by Przemek Sliwinski
Business laptops are a bit like men’s suits: they are necessary in business; they have to serve from the early morning to the late evening, they differ merely in a number of buttons but never raise any flame war or other emotional discussion like for instance, Apples — the haute couture of the laptop word.
The T60 is the “most serious” one (it even lacks a card reader — not to tempt the user to perform anything but business tasks) while Z60t is the 14.1” version of the Lenovo’s first widescreen laptop which reconciles workhorse functions with the entertaining abilities. Finally, nx8220, which is an HP’s attempt to compete with ThinkPads, offers balanced performance, fair build quality together with professional look and feel.
As a note, both, Z60t and nx8220 have been already replaced by their successors, Z61t and nc8430, respectively. These new versions have the same cases, however, are equipped with Napa platform. Moreover, Z61t is finally available with higher resolution LCD (i.e. in place of crude 1280×768, one can order a fine display with 1440×900 resolution).
The computers’ configurations during the testing procedures were following:
* All optical drivers are hot-pluggable. Lenovo does not deliver a weight saver’.
Reasons for Buying:
The T60 was bought for my friend who is an owner of a medium IT enterprise. The nx8220 has been working for myself for over half a year now (see my previous review). As a kind of business/office user’ I personally prefer the following features:
- Build quality and
- Battery life and mobility,
over the gaming performance or hi-fi sound, however, a sleek and serious’ external look of a laptop is also important (in some situations the laptop must fit a suit rather than a T-shirt and jeans…). The less critical factor is price.
The Z60t was bought for my wife who works as an administration officer.
Where and How Purchased:
I had initially ordered Z60t directly from Lenovo, however it came out that they were not able to ship it within a claimed one week period. Finally, both T60 (for $2039) and Z60t (for $932 — yes, a week before a $300 rebate…) were bought from http://www.euclidcomputers.com. They were ordered on Monday and Tuesday — and delivered in Friday’s afternoon — just before a weekend. The nx8220 was bought in Poland for $1,650 last holiday.
Design & Build:
Z60t in a cradle (view large image)
To appreciate the solutions these laptops offer one needs to fill a business/office user’s shoes. Let me shortly describe an average one: he/she is rarely a computer enthusiast, treats a laptop as another working tool (like a cell phone and a car rather than an icon). In general, he/she requires the laptop to:
- Work for a couple of years,
- Keep the aesthetic outlook for this time,
- Withstand a treatment far from delicate,
- Offer a comfortable interaction with its user.
In the remainder I try to examine the laptops against these requirements but let me now start with some digressions: business-oriented laptops designers are usually less limited by the final costs. Thus, they are (in theory) able to offer high-quality computers with no compromises between the price and quality (engineers say that can design a perfect laptop but those-mean-guys-from-sale-department’do not want them to do that — I could agree with them even if it sounds like an everlasting light bulb myth).
HP nx8220 and T60 side by side pics
On the other hand, it is somehow surprising that, in spite of this freedom, their final products — the three tested laptops — are very similar to each other and differ only in nuances. (These nuances can sometimes turn from annoyances, after four hours say, into nuisances — after the next four hours — and finally lead to frustrations at the end of the fourteen hour working day — see the end of the review).
Z60t compared to nx8220 pics
All laptops have magnesium frames, metal hinges (bare in ThinkPads and hidden under plastic coats in nx8220). The hinges in ThinkPads are just perfectly adjusted — those in HP wobble a little. ThinkPad’s covers seem also to be more protective in direct comparison — HP’s cover is flat and hence less stiff by design. Cover locking latches work smoothly in all models; personally, I prefer those in HP, however.
HP is naturally the biggest and heaviest laptop of the trio due to its screen size. Z60t is clearly the smallest and lightest. They are all virtually thin — Z60t is 1” height (when closed) and HP is only 0.3” higher (see pictures).
Each of them has high quality, plastic (not painted and scratch-resistant) cases — naturally black (ThinkPads) and graphite (HP) — preventing them from being worn for years. From purely aesthetical vantage point: all three competitors look sleek and professionally; I especially like rounded ThinkPads’ edges (see pictures). The HP is a bigger dust-keeper due to case engraved around the keyboard — but the case itself is more fingerprint-proof.
