Help Mary decide between 3 laptops

Edited to add: I opted for none of these and went with the Lenovo x61 tablet that Joe Iriarte recommended. When I looked at it, I could trick it out to have everything I wanted plus it was 25% off an already existing sale price. It gave me enough room to also get a monitor and docking station for when I’m at home and need more screen real estate.

I know you must be getting tired of laptop posts, but bear with me just a little bit longer.  At the moment, I am torn between these three machines and would love someone to help me sort it out.

Whatever I pick will be my primary computer.  I’ll write on it, clearly, but also do graphic design and record audio fiction. My 5-year old Averatec works for these but is sluggish when designing large books.

HP Pavillion tx2500z series
Attractive because of the touch screen and handwriting recognition. Would need to add a standalone screen probably.

Elite ThinkPad W500 15.4″ widescreen with discrete graphics
Durable and a nice big screen. Plenty of processing power.

Lenovo X300
A Crazy long battery life, lightweight and seems like a decent blend between portable and power.

Basically any of these will seem like a step up from what I have, but I’m sort of paralyzed.  Your thoughts?

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22 Responses

  1. Brenda Cooper

    I would NOT buy the HP either. They used to be better machines than they seem to be lately. Of the other two, slight preference for the Lenovo, I think, but either is probably a grand machine. Battery life is very handy if you ever need it. If it’s going to be your primary computer, which one do you like the “feel” of the most?

  2. Michael

    My gut feeling is that, as cool as having the SSD in the X300 would be, it’s otherwise less power for more money. Since it’s going to be your primary computer, I’d probably lean toward power over portability, and for the difference in price you could buy yourself a netbook too.

  3. Marko Kloos

    If it’s between those three, the X300 without a doubt. Super-long battery life for a Windows machine, and the best keyboard of the bunch by far (sort of an important thing for a writer.)

    The tx2500 is nice for the tablet functionality (actually Wacom-enabled, and they come with a decent Wacom pen), but the screen is just a hair too small to make it a good primary rig. Keyboard is just OK, and the finish picks up fingerprints like an FBI crime lab.

    The Elite has the biggest screen of the bunch, the most 3D grunt, and a keyboard that’s almost as good as the X300’s, but it’s also the heaviest and the least portable, and it looks like you’re on the road a lot.

    Honestly, the X300 looks like the best compromise between portability, screen size, and usability, and long battery life is a major bonus in a heavy-use portable. Also, the X300 is based on the bulletproof 13″ ThinkPad design, which is widely considered one of the best laptop designs ever.

    If it was my money, I’d go X300, W500, and Pavilion, in that order….unless the delicious Wacom-ness of the Pavilion is a huge deal to you, in which case I’d toss a coin between that one and the X300. If you don’t do much pen-enabled stuff, it’s no contest.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Thanks Marko! That’s a beautifully detailed analysis.

      I’ll be honest that the reason the tablet is on the list is because I’ve got this crazy vision of being to write longhand on it while waiting for the subway. I’ve never done any pen enabled stuff because I’ve never had one, but I do enough graphic work that it looked like it would be useful. Plus, neat toy.

      I suspect you’re right though.

  4. Julia

    Holy mook. If I were dropping that kind of dough the X300 and X500 want, I’d get another Macbook!

    But the X300 looks the best, to me.

    1. Mary Robinette Kowal

      Hee! I’m just not a Mac girl.

      If it makes you feel any better, I can’t afford these either but a) I found a back to school sale and b) I have a birthday coming up and some very generous friends and relations.

  5. Joe Iriarte

    Hi there. I met you briefly at WorldCon, where I attended your panel with John Scalzi, but I believe this is my first visit to your blog.

    I notice that you’re considering a tablet. I have a tablet and I absolutely adore it. However, when I was researching tablets, I ended up staying away from the HP because of all the issues HP laptops seem to have. The HP also weighs a ton and runs quite hot.

