ISSUE 598: Zisman- Apr 10 2001
The high-tech office
Pen-based IBM notebook misses the market
Even though IBM's Thinkpad notebooks
are well-regarded and commercially successful, the gnomes of Armonk,
N.Y., are at it again, reinventing the notebook computer.
This time around, their goal seems to be to make a
notebook that is, well, more like a notebook.
Packed up, the new Thinkpad Transnote even looks like
a notebook, a stylishly slim, black leather ette portfolio that will
fit right in at any business meeting. Open it up and it reveals a split
On one side (you can order it either left- or
right-handed), there's a Windows computer, sporting a Pentium-III
600-MHz processor with a smallish 10.4-inch 800x600 screen, 128 MB
memory and a 10-GB hard drive. A network adapter and modem are built
in, something I wish was true of every business-class computer. There
are neither floppy nor CD drives, however.
The screen is unusual. It props up on the middle of
the computer and can be flipped over to act as a small display panel.
(At the press of a button, the image flips too, so it remains
right-side-up.) The screen is touch-sensitive; you can press OK with
your fingertip or the included stylus.
The other side of the portfolio holds a legal-sized
pad of paper. There's nothing special about the pad, but when you write
on it with the included digital pen, the Think scribe hardware
underneath turns your writing and drawings into digital ink.
It can save up to 50 pages of notes even when the
computer is turned off and can transfer them either right away or on
demand over to the computer's Ink Manager software.
It's not quite as smooth as it ought to be. You have
to remember to click on the edge of the Thinkscribe to let it know each
time you move to a new sheet of paper or else your jottings will be
overlaid on top of one another.
And while you can use either half with the other
section folded underneath, this can feel clumsy.
The Inkmanager software makes it easy to store and
view your notes on the computer and it's straightforward to copy and
paste them into a word processor or other application. (Lotus
Smartsuite office suite is pre-installed.) Your pages can be saved as
graphic files for e-mail attachment and can be organized into
categories or connected to keywords for easy searching. Your notes can
even be linked with the calendar in Smartsuite's Lotus Organizer so you
can find what you wrote on any specific day. There's no attempt at
handwriting recognition, however, so don't expect that your handwritten
notes will be magically transformed into computer-edit able text.
Palm and Visor users intrigued by the
idea may want to check Seiko's Smartpad (about $300), a
portfolio with space for your PDA (not included) and a pad of paper.
Here, too, notes written on the pad are transferred as graphics to the
computer. There are separate versions for Palm III series, Palm V and
Pricing for IBM's Trans note starts at $4,699. And
you will probably need to budget for an add-on CD drive. (IBM's costs
But sorry, IBM, I just don't get it. It's neat
technology, but I find it hard to imagine the market. You've got to
really dislike typing to spend a cool five grand in order to get your
handwritten notes into a computer.
Over the years, IBM's designers have produced a
series of innovations in their Thinkpad line. Some, like the
eraser-sized Trackpoint pointing device, have been keepers. Others,
like the fold-out Butterfly keyboard or a removable screen that could
be used as a display panel with an overhead projector, were interesting
technology that quickly vanished from the marketplace.
I suspect the Transnote falls in the latter category.