This is the category, in which both manufacturers have still a huge homework to do. No compromises’ means here:
- Even backlighting,
- Vivid colors and brightness sufficient to allow outdoor usage,
- Wide viewing angles (both vertically and horizontally).
Apparently (see pictures) the tested ThinkPads suffer from the lack of wide viewing angle feature (see T60 with FlexView display here). However, when a user sits exactly perpendicularly to the laptop display, the results are almost perfect (even for the cheapest competitor, Z60t). The nx8220, equipped with the WVA display, shines like a star here (with it you don’t have to put your customers in line to let them see your presentation sketch!). Its display is also the brightest one. But nobody is perfect — note the light leakage of the latter.
A look at light leakage (view large image)
Z60t and HP nx8220 screen comparisons
ThinkPad T60 Pics of screen viewing angles
All displays are matte — glossy versions seem to be less than appropriate for office applications. I, personally, cannot withstand seeing myself in a screen 😉
Z60t compared to Apple cinema display (view large image)
The main purpose of the speakers in business laptop is likely confined to beeping notifications about incoming e-mails (or IM messages, or just missing appointments…). And the speakers these laptops sport do (only) this job perfectly.
For the sake of completeness of the description, I need however to add that in widescreen laptops (Z60t and nx8220) the speakers are situated on both sides of the keyboard while in the T60’s they are put in the front of the laptop, beneath the touchpad. Obviously, the quality of sounds in T60 is therefore far behind the one offered by the widescreens. To reproduce basses, however, one needs at least headphones in any of these laptops.
Processor and Performance:
The processor alone is not the highest priority issue for the business users. They usually use their laptops as delivered — for a couple of years — and with the same hardware (and, often preinstalled by the technical staff, software. Therefore they are — for obvious reasons (backward compatibility, new needed-to-learn-again’ user interfaces) reluctant to any change. In a view of that, the problem of processor clock, cache, FSB (or other whatchamacallit!) is meaningless provided that the laptop remains responsive during its life span. This, in turn, can be secured by sufficient memory size and fast enough HDD.
Similarly, graphic cards saving battery juice rather than 3D, power-hungry monsters are preferred. Thus, in the entry level business laptops integrated cards are standards while the models from the more expensive shelves sport best-in-class’ cards (i.e. delivering the enhanced’ performance instead of high’ or ultimate’ one).
Heat and Noise:
Efficient heat dissipation is especially important for laptops (for the name at least!) and especially difficult in a thin’n’light category. The best in this class is indisputably the T60, which keeps cool even during 3D Mark tests. Others are warm (acceptably) during the normal work conditions and get hot (beneath) when tested for (unusual for them — one should admit) 3D performance. It seems that either cooling solution in T60 is improved over the one in Z60t or the new Core Duos are really cool!
Fans are merely audible and not disturbing (the level of fans’ noise sheerly depends on processor loading and hence, during browsing, word-processing or presentations fans are almost unemployed). The optical disc drives are quiet. Only uneven discs make them vibrating.
Keyboard and pointing devices:
Keyboard: This is apparently not an accident that the keyboard occupies a majority of each laptop — it is the basic and the most often used way the user interacts with the computer and hence it decides whether the working with a laptop is comfortable and convenient. In a nutshell: ThinkPads’ keyboards are just the ThinkPad’s keyboards… and HP’s keyboard is not worse. The only annoying feature of the ThinkPads’ keyboards is (for me) the idiosyncratic position of Ctrl and Fn keys — see picture (diehard ThinkPad users can mimic this arrangement on nx8220 via BIOS option).
