Sunday, March 22, 2015

Part 1 of Who are you designing for? Or, thoughts on the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon. Or, trying to buy some more happiness.

I still haven't gotten used to the fact that when people say "my computer", they usually mean a laptop instead of a desktop.  But I've owned laptops since my nomadic phase at the beginning of the millenium, and they've all been ThinkPads, starting back when they were still IBM ThinkPads..  When it came time a few months ago to replace my current X200s, I took the leap to the controversial new X1 Carbon.  Lenovo intends for it to compete with the MacBook Air.  It's both great and terrible; some of the ways its terrible reflect Lenovo copying Apple too closely and getting the bad with the good.  And its story illustrates the dilemma between the Steve Jobs approach of holding your customers in contempt inventing the future and more traditional approach of listening to them.

The first terrible thing about the X1 Carbon is the name.  The first terrible thing about the name is the word "Carbon", which is redundant.  No other Thinkpad has "Carbon" in the name or is designated X1. There was an X1 before the X1 Carbon, which now must be referred to as the X1 No Not the X1 Carbon. X1 is a pretty name but even NASA moved on.  (Pictured: X2)

The second terrible thing about the name is that Lenovo keeps changing the X1 but not changing the model number.  So there's an X1 Carbon 1st Generation, 2nd Generation, and now 3rd Generation.  All of them are sold as X1 Carbon, and Lenovo is not always careful to include the Generation.  Which is why model numbers traditionally change when the product changes substantially, a detail Lenovo gets right with all of the other ThinkPad models.  What replaces the X240?  The X250.  Why are they so scared of the number 2?

Anyway, what I bought in December 2014 was the 2nd Generation.  Actually, I bought it twice, because I got 4Gb of RAM to save a little money and then decided that was a stupid compromise for a laptop I'd have for a long time.  You can't change the RAM or CPU on the X1 because, in order to help it be so skinny, they are soldered to the motherboard.  This is the first example of Lenovo's lemming-like leap, following Apple to a bad place where style is more important than function.  I called to change my mind, but (to make a boring even for me story short) they couldn't change the order, but they could change the shipping so that it went straight from the factory in China to the return facility in South Carolina and a 100% refund and while all of that was happening I ordered a second one and checked the status daily and when it shipped checked UPS many times a day and watched it come and go through Anchorage Alaska and generally tried to squeeze as much joy as possible from the process of purchasing globally created luxury goods.

What did I think of it when I got it?  I'll tell you in the next episode, but let me leave you with these nice promotional product photographs:

And see if you can tell what's special about the 2nd Gen's keyboard:

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