Blackberry! I Feel The Need For Speed

One of the reasons I believe Blackberry has been lagging in the mobile application download numbers is very simple: speed.

While for some people, the less snazzy interface, a lack of touch across most devices, a poorer selection of apps are the reasons not to use a Blackberry, for many this is not an issue.

In fact:

  • a tangible tactile keyboard
  • and bundled international data roaming

..are the two factors which keep me firmly a loyal and loving Blackberry user (RIM take note: do NOT break either of these things for me, although I appreciate the second is in co-operation with the carriers).

The Blackberry App Store hasn’t actually been at all bad, even since version one. Yes it has had fewer apps to choose from, but in reality most of us spend 80-90% of our time using the same handful of apps. The biggest problem with app stores in general remains discoverability and nobody has done a good job on solving that problem with their app stores.

Maverick’s supersonic – be there in thirty seconds

Speed of response and interaction is an often under-rated factor when building internet or mobile software products. Speedy interaction can mean that an otherwise average user flow, does not necessarily damage the user experience. An extra click or tap here and there doesn’t matter as much if the response is immediate and you still feel progression through whatever task you’re doing. With a fast UI user engagement can be increased. Of all people, Google Search knows this well and it remains a cornerstone of Google design.

I’ve been using the current flagship RIM device, the Blackberry Torch, for 6 months. I have a love/ hate relationship with it. The main problem (apart from the keyboard being far less awesome than the previous Blackberry Bold) is that it is underpowered. Either it has a processor which is too slow or it has some very inefficient software – my bet is the former.

Application downloads are all about instant gratification: see it, want it, install it. Rinse and repeat. This addictive process is broken on the BB Torch, because although the software supports concurrent downloads the hardware can’t cope. The dreaded clock timer appears frequently, browsing for other apps becomes sluggish (and impossible if downloading 2 or more apps in parallel) and when you come to install an app the entire phone is unsuable, with a permanent ticking timing to entertain you instead. Worse, it can sometimes take 5 full mins to install the app then another 5 minutes while the phone reboots.

Contrast this with iPhone or Android where I can upgrade or install multiple apps and happily carry on browsing.

Android can download and install multiple apps without it slowing the device significantly

RIM’s new operating systems may even run Android apps (so goes the rumours). This may confuse consumers as much as it makes some happy – that is another discussion – but one things is for sure: we live in an impatient, want-it-all-now world. As consumers, our expectations are incredibly high. A flagship modern smartphone needs to be passing the instant gratification finish line at full speed, if it wants to win in this market.

Maverick, call the ball

Blackberry is currently failing to feed our glutinous consumption driven side. That is a pity, as for a long time it was the only smartphone which would truly multi-task and it was fast. I loved my Blackberry Bold all the more for that fact; flipping between apps which would maintain their state was a joy.  I could beat my friends on their iPhones and Android devices to a Google Maps place at a cinch. I laughed at the early iPhone users as they swapped back and forth re-opening their email or messaging apps, but I’m laughing no more.

Let’s hope whatever the new range of Blackberrys look like, they put powerful enough processors inside, without compromising famous Blackberry battery life, which still remains best in class.

..apologies for the gratuitous Top Gun references 😉

When Design Goes Backwards (or Why Don’t Teapots Pour Properly?)

When I was a less seasoned but more youthful entrepreneur, a good friend of mine and I used to joke about having a future consultancy which would specialise in advising companies on improving – what today I would describe as – the product experience.

Our consultancy was to be called “No, Not Like That!” (well either that or some expensive sounding agency name akin to Saachi and Saachi ).

My friend James was quite successful in his late teens, buying a new BMW every year as the new model came out, replacing the old. Within days of cruising around in his shiny new automobile we just couldn’t understand some of the design decisions BMW had made which clearly made this new motor car a worse product than the last.

It seemed to us that charging BMW $10,000 per hour to fix their product before it shipped would be small fry compared to the improvement  our genius deliver in user experience and thus customer satisfaction.

James in one of his BMWs, pretending to type on my old Toshiba laptop. Not sure what this photo was all about really; although it was taken with one of the first ever digital cameras with some stunning top resolution like 480 pixels.

