For as long as I can remember business laptops have been as boring as Oxygen's Tori & Dean (which for those that haven't had to endure the reality show suffering, tracks Tori Spelling's life as a now mommy). But the unofficial "all work and no play" marquee of business notebooks is fading as laptop manufacturers, with the help of Intel and its new Centrino 2 chipset platform, are giving those once buttoned up systems some much needed mouth-to-mouth. Business may still be boring, but I am happy to see the laptops meant for it don't have to be.
Take the new Lenovo ThinkPad SL400 (see a full review here) which is as much conference room as it is cafe or sofa couch. The once very corporate laptop brand starts by adding some spice to the outside with a black glossy cover. But nothing alerted me more to the fact that ThinkPad doesn't equal boring business box than the laser red light dot over the letter "I" in the ThinkPad logo. Props to Lenovo for adding some gaming laptop flare to a small to medium size enterprise notebook.
More evidence builds for playing on the job when the laptop is opened up to a 14.1-inch high definition screen. Sure the extra on-screen space lets you see more columns on an Excel spreadsheet or run e-mail and word processing programs side-by-side. But no one's pretending that it's not handy for watching a Blu-Ray disc (yes, you can configure the system to include a high-definition drive), or that the speakers don't add some oomph to movies and music. And an included HDMI port lets you hook the system to a project for a boring PowerPoint or to your living room's plasma to watch Iron Man on BluRay.
Where Lenovo starts, Intel's new Centrino 2 platform picks up. The new processor platform brings faster integrated graphics, and smoother Blu-ray playback to notebooks amongst other things like improved wireless connectivity and remote management of systems. What the chipset also does is support discrete graphics cards by ATI and Nvidia better than ever before. The SL400 for instance comes with a Intel's Centrino 2 processor but also 256MB Nvidia GeForce discrete graphics card which is capable of higher end graphics and gaming performance. My hands on-time with the SL400 proves that it is definitely capable of video/photo editing and some smooth MMO, such as Second Life, game play. Only, of course, after you've finished up all the work for the day.
Lenovo's ThinkPad SL400 isn't the only business notebook crossing over into entertainment lines, new systems on Acer's business aimed TravelMate line are similarly blurring the business and pleasure boundaries.
What does this mean for mobile technology and the enterprise? Nothing new in my opinion. Taking a cue from BlackBerry and Apple's iPhone, it seems like the Lenovos, Acers and Dells of the world are catching up with the fact that people want all-in-one, Swiss army knife devices that can do everything from e-mail to watch streaming video. We don't need survey data to tell us that separating work and play is just way to hard.
Those BlackBerry ads that show everything from the corporate e-mail along with pictures from the kids soccer game and concert videos do a damn good job of illustrating the all in one device. If business folk get that experience on their smart phone it is no doubt that they will be looking for it in a "business" laptop.
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