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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

Lenovo ThinkBook Plus for SMBs makes a superlative statement

I first saw and fiddled with Thinkbook Plus in November 2019. The notebook gripped my attention because of its “Think” pedigree, focus on the SMB segment and unexpected E-Ink screen on the lid. It was an intriguing pre-production prototype. Fast forward six months to June 2020. Since the last one week I have been using a fully-configured (512 GB SSD, Intel Comet Lake i5-10210U processor, 16GB memory, 13.3-inch FHD 1920 x 1080 internal screen, 10.8-inch E-Ink monochrome display on the chassis cover, finger print scanner on power button) production model. It is whimsical yet practical notebook that exudes quiet confidence of imaginative applied design. When I powered-on the notebook my synapses fired on all cylinders, E-Ink came to life which I quickly personalized. I was thrilled to see the Techaisle wallpaper and icons to browse folders, clone desktop, view emails, calendar and weather.

IT markets tend to be complex and fast-moving – but even by IT industry standards, the endpoint device market is extremely complex, and subject to significant and abrupt changes. The ‘Swiss Army Knife’ appeal of the notebook – which doubled as both a mobility device and as a content creation platform – waned, for a while and then rebounded. Tablets, not notebooks, were seen as the key productivity tool. The proliferation of operating systems and underlying architectures created opportunity for a wide range of suppliers – and confusion for a large number of IT managers who needed to integrate, support and secure these devices. The acceptance of multiple screens, coupled with the availability of new platform technologies, created a market where “endpoint devices” spanned a wide range of categories: desktops, notebooks, tablets and smartphones, thin clients, All-in-Ones, 2-in-1s and other device types. These form factors are differentiated by more than size and input technology; they move through different channels at different price points; they appeal to different kinds of buyers who use different means to learn about and source them. Buyer openness to new screen types emboldened suppliers to redefine categories, or to create entirely new device classes. ThinkBook Plus is one such example which delivers new experiences for the “worklife” SMB employee. The DNA of ThinkBook is described as “Worklife device for the modern workforce” fashioning a balance of work and life PC for small businesses.

thinkbook plus image article

ThinkBook Plus spans the needs of both small businesses which expect affordability in an appealing design and midsized firms which are demanding distinctive devices that enhance security, provide superior support but at a reasonable price.

At 17.9mm, with front edge at 12mm, ThinkBook Plus is thin and slim enough to not feel bulky despite the presence of E-Ink and weighs 3.1 lbs. It is thicker and heavier than ThinkPad X1 Carbon but then the ThinkPad is a higher premium product. ThinkPad X1 Carbon is 14.95mm thick and weighs 2.4 lbs. In comparison, Dell XPS 13 weighs 2.7 lbs. and is 12.7mm thick whereas a 13-inch MacBook Pro weighs 3 lbs. and is 15.2 mm thick. But, a ThinkBook, with most of the business specifications, is more affordable than other brands. ThinkBook is clearly positioned between Lenovo or its competitors’ consumer devices and Lenovo ThinkPad X1/X/T/L/E devices.

Lenovo has not cut any corners on battery life nor compromised on performance to incorporate an E-Ink display. The keyboard is solid and the trackpad is smooth and responsive. The signature red TrackPoint of ThinkPad is missing but a new distinctive stamped logo on the top lid implies a modern, unfussy statement. Blurring the line between business and consumer notebooks, it has its fingerprint reader in the power button and dTPM 2.0 for additional security.

While the E-Ink panel is matte glass, ThinkBook Plus is made from Iron Grey anodized aluminum.  The rounded barrel 180-degree hinges allow the notebook to lay completely flat. Unlike many modern consumer laptops, ThinkBook Plus has several ports - one USB 3.1 Type-C, two USB 3.0 Type-A Gen ports and one HDMI 1.4b port. I would have liked to see two USB-C ports – one each on either side. Battery life is rated at 10 hours and I was able to get up to 8 hours with continuous pounding on the keyboard and using Lenovo Active Pen (stylus) for E-Ink. The pen is shipped with ThinkBook. Since there is no place to holster the pen, I wish Lenovo also shipped a pen holder along with the notebook. However, the Pen magnetically attaches to either side of the notebook screen.