These blaring errors are not of course with just cars but are everywhere, but never having given the time or discipline to formally study usability, anthropology, HCI (or any of the other very worthy academic courses or disciplines in this area which teach one to think through, articulate and justify rationally why things should be created as they) I never felt appropriately predisposed to start such an agency.

For a few years now I’ve wondered if that was an entirely wrong conclusion.

Products are used every day by people without these qualifications. As a consumer and user if I can see it’s wrong, illogical or difficult to use, may be it simply is. Furthermore, how was it not spotted by the very designers who penned the product?

Do you understand this sign?

Poor design is everywhere. This brand new sign which I had the misfortune to need while at Barcelona airport en route to Mobile World Congress was helping no-one. Neither of those things were in either of those directions. How can you look at this sign and think it’s clear, especially if your expertise is sign design?

No! Not Like That!

Companies continue every day to produce new products which beggar belief in their poor design. One wonders sometimes if people do it intentionally; some perverse enjoyment being taken on making people’s lives miserable.

Even basic household objects are afflicted. Poor teapot design is a particular pet hate of mine.

A tea pot has to just ONE bloody job and that is to pour tea. Yet how many tea pots simply don’t pour properly? They fail at the very first, indeed only thing they were designed to do or need to excel in.

Interesting tea pot design, but does it pour?

An additional trick is when the handle material is chosen so that it’s actually too hot even to pick up the tea pot to pour the tea. Why chose a material which is excellent at conducting heat when you know someone needs to pick it up? Some saucepans suffer from this affliction too.

I don’t need a degree to realise this is tragically poor design (no pun intended). It is entirely beyond my comprehension how you put a tea pot to market which guarantees to spill tea everywhere on every use.

You might argue that I should not be surprised that no great design process nor testing goes into a the average tea pot. I disagree; but instead lets move on then to companies who really should know better.

Microsoft 3000 mouse turned off automatically when you slotted the USB stick back into the base. Sensible.

The last mouse I bought was actually superb. The Microsoft Wireless 3000 had a clever clip in USB adapter, which stored it nicely AND turned off the mouse automatically (without the USB plugged into the Laptop, you can use the mouse of course). Great neat piece of design. Sadly, someone nabbed, or I mislaid my beloved mouse.

Off to Amazon .com I trot to buy another. To my surprise Microsoft has a new shinier better model. Naturally I buy this new model.

New design; tiny USB slots into mouse, doesn't turn it off. There's a separate off switch. Bad design IMHO.

Bad idea. The new model does away with this extremely useful feature and replaces it with a) an off switch for the mouse and b) a tiny USB stick which might both easily be lost and pop out of the mouse housing. Leave it in the laptop? It still ticks out too far to be practical to do so and anyway you then risk it falling out.

No! Not Like That!  

This change in the new mouse design is clearly a step backwards. Brooding on my reaction I realised that much of my response is driven by expectation.

So much in life is management of expectation and companies large and small frequently over promise and under deliver when the reverse should so obviously be the goal.

Designers, engineers, human beings of the world: let us unite in our attempt to not make things worse, let’s make things better!

How do you do it?

Simple: Use your own bloody products more.  If you’re “improving” a previous model, make damn sure you’ve lived with that previous product day in and day out before you start doing what you think is best to make it better. Then, just maybe the next tea pot I pick up will pour a cup of tea without ruining my mother’s doylies.

STOPPRESS: Great list of terrible designs of things here on Quora:

Isn’t It Time Someone Re-Invented The Email Client?

Changes which don’t cause an uproar, tend not to be changes radical enough to represent a significant leap forward.

Back in 1977, when I was unable to walk or speak but had dribbling down to a fine art, Ken Olson the then President and Founder of DEC while discussing the looming inevitability of the “personal computer” famously said:

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

This tends to be the way when you truly re-invent the wheel or change the status quo – people disagree with you.

Google re-invented web mail with an invite only GMail service in 2004. Dumping folders in favour of “labels” garnered fans and foes alike; but by 2007 when it switched to open signup, with 1GB storage to sweeten the deal, GMail had created true disciples.

GMail in very early form, being used inside Google. Note the 2001 copyright. GMail has thankfully evolved since this early "Supercalc meets dial-up BBS" birth.

