Created as a lightweight business laptop, the ThinkPad X390 is a 13.3” computer that is significantly more compact than the ThinkPad T4xx series and almost as light as the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.
Don’t confuse it with the X390 Yoga or the L390! Google data suggests that the X390 is most often compared with the ThinkPad T400 Series, the Yoga C930, and the Dell XPS 13. We’ll use some of these computers as points of reference make some of these popular comparisons.
Specs Highlights and configuration as tested.
Our test configuration had these key components:
As such, it is not the most powerful configuration. At the time of publishing, the Lenovo website had configurations with Core i5-8365U and i7-8665U, including 16GB versions.
There is potentially a 32GB version, but in all cases, the RAM is soldered to the motherboard and isn’t swappable, so choose well at purchase time.
We also spotted documents (on Lenovo.com) that included 10th-gen Intel processors such as the i5-10210U and i7-10510U, both with 4-Cores and 8-Threads designs, but they were not in the online configurator.
The Intel 10th-gen graphics unit (GPU) is significantly faster, so if you want better absolute performance, seek these models. More on that later…
With dimensions of ~70 cubic inches (CI), the ThinkPad X390 sits between the Lenovo T400-Series (we recently reviewed the ThinkPad T490, 81 CI) and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2019 (64 CI, X1 review here).
As a ThinkPad, the X390 has a lot in common with other ThinkPad computers, including the magnesium alloy chassis, the optional fingerprint, and of course, the Mil-Spec endurance certification.
The 2.82 lbs weight makes the ThinkPad X390 a “thin & light” that is ~14% lighter than the ThinkPad T490, and comparable, in weight, to the Dell XPS 13 (model 9370 or model 7390 which are ~5% lighter). The X1 Carbon is 13.5% lighter, so there’s a noticeable difference when handling it.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The ThinkPad X390 comes with a typical ThinkPad keyboard, which is always a strong point for a great many users as they are very comfortable to type on, and the physical trackpad buttons are more precise than a trackpad “tap” or “click.”
The key-travel seems similar to the usual 1.3mm that other ThinkPads have, and to me, it feels very similar to the T490.
The keys (16x15mm) seem just a little bit smaller then the T490 and X1 Carbon (16x16mm), but the difference isn’t very noticeable to me. It really depends on your typing as 1mm across several key rows can make a small difference.
The trackpad is 10% smaller than on the T490, but 10% larger than the X1 carbon. Again, the X390 is really something in between these two series.
Like any other touch-interface, the size of the trackpad in relation to the gestures matters. On laptops, most people use scroll and pinch & zoom motions. More advanced usages require up to four fingers, and circular gestures tend to be more comfortable with a larger surface. Check the Windows 10 gestures
This keyboard is backlit with a monochrome light, which is very handy at night, in bed (you should not), or in the plane. The backlight has 2 levels of brightness
- 1x USB Type-C, Thunderbolt 3 “Anti-Fry” safety
- 1x USB Type-A, 3.1 Gen1, Always-on
- 1x USB Type-A, 3.1 Gen1
- 1x Standard HDMI1.4
- 1x Flash Reader, MicroSD
- 1x Ethernet (needs adapter)
- 1x Anti-theft slot, Kensington
- 1x 3.5mm audio
- 1x Tray for microSD and nano-SIM (optional) in the back
For an ultralight, the ThinkPad X390 does have a lot of ports, and that’s particularly handy to business users because the HDMI or USB-C to USB-A adapter might have stayed at the office, or lost.
It’s a situation that we bump into quite frequently when using ultrathin laptops that sacrifice ports availability for aesthetics. Just recently, we were in a briefing that started late because the speaker didn’t have a USB-C to HDMI converter.
The stereo speaker setup produces a sound that is better than last year’s same-category ThinkPad, and that’s good progress. In absolute terms, it is still pretty far from Lenovo’s entertainment-oriented laptops such as the Yoga C930 and Yoga C940 (review coming soon) which have a dedicated soundbar.
For business purposes, let’s say that these speakers are more than sufficient for movies at the hotel or other relatively quiet places – and for video calls.
Our ThinkPad X390 display is the regular FHD (1920×1080) LCD IPS which has brightness specifications of 300 NIT. With a datacolor Spider X monitor calibration device, measured the brightness at 289 NITs and recorded 97% of sRGB color gamut, which is very good in this category.
The screen has a matte finish, which makes the colors “pop” a little bit less, but has the advantage of being lighter because there’s one less sheet of glass, and it doesn’t reflect as strongly if there’s a light source behind the user.
Displays designed for Creative Work can reach 120%-130% of the sRGB gamut, which is excellent.
The X390 display can recline to 180-degrees flat to the table’s surface, which can be convenient depending on your situation. Some laptops have limited 45-degrees recline, and that’s too little if you’re tall, or are sitting on airplanes seat or bar seats that “too high” or “too low” when compared to a regular desk.
Lenovo also has a brighter 400 NITs IPS LCD display with Lenovo Privacy Guard, a privacy system that makes the screen impossible to read if you are not right in front of it. That’s great for planes or public areas where you don’t know who’s around you.
