Tuesday, April 6, 2010

HANDS-ON: Lenovo W700ds Photographers Dual Screen Laptop

Lenovo W700ds

During the Olympics in Vancouver I had the good fortune of working at the Media Press Centre (MPC). My job was to make sure that the Photographers covering the Olympics had the support they needed to get their photos to their publishers as soon as possible. To assist in this goal, Microsoft teamed up with Lenovo to provide over a dozen Lenovo Photo Laptops running 64-bit Windows 7 as well as some common software products Camera Bits Photo Mechanic,  Adobe Photoshop CS4 & Lightroom 2, as well as Expression Media & Capture One.

I had a great time on this assignment and got to take lots of great pictures, use some cool gear, experiment with some great camera products and more importantly learn more about Windows 7 and some really cool Lenovo Photo Laptops. One of the coolest, that I had lusted after ever since I first heard about it, was the Lenovo W700ds – a DUAL SCREEN laptop! I love using dual screen, and I’ve always carried huge laptops because performance and big displays are super important to me, so when I first heard of this laptop I REALLY wanted one. Sadly, at the time, it was way out of my price league, so when I found out that I’d be able to play with some at the Olympics I was thrilled.

Display Quality

This product bills itself as a photo laptop, but what does that really mean? Well, fundamentally for me it means having a high quality 1920x1200 display with a fast video card so that I can use Photoshop CS4 or Lightroom without pulling my hair out. However, this laptop is WAAAAAYYY more than that, because unlike even my desktop system, this display has a wide color gamut which means you can see way more colors when working with those ProPhoto and Adobe RGB images in Lightroom or Photoshop. This extra color support would be nothing if it wasn’t calibrated properly, so unlike any laptop I’ve ever seen or heard of it – it has a built-in XRite Pantone color calibrator that takes about 90 seconds to get your monitor fully calibrated – with no user intervention - I LOVE IT!!!

Sadly the W700ds is no more, but the good news is that a new W701ds is coming out later this month (visit again for a special offer)! I’d LOVE to own one of these laptops, but i fear after using this one that I’d probably create a configuration that was once again way out of my league!

Open and Closed Views

This laptop is loaded with features. Inside you’ll find both a touchpad and eraser head style pointer which gives you the flexibility to choose your mobile pointing styles. However, there’s also another option, of great interest to Photographers and Artists – a built-in Wacom digitizer! This tablet – shown below between the track pad and the ThinkPad logo isn’t as sensitive or as nice a full-blown Wacom tablet, but it works a hell of a lot better than a trackpad or eraser style pointer for doing photo imaging. In fact, after I got used to it – I was liking it much better than my mouse! It actually encouraged me to dust off my Wacom for my desktop and fall in love with it all over again.

Other features here are the cool built-in Pantone Huey color calibrator (that little thing above the Wacom next to the arrow keys) and a very slick thumb print reader!

Mouse over to see closed, mouse out to see opened. Click for enlarged open view.

Last but not least, is the blue ThinkVantage button which is the magic button that gets you the things you need to configure this laptop and more importantly – save your bacon at boot-time if you want to do a full, bare-metal restore. 

The features of this laptop were great, but what I liked about it the most was the quality of the construction. This is a VERY well made laptop that made me hate my Dell after using this one. The keyboard is more solid than your typical desktop computer keyboard and the tactile feel is excellent. I did get frustrated with the FN button being where the CTRL key belongs, but beyond that I was pretty comfortable using this keyboard on a daily basis. I also got used to the track pad so that I avoided using the eraser head pointer, which is usually my preference on laptops.

Left and Right Views

When facing the front of the laptop, on its left side you’ll find a fire wire and two USB ports, an ExpressCard slot and a very fast Compact Flash (CF) reader. This is the first laptop I’ve ever used or seen that has had a Compact Flash reader, and the first built-in one that I’ve used on a computer that was actually fast (most are dog slow and useless). Sadly I don’t have all of the specs for this machine, so i can’t confirm if it is a UDMA drive and if so, what version, but I can say that I was getting some very fast transfer times compared to what I’m used to on my desktop system (a Dell XPS 420). In fact, 2GB (as you can see on the video) took less than a minute to transfer, which i thought was fantastic.

Left View

On the Right hand side, there’s a ton of goodies. It starts with the basics of 3 USB ports, and a telephone modem jack. However, after that things start getting good because then you have your built-in WACOM pen slot, an optional BluRay  DVD burner and the really cool 2nd display slot. This side is a true geek’s paradise as shown below:

The sides of this laptop are packed with lots of goodies, but surprisingly it isn’t cluttered or filled with a bunch of useless features. Some might question the modem port in this day and age, but for the business traveler who has to send a fax this can be a lifesaver. This laptop is thick, no doubt, but I’m pleased to see that Lenovo has made good use of the space and fit it with plenty of useful ports on the sides.

Front and Rear Views

This  laptop has a nice clean design so it spreads its multitude of I/O ports around its entire chassis. The SD reader, headphones, and microphone ports are conveniently located in the front, whereas the traditional power, network and display ports (including both DVI and HDMI!!!!) are in the rear next to its massive cooling vents. Despite its large size, this thing runs very cool and never once was blowing hot air – unlike my Dell XPS M1710 which can both cook food and barbeque legs at the same time.