For years I used Microsoft Outlook. Fond of it and despising it in equal measure, through corrupted .pst files (the proprietary format used to store Outlook data) and navigating the perils of discovering each email folder had a limit of 16,000 emails (or total .pst file size of only 2GB) I formed an akward alliance with this queen of email clients.

As MS Office 1995 grew, eventually to Office 11, I saw the bloatware nature of Outlook become intolerable. I’m sure if Microsoft simply focused on building a version of Office which was faster, simpler and easier (with no functionality “improvements”) I’m sure everyone would buy it. This approach was not to be and instead arrived a new “ribbon” UI, a longer load time and other needless paraphernalia, spurning me to finally divorce.

Outlook 95 (left) nice and simple, Outlook 11 (right). Essentially the basics are the same; maybe that's the problem? The simplicity of form cluttered by the ever spiraling expansion of function. Click to get a larger image.

I needed a better, speedier email client. The bottox pumped  lipstick laden Cougar that is Microsoft Outlook no longer had a place on my Windows 7 notepad PC. Plastic surgery, elegantly attempted by Xobni and others, was not going to fix this the aged Outlook dame.

After considerable searching (and disregarding the slimmer but equally middle-aged alternatives such as Opera and even Mac Mail, which I trialled while I experimented with a MacBook Pro for a few weeks) I spotted Miss Mozilla Thunderbird.

Poised elegantly at the metaphorical bar, she said that she was good but that her younger sister (Version 3.o) was even sexier and that we should meet. With Lookout style instant search and a host of other features, she seemed to be the girl of the moment. Popular, with plenty of developers providing add-ons and fashionable, being from the Mozilla family being open source and free, thus ideologically sound.


In truth I really gave Thunderbird a good go. We had multiple dates and after the conversion to IMAP from the .PST format went smoothly, we almost moved in together; but a few weeks in the romance started to falter.

I battled on for a while, but bugs in the search, the folder handling (and possibly an ill-advised switch to IMAP at the same time, because the cloud is the future, right?) meant our honeymoon period didn’t last.

Thunderbird, cute as she was, hung and was too slow. We divorced.

If In Doubt, Sleep With Her Cousin

I’ve since tried PostBox; Thunderbird’s supposedly more intelligent cousin. A streamlined offering based on the same software engine, I was initially impressed. I even splashed out and paid to hang out with her. Then a week or two in bugs appeared in an upgrade (and the disappearance of my 10 years of sent email, which she has refused to give back) has left me frustrated.

More about Postbox

There were also some other problems with managing local folders and the UI to do so, switching between local and remote email folders. Some of these were addressesed in recent updates with a combined inbox, but it is still slow and clunky. If an IMAP folder goes awry, the only solution is to redownload it from the server. Not trusting GMails IMAP implementation and label/folder botch, this isn’t ideal.

I probably need to throw some time at rebuilding some IMAP folders & bla to retrieve the lost email (I hope), and to give Postbox her due, the support from Postbox Inc was excellent; but IMAP syncing with GMail is slow, the software seems unresponsive with the 1000’s of emails I have. It just doesn’t “feel” quite right.

In Rolls The Cloud

The problems of Postbox found me resorting to web mail until I sorted the problems out. Having switched recently to using my GMail address and aggregating my accounts there, this meant I was forced to comes to terms with the GMail interface. In short, I’ve been turned… I think.

Filing into folders, even drag and dropping, suddenly seems work I shouldn’t need to do. Applying a label seems easier. Trusting that having everything lumped into labels and that I’ll be able to retrieve it through search, takes adjustment though.

The Biggest Problem With GMail

One can’t escape that cloud based computing has it’s problems. I’ve lost as many document through dodgy connections, weird browser querks or other issues, while editing in the cloud.  GMail has a good “real-time” interface when you’re on a fast connection, but there are problems when managing large amounts of data.

My data is my life!

Already, thanks to a Google Blackberry Software Sync querk, I have lost the last 2 years of meetings, scheduled events and travels, which were sitting in my Blackberry and on my Google Calender, until they synced and threw away everything prior to the last 3 months.

Twice, Google Contacts Sync has duplicated or crashed and lost contacts. Do people coding this stuff not realise these types of services have to be truly bullet proof?

The problem is I still want a local version of my email. I want to know it is mine, safe, “there”. I want to edit, rearrange and browse it when I’m not online. The GMail offline mode (incompatible with Gmail multiple login) doesn’t suffice and isn’t really a sufficiently robust solution.

