LENOVO THINKPAD R61i REVIEW
After my Gateway laptop of a mere 2 years began to slowly deteriorate in hardware performance and, eventually, die altogether, I was in the market for a much more durable, long-lasting notebook. Given my last experience, I avoided "economic" brands (Gateway, Acer, Compaq, and Dell), and ... Read full review
LENOVO THINKPAD R61i REVIEW
After my Gateway laptop of a mere 2 years began to slowly deteriorate in hardware performance and, eventually, die altogether, I was in the market for a much more durable, long-lasting notebook. Given my last experience, I avoided "economic" brands (Gateway, Acer, Compaq, and Dell), and the decision came down to HP and Thinkpad, the latter having a history of making strong business-oriented machines with durable design and hardware components. Since HP refused to offer any support for upgrading from Vista to XP, they quickly lost my business and the Lenovo Thinkpad R61i it was.
Here is the good (lots of it), the bad (a few annoyances), and the ugly (one major aggravation) about the Lenovo Thinkpad R61i, which I've now owned for sixty days:
SPECS: Core 2 Duo T5450 1.66 GHz, 2GB RAM, 160GB SATA drive, DVD-RAM optical, Windows XP.
-The screen is in its own solid panel on metal hinges (so, for example, pushing on the back of the panel doesn't warp the display and its colors), making the most essential part of the laptop very durable. Screen resolution (1280x800 on a 15.4") is crisp, clear, and bright.
-This laptop hardly ever heats up. When heavy processing is being done, the laptop stays cool and the fan system is quiet.
-The Centrino Duo processor is quite fast on applications, and the included 2GB of memory is a nice bonus.
-The internal wireless device's range is exceptional; I've not experienced a single network slowdown with this machine's wireless (as opposed to Gateway's hardware, whose signal reception used to fade in and out).
-Lenovos come with a "ThinkVantage" productivity suite, which includes a number of system service programs such as "Rescue & Recovery" (to back up files), "Access Connections" (to manage wireless connectivity), and "Power Manager" (to store various power level settings and profiles). Granted, almost none of what is offered in the suite is anything which can't be done already with XP, but it's nice that it's there. The computer also comes with a fingerprint reader, if you're interested in an extra layer of security.
-As a supplement to going to Safe Mode, when things go awry with the system you can as an alternative let ThinkVantage help you get things back up and running straight from startup, using the ThinkVantage control on the keyboard. This takes you to the ThinkVantage center, where you can do things such as recover damaged data, return to a previous System Restore point, or return the computer back to its original factory self. You can even connect to the Internet from the ThinkVantage screen without having to boot into Windows explicitly.
-Included is a hard drive shock detector, which will pause/halt your disk during periods of sudden laptop movement or shifting to avoid injury to the drive.
-Battery life is exceptional, lasting 4-5 hours during normal work/school/web-surfing applications.
-Many controls are easily accessible from the keyboard, including volume and screen brightness.
-The keyboard feel is very pleasant, with springy keys that really click when you type (as opposed to some laptops with a "mushy" feel to their keys).
-Lights on the display panel clearly indicate operations such as wireless transmission, hard drive access, and AC/battery power.
-This machine is one of the few you will find that still offers Windows XP.
-As you might expect, the R61i comes with a number of preloaded trial software, including limited-duration versions of Norton Security and Microsoft Office 2007. Most unwanted programs can be removed from the Control Panel. There's also a number of non-essential startup items that can (and should) be disabled/removed.
-The keyboard light is a practically useless dim yellow LED at the top of the screen that shines down on the keys; a backlit keyboard (as is on Macs) would have been much nicer.
-The arrow keys are a *little* small; mistyping can occasionally occur.
-The integrated Intel graphics card leaves something to be desired, though for business/school applications it's not a noticeable drawback.
-The DVD-RAM drive can be a *tad* finicky. The software suite for burning DVDs is okay, nothing special, but there have been a couple times where the DVD has lagged in its playback, or the reader would initially not recognize the inserted disc. The drive is also pretty loud during reading/playback.
-The sound from the laptop's speakers leave quite a bit to be desired. Moreover, when connected to a quality speaker system, there is a low humming due to output noise from the line-out port of the laptop. This is only noticeable when there's no sound playing, but it is still annoying.
-A fourth USB port would've been nice.
-This is not the laptop for you if you do a lot of traveling--the R61i is fairly heavy.
AND THE UGLY:
-The screen's color, brightness, and contrast is quite nice. The internal power settings and controls, however, are not. Adjusting the brightness via the keyboard often does not initially register with the display itself, and it takes a number of up-down-up-down keystrokes to get the hardware to finally change levels. Moreover, every time the computer is started up, the brightness is always on its highest setting; even though the controls remember the level last set, the display doesn't match up with it. Finally, and most importantly: when the AC power is not plugged in, the max brightness allowed on the display is about half. Even with the brightness controls all the way up and power settings set to maximize screen brightness, the display refuses to go beyond half-power when AC is unplugged--VERY disappointing. Every laptop I've encountered will at least allow the user the *option* to have full brightness on a battery, regardless of how much power it will drain. Either the controls are too restrictive or the screen takes too much juice to run fully on a battery.
So far I have been very pleased with this laptop. Lenovo has carried the IBM tradition of the strong, rock-solid Thinkpad built to take a licking and keep on ticking. Minor nuisances aside (and resolving to put up with the screen brightness issues), this laptop has lived up to my expectations as a reliable machine for work and academic applications, with a few pleasant surprises cropping up along the way. The Lenovo R61i gets an 8/10 from me, with a high recommendation to purchase it if you find a good deal. Buying a laptop is a pain (believe me I know... spent about a month researching); I think you'll be pleased if you decide to go this route and invest in the Thinkpad R61i.