Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Review

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 is the latest, and possibly greatest, Lenovo thin&light ever built. The Lenovo X1 is being touted as “unleashing mobile freedom for businesses”. Lenovo even uses terms like “extreme battery life” or “cutting edge performance”. As you can imagine, it is not always easy to associate extreme battery life or performance with a thin and light, although there are occasional exceptions – so we’re going to see if the ThinkPad X1 is one of them.

As a newly launched product, it is fair to assume that it supersedes previous Lenovo models, but how good is it in absolute terms, and how does it compare to a handful of popular laptops? Read this Lenovo Thinkpad X1 to find out!

External Design (very good)

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Review

Lenovo isn’t always synonymous with “sexy”, but the Lenovo X1 does look attractive from the outside. The “thin” factor clearly has something to do with it, and the computer looks clean on all sides, with clean I/O ports and connectors, some of which are hidden.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Review

Thinkpad X1 and Macbook Pro 13, side by side

The Lenovo X1 chassis seems to be made of magnesium-alloy, with a rubberized/surface that helps with fingerprints and accidental slippage from the user’s hand. That’s too bad for folks who like shiny objects, but this is a work laptop that is “mission critical”.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Review

Computer status icon… is it sleeping?

Nice touch: on the backside of the screen, there is an LED light that shows if the Lenovo X1 is sleeping, or shut down. I like it.

Trackpad/Trackpoint (good)

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Review

Lenovo has been using trackpoint and trackpad for a long time

Upon opening the laptop, users will be presented with a comfortable keyboard and Lenovo’s classic two pointer controllers (trackpad + trackpoint, and 2 sets of mouse buttons). The trackpad is relatively small, with a rugged texture. Although I’m used to glass trackpads, I find this one to be only “good” – not “very good”. The “click” of the trackpad buttons on the other hand, is very good. Lenovo must have spent more on those micro switches, and we can tell.

Keyboard (excellent!)

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Review

Today, the Lenovo X1 keyboard is simple the best there is

If you have seen older Lenovo Thinkpads before, this is a new chiclet keyboard. The keys are well separated and much easier to type on when compared to a T400 or some other Thinkpad classic, in my opinion (I’ve been using chiclet keyboard for a while). If you’re typing a lot, this is The keyboard that you want to have. If I compare it to my Macbook Pros (13, 15), I’d say that the Lenovo X1 keyboard feels even better. It’s pretty rare in the PC laptop world, so it’s worth mentioning.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Review

Just below the CTRL key, a drain is visible. There’s another one on the right

Also, the keyboard is both back-lit, and spill-resistant, which is very rare. Only a handful of “pro” laptops have both features. There’s actually a hole to drain the water away in case of a keyboard spill. This does not mean that it is waterproof but that design increases the odds of spill survival.

Display (weak)

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Review

The photo can’t show you how big the difference is, but the X1 lacks contrast

The 13.4” TFT display does offer plenty of brightness, although it is not consistent across the screen, When it comes to contrast and view angle, the Lenovo X1 is actually a bit disappointing. The “blacks” are gray, even with a relatively low brightness. And I would consider the view angle as “narrow”, especially in the vertical axis (colors change as you move up and down). Fortunately, the display can open to more than 180 degrees, so in most cases, you can adjust it. If you want to show something to colleagues, things might get a bit sketchy.

I wish that the screen was better because it is something that the user is looking at all the time. And given the price/class of this laptop, the X1 would have deserved a better display, or a better display upgrade option. Talking about upgrades, the Lenovo X1 display is relatively Shiny, so if you’re outdoors, you might have to crank the backlight all the way — which depletes battery life. I have not seen a “matte” option thus far.

Performance (very good)

Test settings: connected to power source, display 100%, “maximum performance” OS setting.