Moving in to GMail

Transferring reliably IN to GMail is a massive headache. I have a 7 GB .PST of email, stretching back to the days of my Compuserve email address in 1998. This is my diary of life, my record of existance. Where I was, who I spoke to, what I did.

Google created Wave. Designed as an eventual replacement to email, combining IM, email and group chat into one in-line terribly clever platform, it was most likely just too early to market. Meanwhile, while we all cling to our love hate relationship with email, email clients have evolved woefully slowly.

Why No Better Email Clients?

Given the popularity of Gmail (and the amount of time we ALL spend doing our email) it therefore suprises me that no one has invented an appropriate IMAP based client to compliment the Gmail offering, or even simply re-envision an email client in general. Perhaps this goes against the concept of the web and cloud. Perhaps it is my old-school thinking rearing its head. Perhaps, which is possibly true, there at enough email clients established and entrenched, which do the job well enough.

The cloud -i.e. the internet- is awesome. It is the future of everything; but as with all powerful inventions it is subject to the inevitability of human error. GMail is not yet sufficiently robust – and nor is it designed – to suck up the previous 10 years of my email and give me an efficient way to manage and sort this in the new paradigm that is GMail. I’ve tried.

That leaves me with an archive and retrieval issue. I want all my historical email at my fingertips and I want it safely synced.

With IMAP proving a liability -and prohibitively slow with Googles servers and local clients- I’m back to having to set up a POP box which will download a copy of everything from my GMail and store it for later search. If I’m having to do that, there is something wrong with Gmail, the email clients, or both.

I wish someone would fix it, because at this rate I’m headed back to bed with the cougar.

STOP PRESS: Good overview of the evolution of email in an infographic over at this Mashable article about email

How Do You Solve A Problem Like The British High Street Banks?

The banking monopolies here in the UK really bug me.  It’s like mobile phone companies – whichever one you go to they screw you if not one way then another.

Not satisifed with causing the near meltdown of the global Western economy, nor forcing the government to invest TRILLIONS (a figure few can actually get their head around) into bailing them out, they don’t even offer a good service to us lowly customers; not even if you pay £12  a month for the privelgage of being an “HSBC Advance” customer, whatever this actually means.

I can’t blame the banks entirely of course.  The government were weak in dealing with the banks through weak leadership of their own and the fear of meltdown the banks themselves made great efforts to fuel. Additionally, with a heritage of depth and length in making money from money, it’s little wonder that those who work in the banking institutions and certainly those at the top of these pyramids of management are neither phased or bothered by a steadfast focus on profit above all else. CSR is part of the rich mix of brand positioning required in todays complex world, not something which is volunteered and placed a the centre of any business strategy for making profit while doing good.

This comment feeds into the wider issue of capitalism itself and this post is not the forum for that discussion.

I went to Metro bank in London Holborn a weeks back (November 11th 2010 to be precise) my hapenning to be nearby on their opening day (I was hanging around waiting for the nearby RBS to open at 9.30am, to do some business banking) so I wandered in and checked them out, as they had opened at 8.30am – as the rest of the business world.

Nothing really struck me as new – apart from a rather punchy colour scheme.

Love Your Bank? ..little chance

If they really want to differentiate, the online offering of high street banks is one are they could focus on. I have both RBS and HSBC online accounts and both are literally flaberghastingly awful, although HSBC’s recent updates are a small step forward. The last company I founded, Rummble, had some flaws in it’s products and of course our small team of five did our best to fix them; but we don’t have trillons of tax payers money to play with of RBS, or the profit of billions like HSBC.

If a new bank wants to differentiate, an awesome online and mobile banking system would be a great start.

Appendix of Problems

So here in swift review are the most glaringly obvious flaws of banking online:

  • I dont want to install some badly written banking firewall software so stop asking me to
  • Cut and past doesnt work properly
  • You can only show upto 100 transactions in the transactions view list – What, so if I have a busy account I cant display them? No, you cant. You have to do seperate searches in the same month
  • My monthly statement shows international transfers as “INTL” and a reference number. The transaction list shows the actual recipient. WHY? This is unhelpful and makes no sense and makes reconciliation difficult also.
  • Transactions list. You can only query 60 days back. Why? “You have to look in the previous statements” Why?  …see above problem
  • CVS export doesnt work properly and is in a stupid format; with everything in one column for transactions, no running balance and even then there are errors with things in the wrong column
  • On the RBS  site you can’t change the reference when you do a transfer – you have to re-create the recipient using the security card thing JUST to change the reference used in a transfer. Why?

