Editorial license. (IBM ThinkPad 360Cs duel-scan notebook computer) (Hardware Review) (Editorial) (Evaluation)
by Clifton Karnes
This issue's Test Lab focuses on seven dual-scan passive matrix color notebooks, each priced at under $2,500. The quality of dual-scan displays is getting closer to that of their active matrix high-end brothers, and the $2,500 p ice point has become a battleground for some very powerful, colorful machines.
One dual-scan notebook that wasn't available in time for our Test Lab report is the new IBM ThinkPad 360Cs. It wouldn't quite have made the price cut anyway, coming in just $99 over our $2,500 limit, but this machine is so notable in so many ways that I'd like to talk about it a little.
The 360Cs's standard configuration doesn't sound like anything to write home about. It is powered by a 25-MHz SL-enhanced 486SX CPU, comes with either a 170MB or a 340MB hard drive, and houses 4MB of RAM, expandable to 20MB. Video, as already noted, is dual-scan passive matrix display. Look beyond these ordinary numbers, however, and you'll find a machine with a personality.
The ThinkPad 360Cs has the same basic exterior design as its forerunners, the 350 and 750. The machine is housed in a handsome, well-built black case, with black keys and a red pointing device. The most remarkable feature of the 360Cs is probably its keyboard, which it inherits from the earlier 350 and 750 machines. The layout is the best of any notebook on the market. Almost all the keys are full-size, and there are two Ctrl and Alt key pairs on either side of the space bar, as well as dedicated F1-F12 keys, cursor control keys (in an inverted T), and Page Up and Page Down keys. The only thing you give up with this keyboard is a separate numeric keypad.
The 360Cs uses IBM's TrackPoint pointing device, which looks like a little red eraser between the G, H, and B keys combined with two red buttons positioned on the edge of the case. After using a 747 full of portable trackballs, I'm convinced that the TrackPoint is the best portable pointing device going. It takes some getting used to, but it offers greater control than most small trackballs, and it takes up far less room.
The 360Cs's keyboard is remarkable in another way. To access the machine's internals, you unlatch the keyboard and lift it up. Underneath, you'll find the floppy drive, which can be removed and replaced with a second battery or wireless communications; the hard drive, which can be upgraded; and a section in the middle where you can insert memory upgrade IC cards.
Moving to the display, the dual-scan screen is unusually large - 9.5 inches diagonally - and very bright. As far as the quality goes, I've found that when you put the 360Cs's dual-scan display beside an active matrix machine, the screen suffers by comparison. But when you look at the 360Cs by itself, the color and quality are quite good.
Another area where this computer really lights up a room is its power supply. I know - power supplies are boring, but once you see this one, you may change your tune. The machine's small power brick is on the end of the cord, rather than in the middle, and the power prongs are retractable. What a great idea!
The 360Cs has ports galore. A PC-MCIA Type Ill slot leads off a list that includes parallel, serial, PS/2, external VGA, and proprietary bus expansion slots.
The machines in this issue's Test Lab represent some real bargains, and compared with them, the 360Cs may be a little pricey. But its innovative design, superb keyboard and pointing device, and expandability may be worth the price.