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Lenovo ThinkPad X100e review: Lenovo ThinkPad X100e

Lenovo ThinkPad X100e

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Scott Stein
Scott_Stein.jpg

Scott Stein

Editor at Large

I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets.

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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.

OVR
7.1

Lenovo ThinkPad X100e

The Good

Phenomenal keyboard; sturdy build; matte screen.

The Bad

Underpowered for the price; battery life isn't as good as many Netbooks.

The Bottom Line

The ThinkPad x100e is essentially the ThinkPad Netbook users have been dreaming of, with one of the best keyboards we've ever tested. Unfortunately, its performance, though better than that of Atom Netbooks, comes at the cost of longer battery life.

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.

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.

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.

Juice box
Lenovo ThinkPad x100e Average watts per hour
Off (60 percent) 0.45
Sleep (10 percent) 0.85
Idle (25 percent) 10.62
Load (5 percent) 19.57
Raw kWh 34.94
Annual power consumption cost $3.97

The ThinkPad x100e's six-cell battery ran for 3 hours and 42 minutes using our video playback battery drain test. That's a lot less than any current Atom Netbook, and this is with a heavy 6-cell battery, too. That's the big drawback to this Neo processor: too little juice for too little performance, and from what we experienced, a lot of venting heat. That's not to say, with some management, this battery won't make it through a day--but under four hours for a Netbook-level product is a disappointment. After all, isn't improved battery performance supposed to be the benefit we receive from accepting low-voltage processors that underperform?

Lenovo includes a standard one-year warranty with the ThinkPad x100e. Lenovo's Web site is relatively easy to navigate for downloadable drivers and support, especially since there's only one page for the x100e. Lenovo also offers a toll-free support number, available 24-7.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Jalbum photo conversion test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

System configurations:

Lenovo Thinkpad X100e
Windows 7 Professional; 1.6GHz AMD Athlon Neo MV-40; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 667MHz; 384MB (Shared) ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3200; 320GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

HP Mini 5102
Windows 7 Starter; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 248MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 3150; 160GB Seagate 7,200rpm

Toshiba Mini NB305-N410BN
Windows 7 Starter; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 250MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 3150; 250GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Sony Vaio Eco VPC-W212AX
Windows 7 Starter; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 250MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 3150; 250GB Seagate 5,400rpm

Asus Eee PC 1201N
Windows 7 Starter; 1.6GHz Intel Atom N330 Dual-Core; 2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 2050MHz; 256MB Nvidia ION; 250GB Hitachi 5,400rpm

Acer Ferrari One
Windows 7 Home Premium; 1.2GHz AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core L310; 4096MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 384MB (Dedicated) ATI Mobility Radeon HD 3200; 250GB Seagate 5,400rpm

Acer Aspire One 532h-2326
Windows 7 Starter; 1.66GHz Intel Atom N450; 1024MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 250MB (Shared) Mobile Intel GMA 3150; 250GB Seagate 5,400rpm