Straddling the line between consumer and business, work and life, ThinkBook boasts Dolby Vision for lifelike images, Harman Kardon audio for superior sound and skype hot keys for communication and collaboration. Borderless slim bezels provide great screen real estate for users like me to work on couple of documents side-by-side. The display, set at 300 nits, could have been brighter for my liking. Unfortunately, I could not connect my ThinkVision M14 as a second display due to only one USB-C port on ThinkBook Plus.

Work from home does not give too many opportunities to try and experiment with mobility-on-the-go features. Hence, during the day I worked on the ThinkBook connected to an external display through ThinkPad USB-C Dock. In the evening, I took it for spin in various rooms in my house including the backyard. I used E-Ink to jot down new ideas, musings on future technology trends as well as create and manage task lists including grocery shopping to-do-list in OneNote. The fact that ThinkBook Plus integrates with Microsoft OneNote is awesome. All my notes on the exterior E-Ink display syncs with OneNote. I became confident in my rapid note taking abilities once I got used to the amount of pressure to use on the stylus. I sometimes use the E-ink during my conference calls. The E-Ink display can be used even when the notebook is in sleep mode. Unlike the Kindle Paperwhite, the E-Ink screen is not frontlit. I hope that a future iteration of E-Ink display will also have this feature to allow for work in darker environments. Regardless, one of the best functional features is the ability to clone the desktop on E-Ink display (without opening the notebook lid). With the touch of an icon I could launch browser, open PowerPoint files, annotate, read Word documents, scroll through file folders and many other tasks. This is currently available as a trial version (which I have been using) and users can look forward to this functionality in future software updates.

There is arguably more opportunity to define net-new PC offerings today (foldables is a much-anticipated trend) than there has been for decades. There is an additional requirement on PC OEMs to segment accurately, to be in tune with the needs and preferences of target segments, and to move quickly to address new demand drivers – but there is also new opportunity to translate this acumen and agility into substantial marketing-driven success. As PCs become more capable, SMB buyers – especially the business decision makers (BDMs) who wield increasing power in IT decisions – are moving past the device itself, to a need for solutions that capitalize on the capabilities of the new units.  To date, PC OEMs have focused on building and selling screens, not the solutions that connect the screens. OEMs who understand how to connect their products to business-relevant solutions have an opportunity to differentiate those products, attracting new SMB customers and channel partners. And this is what Lenovo has set out to achieve.

In recent years, emphasis across many different PC functions have changed. Communications and information access increased in importance, and eventually became the dominant use mode for personal technology. As a result, both user requirements for devices and the market for these devices became more fragmented. Many users opt for a multi-screen approach to personal technology: they use smartphones to communicate and to consume content, PCs to collaborate and to create content, and tablets for all of these activities in varying degrees. Lenovo ThinkBook is not an attempt to replace either the smartphone or the tablet. On the contrary, BYOD (once a euphoric trend which Techaisle had rightly predicted would vanish quickly against all pundits’ prognosis) has been replaced by CYOD. Lenovo is on a path to ensure that SMB employees have access to the productivity tools that suit them best. By giving a choice to SMB IT buyers, Lenovo is simply narrowing the usage continuum: desktop PCs primarily for creation, smartphones primarily for consumption, tablets as both consumption and light content creation, notebooks for creating content and as a mobile consumption port.

ThinkBook is not an ordinary notebook. Presence of E-Ink is debatable. It is built for the SMB customer. In its first iteration it splendidly succeeds in making a superlative statement and reimagining a new modern way to multitask on notebooks.   

