New Lenovo ThinkPad Keyboard Adapts to App Used

We're all familiar with touch-screen keyboards on phones, and tablets that have virtual keys that change according to what's on the display. But the keys on laptop keyboards remain the same, right?

Wrong! At least on the new X1 Carbon ThinkPad Ultrabook that Lenovo just unveiled at CES, the big annual consumer electronics show here. It's the successor to Lenovo's popular thin and light notebook for the business traveler.

This latest flagship sports the best-of-breed physical Qwerty keyboard for which ThinkPads are well known. But Lenovo replaced the standard top row of keys with a liquid crystal panel of shortcut keys that relate to the application you happen to be using. If you're browsing the Web in Internet Explorer, say, the Adaptive Keyboard shows, among other shortcuts, options for refreshing the page, opening a new tab, and going back to the previous page. In Skype, virtual row shows shortcut controls for the microphone and camera. The standard "function keys" can also appear on this Adaptive Keyboard row. Lenovo says there are 40 shortcuts in all; you can manually display others.

Though the Adaptive Keyboard may initially strike you as a gimmick, the idea here is to provide the flexibility of virtual keys without adding extra buttons or sacrificing the utility of a really good physical keyboard. Still, it remains to be seen whether this catches on.

As with other ThinkPads, you'll also find the eraser-head like Trackpoint nub nudged in the middle of the physical keyboard, as well as a spacious trackpad.

Lenovo is modernizing the laptop in other ways. The Chinese company, now the world's largest PC maker, is introducing a series of voice and motion gestures.

If you push your hand toward the display, you can pause a track. You can also wave your hand in front of the screen to advance to the...

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