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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 (2nd gen) review: A Windows tablet that tops the Surface's keyboard game

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The Good The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 has a sharp screen and offers flexibility through optional modular accessories. Its excellent detachable keyboard is one of the best of its kind.

The Bad It has below-average battery life. It's expensive considering its performance.

The Bottom Line The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 is a unique professional tablet with modular accessories, though you can find a similar two-in-one hybrid with better battery life for less money.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 8

Lenovo's second stab at the versatile ThinkPad X1 Tablet is so subtle, you'd never be able to tell from the looks of it. The latest model of the high-end two-in-one hybrid has new seventh-gen Intel processors (up to Core i7) and optional WiGig and LTE-A Wireless WAN connectivity. Otherwise, the ThinkPad X1 has the same design, features and optional add-on modules as the previous model.

The second generation of the ThinkPad X1 Tablet is available with various configurations for processors, memory and storage options. The review unit we tested was a Core i5 model with an Intel Core i5-7Y57 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive. It costs $1,698. (The second-gen X1 Tablet is not yet on sale in the UK or Australia, but the US price converts to roughly £1,300 or AU$2,275.) Note that the Y-series Core i5 is essentially a slightly higher-end version of Intel's low-voltage Core-m CPUs.

According to Lenovo, it should be available on the web in the UK soon, and it's expected to be available online in Australia by the end of the month. We'll update with official international pricing when available. 

lenovo-thinkpad-x1-1347-029

Though the keyboard is optional, it's one of the ThinkPad X1's best features.

Josh Miller/CNET

You look familiar

Lenovo's ThinkPad line is well-regarded by business users, yet the ThinkPad X1 also has some viable consumer appeal, especially for those interested in a portable, productivity-geared Microsoft Surface-like device.

Design-wise, it looks identical to last year's model. It's as slick as a durable business tablet can look. Its attractively slim build, magnesium chassis and matte finish are au courant and make its MIL-STD 810G tested construction (it can withstand short drops and extreme temperatures) even more impressive.

lenovo-thinkpad-x1-1239-004

The built-in kickstand is sturdier than the one on Microsoft's Surface Pro computer.

Josh Miller/CNET

Notably, there's a built-in kickstand on the back of the tablet that folds out like the ramp of a moving truck, which offers more stability than the built-in stand found on the Microsoft Surface Pro, where the kickstand props open like a folding chair. It's a small but significant difference if you plan on using it on your lap often.

Bundles of accessories

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 tablet comes with a detachable keyboard that has a grippy red trackpoint, physical touchpad buttons for right and left clicking and a middle button for scrolling. In case it gets lost or breaks, the keyboard is sold separately for $149 (roughly converting to £115 and AU$190), available in black, silver or red.

lenovo-thinkpad-x1-1268-013

For all trackpoint fans.

Josh Miller/CNET

While Microsoft gets a lot of praise for the Surface's skinny keyboards specifically, Lenovo gets a lot of praise for its keyboards in general. The ThinkPad X1 has a great set of comfortable mechanical keys that don't disappoint, even for a tablet keyboard cover.

It's also bundled with the slim ThinkPad Pen Pro stylus, an active capacitive pen with 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity. The stylus has right and left click buttons and is powered by an AAAA battery. In addition to a built-in fabric loop for storing the pen, Lenovo packages the tablet with a plastic stylus pen holder that fits into the tablet's full-size USB port, though it's a little clunky to use. Unless there's a slot built into the hardware itself, storing a stylus is always a hassle.

lenovo-thinkpad-x1-1281-016

The stylus is great for note-taking.

Josh Miller/CNET

The stylus' tip glides like butter skating on a hot pan when it's used on the smooth, glossy glass screen. It's meant for writing more than drawing, yet the experience for both was enjoyable with no discernible delay and strong palm rejection.

Mod me

Like last year's model, this one has the option of add-on modules. The Productivity Module ($149) doubles as a port extender and a secondary battery. It adds an HDMI port, Lenovo's proprietary OneLink docking port, an additional USB 3.0 port and (purportedly) up to 5 hours of battery life.

