To be thin, in the world of laptops, is to be beautiful. We've seen this trend ebb and flow, such as when the MacBook Air and Dell Adamo first made their debuts a few years ago, and in a post-iPad world, thin is in again. First came the new MacBook Air, then the Samsung Series 9, and now Lenovo has unveiled its own thin 13-inch laptop, the $1,399 ThinkPad X1.
Lenovo has visited thin laptops before: the ThinkPad T410s was, at its time, one of the thinnest full-fledged laptops we'd seen, and the IdeaPad U260 was a sharp-looking 12.5-incher. The X1, however, is the thinnest ThinkPad ever made. It's not as sleek or as light as a MacBook Air--not by a long shot--but its crisp, sleek profile houses the specs of a full-size laptop: a standard-voltage Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM, and either a larger-capacity hard drive or solid-state drive (SSD) storage (which can drive prices up to $1,829). If you're considering the extra battery--which we would--and an SSD drive, the deceptively low $1,399 starting price can climb up pretty quickly to nearly $2,000.
It's not a reinvention of the ThinkPad wheel, but the X1 might be an appealing middle ground for business road warriors or ThinkPad lovers who want a sexed-up corporate laptop. For the rest of us, while it sports a look that's not unattractive, the X1 is a bit too thick to be a true competitor to a MacBook Air or Samsung Series 9. It's more of an alternative to the Toshiba Portege R835, another thin business/consumer laptop with similar performance that's lighter and has a better battery life while being more affordable. Therein lies the problem. Lenovo is selling the X1 on its sex appeal, but we've seen sexier. So have you.
|Price as reviewed||$1,399|
|Processor||2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2520M|
|Memory||4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3 RAM|
|Hard drive||320GB, 7,200rpm|
|Graphics||Intel HD 3000|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||13.3x9.1 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||13.3 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.8 pounds (4.6 with extra battery) / 4.7 pounds (5.5 with extra battery)|
While it's appreciably sleek, from the outside the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 honestly doesn't look all that different from a several-year-old ThinkPad, at least with its lid closed and at a distance. Partly, that's because the ThinkPad brand design continues to stay rigidly iconic: a matte black coating and the classic ThinkPad logo still grace the back lid.
That's not to say the X1 doesn't do admirable work refining the formula. The ThinkPad X1 is angular, with sharp edges and tapered sides that form a smaller footprint at the bottom than the top. The lid and whole laptop, inside and out, have a smooth, almost rubberized touch. Twin hinges open smoothly, and the upper lid opens a full 180 degrees (actually, even a bit more than that). However, to those who don't study the ins and outs of ThinkPads, some of those details may be lost. The X1 feels even better in the hand than it does to the eye. Its top-to-bottom smooth surfaces feel soft to the touch, and the uniform, clean design is one of the best we've seen on a ThinkPad.
In terms of design, the X1 borrows a lot from the ThinkPad Edge line; the clean, raised keyboard, textured clickpad, and edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass covering the display all make the X1 feel more like a close cousin of the ThinkPad Edge E420s and E220s.
Basically, the X1 is not actually that thin. Yes, it's 0.85 inch at its thickest point, but the Samsung Series 9 bests it at 0.64 inch. That's minor quibbling to some, but if we're having a contest of who's thinner, the X1 loses. On the other hand, the X1 is thinner than the Toshiba Portege R835.
At 3.8 pounds, the X1 is lighter than the average 13-incher, but not compared with its thin brethren; the Portege R835, MacBook Air, and Samsung Series 9 are all lighter. The X1's dense roll-cage construction feels the sturdiest of all of these laptops, but it also makes for a denser product.
The keyboard, with its concave island-style keys, is great to type on--as is nearly always the case with ThinkPads. It's also backlit, a new touch for a ThinkPad that we'd like to see it on other models, as the subtle LED lighting comes in handy in dim rooms. The square multitouch click-style touch pad below has a grid texture and good friction, and works like a lever--the bottom half clicks while the top half stays put. Extra buttons above the touch pad are meant for use with the trademark Lenovo trackpoint, nestled between the G, H, and B keys. We don't use it, but we know it has quite a dedicated niche following. At least the touch pad's space isn't compromised much by the extra buttons.
There's plenty of palm-rest space under the keyboard, and there are pretty large margins on the sides of the keyboard, too. On the right side under the power button are dedicated volume, mute, and silence buttons, along with a blue ThinkVantage button launching Lenovo's launch page for its preinstalled software and services. This gives you one-stop access to all of the business-friendly support and system tools in one place, including troubleshooting, downloading software updates, and managing security and power settings.
Other controls are relegated to a row of narrow function keys, such as screen brightness and launching Lenovo's custom VoIP and Webcam AV settings.
Speaking of Web conferencing, the X1 has an HD Webcam with strong low-light sensitivity, and a maximum resolution of 1,280x720 pixels. The X1's microphone also has keyboard and external noise filters for cleaning up audio chat in noisy environments. Paired with above-average stereo speakers outfitted with Dolby sound, the X1 is well set up for those who rely on Skype and VoIP for business.
Even though the Gorilla Glass-enclosed 13-inch screen sounds like a promising feature, we were a tiny bit let down by the experience. First, the edge-to-edge glass adds glare, and ThinkPads are normally prized for their glare-free screens. Second, the 1,366x768-pixel LED-backlit display ramps up to impressive brightness and sharp contrast for text and Web browsing, but it's not an IPS screen, and viewing angles degraded more quickly on the X1 than on a device like the iPad or Samsung Series 9. Considering the X1's upscale price and the 180-degree hinge on the X1's upper lid, we expected more. The wide bezel around the X1's screen made us wonder why a 14-inch screen couldn't have been fit in the same space.
Side-firing speakers equipped with Dolby sound are tucked away under the palm rest, but deliver big volume. The sound isn't an audiophile's dream, but for spoken word it's particularly crisp.
|Lenovo ThinkPad X1||Average for category [13-inch]|
|Video||Mini DisplayPort, HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||1 USB 3.0, 1 USB 2.0, 1 USB 2.0/eSATA combo port, SD card slot||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
|Optical drive||None||DVD burner|
Lined up along the back of the ThinkPad X1 is a modest selection of ports sure to make most travelers happy: USB 3.0, an eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port, HDMI, and Mini DisplayPort. Curiously absent is VGA. Meanwhile, a headphone jack and additional USB 2.0 port are tucked on the left side behind an odd door flap. More ports could easily have been slotted for easier side access, making the lack of ExpressCard, VGA, or additional USB ports more vexing. WWAN costs an extra $125--a SIM card slot is on the back of the X1 behind an easy-access door.
The X1 comes in a variety of configurations. The hard drive comes either in traditional spinning-platter form (320GB 7,200rpm, our configuration), or as an SSD up to 160GB. The X1 starts at $1,399 (the configuration we reviewed), but a 128GB SSD costs an extra $350; a 160GB SSD costs $430. The X1 starts with 4GB of RAM but is expandable up to 8GB, which costs $160 if upgraded from Lenovo's Web site.