Lenovo ThinkPad X230 review: Lenovo ThinkPad X230

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CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.8
  • Design: 7.0
  • Features: 7.0
  • Performance: 8.0
  • Battery life: 9.0
  • Service and support: 7.0
Review Date:
Updated on:

The Good The Lenovo ThinkPad X230 fits a full-power third-gen Intel Core i5 processor in a 12.5-inch 3-pounder, and has great battery life and an improved keyboard.

The Bad A bulky, throwback design, tiny touch pad, and a high price tag throw off the equation.

The Bottom Line There may not be a better full-fledged business ultraportable than the ThinkPad X230, but more efficient, less expensive, and thinner ultrabooks are the real future of this category.

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The time of year has finally come for Intel's latest Ivy Bridge processors to flood into mainstream laptops, after first appearing in high-end quad-core systems. The Lenovo ThinkPad X230 wins the prize for being the first laptop we've seen in 2012 to incorporate a new third-gen Intel Core i5 processor.

However, we've seen the likes of the ThinkPad X230 before: several times, in fact. Lenovo's X-series laptops have always been high-end ultraportable machines for business travelers who need to work on the go with little compromise. This 12-incher is the successor to the ThinkPad X220 , an excellent all-around ultraportable that crammed a fast processor, long battery life, and sturdy construction into a compact but not inexpensive form. The new X230 retains the X220's unusual 12.5-inch display and spacious keyboard layout, but the keyboard itself has seen a big change.

Sarah Tew

Gone is the old Lenovo ThinkPad keyboard: not just here, but in all new ThinkPad models. Instead, a clean raised island-key backlit keyboard has taken its place. Don't worry, this keyboard has been well-tested in other Lenovo laptops already.

While the keyboard is new, the tiny touch pad and red trackpoint remain stubbornly the same. And this ThinkPad remains a somewhat bulky piece of equipment for an ultraportable, one clearly meant for legacy equipment like ExpressCards and IT-friendly software deployment and security.

Sarah Tew

This is your cleaner, more modern ThinkPad: not a new ThinkPad, really, but a slightly better and more refined one. It's every bit the high-performing, ever-so-slightly thick road warrior as ever, but in a changing world where MacBook Airs and tinier ultrabooks are gaining ground, one can't help but wonder how much longer laptops like the X230 will be around.

Price as reviewed $1,249
Processor 2.6GHz Intel Core i5-3320M
Memory 4GB, 1,333MHz DDR3
Hard drive 320GB 7,200rpm HDD
Chipset Intel HM77
Graphics Intel HD 4000
Operating system Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)
Dimensions (WD) 12.0x8.1 inches
Height 1.0 inches
Screen size (diagonal) 12.5 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 3.46 pounds / 4.1 pounds
Category Ultraportable
Sarah Tew

ThinkPads have an unmistakable and seemingly unchanging design footprint. The X230 looks just like the X220 from the outside, or nearly any other ThinkPad: matte magnesium casing all around gives this laptop a strength, heft, and bulk that's unique. The X230's screen opens up a full 180 degrees on smooth metal hinges, the top lip angled down to cup the laptop and offer a place to thumb open the lid.

The X230 is relatively lightweight at 3.46 pounds, but it doesn't feel that way because it's bulky. At an inch thick, this laptop's far from a MacBook Air in terms of being wafer-thin. It's also a far cry from ultrabooks like the Dell XPS 13 , but at least the chassis feels impact-resistant and rock-solid.

The big story on the new X230 is the keyboard, but the clean, raised and slightly convex keys have been seen on ThinkPads before: namely, last year's ThinkPad Edge series and X1. The large and unencumbered keys are excellent, as good as the traditional ThinkPad keyboard and then some, down to a nice clacky click and good key travel. Gone, too, are some of the busy extra buttons on the top of the keyboard: a simple row of function buttons do double duty for screen brightness, video chat and other hotkeys, while dedicated speaker and microphone mute, volume control, and ThinkVantage hotkeys lie above that. Lenovo's ThinkVantage software suite 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.

Sarah Tew

Not only does the keyboard have spill resistance (drain holes run to the bottom), but there's two forms of backlighting: two levels of LED brightness under the keys, and an overhead LED light tucked above the Web camera on the top of the upper lid. Overkill? Sure, but it's nice for in-flight use on a red-eye in case you've misplaced your USB drive.

Not so new is the red trackpoint nubbin, or the "ThinkPad Nipple." Dedicated ThinkPad users swear by them, but no one else does. The rubber point's not the problem; it's the large set of dedicated buttons above the touch pad that cramps the otherwise fine multitouch pad's usable space down to practically postage-stamp range. If you've learned how to use chiral scrolling for making your way down Web pages, you'll be fine. If you have no idea what chiral scrolling is (it's a spiral pattern you make with your finger), you'll be pissed.

ThinkPads are business laptops, and the X230 comes with plenty of security hardware and software. A fingerprint reader sits next to the trackpad; vPro technology and a suite of encryption and IT-friendly software services lie waiting to entice business use. ThinkPads often feel like the BlackBerrys of the laptop world: reliable, and full of enterprise features that many businesses don't always need anymore. A MacBook Air or an ultrabook, such as the Dell XPS 13 or HP Folio 13, fit the bill for many, and in many cases might even cost less.

Editors' Top Picks

 

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Where to Buy See All

Lenovo ThinkPad X230 Tablet 3438 - 12.5" - Core i7 3520M - Windows 7 Pro 64-bit - 4 GB RAM - 500 GB HDD

Part Number: 343825U
MSRP: $2,623.00 Low Price: $4,981.18 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Installed Size 4 GB
  • Weight 4 lbs
  • Hard Drive 500 GB HDD / 7200 rpm
  • Graphics Processor Intel HD Graphics 4000
  • CPU Intel Core i7 (3rd Gen) 3520M / 2.9 GHz
About The Author

Scott Stein is a senior editor covering iOS and laptop reviews, mobile computing, video games, and tech culture. He has previously written for both mainstream and technology enthusiast publications including Wired, Esquire.com, Men's Journal, and Maxim, and regularly appears on TV and radio talking tech trends.