The other is the Presenter Module ($299, roughly £230 or AU$390). It's a pico projector that can display an 854x480-pixel resolution image onto a wall or screen up to 60 inches away. It includes its own battery with a 2-hour projection time as well as HDMI input and output ports for more video-sharing options. Both accessories simply attach to the bottom of the tablet, but neither was available at the time of review.

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It has full-size USB 3.0 and USB-C ports.

Josh Miller/CNET

Good enough performance

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1's benchmarks look pretty unimpressive when compared to its top competition. If you care a lot about benchmark performance, expect to be disappointed. However, it's still a swell performer for everyday tasks like checking emails, browsing the web and working on documents. Running the Chrome browser, I was able to have about a dozen tabs open before performance started to slow down.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 isn't made for media consumption, but it has a satisfyingly sharp screen that looks great streaming HD content. Episodes of Netflix's "Glow" looked crisp and the colorful wrestling costumes vibrantly popped. Its mirror-like reflectiveness is an unfortunate, but not uncommon, problem with its glossy screen. As far as its thin-sounding stereo speakers, you're better off listening with headphones.

lenovo-thinkpad-x1-1329-027

It looks like a nice leather notebook when closed.

Josh Miller/CNET

Specs

  • 12-inch IPS display
  • 2,160x1,440-pixel resolution
  • 7th-gen Intel Core i5Y or i7Y CPUs
  • Intel HD Graphics 615

The ThinkPad X1 also isn't made with gaming in mind. It even scored lower in 3DMark benchmarks than the Miix 510, Lenovo's simpler, budget-friendly Surface-like hybrid. With enough patience, you can find simpler tablet-friendly games where gameplay is decent, however the X1 is too heavy to hold up for long during games that don't take advantage of its built-in stand.

Lenovo estimates 10 hours of battery life. In our CNET Labs battery testing (streaming 720p video over Wi-Fi) it lasted 6 hours 38 minutes. Anecdotally, it lasted me through most of the work day, but I was always reaching for the charger by the end of the day.

Ports, slots and sensors

  • USB Type-C port
  • Full-size USB 3.0 port
  • Mini DisplayPort
  • Security lock slot
  • MicroSD and nano-SIM card slot (for optional LTE connectivity)
  • Fingerprint sensor

A meek upgrade 

The excellently constructed Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet is a capable business two-in-one with a versatile design. The new model, however, isn't a big improvement from the first generation. There's nothing wrong with small tweaks and updates to an already well-designed device, however the small bump in performance and lack of significant battery improvement is a tough pill to swallow for such a high-end and high-priced item. Considering the price, despite the excellent keyboard cover, it's hard to recommend over the Microsoft Surface Pro unless you specifically need some of its corporate-friendly features.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 (second gen) performance charts


Lenovo ThinkPad X1
Price as reviewed $1,698 (pricing converts to £1,300, AU$2,275)
Display size/resolution 12-inch 2,160x1,440-pixel touch display
PC CPU 1.2GHz Intel Core i5-7Y57
PC Memory 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz
Graphics 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 615
Storage 256GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless; Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system WIndows 10 Pro (64-bit)

Multitasking Multimedia Test 3.0 (in seconds)

Samsung Galaxy Book
458
Microsoft Surface Book
610
Lenovo Miix 510
618
Microsoft Surface Pro
781
Lenovo ThinkPad X1
1739

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 3 Multi-Core

Microsoft Surface Pro
8578
Microsoft Surface Book
7377
Samsung Galaxy Book
6864
Lenovo Miix 510
6361
Lenovo ThinkPad X1
6239

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

Online Streaming Battery Drain test (in minutes)

Microsoft Surface Book
709
Samsung Galaxy Book
624
Microsoft Surface Pro
505
Lenovo ThinkPad X1
398
Lenovo Miix 510
334

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

System Configurations

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 1.2GHz Intel Core i5-7Y57; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB Intel HD Graphics 615; 256GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Pro Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i7-7600U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640; 512GB SSD
Samsung Galaxy Book Microsoft Windows 10 Home(64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7200U; 4GB DDR SDRAM; 128MB Intel HD Graphics 620; 128GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Book Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6600U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz, 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 965 / 128MB Intel HD Graphics 520; 1TB SSD
Lenovo Miix 510 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 520; 256GB SSD

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