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Despite having an iPad on our desk, a colleague recently paid a visit to expressly check out the Lenovo ThinkPad x100e. That might seem hard to swallow, but believe us when we say that this compact, very Netbook-like ThinkPad-to-go is like a fantasy to business travelers and ThinkPad fans who have been dreaming of an ultraportable to call their own.
Yes, there has been the ThinkPad x200 series, which offers higher performance in a compact frame. The x100e uses a low-voltage processor, but it's not an Intel Atom; rather, it's a single-core AMD Athlon Neo, assisted with some low-level ATI graphics. This is the first AMD processor ThinkPad product we've seen.
An 11.6-inch screen, a full and very ThinkPad-like keyboard, and an overall look and feel that resembles the little brother of the ThinkPad Edge line adds up to a trim and clean portable that can basically be called a "business Netbook." At a jacked-up starting price of $449 (our config jumped up to $579), it's certainly more expensive than most Netbooks. For its sturdy look and feel, it just might be worth it--but in terms of performance and battery life, it's not a significant step above the pack. In fact, battery-wise, it's a step behind. Nevertheless, the x100e earns a special spot in our heart for being one of the best Netbook-grade devices to write on that we've ever tried.
|Price as reviewed/starting price||$579/$449|
|Processor||1.6 GHz AMD Athlon Neo MV-40|
|Memory||2GB, 667 MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||320GB 5,400rpm|
|Graphics||ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3200|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Professional (32-bit)|
|Dimensions (WD)||11.1 inches x 8.2 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||11.6 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.3 / 4.0 pounds|
Depending on your choice of color (yes, color), the ThinkPad x100e will either blend into the pack or possibly catch a passer-by by surprise. In black, this is yet another ThinkPad-y product. In its racecar-red exterior finish, however, a finish shared by the new ThinkPad Edge line of budget portables, it gains a little more flair. Either way, the smooth, clean lines around the chassis are understated and quite attractive. A simple diagonal ThinkPad logo cuts across the front corner of the lid, the only distinguishing feature.
The six-cell battery doesn't bulge from the bottom but instead bulges out from the back. Most Netbook-type devices feature some sort of battery bulge that's answered for with some modicum of sleight-of-hand--chunky rear risers, bulbous handlelike protrusions, or jutting bulges straight out the back--and this x100e does the same. We wish Netbook-type laptops would eventually embed their batteries as elegantly as Apple does in its MacBooks and the iPad, but at least in the x100e's case, the bulge doesn't ruin the design of the front or the overall thickness. The x100e is also heavier, and denser, than many equivalent Netbooks (Lenovo doesn't consider the x100e to be a Netbook, but for our purposes it essentially is).
Inside, no matter what color the outside is, it's all black. A smooth and reasonably spacious palmrest and a full-size keyboard take up all space on the lower half, while the upper lid has significant bezel space above the inset matte screen to grab when opening and closing. A small power button lurks above the right side of the keyboard. Smoothly opening dual hinges let the lid open up nearly 180 degrees, which is nice for dedicated lap-typers.
Now, a few words on the keyboard, or shall we say an ode: simply put, it's fantastic. In terms of travel, key size, spacing and overall comfort, this is hands-down the best Netbook-level keyboard we've ever used, and one of the best keyboards in any laptop. The x100e uses Lenovo's new raised Chiclet-style ThinkPad keyboard introduced in the ThinkPad Edge 13. With gently curved and slightly concave key surfaces and gentle but solid-clicking key presses, this keyboard surpasses anything seen by Apple or Sony and feels as good as an old-fashioned tapered keyboard. Key sizes aren't shaved down, with the exception of some squished directional-arrow keys. Even better, the well-weighted palm rests feel great to lean on.
We saw a similar keyboard on the more affordable Lenovo IdeaPad S10-3, but the x100e version is superior. It has a better key feel, better build quality, and a larger palmrest area, which is key for adequate hand positioning when typing. The S10-3 felt a bit shoehorned, but on the ThinkPad x100e the ergonomics are near perfect.
Our only gripe, and it is a biggie, is Lenovo's insistence on putting a rubbery trackpoint control between the G, H and B keys, along with buttons both above and below the otherwise very responsive touch pad. The trackpoint gets in the way, and the added buttons reduce the touch pad surface area. Get rid of both and we'd never miss them. Multitouch "pinch-to-zoom" type commands were hard to pull off, simply because our fingers had no room.
The 11.6-inch matte (yes, matte) screen has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is better than average for a sub-12-inch screen. It means Web pages don't get cut off and office apps aren't as crowded by upper toolbars. The matte screen is great, and we have to say that readability and screen clarity for text and icons seems to improve as a result. Photos and video may not seem quite as crisp, but the ThinPad x100e is an office/business portable first. Viewing angles aren't able to match how far the screen can tilt, however, so sharing views on a document or video might be a challenge.
Stereo speakers embedded on the underside of the front of this ThinkPad offer better-than-average volume but a strangely hollow audio quality. It's fine for video chat and basic audio/video playback, but isn't made for music. The Webcam had good resolution and light sensitivity in our casual use, matching what we've seen in many ThinkPad products.
|Lenovo ThinkPad x100e||Average for category [Netbook]|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jack||headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0, SD card reader||2 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
Ports are pared down on the x100e; not a tremendous surprise considering it's basically a Netbook at heart. 3 USB 2.0 ports, one of which is powered, is one above average, but other than VGA and an SD card slot, that's it. Bluetooth is a $20 upgrade option.
Our $579 configuration included a 320GB hard drive and 2GB of RAM. In the base $449 configuration, standard Netbook specs of a 160GB HDD and 1GB of RAM are included, albeit with 32-bit Windows Home Premium. Our version came with 32-bit Windows 7 Professional. RAM is expandable to 4GB. Also, it's worth noting that Lenovo's ThinkVantage suite of professional security features, common to ThinkPad users, are included on the x100e.
All versions of the ThinkPad x100e come with the same processor: an AMD Athlon Neo MV-40 running at 1.6 GHz. This is a single-core processor, assisted with integrated ATI Radeon HD 3200 graphics. In our benchmark tests, the Neo offered notable improvement over the Intel Atom in single-task tests on Photoshop and iTunes, but being a single-core processor, it suffers the same multitasking hindrances as an Atom. AMD Neo dual-core processors such as we've seen in the Acer Ferrari One offer more processing punch, and yet the upscale Ferrari One costs nearly the same as our configured ThinkPad x100e. In the single-core iteration, it's hard to find exactly why the AMD Neo is more worthwhile than an Atom N450 or N470, especially since the N450/470 offers better battery life. Also, the x100e emits considerable heat from its side vents and bottom, even under normal usage.
Theoretically, the ATI graphics should enhance video and light games, but our attempts to watch Hulu full-screen were just as stuttered as on any other Netbook. For basic office use and even some light media functions, the ThinkPad x100e should be more than adequate: just don't expect a superportable powerhouse. We wish a dual-core processor option had been available, but we just may have to wait for the next generation. It's a shame, especially we're already having a hard time justifying the elevated price of the ThinkPad x100e to potential Netbook customers.