use should take note.
As to the question of whether the W700ds’s upgraded display is worth the cost it adds, I still feel after a lot more time with both the original W700 and the new model that the answer is at once yes and no. For what most of us do, even at a fairly demanding level, the panel's gamut is more than sufficient – not to mention excellent contrast and brightness that's superior to just about anything else out there. In fact, the W700ds's 72 percent gamut strikes a nice balance for general use, providing good color reproduction for sRGB applications and a nicely saturated look that isn't so wide-ranging as to be difficult to deal with outside of color-managed applications. For power graphics users, though, the problem is that these machines have some strong competition on the display front coming to market in the high-end graphics workstation space from HP and Dell.
The one feature that distinguishes the W700ds from the original W700 is its secondary screen. As described previously, a second 10.6 inch, 1280x768 display is mounted in portrait orientation into a recess behind the primary panel, and can be popped out as desired to further expand the W700ds’s desktop area. As we noted in our first look at the W700ds, the screen can also be tilted forward about 30 degrees if desired, providing a more ideal viewing angle for the second display.
Screen power-on and recognition were seamless, with our test unit’s 64-bit Vista install automatically picking up the additional space almost immediately when the screen was extending, and exhibiting no problems when we retracted it again during use. With nearly identical vertical resolutions (1200 on the main display, versus 1280 on the secondary screen), dragging windows across the two displays wasn’t as difficult or awkward as might be assumed for this slight mismatch.
The bigger differences between the two displays, in fact, have to do with color reproduction, brightness, and clarity. The second display lacks the more highly reflective coating of its high-end companion, and with 280 NIT brightness (versus 400 on the primary display) and a narrower reproducible gamut, colors definitely don’t pop as much. Never mind annoying backlight bleed coming from both sides of the screen, poor side-to-side viewing angles, and a serious mismatch on black depth (true black is reproduced much lighter and bluer on the secondary display by default). Combined with color discrepancies courtesy of different calibration and profiling (more on that in the next section), power graphics users may well ask, “What’s the point?”
Given these faults, where the second display excels for graphics use, in fact, is less as an extension of the desktop and more as a docking station for tools, workflow windows, and so on. I found the additional space especially useful in both Photoshop and Illustrator for keeping tools/palettes out of the way and off of the main workspace.
Like our original W700 review unit, the W700ds ships with an optional built-in X-Rite/Pantone Huey color calibration and profiling system that includes a simplified software package for quick color matching as well as a spectrocolorimeter for taking the necessary measurements that’s built right into the surface of the notebook. Via that little electronic eye, the W700ds is able to read the necessary color patches for automatic profiling and calibration when the lid is closed.
We detailed the (extremely simple) process afforded by this built-in system in our original W700 review, and I won’t rehash those details here. What should be noted, though, is that the W700ds’s secondary screen throws a bit of a wrench in the works: obviously, the onboard spectro can’t “see” the second screen, and thus can’t be used for profiling – leading to some appreciable color mismatches between primary and secondary displays that further encouraged me to use the second screen as a file management area only. The built-in system’s extremely simplified software interface also doesn’t seem to recognize external spectros, meaning if you really want to profile both displays, you’ll need to remove the supplied Huey system and start over with a third-party solution.
Keyboard, Touchpad, and Digitizer
Input options abound with the W700ds. For many diehard Lenovo fans, though, the world of input devices begins and ends with Lenovo's legendary keyboards. And the W700ds's equipment in this area is just as we've come to expect, with smooth key action and a quick, short stroke that makes typing on every W700 we’ve spent time with a pleasant experience. There's a hint of flex at the top right corner of our review unit's 'board – up around the Backspace key – and we noticed some flex in the num pad too this time around. But otherwise the full-size keyboard feel securely anchored to the W700ds's subframe.
Basic dedicated speaker control buttons (mute, volume up, volume down) adorn the space above the keyboard, next to Lenovo's trademark "ThinkVantage" button – which calls up a sort of clearing house for basic computer maintenance and configuration options.
For a laptop this big, the touchpad area is a bit small: it's not like space is exactly at a premium on the W700ds's top deck. As with the small tablet area, you certainly get used to it, but it does leave one to wonder why Lenovo didn't go for something slightly larger. The pad features vertical and horizontal axis dedicated scroll areas.
Dedicated left/scroll/right buttons flank the top of the touchpad area, with the standard left and right click only residing beneath. Both button arrays have a soft click feel that's ideal for all-day use (try using a computer with hard, clicky buttons for more than ten minutes and you'll understand what we're talking about).
With lots space south of the keyboard that typically goes unused on larger notebooks to work with, Lenovo's designers opted to integrate a small, optional Wacom digitizer into the W700ds as well. The 3x5 inch tablet area provides a nicely sized work area: users coming from larger tablet spaces will find it cramped, but resolution is decent and moreover, having a digitizer that you don't have to pack along separate from your workstation will be a welcomed addition for many users.
After a lot of time on both the W700 and W700ds, I've adapted to the tablet’s size quite well. The idea of integrating a digitizer into a graphics-focused machine is an excellent one that I'm betting will find acceptance among photographers, graphic designers, CAD techs, and architects – all key markets for this niche focused machine. The pad's placement works well for day to day use, keeping your pen hand clear of the touchpad and typing areas for easy key-control use (to queue up tools in Photoshop, for instance) while you're working on the tablet. Of course if you're left-handed, all ergonomic bets are off.
The W700ds's included pen, which stows away into a silo in the right-hand side of the notebook isn't particularly enjoyable in use. It's small, and the buttons feel cheap, but compatibility with most Wacom-ready pens means the range of control options for the this tablet are nearly unlimited. In fact, if you don't own another compatible pen, go ahead and order one with your ThinkPad purchase: the included stylus really is an option of last resort even more so than the small tablet itself.
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