Finally, there’s also a cheaper display with HD resolution and TN display technology. With TN, the colors and contrasts are lower.
Webcam with privacy shutter
As usual, there’s a 720p camera that can record in 720p/30FPS. Not much to be excited about, but it works fine for video-calls if you have lighting.
The far-field microphone array can pick up sounds from all directions and have been optimized for voice. That’s great for calls, but also if you want to use the laptop with voice commands such as Microsoft’s Cortana or Amazon’s Alexa.
For privacy, Lenovo has integrated a physical shutter (ThinkShutter), so you don’t need to use tape to hide the webcam. The microphone remains connected and potentially active, as you might need it for non-video apps.
Finally, there’s an optional infra-red webcam that can scan your face in 3D, making a secure face-unlock possible, using Windows Hello. We highly recommend using a strong password with the 3D face-unlock, or fingerprint reader (also optional).
X390 Speed & System Performance
Although our unit comes with a Core i5 (Gen 8) processor, it does get very decent scores in the classic PC Mark 8 benchmark (measures overall system performance) which makes the X390 a good computer for office work and everyday computing.
Geekbench Multi-thread is more indicative of the kind of performance difference you might notice on CPU-heavy apps. Our charts show that the Intel 10th-Gen platform has more upside potential, and that’s also true for the Core i7 (Gen 8) CPU options.
In general, Intel does an excellent job of scaling performance with higher-priced CPU models. However, it is up to you to find the best trade-off between performance and price, because the CPU upgrades can be expensive and the performance increase is not linear. It depends on what you do.
If you don’t have any CPU-heavy work (video-editing, scientific computing, heavy excel computations, etc.) Core i5 and 16GB of RAM is a good way to go. In general, we recommend going with 16GB and fast SSD storage because seemingly “light computing” apps such as browsers can turn into real memory-eating monsters if you have many tabs open.
From a graphics/gaming point of view, our ThinkPad X390 performs a bit better than last year’s models because of small hardware updates. However, the new Intel i7 10710U integrated graphics is nearly 2X faster, so if you want a better gaming experience or GPU performance, keep your eyes open for that version of the X390.
Our 3DMark Firestrike chart shows that discrete GPUs are still the absolute best, with last year’s ThinkPad T480s + GeForce MX150 beating the recent Dell XPS 13 7390 with Intel’s latest mobile GPU.
The Thinkpad X390 has a battery capacity of 48 Wh, which is in line with its category (size, price) since the XPS 13 has 52Wh, and the X1 Carbon gets 50Wh."ONE OF THE FASTEST LAPTOP CHARGING WE'VE SEEN TO DATE"
Battery tests with a robust set of office workloads (at 200 NIT screen brightness) show continuous use of 6 hours and 31mn, which is very respectable and pretty realistic, in our opinion.
Be mindful that battery tests are never representative of real-world usage, because app settings, background tasks, brightness status, and network conditions are always different. The most important part of battery life is to look at the battery capacity (in Wh) and the overall system power baseline (CPU thermal design point, or TDP).
Battery life numbers promoted by PC-makers are often based on best-case scenarios with low-intensity video playback with a dim screen. The numbers that we have are much closer to reality, based on our experience.
Battery Charge Speed
In our tests, we found the charging speed of this laptop to be 0.82 Wh/mn (49 Wh/hour), which is very fast for a laptop. Charging can sometimes offset brute capacity, and it is very vital for anyone who cares about the battery life
For example, the ThinkPad T490 charged at 40Wh/hour, and the X1 Carbon got 47Wh/hour, so this is one of the fastest laptop charging we’ve seen to date.
Note that this is the charging speed from 0-80%. Beyond that, the charging will become noticeably slower. That’s the case for virtually all computer or phone batteries, and it is limited by chemical reactions inside the battery cells.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X390 is a great option for users who want something a bit more compact than the X1 Yoga or the T400 Series ThinkPads, but not as expensive as the X1 Carbon.
Buyers who are looking at the Dell XPS 13 as an alternative will find the XPS 13 to be noticeably smaller (by 40%) for a weight that is comparable (5% lighter). The XPS 13 screen might be brighter as well (500 NIT specs), and it has a glossy finish, which may or may not be an advantage."WORKS WELL FOR USERS WITH TYPICAL OFFICE PRODUCTIVITY APPS"
Besides the size, the XPS 13 vs. ThinkPad X390 sway-factor may be the certified ruggedness of the ThinkPad X390, which most competitors do not have, the more comfortable inputs, and a large number of ports. In short, it’s a matter of personal preference.
In our opinion, the ThinkPad X390 works well for users with typical office productivity apps (email, web, ms-office, light image editing).
Creative users who can afford it would probably prefer the 14” or 15” laptops that Lenovo offers, especially the ones with discrete GPU, higher memory, and better displays (including OLED options) such as the ThinkPad Extreme Gen2 or its workstation counterpart the ThinkPad P1 Gen2.