Construction: Field Tested (cont.)
Keyboard –This is one of the better keyboard layout designs out there, as the function and page up/page down/home/end are all located in logical and ergonomically sound places. Of course, we should note that while the home/end/page up/page down keys are situated well, like using a desktop keyboard you will have to stretch your fingers to use them. This has nothing to do with spacing the keyboard, which IBM has done just right; rather this is something you also need to do on desktop keyboards for the most part. Either way, this is technically the correct placement, and better/more intuitive than aligning these keys on the right side in a single column. And the tactile feedback was very good. IBM has always ranked highly in this category in our book.
Note that IBM doesn't include a Windows key on their keyboard. According to IBM, the absence of a Windows key is due to internal ergonomic and usability studies, which have concluded that putting one on their keyboards alters the normal typing pattern and makes the system less ambidextrous. It isn't frustrating for us, but it may be for those that are used to having a Windows key available. While IBM keyboards lack this key, you will find the ALT and CTRL keys slightly larger than those on other notebooks, and there are also forward and backward buttons near the arrow keys, which are very helpful if you are a browser junkie. Unfortunately, we get the Fn key in the lower left hand corner. Technically, we find that correct placement is for the Fn key to be to the right of left CTRL key. For some people, this may not be a problem; for others it will be.
LEDs –There are two LED strips: one above the keyboard and one on the backside of the display. The LED strip above the keyboard includes LEDs for (left to right): WiFi status (green when enabled, blinking green when active), Bluetooth status (green when active), num lock (green when active), caps lock (green when active), hard drive activity (blinking blue when active), power status (green if system on), battery status (green when plugged in and fully charged, green when discharging between 100% and 5%, blinking green when charging at roughly above 90%, orange when charging between 0% and 90%, blinking orange when discharging roughly below 5% + audible warning), and standby status (green when in standby mode).
Note the small orange light at the top of the display lid in the picture to the above right. The R series of IBM's Thinkpad line uses a orange illuminator light to help users maneuver and interact with their notebook in the dark.
The LED strip on the back of the notebook has the same LEDs as those above the keyboard, minus the Bluetooth status, except they are exposed on the backside of the monitor (left to right): standby mode (same color scheme), battery status (same color scheme), and Bluetooth status (same color scheme).
TouchPad & Buttons –Like the keyboard, the touchpad is spaced appropriately, enough so that switching between the two is about the same as any other average notebook. The touchpad doesn't have a grainy or smooth texture, rather it is somewhere in the middle. Instead of a scroll space or toggle, IBM uses a scroll button, which allows you to scroll with the TrackPoint pointing device or the touchpad. The scroll button just simply enables or disables the scroll function. Personally, we like either the scroll button or touchpad scroll zone over a scroll toggle (vertical or vertical and horizontal).
IBM, of course, is also know for their TrackPoint pointing devices, usually marked by that distinct red "button" roughly in the center of the keyboard. For those not familiar, this is like a mini joystick that controls cursor movement. This is a love it or hate it feature, but we personally like it. You can even customize it to your liking with the different covers: "soft dome," "soft rim," "classic dome."
Speakers & Microphone - The integrated microphone is denoted by two small angled slots in the casing above the ESC key. This is somewhat out of the way, but we found we didn't have to lean over for a voice over IP (VOIP) conversation to go smoothly.
The speakers on the R52 at max are reasonably loud, but it will just be slightly audible in the next room. We normally test at 20% but that volume level on the R52 is just slightly loud than a whisper, which would be equal to about a 12% volume level with the majority of consumer notebooks we have used. This is not a multimedia notebook by any means, so when we listened to Keane's "Somewhere Only We Know, the audio clarity is shy of what we normally hear on some other consumer end notebooks, i.e. the instrumentals and voice inflections get slightly distorted. Of course, if you aren't a multimedia buff or aren't good at picking up the finer points between audio quality, you likely won't tell the difference other than volume level. For all intents and purposes, the business user and occasional DVD watcher won't complain.