Just a few on my grips, alongside the overall nightmare which is banking with the worlds local bank when travelling; see my last post for that saga.

HSBC – Not The Worlds Local Bank

It’s simple. HSBC call themselves “the worlds local bank” but they are anything but.

For the second time in a few years HSBC has f**ked up my holiday by cancelling a wrong card, mis-informing me and then being unable to do anything about it.

How is RBS able to deliver a card to me in 72hrs yet HSBC the ‘worlds local bank’ unable to do it AT ALL. I even pay for an “advance” service. Apparently, even as a “premium” customer you’d still not get a new card in a timely manner, they can only send them to your home address or to a branch – and it takes 7-10 days.

Why is it that one of the globes largest, most profitable banking groups is unable to deliver a new card to a customer within a timely manner? especially when Royal Bank of Scotland managed it within 48 hours?

There have been all manner of reasons I’ve been given – last time I was even told “it’s illegal to send a VISA card to another address, it’s not HSBC’s  fault it’s VISAs” (evidently from RBS, that is a lie).

So I was told it was impossible. Then I called again, this time it suddenly WAS possible, but provided that I had manager authorisation… but it would still take 5 days.

Western Union

They finally suggested a Western Union transfer. I then went on a wild goose chase to a Post Office in France, which didn’t exist, as HSBC gave me the wrong details.  Western Union called and said the nearest place was 50km away. With no money and it now being already 5pm, that was not an option. Eventually I then went to another post office, having found it via my pigeon French, but it was not possible to get the cash.

HSBC had suggested that might be the case, due to French post offices apparently not liking to accept transfers from business (?). In addition, even if they DID, the Western Union system had been broken all day today and yesterday in this area apparently, so I could not even get a friend to do a personal transfer.

More wasted time. We’re up to 7 hours thus far, having missed yet another day’s skiing – and the costs associated with doing so.

VISA Emergency Cash Delivery

After more calls, I finally spoke to someone at HSBC who seemed to have a brain, and give a sh*t about my situation. Let’s call him “Ben”.

Ben said he would organise an emergency VISA cash delivery – this involved yet more telephone calls. VISA called me and I spent another 20 minutes organising it giving details. She gave me a reference number. They said they would liaise with the bank and call back.

3 hours later, no call. It’s now 8pm. The number the VISA girl gave me does not work, so I check their website. The UK number repetedly cuts me off thru the automated process. I call the USA. They trasnfer me and after 20 minutes I speak to someone finally. The reference number I was given is wrong. Thankfully, we guess the mistake and I get the right number.

VISA inform me that they dont have authorisation from HSBC. More waiting. I also am told that when they do get authorisation, it wont be a cash delivery, but it will be a Western Union transfer.

This whole experience becomes more and more surreal and ridiculous.

I get transferred twice in HSBC and speak to a “Karen”. She informs me HSBC has no request from VISA. She say’s she’ll look into it. She also says that it won’t be cash but an emergency card.

The Emergency Card

Where did this emergency card appear from? Only 24 hours ago, it was not possible to get one. Now my 500 euros emergency cash, is a card. “Karen” say’s she’ll sort it out and call me back. At 8pm, the prospect of eating in the next 12 hours, looks like zero.

I’m still without money in France and as I write this, pretty damn hungry as I haven’t eaten all day. I’m cold and fed-up.

Parity of Conduct

When we make a mistake, such as go overdrawn when unauthorised, the banks slap up with a charge. Yet when the banks make a mistake or are negligent, ruin my holiday, use up my time, cost me money via calls, lost events not to mention the stress and discomfort (I had to walk 5km up a mountain in -5 centigrade in the dark, after my card stopped working). I twisted my back and knee walking on the ice, the accident also reigniting the sternum injury I had from two years ago, as the violent twist put a great strain on my ribs.