    What I ended up doing instead is getting a Lenovo tablet. Like the HP, it’s convertible. Like the Lenovo on your list, it’s light and has an insanely long-lasting battery. The Lenovo tablets cost a lot more than the HP ones, but here’s how I got around that: By searching around with Froogle, I found a reputable vendor selling last year’s model at a lower price than the new one. (I’ve had mine for a year, so I’m talking the X60 versus the X61. I don’t know what they’re up to now, or if they’re still on the X61.) It was not a used computer; it was new, it was simply an X60 that hadn’t gotten sold in 2007. I’m really happy with my purchase.

    I love having the ability to go back and forth between a QWERTY keyboard and a tablet. I type much faster than I handwrite, so a QWERTY keyboard was a must. But if I’m in a conference taking notes, the tablet is a lot more convenient. On airplanes, the really low profile is a godsend, since it allows me to keep working in quarters that would be too cramped for other laptops. You should see the jealous stares I get. Tablet PCs also come with Windows Journal, and the ability to duplicate any other filetype to Journal format is a fantastic tool that most tablet owners I know don’t quite appreciate enough. It basically means I can use the inking functions to annotate anything, regardless of whether or not the native format supports inking. Say I were giving someone design tips on a website (which is not something that has ever come up, but let’s pretend). I could “print” the page to Journal, annotate it by maybe drawing arrows to indicate stuff that could be moved, or maybe highlight stuff, and then convert what I have to PDF and send it on. And for graphic design . . . if you’ve never used Photoshop/Fireworks/Illustrator on a touch-screen, I can’t recommend it enough. I can be so much more precise with my stylus than I can with a mouse. I can’t imagine anyone who’s ever designed that way would want to go back.

    I don’t generally write/”type” my stories by longhand, but I have done so when I’ve spent afternoons in a park, or other times when I haven’t had a desk or table available. The handwriting recognition is actually pretty good.

        1. Mary Robinette Kowal

          Well, when you’re looking at a sale that effectively cuts the price in half and it ends at midnight, it does tend to speed up the decision making process. Plus, I’d been looking at laptops for months now, it was just when I got it narrowed down that I got stuck. I wanted the tablet, but was pretty sure that I needed one of the others. The x61 is a nice blend and the sale was good enough that I was able to add a docking station and can pick up a larger monitor if I need it.

          It’s pretty close to ideal, I think.

  6. beth meacham

    I’m using a Lenovo for my work machine — not as powerful or portable as the X300, a 3000 N200. It was cheap. The one thing I’d say puts the Lenovos head and shoulders above everything else is the keyboard. They’ve got the old clicky IBM keyboard. You know what I mean. It has a fantastic feel.

  7. Sunil Sebastian

    1. I won’t buy HP anymore because every time there’s an operating system change, they charge money for new drivers. It’s cheap, it’s petty, and I refuse to play. That doesn’t include experience with laptops but it’s a data point.

    2. Between clients and employers, the places I’ve been at for the last 10 years used either Dell or Lenovo.

    3. I’ve been using Thinkpads exclusively since 1995. I’ve only had one that I would call a lemon, and even it has survived two hard bounces over the last three years. (The second bounce cracked the LCD, but even then I ran it for two months before getting annoyed enough to get my employer to replace it). I like them enough that two weeks ago I bought one for my personal use now that I’m leaving my employment.

    4. It’s a bit of a gamble. IBM sourced the Thinkpads from Lenovo and now that IBM isn’t involved, there’s a risk things will change. But from what I’ve seen and heard, the quality level has been preserved.

    5. X vs W is more of a use-case decision. The X is good if you’re a coffee shop kind of person. The 15.4″ does require more elbow room. Though it does still fit on a starbucks table.
    For *just* writing, I’d get the X. It’s got a little more sex appeal. But for what you’ve mentioned, consider that the latest photoshops and other tools are starting to borrow from the graphics card to enhance performance, so maybe the W is the way to go.

    6. Glad you noticed the sale. Also check gotapex.com and others to see if Lenovo is doing any other discounts. I got mine brand new with 3 year warranty for about half price because I took a cancelled/unshipped unit through the outlet store. The canadian outlet recently had a halfprice X300 if you don’t mind a french keyboard. 🙂

    7. Since you aren’t afraid of screwdrivers, check the prices becuase you’ll likely be able to upgrade ram and drive cheaper yourself than preconfiguring it at Lenovo. I saved about 200 bucks on my build.

    8. Rant ends. 🙂

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