HP nx8220 (view large image)
ThinkPad T60 (view large image)
HP nx8220 keyboard (view large image)
Z60t keyboard (view large image)
Digression: We probably all know the story of a space pen. It came to my mind when I found the way ThinkPads illuminate the keyboard: while Apple’s idea is spectacular but probably quite complex, Lenovo simply put a LED (white in T60 and amber in Z60t) in the LCD frame. Simple, effective, cheap…
TouchPad: Touchpads are smartly controlled by Synaptic software — thus one can associate edges with (horizontal and vertical) virtual scrolling and corners with user defined actions. In my opinion HP’s device, lowered a bit, prevents more effectively from accidental cursor movement. I also like the three buttons associated available with HP’s touchpad (surprisingly, numerous applications extensively use the middle button).
nx8220 (view large image)
Z60t (view large image)
TrackPoint and PointStick: These devices are also controlled by Synaptics software. The main difference between these them is the way the software interprets the user actions. For instance, by pressing (ThinkPads) or tapping (HP) one can emulate clicking the button. I prefer the latter solution — it is easier to perform double-click’ action by tapping rather than pressing twice — but I admire TrackPoint’s three buttons with middle one reversed — using them is much more ergonomic than in HP: simply because pushing by accident a wrong button is almost impossible here.
Digression: One can wonder who can appreciate both, TrackPoints/PointSticks and touchpads. I’ve personally found them complementing each other: I use touchpad for precise cursor operations (during e.g. image/word processing) and PointStick for side to side movements (e.g. during moving/copying files).
Input and Output Ports: The list of ports is given in the table. Note that only T60 already has an ExpressCard 54 slot. The others have its predecessor, PC Card II slot. Neither has DVI-D output — shame on them! — and only VGA/S-video ports are available. (Note that the digital output makes more sense than the analog one: an original digital signal can always be converted to analog format if necessary while the reverse conversion can never be done losslessly.) On the brighter side: all models, even the smallest Z60t, feature three USB ports.
Wireless: Wi-Fi: All laptops are equipped with Intel cards. ThinkPads — with a 3945ABG PCIe card — can access all available wireless access points. The older 2200BG PCI card in nx8220 confines it to 2.4GHz bands (B and G).
In all models, antennas are mounted in screen frames. A direct comparison reveals that HP’s antennas are more sensitive — 20yd from the Linksys WRT54 b/g router nx8220 reported the signal strength as good’ while both ThinkPads as poor’ only.
Bluetooth: T60 has Bluetooth 2.0 with EDR (enhanced data rate) which promises faster transmission rates (up to 3-10 times according to the specification). Unfortunately, I have no other BT 2.0 compatible device to verify it.
IrDA: All computers have Fast IrDA ports achieving 4Mbps transfer rates. I have to admit however that being pampered by the convenience of BT and Wi-Fi wireless connections I have never used infrared to transfer files. (I can now imagine a bit ridiculous to observe two guys — during e.g. serious meeting or seminar — turning left and right their laptops to allow their IrDA ports to see’ each other.)
Ev-Do: T60 has 3G wireless card provided by Verizon (Sierra CDMA2000 800MHz/1900MHz). I had not an opportunity to test it…
Battery: Battery performance seems to be of great importance for those users who fly in economic class only — those in business/first classes usually have at their disposal power outlets. However, it is convenient for all users to know that in case of the lack of external power supply their laptop’s batteries become a reliable substitute.
To meet these expectations, business laptops offer rather elaborated battery policy: except to the standard batteries, additional ones are available (in ThinkPads one can plug a 3-cell Advanced Ultrabay Battery); in HPs the additional Travel Battery (7 or 12-cell) can be attached to the connector at the bottom of the laptop).
In a direct duel, in office lighting conditions, nx8220 with 8-cell battery worked 3h40min in an idle test’ (with ambient light sensor on) that is, 10min longer than T60 (with brightness level set to 6 to match the HP’s brightness) which larger battery has 9 cells. The 4-cell battery in Z60t allowed it to work for less than 2h only — I’ve found this short period a bit disappointing.
The time the laptops work on batteries is only a part of the game — the other important factor here is the charging time. And in this category, nx8220 beats up on its rivals with charging time never exceeding 2h30min; T60 needs usually more than 4h! (even when turned off!!) Z60t, proportionally to its smaller battery capacity, requires c.a. 2h.
