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ArticlesIncredible Expanding Keyboard

May 1995 / Reviews / Incredible Expanding Keyboard

IBM's new ThinkPad 701C shatters subnotebook constraints with a full-size keyboard and screen

Alan Joch

A house divided may fall, but a home row divided may finally make the subnotebook a viable form factor. That's the idea behind the split keyboard that IBM introduced on the new ThinkPad 701C , a cleverly designed, 4.5-pound portable.

Once opened, the keyboard on the 701C (nicknamed the Butterfly ) extends past the chassis sides to give you the largest and most comfortable keyboard in its class. But when you turn on the unit, what really pops out is the impressive 10.4-inch display. Our review unit sported a TFT (thin-film transistor) screen, but the 701 is also available with a dual-scan display. Add IBM's TrackPoint III pointer, and th e result is today's most ergonomically correct subnotebook.

Crowded House

An Intel 486DX2/50 processor powered our review unit and ran applications in acceptable but not house-burning speed. (Battery life was an impressive 6 hours.) A 486DX4/75 version will also be available. The DX2 comes standard with 4 MB of memory (20 MB maximum) and a 360-, 540-, or 720-MB hard drive. The DX4 will come standard with 8 MB of memory.

The 701C joins a handful of new subnotebooks that run high-end 486s and offer larger color displays and roomier keyboards. The closest competitor to the 701C may be Gateway's Liberty, which also offers a 10.4-inch display (dual-scan color). A comparable 486DX2/50 Liberty costs about $950 less than the 701C.

However, the Liberty doesn't give you the satisfying cha-chunk that you get on opening the 701C, as its 11.5- by 5.75-inch keyboard slides into place. A clever mechanism splits the 85-key keyboard in half with a diagonal cut from upper left to lower right. When you snap down the lid, the right segment inches up and then both segments slide in. The closed 701C measures just 9.7 by 7.9 by 1.7 inches. The solid keyboard mechanism never failed to perform. We opened and closed the 701C countless times during our evaluation but can't verify IBM's claim of achieving 25,000 fail-free repetitions.

What does the split keyboard buy you? All the primary keys are the same size as those of a desktop keyboard. The function and arrow keys are about half as big but much more generous than the Pez-size buttons on previous ThinkPad subnotebooks like the 510C. Our only complaints: There is no wrist rest, which is troubling because Apple and others have already considered wrist stress in their designs; and the heel of the right hand comes down on the arrow keys when you are typing.

What a View

The 701C's remarkable 10.4-inch screen compares with full-size ThinkPads and displays 26 lines of text in eye-pleasing 12-point type. By comparison, the 510C displays the same amount of copy in 10-point type. IBM says the display shortages that have delayed orders for some ThinkPads aren't a factor for the 701C, thanks in part to outsourcing from Sharp.

The 701C comes with audio and telephony features similar to those of the larger and faster 755C, but because of its sliding keyboard, the 701C doesn't have space for a CD-ROM drive. The 701C's modem isn't upgradable from 14.4 Kbps. With a 256-color palette, the 701C doesn't have the 755C's more sophisticated graphics system (65,536 colors at VGA resolutions). Finally, the 701C can't capture or output broadcast-standard video.

The 701C does, however, shine among portables for pleasantness to use and for flat-out coolness. Cha-chunk may soon become the sound of status for those who live much of their life at 35,000 feet.


IBM ThinkPad 701C       $5149

  486DX2/50, active-matrix color, 8 MB, and a 540-MB drive
IBM Personal Computer Co.
Somers, NY 10589
(800) 772-2227
(914) 766-1900
fax: (800) 426-4329

ThinkPad 701C Features

illustration_link (58 Kbytes)

-- Infrared port transfers files at 115 Kbps.
-- Expansion connector attaches the included port replicator.
-- Parallel port for external 0.57-pound floppy drive.
-- 14.4-Kbps data/fax modem.
-- Yamaha Codec provides 16-bit stereo audio. Built-in microphone and speakers.
-- Nickel-cadmium battery doesn't require full discharge before recharge.
-- Hard drive (360, 540, or 720 MB) removes for security or for segmenting work.
-- PCMCIA slot for two Type II cards or one Type III card.

The Incredible Expanding Keyboard

photo_link (35 Kbytes)

As you open the lid, a cam on the left screen hinge puts the two-part keyboard into motion. The two halves slide laterally apart and then vertically together, meeting along a diagonal stair-step seam.

Alan Joch is a BYTE senior editor. You can reach him on the Internet or BIX at ajoch@

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