Should I get a Thinkpad x120e or do I want something else?
September 5, 2011 10:03 AM   Subscribe

I want a small, lightweight, Windows-based computer that's cheap, durable, and a pleasure to use. I need it for basic productivity, in-class note-taking, and web browsing. Am I looking a Thinkpad x120e, or am I missing something crucial?

So I'm realizing that all of my classes pretty much have all their homework and crap online these days, and since I don't have any sort of laptop that pretty much means I can only work either at home or at one of the university computer labs, neither of which are really optimally productive environments for me.

I don't really want to lug a serious laptop around with me everywhere and I already have a perfectly nice desktop PC that takes care of any serious computing needs I have. I'm not really loving the touchscreen revolution that's underway, so I'm thinking that a tablet is not really for me. What I really want to do is some light word processing, web browsing (including my online homework which tends to be pretty ponderous as websites go), and maybe some note-taking in class. I may at times want to watch movies or play music or do some light gaming to pass time, but I'm not overly concerned with these things. I think what I need is a netbook.

Specifically, I think that what I want is one of the basic-spec Thinkpad x120e netbooks. I've never much cared for trackpads, and while I don't find a trackpoint to be that much better overall I do find it to be better at least some of the time, so having a trackpad and a trackpoint together might make it so that I don't feel the need to carry a mouse everywhere. I don't want to go MacBook – none of my other stuff is Apple-based, and I'm quite comfortable in Windows. Also I appreciate the Thinkpads' reputation for durability and reliability, since I'm a bit accident-prone and my electronics tend to take a beating. I also like their no-nonsense, business-like aesthetic although this is of secondary concern to me.

Price, however, is a concern. These little beasties start at about $400 for the bottom-end model (which I think will do everything I want). I honestly haven't done a whole ton of research into the matter but from a pure features-checklist point of view, I'm thinking that that sounds like a bit much for what you get. Is that right, and if so do you think that the other aspects of Thinkpadness which I mentioned above make the difference worth it?

Finally, I am totally open to suggestions that I get something else. I'm pretty much set on getting something Windows-based, but other than that I'm certainly open to suggestions. I like big keyboards, clear screens, light weight, long battery life, durability, and enough power to accomplish basic computing tasks without feeling sluggish. Also, I'm kinda poor so if there's something that's really an exceptional value then I'd be all about that.

What think you, AskMeFites? Am I pretty much on track here, or is there something out there that I'm missing? Thanks to all.
posted by Scientist to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Why not do a tablet?
posted by k8t at 10:03 AM on September 5, 2011

Response by poster: I don't want to do a tablet because I think I am going to want to be able to type fast enough to keep up with a lecturer in an auditorium, and because I just find touchscreens kind of icky and awkward to use in general. I feel the same way about trackpads too, always have. I like input devices that give me some kind of direct tactile feedback when I use them. For instance, I use a reproduction Model M keyboard on my desktop for its clicky, springy deliciousness. I want something with a keyboard, and also I want something with a "real" OS that lets me get down into the filesystem and do things. I find the everything-is-an-app model of computing to be frustratingly limiting. (My experience with these things comes from my phone, which is an Android.) I realize that I am beating against the tide of progress here, but I guess I'm just a raging iconoclast who hates the future. ;-)
posted by Scientist at 10:09 AM on September 5, 2011

I don't have a specific suggestion, but it seems like going against the grain should get you a cheaper used machine. I never use my netbook now that I have an ipad --- there are probably a lot of people like me.
posted by vitabellosi at 10:33 AM on September 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want it for note taking, I would very strongly suggest you get your hands on one and type on it before buying. I am using my netbook now. I am a woman with medium sized hands. The keyboard compactness makes typing accident prone for me, and I cannot actually work on this. MeFi and Wikipedia is about what I can do here (and even this is annoying), and it really is the keyboard rather than the screen.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:38 AM on September 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love my x120e. (I know I've complained a bit about it here on the green before, but ... it's grown on me.) It's my favorite laptop in a long time, though I've loved all of the X-series. The keyboard is slightly different than the classic Thinkpad keyboards, and takes some getting used to, but it's still wonderful and much better than anything else I've used on a laptop, much less a netbook.

If I had to do it again I'd get it with the SSD. It's astonishing how much of a difference it makes on my Macbook. I'll probably switch out the stock hard drive for an SSD in a year or two.

Is it too expensive? I don't know. I can't imagine using a shitty cheapo-netbook keyboard on a regular basis, so it's definitely worth it to me. It's faster than the run-of-the-mill cheap netbook, too. Battery life could be better, but isn't awful. The form factor is nice and portable although it is a little heavy for its size.

One reservation: the screen is really sub-par. It's worse than any of the older X-series Thinkpads I've had (x30 and x40)—it's plenty bright, but the contrast is too low, the colors are not saturated enough. It's certainly fine for writing and coding, and I even watch movies on it, but it's a disappointment.
posted by enn at 10:55 AM on September 5, 2011

I've had my HP mini for about three years now, and the little monster is still going strong. In terms of longevity and standing up to daily abuse in my tossed-around bag for school, it beats all the high end big laptops I've had. Travels well too-- at one point, I even put it in a viola case.

