How do you feel about kids with ThinkPads? That's the idea behind the ThinkPad X130e, the redesign of last year's 11-inch X130e: make a product for younger students that carries the ThinkPad branding and design. I liked last year's Lenovo ThinkPad X120e, but it was an odd duck among laptops: an 11-incher with an AMD Fusion E-Series processor, a ThinkPad Edge-like, candy-colored design, and a build that wasn't sleek enough to compete with thinner ultraportables. Like many 11-inch AMD ultraportables from last year, it was something in between a Netbook and a compact full-fledged laptop. Where do devices like these slot into a world of tablets and ultrathin laptops?
The transformation of the ThinkPad X130e into a semirugged laptop for kids is an idea that has its roots in Intel initiatives from years ago. Much like many of those computers, the X130e has a tough build, rubberized bumpers, and easy-to-access ports. Otherwise, it's very similar to last year's ThinkPad X120e, sacrificing a bit of speed in exchange for an improved battery life. I'm not sure kids will want a laptop like the ThinkPad X130e, but educators might: at $549 for the AMD E-300 version, it's in the same ballpark as an iPad, and it's far more versatile for everyday use.
Still, I question the marriage. The ThinkPad brand is built for business use, and this kid-oriented laptop still has vestiges of that design, from the weird rubber trackpoint and its buttons eating up valuable touch-pad space to software toolkits that haven't been retooled for parents and children. Plus, that AMD E-300 processor is getting long in the tooth, especially by current ultrabook standards: it may be fine for basic computing and video streaming, but not much more. The ThinkPad X130e's rebirth is, sadly, skin-deep.
|Price as reviewed||$549|
|Processor||1.3GHz AMD Fusion E-300|
|Memory||4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3|
|Hard drive||320GB 7,200rpm|
|Graphics||AMD Radeon HD 6310 graphics|
|Operating system||Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||11.5x8.5 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||11.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.86 pounds / 4.52 pounds|
The ThinkPad X130e's educational makeover has given the 11-inch laptop a stockier look: in particular, the lid has gotten seriously thick. Newly added rubberized corners and edges form a dust-resistant seal around the laptop when closed, and the fit adds protection from impacts. According to Lenovo, the curved corners are more impact-resistant, too. The whole product feels very sturdy, with a screen hinge that Lenovo promises is sturdier than its predecessor.
You'll pay in weight, as the X130e is a half-pound heavier than the X120e (3.86 pounds versus 3.38 pounds), and it's thicker by at least a tenth of an inch. Our unit had a cherry-red lid, but the base retail version comes in black. Educational institutions and other bulk orders have the option of picking primary colors to customize with. Also, our review version came with Windows 7 Professional, although retail versions have Windows 7 Home Premium.
Lenovo ThinkPads have excellent keyboards, and the X130e follows suit. Gently curved concave, raised keys are molded for comfort, although these keys feel a bit stiffer than those on other recent ThinkPads. A cramped palm rest area below the keyboard means a less ergonomic experience than on larger laptops, but younger kids should manage fine.
And yet, this ThinkPad manages to still cram in a signature red rubberized trackpoint. I don't understand the decision: that trademark red navigational nubbin doesn't make sense for kids who lean toward large multitouch pads. The trackpoint sits in the middle of the keyboard and gets in the way of an otherwise clean typing feel. Moreover, dedicated trackpoint buttons force the touch pad beneath to be reduced to a tiny rectangle. A multitouch clickpad this small is a joke for navigation, and its touch sensitivity is hit-or-miss. Why not ditch the trackpoint and its bulky buttons, then?
Well, I suspect it's because this laptop isn't entirely meant for kids. After all, the idea of an 11-inch $549 ThinkPad still has small-business appeal. Rather than being full-on educationally oriented, the X130e feels like a hedged bet. That's the biggest problem.
That, and the price. At $549, it's more expensive than many other AMD Fusion 11-inch laptops, including the HP dm1z, which currently sells for $399. There's no reason why you shouldn't get that HP laptop instead. Here, the premium being paid for military-spec impact resistance isn't worth it. (There is a version of the ThinkPad X130e that sells for as low as $499, but it has only 2GB of RAM and is no longer available on Lenovo's Web site.)
The 11.6-inch anti-glare screen looks good at maximum brightness, but at lower levels the screen looks dimmer than average. Viewing angles aren't exceptional. A 1,366x768-pixel native resolution matches your standard 13- or 14-inch laptop, so browser windows and applications don't look letterboxed. Videos and text alike look crisp.
The bottom-mounted stereo speakers are lower-quality, suitable for Web chat or basic playback, but weak enough in definition to make you reach for headphones.
Lenovo touts a low-light Webcam on the X130e as another student-friendly feature. Maximum resolution is 1,280x720 pixels, although at that resolution it's not suitable for video. Images looked clear but exhibited washed-out color.
|Lenovo ThinkPad X130e||Average for category [ultraportable]|
|Video||VGA, HDMI||VGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, 1 UDB 3.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth optional, optional mobile broadband/WiMax||Ethernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband|
The ThinkPad X130e doesn't lack for ports: VGA, HDMI, Ethernet, and the requisite SD card slot are here, but there aren't any USB 3.0 ports. Three USB 2.0 ports is more than the average for an ultraportable. If you want wireless connections other than Wi-Fi, though, that'll cost you: $20 for Bluetooth, $55 for WiMax, and $125 for Gobi 3000 mobile 3G broadband.
Other point-of-sale upgrades are as follows: $660 for an Intel Core i3-2367M CPU instead of the included AMD E-300; for storage, it's $10 to bump the 320GB hard drive up to 500GB, or you could spend $280 for a 128GB solid-state drive. Lenovo offers RAM upgrades to 6GB ($80) and 8GB ($160). But I wouldn't advise upgrading the ThinkPad X130e very much: climb any higher than $700, and you might as well be shopping for a budget ultrabook.
The included 1.3GHz AMD E-300 APU is hardly a powerhouse. It comes close to the 1.6GHz E-350 processor seen in the ThinkPad X120e, but actually graded out slightly worse in our benchmark tests. It's a lousy multitasker compared with speedier ultrabooks and more modern laptops. With the AMD Fusion E-300 it performs better than a current-gen Atom-powered Netbook, but that's a small comfort (and Atom Netbooks cost far less). AMD's Fusion E-300 APU has onboard graphics, but the capability is more limited than Intel's integrated HD 3000 graphics on fuller-fledged laptops. Full-screen videos stream well, but that's no longer an indicator of processing prowess on a mobile device.