Is HSBC going to pay me for that personal injury or the affect it will have on the rest of my ski holiday? Were it not for their negligence I would not have been walking up an icy road, in pitch dark, in freezing conditions to get back to my accommodation – French drivers by all accounts don’t pick up hitchhikers.

HSBC are terrible internationally; simple as that.

I will be writing to claim compensation for this injury, trauma and stress. I’ll update this post with their response.

Right now, I’m going to open a new bank account elsewhere.

Blackberry 9800 Torch Review – The First Ten Days

The 8900 is the first product that I’ve ever said “I just want a Blackberry bold with a touchscreen” and they’ve attempt to actually deliver what I spent 2 years awaiting, almost to the letter.

The Blackberry mobile User Interface is the most underated phone UI in the industry. Certainly not the pretiest (but not as backward feeling as Windows Phone 6.5 and before) its of purely a practical design. The RIM Blackberry O/S is all about productivity. For this I love it.

The subtleties of its genius are lost on anyone who has not owned a BB. Aside from awesome battery life and having had full multi-tasking since before the iPhone or Android were born, the biggest subtlety which is unique to Blackberrys is how if you enter into doing one task, but then switch to doing something else, it remembers the path by which, thru the UI, I started doing that task and if you return your task is still there frozen in time.

E.g. I go to the address book and begin composing an email. I need to check for something on the map. I use the red hangup key (which ALWAYS exits you in one click – genius again – but unlike the old iPhone home key has always frozen the state) and go into Google Maps. I then get a call; then I have to send an email in reply to someone else; so from mail inbox reply to someone, then start an SMS and realise I didn’t send the other first email. I go back to Address Book (via the fast key on the said of the handset) and its still there where I left it. This sounds convoluted but in practise its awesome.

Combine this with the fact its been dropped over 100 times and still works without a broken screen? This is a mobile warriers device.

So, bar the crap browser and limited apps my Blackberry Bold is probably the best modern phone and comms device on the market today.

NOW here comes the Torch.

So here’s the verdict. The Good:

  • Nice screen
  • Usual solid construction
  • Good touch control with all the gestures
  • Reasonably good battery
  • Retains much of the good UI
  • Everything else which is good about a Blackberry

And The Bad:

Blackberry has broken some key things which in my view are “untouchable” things they should not change and they need to fix, fast. Some are trivial some are more serious.

  • Paths not always adhered to – the beutifully simple task/path process I describe above no longer always works.
  • Red hangup key – this no longer exits to home in all situations with one click. It should.
  • Only one shortcut key – why? Its one button! Now I have no hardware shortcut for the camera.
  • Changing “SMS” to “Text” in the menu – just annoying
  • Moving “Send Txt” etc to a 2nd level menu in SOME situations – just plane stupid. Add another click? Why??
  • Animated scroll on context menu slows the ability to select items using the keyboard. I want fast- not pretty.
  • Broken calender main view- all day events don’t always show hiding at the top (annoying) and the flip animation again is slow to flip between the days. Other than to see one is busy the other views are pretty unhelpful
  • Contact entry/view- this is a disaster. Having to select “mobile” everytime from a dropdown? Madness. Its an attempt at making a pratical view look nice and for touch while breaking the essense of speed
  • SMS – why can’t I select a number and copy / paste or use the menu on it? The msg txt you can select the phone number you can’t. Annoying.
  • Paste icon – some views it appears, others it doesn’t, so this is inconsistent
  • Address book name entry/search – you have to manually delete the last search entry each time, the back key even when on focus, doesn’t do it.
  • CPU- it just seems a little slower

KEYBOARD – the new design is simply not as good as either of the last two bolds, large or smaller form factor. If its not broke don’t fix it. I’m used to it now but its simple not as accurate and the bottom of the phone and curved edges get in the way of pressing the keys around the edge of the keyboard.

KEYLOCK KEY – this is simply flawed. You put it on and it 75% of the time its off when it comes back out of your pocket. Dangerous.

So, I’m sure there’s more but that’s off the top of my head. Should you buy one? Simple- how much do you use the web? If its a lot then buy it. If not; stick to the non-touch.