Web-browsing and simple word processing were all fine, and I've also watched many movies on the mini.

Paid less than 300 back then, and nowadays you pay even less, with a much bigger harddrive (mine only had 16G which was my only complaint)
posted by atetrachordofthree at 11:05 AM on September 5, 2011

Eh. I would not advise you to go "against the grain" (after all, you're buying electronics, not settling into a bad marriage, right?), but as you said, Thinkpads are the only ones really doing the trackpad thing. I really sympathize-- I'm like you except without the 'business aesthetic' thing. What I did was give up the resentment of trackpads and get a Toshiba netbook (I'm sorry if it's too cute, but blue is a businesslike color, isn't it?).

It's protected against falls, has a non-spill keyboard, it's really super-light (around 2.5lbs), and can charge up to 8+ hours. You can get it for $340 new. You get used to the trackpad thing, and this one is a nice size. I think it's got a comfortable-sized keyboard, but since these are common, just go to Staples and check one out. It's definitely a pleasure to use. $300 is around the pricepoint for these new, I think. I think you can make a decision just going to a mall-type electronics store and looking at their selections; the selection tends to be standard. You'd always have to give up something (a feature or price), but you shouldn't have to go to a whole different device (tablet).
posted by reenka at 11:09 AM on September 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have an Asus eee netbook and it sounds like it fits all of your criteria. ( It took me maybe a day to get used to typing on the small keyboard, but after that I haven't had any problems typing on it.)
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 11:53 AM on September 5, 2011

I love my x120e. While I don't use it to take notes (I take my notes with a pen and paper), I do use it for web browsing, coding, SSHing, skyping, playing the youtubes on my TV, etc.

I had always wanted a laptop, but I hated the bulk and shit battery life. Anything over 13" is going to die super fast running on battery, be a pain in the ass to lug around, and I can't see how anybody wants to look at a monitor less than 24" for any extended period of time anyway (the idea of a "desktop replacement" baffles me). The small netbook form factor fixes those concerns (little screen, way more portable and lasts forever on battery), and the x120e is powerful enough and the keyboard is big enough that I don't feel like I'm having to sacrifice any speed/comfort when typing.

I know DarlingBri said that she has issues with her netbook keyboard, but I really don't feel that way about this one. The keys have a nice curvature to them and a good amount of space between them. One common complaint, though, is that the fn laptop key is where the control key usually is, and that seems to bug habitual shortcut users. I think you can remap it and move the keys as they are identical in size, but I never really cared. Probably a good idea to walk into best buy or something and type a few things on a similarly sized netbook, but from what I understand the general consensus is that the keyboard on the x120e is solid and people like it.

My third biggest qualm with notebooks after the size and battery is trackpads. I hate those things. But I really like the trackpoint. No replacement for a mouse, but it is a great alternative to one, and I feel like carrying the mouse around and using it would be more of a pain than just using the trackpoint. If it didn't exist, though, I would definitely be taking a mouse around with me.

Also, I think you're right in not considering a tablet. I keep reading about this tablet revolution where PCs will be a thing of the past and we will all just be tableting away. This is stupid. Tablets are for people who don't so much need to type things as much as play cutesy flash games and upload pictures of their kids to facebook.

To address enn: I got an ssd and threw it in there, and while it sped things up, it felt like I was wasting the potential of the drive so I eventually put it in my desktop instead.

To be honest, you sound exactly like me but minus one of these netbooks. A couple caveats, though: I don't play any games on it at all and I have the larger battery for it. I upgraded the RAM, too, but I think it would've been cheaper to roll my own rather than have the factory upgrade it, so I'm dumb, learn from my mistake. That should save you a couple bucks for the initial purchase and then the option to upgrade is available down the line.

If you decide to get it, make sure to look for some sales or coupons or something online, then give them a call and have someone put the order in for you and see if they can help you with the price any more (maybe reduce shipping if nothing else, I live in Hawaii and talking to a live rep usually gets me a cheaper shipping cost). Good luck!
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 12:47 PM on September 5, 2011

I recently got a used Asus EEE PC for travel. With shipping, it came to about $150. I've actually started to use my netbook more than my normal laptop because it is easier to carry around. While it isn't the most powerful of machines, it is sufficient for note taking and browsing the web. My stats: 144 GB hard drive, 1 MB RAM, 1.60 GHz processor, no DVD/CD drive, 3 USBs, SD card slot, ethernet port, vga port, webcam, and microphone and headphone jacks.

It's not part of your question, but have you considered what kind of note taking application or program you'll use? You can easily sync up notes between your mobile PC and your desktop. Check out this list for ideas. A lot of schools have Microsoft Office (including Word and OneNote) and other programs to their students for free download.
posted by mewohu at 1:45 PM on September 5, 2011

Mrs. mmascolino had a work issued x120e for awhile and I found it ok but I just can't get used to using the compact keyboard. It was fine for reading but actively typing a lot of text drove me up the wall. Since note taking is a big use case for you, I'd suggest you find some way of trying out the keyboards of any computer before you buy it.
posted by mmascolino at 7:23 PM on September 5, 2011

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