Drawing on ingenuity

The drawback to portable digital tablets is that even if they do a pretty good job of recording handwriting, they lack keyboards. And the drawback to notebook computers is, of course, that they're not good for sketching.

Designers, engineers and other professionals who need to work with drawings and handwriting on the road will love the solution IBM Corp. has come up with in its ThinkPad TransNote.

The TransNote is actually two computers in one, bound into a slim 11- by-12.5-by-1.4-inch package. When you open the soft, leather folio, you'll see a compressed version of IBM's Think.Pad notebook on the left and the ThinkScribe digital notepad on the right.

The digital notepad automatically turns on when you open the TransNote folio. You'll find a pad of standard notepaper in the ThinkScribe's well and, just to the right, a somewhat thick but comfortable digital pen with one end for writing on the notepad and the other for use on the ThinkPad's touch screen.

The ThinkScribe interface is relatively easy to use. Simply write or draw on the pad and the unit will transfer whatever you do straight to the ThinkPad. The only snag is that when you flip to a new page on the paper pad, you'll need to "create" a new page on the ThinkScribe by using the pen to select a new page in the page "groove" to the left of the pad.

All ThinkScribe data is automatically stored in the ThinkPad's Ink Manager Pro. We were impressed with Ink Manager Pro's interface, which includes a navigation panel on the left side that allows you to move among notepad pages, to-do lists and messages.

You can also use the device's electronic calendar feature to link notes to any of three calendar programs: Lotus Development Corp.'s Notes, Lotus Organizer and Microsoft Corp.'s Outlook. This handy feature lets you quickly link Ink Manager notes to calendar entries. Of course, once all the Think.Scribe files are on the Think.Pad, cutting and pasting notes and drawings into Windows applications via the clipboard is simple.

There is, however, one major drawback to the Think.Scribe system: the lack of a handwriting-recognition tool. Although we haven't yet seen a handwriting-recognition program we could get excited about, until one is provided, the ThinkScribe solution will always feel limited.

But the trimmed-down ThinkPad is impressive. The sharp, 10.4-inch touch-screen display pivots up from its storage location on top of the keyboard and allows users to position it at virtually any viewing angle. We were surprised by the feel of the ThinkPad's flat and concise keyboard. The unit's pointing system—which features the Think.Pad's traditional pointing post combined with three selector buttons located in front of the space bar—is easy to use.

Although the ThinkPad may be small in size, it is surprisingly powerful, sporting a 10M hard drive, up to 320M of SDRAM and a 600 MHz Pentium III processor. We were satisfied with the performance of the ThinkPad we evaluated, which was equipped with 128M of RAM.

And the ThinkPad turned in a creditable, though not stellar, score of 120 on BAPCO's SYSmark 2000 suite of real-world benchmarks. By way of comparison, Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Omnibook 500 ultralight notebook, which we reviewed recently, turned in a score of 137 on the same tests.

The TransNote package weighs in at a reasonable 5.5 pounds, including the pad of paper that fits into the digital notepad. That's without the optional—and also quite slim—floppy and CD drives, which connect to the ThinkPad via USB ports.

Another nice feature: Although the ThinkPad and ThinkScribe units run off the same battery, they have separate on/off switches, so you can run each unit independently to save power.

And if you only need to use either the ThinkScribe or the ThinkPad and space is tight, you can simply fold the folio over itself and the entire system will fit nicely on your lap.

REPORT CARD

ThinkPad TransNote

Score: B+

IBM Corp.
(914) 499-1900
www.ibm.com

The price of the ThinkPad TransNote starts at $2,999, with 64M of RAMand Microsoft Windows 98.

The combination of a ThinkPad computer and a ThinkScribe digital notepadin a portable package makes it possible for designers, engineers and otherprofessionals to work with both words and drawings while on the road. Theonly significant drawback to the system is its expense and the lack of handwritingrecognition.

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