The latest thing in skinny screens is LED backlighting, which helps make the X300's 13.3-inch display crisp and vivid for black text and color images alike. On the other hand, to be frank, the 1,440 by 900-pixel panel didn't seem super-bright or show whiter whites under office fluorescent lighting, unless we left the backlight on its highest setting.
Working at home, with just one or two lamps at opposite sides of the living room, made things look better. Under such less-than-sunny conditions, or on a darkened airplane beside a snoring seatmate, you can press a Fn-key combination to activate the cutest little night light you ever saw, tucked into the top bezel beside the 1.3-megapixel webcam and shining down on the keyboard.
The keyboard lives up to the high standard of other ThinkPads, stretching back well before 2005 when Lenovo acquired the matte-black brand from IBM. It's virtually full-sized (spanning 8 inches from A through apostrophe, just like our desktop keyboard) and delivers a smooth, yielding-just-enough typing feel. There are dedicated Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn keys instead of shifted cursor arrows, as well, though it takes some practice to adjust to their location in the keyboard's top right corner.
Lenovo also offers travelers a choice of IBM's famous original or today's most common mouse alternatives -- a textured TrackPoint micro-joystick stub embedded at the intersection of G, H, and B, plus a touchpad in the palm rest with vertical and horizontal scrolling zones along its right and bottom edges.
Both the TrackPoint and touchpad have their own left and right mouse buttons below. We found that, when using the X300 in our lap, the latter's mouse buttons were often too close or pressed against our belly to use, so we happily relied on the joystick's buttons just above the touchpad.
Lenovo boasts that the X300 is the most environmentally friendly ThinkPad to date, consuming 25 percent less energy than older X Series models and meeting both Energy Star 4.0 and EPEAT Gold standards for low power consumption and minimal impact on Mother Earth. Along with the LED backlit display and no-moving-parts SSD, one of the key contributors to this status is Intel's Core 2 Duo SL7100, a 1.2GHz processor with an 800MHz front-side bus, 4MB of Level 2 cache, and a thrifty TDP (thermal design power) of 12 watts.
The CPU specs should clue you in that nobody's going to use the X300 for hardcore gaming or video encoding, but the notebook's performance is perfectly fine for office applications. It scored 3,305 on PCMark05 (CPU 3,279; memory 3,262; graphics 1,042; hard drive -- wildly skewed by solid-state -- 15,787), and rendered Cinebench 10's test scene in six and a quarter minutes.
Intel's GMA X3100 integrated graphics handled our benchmarks about as well as you'd expect, managing 70 frames per second in our nostalgic Quake III Arena test and 10 fps in the more demanding AquaMark3; its 3DMark06 score at native 1,440 by 900 resolution with no antialiasing or other eye candy was 362.
Lenovo's array of models with just slightly different ID codes (6478-1VU versus -1TU, for instance) can make it hard to spot the exact configuration you'd like, but we must confess that one thing we liked about our test unit was that it came with the simpler, quicker Windows XP Professional instead of Windows Vista.
A page on Lenovo's Web site (under the banner headline "It's hard to say goodbye") says that systems with XP preloaded will be available for purchase only through May 20, 2008, but that customers will be able to buy a downgrade DVD that wipes out the newer and installs the older operating system. One of the company's tech support pages adds that the downgrade kit will be available (though "fees may vary") until January 31, 2009.
The rest of our ThinkPad's preinstalled software ranged from the predictable (trial versions of Norton Internet Security and Microsoft Office) to the Picasa2 image organizer, Diskeeper Lite defragment utility, InterVideo WinDVD, and an impressive stack of utilities and control settings arrayed under the ThinkVantage label.
A pop-up ThinkVantage Productivity Center offers maintenance, wireless (including location profiles for different networks and logons), hardware configuration, and security options presented so as not to frighten even the technophobiest.
Finally, the X300's light weight doesn't indicate a wimpy battery pack as with some slimlines. The supplied six-cell battery lasted a good four hours during a multimedia-heavy DVD-viewing and music-playing session, while a less demanding word processing marathon stretched to five hours.
So what do we mean by best notebook ever? Simply the best-engineered, most desirable, thin-and-light-without-compromises laptop we've seen in many long years of testing, reviewing, and not infrequently buying. Out of all the PCs that have occupied the Labs, Weather, & Sports Desk, the ThinkPad X300 is the one we most hate to send away.
Ah, well. If you love something set it free.
Lenovo ThinkPad X300
On a 5-star scale: