The Holy Grail of netbooks?

It may not technically be a netbook, but it's a thin and light ultraportable that's powerful enough to satisfy teachers and students alike, and cheap enough for widespread deployment.

OK, it's not exactly a netbook (at least according to Microsoft). The screen is too big, It has too much RAM. The processor has too many cores. And it pulls just a little too much power. In fact, Lenovo couldn't install Windows 7 Starter on the X100e if they wanted to. Did I mention that it runs Photoshop CS5 tolerably, too?

Introduced at CES this year, the Lenovo ThinkPad X100e has been thoroughly reviewed elsewhere. Lenovo doesn't call it a netbook; they call it a "professional-grade entry ultraportable." As part of my summer series on netbooks, though, I recently snagged a long-term evaluation unit of one of these little laptops (or whatever you want to call it) and have already been putting it through its paces. Long story short, I'm impressed. Check out the video below from Lenovo if you aren't already familiar with its features:

Although first impressions (I'll talk about those in a minute) tend to be lasting impressions, I'm looking forward to using this PC extensively over the next few months, loaning it to teachers and students, travelling with it, running presentations with it, writing a book with it, blogging with it, letting my daughter drool on it...you get the point. Here's what I want to figure out:

  • What's a better choice for teachers and older students? A low-end laptop at this price point (about $600) or a high-end netbooky sort of thing?
  • Is the higher performance enough to justify significantly lower battery life than you can obtain with the latest generation Atom processors and Intel chipsets?
  • Is the X100e durable enough to compete with Dell's and Intel's offerings in the educational space?
  • Does the increased performance/improved form factor justify doubling the cost of a good netbook?
  • Can this computer be one of the tools that I pull out time and again like the Convertible Classmate?
  • What's the ideal target audience for the X100e? High school students? College students? Teachers?
  • The limitations of netbooks are clear; just what are the limitations of this ThinkPad and its AMD Vision platform?

That, by the way, is the key differentiator for this notebook. It uses AMD's Turion Neo X2 dual-core processor and integrated ATI high-definition graphics to kick performance up quite a few notches. It also has a keyboard that lives up to the ThinkPad name.
This new class of notebook adds an interesting variable to the 1:1 and staff computing equations. I'm looking forward to seeing where it fits in the increasingly crowded arenas of netbooks, tablets, and commodity-priced PCs as we look to equip students and staff as fully and cheaply as possible.