Front and Review views - stacked

Another thing worth noting here is that the hinges for the the display seem industrial strength, which for me is great because that was a MAJOR problem I’ve had with my laptop with a 17” display. The hinges have loosened up twice nearly coming apart, but I don’t think that is likely to happen here.


NOTE: If the video/sound are out of sync, that's a network issue with this recording, not something I saw in real testing

If you are anything like me, you’ve probably found webcams to be frustrating to say the least. They never work when you need them to, yet they can be an invaluable tool when dealing with business partners overseas where the virtual face-to-face time can really help establish a much more personal business relationship. I’m pleased to say that this web cam is the first, and only one I’ve ever used that “just works”. I didn’t have to fight to configure it or do any special gyrations to get it to work – it just worked – flawlessly. It’s still poor quality by today’s standards, but usable (see the above video). I love having this built in and not having to carry yet another accessory in my bag (which usually gets broken anyway).


All the coolness of this laptop would mean nothing if it wasn’t something a photographer could really use to edit the massive photos we get off our cameras these days. I’m pleased to say that this system, despite my review unit NOT having the latest Intel Quad Core processors, was screaming fast. Perhaps it was the RAID 0 configuration of two fast 7200rpm 250 GB hard drives (solid state available), or perhaps it was the DDR3 memory, but I know for sure that the 1GB of video RAM on a dedicated discrete video card helped this thing to absolutely fly when using Photoshop. Even though it only had 4GB of memory, when combined with the fast performance of the 64-bit version of Windows 7 this thing screamed like no laptop I have ever used. I fell in love with it the first time I started Photoshop, and I wish I could keep this one for my own.


WARNING: The audio on the following videos SUCKS. You MUST turn your volume up and listen carefully (but don’t hurt your ears with your speakers) to have any chance to hear what I am saying. My deepest apologies for the poor audio quality, but one thing I haven’t reviewed yet is DSLR microphones. It’s clear to me now that it needs to be higher on my priority list!

If you can hang in there you will see a few examples of how some features of this laptop work (which in some cases is easier to show than discuss). I’ll also put this laptop to the test by doing a real-world photo edit from start to finish using a RAW image from a 5D Mark II in Bridge & Adobe Photoshop CS4 (complete with Nik Software) and finishing up in Lightroom. Bridge is not normally part of my workflow (Lightroom is instead), but I did it this way to just show off the horsepower of this beast. In the end I left more impressed with this laptop than I am with both my existing photo laptop and desktop, so now I want a new computer!

Without further adieu, here are a few videos for your viewing pleasure:

Dual Display Demo

Here I just show how seamless it is to extend the 2nd display which automatically configures itself. Eat your heart out Macbook fanboys! :)

Dual Display in Action with Lightroom 3

Lightroom is fantastic when you use the grid view in the right display. Here I show that cool feature in action with this laptop

Photoshop CS4 & Bridge in Action with Wacom Tablet Demo

Here I show how smoking fast Bridge and Photoshop CS4 load and then I use the Wacom tablet to draw on my son’s face.

Compact Flash Reader Demo

Here I show how fast you can transfer 2GB of data from a CF card onto the hard disk and then load that content into Lightroom 3.

Display Calibration Demo

This is a bit boring to watch, but i demonstrate how the built-in display calibration works.

Thumbprint Logon Demo

Here I demonstrate how easy it is to log on using the thumb print reader.

The Coolest Laptop Commercial - EVER!

GEEKS REJOICE!!!! Once you own one of these bad ass laptops you can stand proud like this guy - the happiest W700ds owner on the planet:

Okay, maybe that won’t really happen to you, but I’ve gotta say that was good for one hellva laugh! :-) You can at least link to this and say “hey, I have one of those and yes it is huge!”. :-)


Overall, I’ve gotta say I love this laptop and hate to have to give it back. I really want one for my personal use, and hopefully I’ll get a chance to buy one at some point. However, there were a few things I didn’t like about it. The first, and probably the worst for me, was that it won’t fit into my 17” ThinkTankPhoto Artificial Intelligence laptop bag. Given the fact that this laptop is heavy as lead (mostly due to all of the cool features it sports), not being able to carry it in a small comfortable bag is a big downside to me. Beyond that my other gripes were that it has has a massive power brick (more like a cinder block! :), the fn key is in the wrong place (where left CTRL goes), the 2nd display quality sucks compared to the main display, and the wireless network card was slow by today’s standards.

I’m hoping that several of the issues I had will be addressed on the W701ds, but even if they weren’t I’d still want one. It is a very powerful laptop to use that truly is a portable graphics workstation, and that’s something I’d want with me when I’m on the road or on a plane. I hope to have a chance to review a W701ds soon, so I’ll let you know about the improvements.

Special Offer

Unfortunately the W700ds shown here is no longer on sale, but it’s replacement – the W701ds is coming soon. In the meantime, you can get 25% off the ThinkPad W700 (single display version of the computer shown) using the coupon code USPW700JULY until July 31


I get a tiny 3% commission if you use the link above to purchase a W700, but you save 25% so the real winner is you! Please support this blog by using the link!

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1 comment:

RandJ-Photo said...


Thanks for the link to dreamland. I popped over to the Lenovo site and played "How much will my dream machine cost?".

It's actually not that expensive all things considered. Plus I've always advocated buying the very best I can manage to afford and using it until it's toally obsolete.

Now if my lottery numbers will just come in.