PCMark 7 tries to evaluate overall system performance by stressing a number of things like central processor (CPU), graphics processor (GPU), disks and other critical components. It then create an overall score. I ran the benchmark on the computers that I have on hand, and the results are in the graph below. Note that both Macs run Windows, and have been featured in previous reviews.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Review

The Lenovo gets a nice score in PCMark7

PCMark 7 seem to put a lot of emphasis on raw processor performance, and that explains why the Lenovo X1 and its second-generation Core i5 CPU take the lead. The Toshiba R705 uses the previous generation of Core i5, and both Macs were still on Core 2 Duo. Obviously, the goal of this graph is not to define a winner, but instead I wanted to give you a relative view of the X1 performance relative to other popular computers priced at different ranges. Please be mindful that more recent Macbook Pro computers should score higher, but I do not have any on hand right now.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Review

How much punch does it pack, relative to its weight?

Another way to use the PCMark score is to look at it relative to the weight. How much performance do I get, per pound (lbs)? At this game, and for this particular test, the Lenovo X1 does very well, and packs a lot of punch per lbs.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Review

Gaming is not a strength of the Thinkpad X1

However that overall “system performance” has to be taken with a grain of salt. The X1 isn’t good at everything. Gaming, for instance, is out of its reach. with a speed of only 13FPS for Just Cause 2, the Lenovo X1 is the slowest gaming computer that I have reviewed in a while. That’s mainly because it uses Intel’s integrated graphics. Although Intel has made big strides in terms of performance and compatibility, there are simply much better options out there.

There are no doubts that the PCMark 7 score could be improved significantly if the X1 has an SSD. However, this is not the case for this particular unit.

After all, the Lenovo X1 is supposed to be a business laptop, so I’m not sure if this will make or break the sales. I just want to make sure that you know about this. The optimum configuration should have 6GB of RAM and a solid-state drive (SSD). If you are curious about the details, here are a few links to the 3DMark 7 scores.

http://3dmark.com/pcm7/38532 (Lenovo X1)
http://3dmark.com/pcm7/36298 (Toshiba R705)
http://3dmark.com/pcm7/36408 (MBA 11” 2010, Win7 bootcamp)
http://3dmark.com/pcm7/38793 (MBA 13” 2010, Win7 bootcamp)

Temperature

Although the computer can get warm, I have not noticed a severe rise in temperature as I had seen with the Toshiba R705. When watching videos over Youtube, the computer is even cold to the touch.

I’ll try to stress it more by running games, but so far, I don’t think that temperature will be a problem.

Boot/Wake-up/Shutdown Speed (average)

This particular model does not come with an SSD drive, so it’s not part of Lenovo’s super-fast 10sec boot option. I’ve timed a few things to give you an idea of how fast it is too boot, wake-up, shut down on the “default install” of Windows.

Boot (click on power to browser home page): 55sec
Wake-up time (open laptop > windows screen): 4sec
Shut down speed (click shutdown > OFF) : 11sec

Those results are relatively normal, and I would not consider this as either fast, or slow. I perceived that as being “average”. Note that things usually get worse as you install more and more apps.

Tip: I’ve tried on an older laptop, and although uninstalling things does not remove all the system “pollution”, it does help making things faster. I went from 1mn 40secs to 50 seconds of boot.

Tip 2: The simplest thing to make these go faster is to get an SSD drive. Because the SSD latency* is so low, it boosts performance dramatically for those operations. *latency for a disk is the time between the file request and the file access. On mechanical hard drives, this typically represents the time it takes for the head to move above the proper disk location, and wait for the disk rotation to bring the physical location under the head (to be read). With SSD drives, there’s no mechanical motion, so things go (almost) at the speed of light.

Battery Life

Test conditions: display at 8/15 (no auto-dim, auto-sleep, “maximum battery life” mode)

60mn 720p MP4 video playback =  36% of battery
60mn Youtube playback (wifi) = 48% of battery
60mn Music playback  (screen ON, minimum brightness) : 23% of battery
60mn Web Browsing: 20% of battery

The battery life is very acceptable, although not exceptional. You should be able to watch a couple of HD movies (a bit less than 3hrs), and I would eyeball office productivity (typing text…) to be anywhere between 5-6hrs. Web browsing is a bit more tricky as it depends son the number of tabs open, Flash usage etc… but 4-6hrs seem to be a reasonable assessment.

Quick charge: Lenovo is serious when it says that this battery can be charged up to 80% in 30mn. Our in-house tests show that it is the case: it went from 8% to 77% in 26mn and 40 seconds. This is a big deal in my opinion, and this could provide a much needed charge just before taking a plane, for example.