This is their first slider, hopefully they’ll fix these issues; it is a challenge to combine key based UI and touch- but the rule should be an optimised keyboard based input control should always take priority because that is the only thing which is going to keep Blackberry and RIM as a major player in the mobile game. The keyboard. Ruin or compromise that; and Blackberry is going to become a much lesser 2nd or 3rd tier player.

..This review was written on my Blackberry Torch 9800 🙂

Lenovo Thinkpad X201 Review

They’re not quite as good as when IBM but my X201 is  a miniature magnificent workhorse and when all the Apple fan boys are scampering for power plugs I’m still sitting pretty.

Buying a well spec’d X201 is not a cheap process necessarily, but as an entreprenuer I sure see the premium paid back in spades. I tested this theory last year, when I bought an Acer 8371T (or something..cant remember). Slim, even a bit sexier in terms of design and with good spec for the price, it was under £700 and I felt I was doing the right thing being uber cost concious.

Bad decision. It’s the really important but unseen (and little understood) features which persist thanks to the road-warrior workhorse corporate legacy of the Thinkpad line of laptops, such as:

  • Shock detection system for the hard drive (this really does work and as I found out – is important, see below)
  • Roll cage / rigid chasis (again often sounding like marketing spin, this is real**)
  • A battery that really does last 7 hrs

Shock Detection System

Simple stops the hard disk when it sense shocks. This was where I went wrong with the Acer; it doesnt have such fancy features and I experienced a total drive crash, losing some data and having alot of wasted time sorting it out.

** Strong Construction

The lid of mine has a titanium coating – or something equally strong and expensive sounding which means I can actually pic up my laptop by the corner of the screen/lid – something I frequently find myself doing like grabbing the scrawny neck fur of a kitten. In addition it is simple VERY well made. I lug this laptop EVERYWHERE. It goes to cafes, the train, conferences, in and out of my bag all the time; usually while it is still hibernating too.


Simply fantastic. I get upto 7-8 hrs from the 9 cell.


Lots of laptops show good specs but never seem to live up to the specs. Lenovo seem to have the clout and resources (like IBM) to deliver on the performance you’d expect.

So, positives:

  • AWESOME KEYBOARD (no, simply truly the best keyboard, still, you kind find on any laptop and better on an 11″ X201 than most 17″ laptop keyboards from other manufacturers)
  • REALLY long battery life if you get the 9-cell battery
  • GREAT quality of construction
  • BELLS AND WHISTLES you will come to wonder how you lived without – keyboard light for example, or charging from USB while the laptop is off (for your mobile etc), or the shock drive protection, etc

Down sides:

  • Screen – is not as amazing as some laptops – That said, most other lenovos that are bigger have some incredible display resolutions, higher than any other available. Also, Im not actually keen on shiny polish displays, so the matt finish is good for me. They also do a daylight one for outdoor use…  That all said I use my 11″ 1300×800 for design work for websites and apps and it is pretty damn good – infact better than I expected from the reviews that were written.
  • Cost – it IS more expensive than some laptops – but still cheaper than any high-end SONY where you are largely paying for the name
  • Look – and for most people this is why they dont consider them I think;  if Lenovo cold combine the practicality of its awesome Thinkpad heritage and just get someone to tweak the practical, understated black design into a practical understated design with some uber cool, they’d be even better.

Six months in after getting one  I cant imagine how I used the Acer, let alone the Asus Netbook 1000H which I used for a YEAR after I had my Thinkpad X301 stolen in Barcelona at MWC2009 (I couldnt, at that time, justify a shiny new laptop when my start-up was at that time struggling for funding).

However, I have my laptop as my lifeline to work and personal life – it is probably on for 80% of my waking hours 98% of the days of the year. I’ve had an Apple MacBook Pro (2010 edition) for 2 weeks, and it simply didnt cut it. It was close, but I’m SO happy I switched back. The MacBook Pro is bigger, battery life is poor in comparison, its heavier, the keyboard is rubbish (like typing on scrabble keys) and those things alone are enough that I couldnt cope. Don’t get me wrong, the MacBook Pro is an awesome design and great piece of hardware, but its a beauty queen – the X201 is a warrior – for those for whom productivity and survival go above style and cool.

Want the best productivity machine on the market (ignoring the Windows/OSX arguments)? then buy a high-end Thinkpad; you’ll never look back, this is my 3rd and I can’t imagine I’ll ever want anything else.