We can't keep it. Our eval loan has run out and we have to return this Lenovo ThinkPad X300 review unit next week. But that's all right. We'll find a way. We can follow it back to Lenovo's address in North Carolina. We can stalk it. Someday it'll be in our arms again and we can tell it how we feel. We'll say those three little words we thought we'd never say, words no level-headed PC reviewer should swoon and say:
Best notebook ever.
They say love is blind, and we were struck blind by our first look at the X300's price tag: At retail, our test configuration (model 6478-1VU) costs as much as four adequately equipped, full-sized laptops -- $3,000 equipped with 2GB of DDR-2/667 memory, Bluetooth, webcam, fingerprint reader, and a Verizon mobile broadband module with GPS.
When we configured a matching model on Lenovo's Web site, it came to $3,400. The best discount we found was from Datavision, offering the X300 for $2,800.
Part of the system's high tariff is that it features a 64GB solid-state disk (SSD or flash-memory drive). That's much less storage capacity than most notebooks' conventional hard disks, but it gives the Lenovo a fast startup time (about 30 seconds) and extra reliability, especially when coupled with what Lenovo calls glass- and carbon-fiber "roll cage" construction and a ThinkVantage Active Protection System that automatically turns off the drive when the X300 is jolted or dropped. The latter feature isn't nearly as necessary for an SSD as for a mechanical drive, but it has a cute real-time display window in which you can watch an animated image of the ThinkPad jiggle and jump as you mistreat it.
But the real reason the X300 inspires devotion is that it's the PC market's closest thing to Apple's celebrated, skinny status symbol, the MacBook Air. At 9.1 by 12.5 by 1 inches, it isn't quite as svelte as the Apple, but has essential features the Air lacks -- a DVD±RW drive, for example, along with an Ethernet port and a user-removable battery.
The Lenovo is also light enough to make briefcase-lugging a pleasure: Our test unit tipped the scale at 3.4 pounds (an even 4 pounds with the AC adapter). You can add a few ounces by replacing the optical drive with a second battery pack for, Lenovo says, up to 10 hours of battery life.
And, to return to the MacBook Air, the ThinkPad's $3,000 price may be daunting but is $98 less than Apple charges for its slimline with the same size solid-state drive but no optical drive. And while both have 13.3-inch displays, the X300 offers higher resolution (1,440 by 900 pixels versus 1,200 by 800).
On the notebook's left side are two USB 2.0 ports and microphone and headphone jacks. At the rear are a third USB port and Ethernet and VGA monitor ports.
We were disappointed not to find a flash-memory card reader or an ExpressCard slot, though Lenovo would likely say there's no urgent need for the latter since what's under the hood already includes mobile broadband; a GPS chip; and support for WiMax, should Intel's chosen long-range wireless standard overcome the apparently long odds against it ever being deployed.
One of the ThinkPad's most remarkable features is on its right side -- a super-duper-slim, swappable DVD±RW burner. The dual-layer Matsushita drive is just 7mm (a quarter of an inch) thick; we found ourselves wishing it would pull out just a fraction further but it proved easy enough to slip a disc into the tray inside-edge first.