Extended battery: This Lenovo X1 came with the extended 36Wh battery. The battery snaps on the bottom of the X1, raising it slightly at an angle. It is lighter than I expected, and although it makes the laptop bulkier and a bit heavier, it also doubles the battery life, which is definitely not negligible. Lenovo makes it a bit cheaper if you buy it as a bundle with the X1 Laptop, so take a minute to think about it.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Review

Extended battery attached

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Review

Extended battery attached (back)

Webcam (below-average)

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Review

The Lenovo Thinkpad X1 webcam colors are off, at least out of the box

The integrated webcam is OK, but I find the color saturation to be OFF, out of the box. things look almost black and white, especially in slightly challenging lighting situations, like when I have a window nearby. Obviously, these webcam can’t compete with the desktop, standalone, models. However, even a tiny laptop webcam like the Macbook Air 11 one comes out with better image quality (out of the box).

That said, it will serve its purpose, but for business use, the webcam would have deserved to be better, or better calibrated.

On the audio-conferencing side, Lenovo and Dolby have demonstrated how the webcam can be setup to pick-up audio from a single person (and ignore background noise), or from a group of people. This was an interesting usage model that seemed to work really well.

Misc

No optical drive: This is important for a number of people: there is NO optical drive. We rarely use them, but sometime they can come in handy. That’s up to you to device if you need an integrated device.

Software: as it is the case with all Thinkpads, Lenovo has pre-installed a number of utilities like a drivers updater, a backup system, a quick access to your warranty information and shortcuts to the most frequently used settings. Honestly, there are some fairly useful stuff.

Bloatware: Some PC OEMs have been trying to reduce the amount of pre-installed software on their computers, and although this PC wasn’t cluttered with unwanted software, I spotted a few things that I personally wish wasn’t there:

1/ Norton Internet Security, which has started to bug me as soon as I got into Windows.
2/ Bing bar
3/ Verisign VIP Access
4/ Windows Live Essential

All in all, it’s not too bad, and I could quickly remove them if I wanted to, but it is my personal opinion that it’s often best to leave the software installation to the end-user.

Conclusion

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Review

The Thinkpad X1 has a terrific keyboard!

The Lenovo X1 is one of the best thin&light ThinkPad to ever be produced. I like the build quality, the rigidity of the chasis, and its overall design. The Keyboard deserves a special mention, because it is the best that I have used in the past couple of years, and comes ahead of the Macbook Pro’s. Heck, it’s even better than my desktop keyboard. The keyboard is also spill-resistant and has holes to evacuate water if needed. That, and the quick-charge battery are always a *big deal* for business users.

There are however some things that I wished were better. For one, the computer should be big enough to accommodate an optical drive. More importantly, I think that this design deserves a much better display: it would be great to have a better viewing angle, higher resolution. matte option and better color rendering. I’m ready to add $150 on the table for that, and $250 for an IPS display Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Review

Of course, Lenovo has not designed this computer to be a gaming machine or a graphic workstation, so I understand some of the design choices. The Lenovo Thinkpad X1 is a great thin&light business laptop, and as long as you accept its weaknesses, you should be on your way to a more productive life.

Links

Don’t miss these laptop reviews: Macbook Pro Review, Macbook Air Review

Specifications Highlight

3.73Lbs 13.26 x 9.1 x 0.65/0.84”
Core i5-2520M (2.5GHz)
4GB RAM
320GB, 7200rpm
Intel integrated graphics 3000 Series
13.4” 1366×768 pixel TFT display (Gorilla Glass) with integrated Webcam
2x USB 2.0, 1x USB 3.0, HDMI, DisplayPort, 1x eSata, Multi-standard Flash reader
Battery: 6-Cell 38.92Wh. Optional 6-Cell slice battery (snap-on) 35.5Wh
WiFi-N, Bluetooth
Windows 7 Pro 64
From $1399

This article was filed in Homepage > Computers > Featured > Reviews and was tagged with laptop, Laptop Reviews, laptops, Lenovo, review and thinkpad.
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