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Lenovo announces new wide-screen ThinkPads

Among other features, the new notebooks will use a magnesium alloy frame to help the devices recover in case they're dropped.

NEW YORK--"Titanium" is the new black for the ThinkPad notebook.

China's Lenovo Group is set to launch a new series of 14- and 15-inch wide-screen laptops that will come with either the classic black ThinkPad cover or a new special-edition champagne-colored titanium casing. The so-called Z-series line will start shipping next month.

Prices haven't been announced yet, but a company representative said the new computers, starting with a model called the Z60, will have attributes similar to Lenovo's current T-series of notebooks, which are priced between $1,299 and $1,599.

The laptops are the focal point of a new worldwide branding strategy that's anchored on the Lenovo name and ThinkPad products such as the X41T, Lenovo's first tablet PC. The company said it plans to highlight all of its laptops during the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy.

"We are excited about our new global company and enthusiastic about our future," Lenovo Chairman Yuaquin Yang said during a press event here. Lenovo leads other companies in PC shipments in China, but it lags behind Dell and Hewlett-Packard around the rest of the world.

Since acquiring IBM's PC business earlier this year, Lenovo hasn't missed a step in outfitting the Think-branded products with the latest technologies, and the Z-series apparently will be no different.

Lenovo's PC push

The Z-series computers will use a new magnesium alloy frame that acts as a shock absorber to help the laptop recover from a fall.

The No. 3 PC maker said its Z-series will also use Intel Pentium M processors and related chipsets, and that it will be able to connect to the Internet using 802.11 and EV-DO (Evolution Data Optimized) wireless technology. A Lenovo representative said the company is considering using WiMax wireless technology in future versions of the laptop.

Selected models will also come with options for adding Bluetooth capabilities and a fingerprint-reader security feature now found in other ThinkPad laptops.

The Z-series computers will ship with Windows as the default operating system in the United States but will have a Linux option similar to the one available in China. Lenovo's ThinkPad notebook family includes its top-end T-series, business-class X-series, consumer-oriented R-series and desktop replacement G-series.

The company said it would continue to mix and match direct and indirect sales to customers in the near future with the notion that Lenovo would shift more dependence onto its business partners.

Breaking away from the traditional practice of identifying customers as commercial or consumer buyers, Yang said Lenovo is aligned in two camps: transaction customers and relationship customers.

"In China, we estimate 70 percent of customers are transaction customers," Yang said, noting that the category includes consumers but also small and medium-size businesses and education partners as well. "Transaction customers don't buy computers that often, but when they do, they want specific configurations at good prices."

Conversely, the chairman said, Lenovo's relationship customers tend to make more computer purchases with an emphasis on stability and security.

"(Having a) focus on the emerging markets through leveraging our transaction products and business model will be our core strategy going forward," Yang said.

Lenovo's chief marketing officer, Deepak Advani, said the company is sitting on a huge opportunity to own a large chunk of the 273 million PCs to be shipped worldwide by 2009, according to IDC estimates, based on Lenovo's investments in emerging markets such as India, China, Russia and Brazil.

Lenovo said it has more than 5,000 retail outlets in China and an additional 70 stores in India opening up for business.

Notebooks are expected to make up 89 percent of the additional growth in the next four years, while an estimated 28 million desktop PCs are expected to ship in emerging markets, according to IDC.