I don’t know the reason of that (it is probably related to the battery’s chemical properties), but from user’s point of view, waiting 4 hours for the battery to be charged is hardly acceptable. In addition, HP charges the first 90% of the battery capacity with the impressive, 1% per minute, pace. Moreover, 12-cell HP’s Travel Battery has its own power socket — one can use one battery and charge the other simultaneously.
Operating System and Software:
HP delivers a separate DVD System Repair and Driver disk. ThinkPads carry system software on their hard disks (and takes up 6GB — this is not the issue for T60 with 100GB disk but becomes a noticeable possession of disk space for Z60t with only 40GB HDD). Both manufacturers offer Sonic software for CD/DVD authoring and InterVideo WinDVD players.
The main part of the system configuration procedure was seamless in all cases, and I only encountered problems with Bluetooth software. T60 didn’t recognize Bluetooth hardware (finally, after couple of hours, some internet searching and few install-uninstall cycles something happened and the Bluetooth started working).
I, personally, don’t like the peculiar software delivered by laptop manufacturers (it usually doubles functionality offered by the system while rarely offers something really distinctive). The noticeable exception is fingerprint reader software offered in ThinkPads.
I haven’t had opportunity to contact with Lenovo in person’. However, after purchasing the laptops I used ThinkCenter’s updating facility to refresh drivers.
My nx8220 is, on the other hand, “virtually” connected to the HP’s customer service via on-line HP Business Support Center, which automatically notifies me (via e-mail) about new HP drivers, patches, etc.
I’m not going to point out the winner of the comparison, simply because the laptops were bought with different business users in mind. Nevertheless, all tested laptops occupy the top shelf of business category and, in my opinion, the two, Z60t and nx8220, featuring widescreen displays are examples of successful attempts of Lenovo and HP to make business computers less serious’.
However, none of them is ideal — each has some minor flaws, hence the perfect one will, therefore, derive from ThinkPad’s:
- A rigid case and stiff lid,
- A keyboard and TrackPoint three buttons, multimedia buttons,
- Ultrabay (for better than HP’s MultiBay built quality),
- Z60t’s size.
While from T60 especially:
- A Core Duo processor (for its coolness),
- An optical disc drive
- Fast 7200rpm hard disk,
- An ExpressCard 54 port,
And from nx8220:
- A touchpad with three buttons and PointStick software from Synaptics,
- An LCD display with ambient light sensor,
- A battery and charging efficiency,
- A separate DVD recovery disk,
At the beginning of this review I mentioned about some details which differ these laptops. Some of them testify the laptop designers’ genuine matureness and care about details; others — rather a pure carelessness:
- Using special functions keys (like speaker volume buttons) in ThinkPads doesn’t interrupt screensaver — a small but neat functionality. Moreover they are, together with blue-function keys on the keyboard, available without logging in/unlocking.
- Display brightness in ThinkPads can be preset as the element of power managements settings and overridden manually set manually — unfortunately, after each standby/hibernation a preset value is restored.
- As it was already mentioned, battery charging times in ThinkPads are ridiculously long. One can suppose that it is because longer charging increases battery lifespan — if so I would like to have the possibility of turbo-charging’ at the expense of a shorter battery life.
- Both HP’s and ThinkPads’ keyboards are claimed to be spill-resistant’ — I believe the latter is more resistant due to drains which allow liquid to run down.
- Z60t is equipped with Celeron M processor. The main difference between them and full Pentium M models is the lack of the deepest sleep mode’ — in consequence Z60t in standby mode sips battery faster (a few percent per day) then its competitors.
- Initially, SD card reader in nx8220 used to work with cards with up to 1GB capacity — only recently drivers patch has been released.
- nx8220’s power management mechanism is far from being reliable — it happens that it doesn’t turn to standby or hibernation mode after the idle time specified by the user. It is easy to figure that this problem is more than annoying…
- The default function of the middle of buttons accompanying PointStick/TrackPoint is a document scrolling — however, in nx8220, if it occurs that you push the button with the cursor situated over the hyperlink, the link is open first and then scrolling is performed.