How Lenovo ThinkPad has stayed true to its origins as the ultimate reliable laptop
Lenovo keeps the Thinkpad name alive with new variants, new tech and a commitment to endurance and quality
Laptops are very rarely described as ‘cult objects’, much less Windows laptops. While the MacBook Air might come up trumps as a memorable mobile device, alongside the original late 1990s iBook G3, there’s very little in the way of historic design innovation in the Windows sphere.
One brand name stands out for its unswerving commitment to quality, reliability and corporate conformity. We’re talking about the IBM ThinkPad, a laptop with 30 years of history, 200 million units sold, and as solid a following as any piece of essential office equipment can possibly garner.
The ThinkPad name became the domain of Lenovo from 2005 onwards, when the Chinese manufacturer took on IBM’s laptop division. What might have seemed like good business was economically short-sighted for Big Blue, once the indisputable global leader in computing. The American behemoth’s oft-repeated mantra, ‘Think’, was first deployed by the company’s eventual founder Thomas J Watson all the way back in 1911.
‘ThinkPad’ therefore seemed like a no-brainer name for a compact business machine, the first of which, the 700, arrived in 1992, tailored to big corporate clients who needed to issue hundreds, if not thousands, of rugged and reliable devices to their workforces.
After three decades, Lenovo continues to build on the ThinkPad name. Two of the latest models in the line-up display the legacy of the design parameters set out by design consultant Richard Sapper in the early 1990s, allegedly inspired by the ultra-efficient packaging of the Japanese bento box. Alongside its flexible Yoga models, ThinkBooks, IdeaPads and Chromebooks, ThinkPad remains the company’s flagship nameplate.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 and ThinkPad Z13 Gen 2
The latest Gen 11 version of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon laptop features the most recent Intel Core vPro processor, a 16:10 ratio 14in screen and a high-res webcam with four 360-degree microphones and Dolby Atmos sound for effective web conferencing. Built to US Department of Defense quality specifications, the X1 Carbon also features extensive use of recycled materials in both device and packaging.
The new ThinkPad Z13 Gen 2 uses AMD power, instead of Intel, and also incorporates recycled materials, specifically PET recycled vegan leather or recycled aluminium in the case. Both laptops feature the TrackPoint, the signature ThinkPad device that sits amidst the keyboard and functions as a secondary pointing device. Back in the days before the touchpad, the TrackPoint was IBM’s unique alternative to a separate mouse.
Other innovations pioneered by the ThinkPad line over the years include the first colour TFT display on a laptop, and the first laptops to integrate CD-ROM, DVD-ROM and Wi-Fi.
Each model has a crisp, precise finish, thanks to the metal casings and exacting designs. Despite their solid construction, the newest generation of ThinkPads are light and slim, with integrated fingerprint recognition for added security. An earlier ThinkPad made it into MoMA’s permanent collection, a sure indication of the enduring influence of this pioneering device.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon laptop Gen 11, from, £1,870.00, Lenovo.com
ThinkPad Z13 Gen 2, from £1,909.99, Lenovo.com
Jonathan Bell has written for Wallpaper* magazine since 1999, covering everything from architecture and transport design to books, tech and graphic design. He is now the magazine’s Transport and Technology Editor. Jonathan has written and edited 15 books, including Concept Car Design, 21st Century House, and The New Modern House. He is also the host of Wallpaper’s first podcast.
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