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Top 5 technologies where small businesses are increasing investment

Techaisle worldwide survey of 2427 SMBs shows that collaboration, cloud, security, mobility and PCs are the top five areas where small businesses are increasing technology investments. Each of these address current business challenges and lay the foundation for the five pillars of small business digital transformation: 1/ achieve cost efficiencies, 2/ initiative innovation, 3/ enable operational efficiency, 4/ drive business growth, and 5/ empower organizational productivity.

techaisle top 5 technology areas small business

Collaboration: 66% of small businesses are increasing investments in collaboration solution as compared to 19% who are either decreasing or delaying investments. Collaboration is a critical solution priority. The enormous reliance on mobility, the trend towards flexible work within small businesses and the general trend of including customers within the framework of collaboration solutions have all contributed to much broader demand for collaboration solutions. Use of collaboration solutions within small businesses started as file-first but has quickly transitioned to person-first. The central requirement for a collaboration solution is the ability to share files from desktop or mobile devices, the second is to enable online interaction, and the third is to provide richer media and media escalation for person-to-person communications.

Cloud: 64% of small businesses are increasing investments in cloud. Cloud is no longer a trend that is discrete from mainstream IT. This shift in cloud’s positioning has brought with it a shift in the kinds of insights needed to help connect suppliers and buyers to address common interests in deployment, integration and expansion strategies. Small business buyers are needing help in moving past initial cloud pilots and applications to integrated cloud systems that provide support for mission-critical processes. Vendor suppliers need to adjust their messaging to address the needs of early mass market rather than early adopter customers.

Security: 61% of small businesses are increasing investments in security solutions. Although data shows that small businesses are more optimistic than they ought to be about their current security profiles, security is an important constraint on mobility within the small business segment. Vendor suppliers need to help small businesses to establish frameworks that protect against both external and employee threats to information security.

Mobility: 59% of small businesses are increasing investments in mobility solutions. If the “office” is defined by devices, so too is “workplace” defined by the ability to work from wherever those devices (and their users) are located. Small businesses are investing in mobility because it contributes to both cost savings and increased market reach, with “improved productivity” and related answers connected to establishing “better ways of working” viewed as the greatest benefit of mobility within SMBs. Techaisle’s data shows that there are inherent challenges in supporting the mobile workforce: struggle with the “on ramps” to mobility (such as finding appropriate suppliers and solutions) and concerned with security/data protection and mobile management.

PCs: 56% of small businesses are increasing investments in PCs. PC is where work gets done. PC is still the centerpiece of business productivity and buying a new PC is likely to have a more significant impact on productivity than any other technology. Modern PCs deliver more than an incremental improvement in performance, manageability and security features and even price conscious small businesses benefit significantly from replacing older PCs with modern PCs.

There is a strong connection between cloud, mobility, collaboration. Mobility, cloud and collaboration are all important trends in today’s IT market, and Techaisle data indicates that they are tightly interconnected. Mobility is a key driver of collaboration demand, with worldwide total of 292 million small business mobile workers looking for framework technologies enabling them to connect with suppliers, customers and each other. At the same time, collaboration is seen as a key attribute of successful cloud solutions, with more than one-third of small businesses citing “the ability to provide or support collaboration” as a key success factor in cloud solutions.

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Dell XPS 13 – Perfection Personified

In 1818, John Keats, the famous romantic lyric poet wrote “a thing of beauty is a joy forever”. Two centuries later I opened the Dell XPS 13 9300 packaging to behold the beauty of a PC notebook. I let the XPS 13 sit on my desk for three days, lest I may spoil the serenity of the frost white / alpine white composite fiber chassis. But use it and review I must.

As an SMB analyst, I decided to evaluate the notebook through two lenses – the SMB and home user. Consumers & SMB employees already overlap in their use of technology usage between work, home, anywhere. Dell XPS 13 is a right-fit for both. The latest model that I am using is Intel 10th Generation i7 (Comet Lake six-core processor), 1TB SSD, 16GB RAM and FHD+ display.

