Right now Lenovo’s product line is very convoluted, across the board. The ThinkPad T, X and W Series all fit in and make sense. Then we have the SL, originally purported to be SMB focused. One might guess that its traditional design wasn’t quite “mainstream” enough for SMB, or at least Lenovo’s perception of SMB.
Enter: ThinkPad Edge. Slim, sleek, multiple colors, but still sporting some ThinkPad heritage. With its 100% SMB focus, where does this leave the SL models? Furthermore, we also have the ThinkPad R Series quickly gathering dust as it didn’t get refreshed in January with everyone else. We’ve suspected for a while that R Series would be going away, and with rumors of the L Series popping up a couple months ago, it would make sense for L to replace R.
In today’s tough market, the R Series is a tough proposition for Lenovo to keep around. Historically, the R Series have been equivalent to the T Series except for the use of “plain” ABS plastic in the chassis. To maintain T Series durability, the R models got lots of ABS plastic which made them heavier. A heavily de-contented ‘e’ model of the R Series (i.e. R60e) was sold to reduce cost even more, lacking things like a hot swappable optical and TPM chip. Fast forward to 2009 and the 14-inch R Series is a replica of the T400, just slightly thicker due to the 12.7mm optical.
In a time when companies need to improve margin, the kissing-cousins R and T Series weren’t complementing each other. Lenovo needs a true low cost, higher margin way for customers to get into the ThinkPad lineup. The SL Series made a lot of sense for that purpose, sporting a respectable amount of traditional ThinkPad features and design. However, SL was intended for small businesses and judging by their decision to introduce Edge, it appears SL wasn’t impressing in the SMB space or wasn’t high margin enough.
In the next six months, or by the end of the year at the latest, we should see the disappearance of the ThinkPad R and SL Series. The L Series is semi-announced and should fill the place of the R Series, while the already-shipping Edge models will hopefully please small business owners.
With this little shakeup, Lenovo’s ThinkPad line is finally back in alignment. While ThinkPad purists will still denounce the L Series and X100e as non-ThinkPads, in reality they aren’t all that different from the de-contented ‘e’ models previously found in the R Series. The old formula was to take the regular ThinkPad design and features, then sell it without some of the more expensive and less requisite features. The new formula is to take some of the fundamentals of ThinkPad and use design and technology content that makes them more appealing to their target audience.
If you were a small business owner looking for a reliable laptop under $800 with a robust support infrastructure and reputation for quality, would you be more excited about an R60e or an Edge 14?