The difference between the new Dell XPS 13 9300 and the older version XPS 13, which I am used to, is like chalk and cheese. Besides look and feel, power and productivity seem to be the core design tenets of the newest model. Productivity enhancement begins with the four-sided InfinityEdge 13.4" FHD+ Touch anti-reflective 500-Nit display. The original 16:9 screen has been replaced with 16:10 which as per Dell has 91.5% screen-to-body ratio. As a result, the 19.5mm bezel at the bottom of the display which used to house the webcam has been reduced to 4.6mm giving the entire screen an edge-to-edge display. PowerPoint and Excel or Excel and Word or PowerPoint and Word are three of the applications that I use side-by-side most often. With the new aspect ratio, I feel that I am successfully tricked into achieving better productivity because of more screen real estate. Working from home, my XPS 13 notebook is usually connected to Dell UltraSharp 27-inch monitors via a Dell dock but I remain productive even during my occasional trips to other rooms of my home (in the absence of travel). When I have to look at data all day long, full screen brightness works great for me – both indoors and outdoors.

In addition to a taller display, the edge-to-edge keyboard with larger keycaps and touchpad add to a productive experience. The left and right arrow keys are full-size, bigger than in previous models but the up and down arrow keys are still annoyingly narrow and tiny. The page up and page down keys are gone but I do not miss them. Normal travel of the keys makes for comfortable typing for both one-finger and ten-finger typists. The keyboard backlight is nice but the color against composite alpine keyboard deck threw me off initially because the contrast is unnoticeable. There is a slightly higher light bleed under the “U” key than other keys which leads me to believe that all keys may not be seated uniformly. But I am just nitpicking. It does not in any way hinder the performance, likeability and experience of the notebook. After many days of use I have managed to reprogram my muscle memory to look for delete key one space to the left because its rightful place has been taken over by the power button / fingerprint reader (which is easy to reach, perfect size and not bothersome and incredulously placed on the side in the Dell Latitude 7390). The glass touchpad is not only smooth but is also big in a small-sized notebook. In the absence of left-right click buttons the physical switch works great for me which I prefer over a haptic sensor (present in some PC brands). The ample space for palm rest is one of the best experience design elements of the keyboard.

xps 13 white keyboard view resized

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COVID-19 Impact on SMB Tech Investments

Precision is impossible but agility and resilience are realizable. In every crisis, there is opportunity. If history is any indication then the SMBs are well-placed to narrow the banks of uncertainty. With integrative thinking SMBs will be adept at maneuvering around the edges of flames that have been fanned by COVID-19. 

Over 12 years of Techaisle tracking data paints a fascinating picture in which SMB business goals established by unexpected challenges drove new IT priorities. Klaus Schwab, Founder, World Economic Forum observed that, "In the new world, it is not the big fish which eat the small fish, it's the fast fish which eat the slow fish." SMBs are the fast fish as compared to enterprise segment.

After every downturn, SMB IT spend has rebounded higher and faster than overall (consumer + SMB + enterprise + government + education) IT spends. Techaisle had published its forecast scenarios here.

But the questions remain. Is today the same as the past? Will the future be different? We know that to be uncertain is to be uncomfortable, but to be certain is to be ridiculous. There are already many discussions and surveys conducted by various firms on today’s devastating impact on SMBs. At Techaisle we agree that SMBs are currently desperately operating between the raindrops but our objective is to square the circle, to simplify the path forward for IT vendors and channel partners and see past the blind corner.

To understand the impact of COVID-19 on future of IT we conducted a survey of N=2427 SMBs in several countries. Regardless of the uncertainty, over 50% of SMB business leaders in Asia/Pacific and some countries in Europe are optimistic and are confident about a V-shaped recovery as compared to US and UK SMBs who believe in more of a U-shaped recovery.

Download free Techaisle Take document to understand:

  • Why agility and adaptability will accelerate recovery for SMBs Worldwide? Global SMB IT spend vs Overall IT spend vs GDP growth rates
  • Why SMB technology and business alignment will result in resiliency, agility and adaptability?
  • What will be post COVID-19 impact on business and IT operations? Uncertainty and status quo.
  • What will be the impact on tech investments? Increase, decrease, delay, no change
  • Will digital transformation be the agility enabler for SMBs?
  • What is the current non-technology related work-from-home challenge for SMBs?

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