previous X100e was quite a disappointment, and that's actually putting it rather nicely -- not only did the 11.6-inch system redefine the term "lapburner," but it struggled to last 3.5 hours on a charge. It was bordering on tragic, but Lenovo's ready to right all those wrongs with the X120e. While it has kept the chassis and the wonderful chiclet keyboard unchanged, it's subbed out AMD's older Neo chip for the long awaited Fusion Zacate APU. The same platform already proved to be pretty awesome in HP's Pavilion dm1z with an almost perfect blend of power, graphics, and endurance, but does the X120e reap the same benefits? At $399 ($579 for our review unit), is the perfect, affordable ThinkPad ultraportable finally here? Has Lenovo finally gotten it right? And how does it compare to the other new Fusion affordable ultraportables or notbooks, as we've taken to calling them? We've got those answers alright – hit the break for our full review.
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Lenovo ThinkPad X120e review
- Amazingly comfortable chiclet keyboard
- Great blend of performance and graphics
- Over five hours of battery life
- Six-cell battery awkwardly protrudes
- More expensive than HP's AMD Fusion laptop
- Some video driver issues in Win Media Player
Look and feel
The X120e is slightly wider and longer than the average 10-inch netbook, but it's still incredibly portable. The 1.1-inch thick machine was compact enough to fit into our shoulder bag and leave us with plenty of spare room for our DSLR and oversized wallet. We still take a bit of an issue with the horizontally protruding six-cell battery -- it juts out the rear, which isn't only awkward, but it also puts the system at 3.3 pounds. That's still lighter than HP's 3.4-pound Pavilion dm1z, but no doubt the ThinkPad's battery is oddly placed in comparison to HP's improved battery design. The one major difference between the former X100e chassis and the X120e? The addition of a HDMI port. Other than that, the laptop is still home to three USB 2.0 ports, VGA and Ethernet sockets, a mic / headphone combo jack, and a SD card slot. The yellow colored USB port can charge your gadgets even the system is powered down.
Keyboard, touchpad, and screen
Like the X100e, there's no lack of ways to push around the cursor on the X120e -- there's the signature red TrackPoint (or nub) smack in the middle of the keyboard, and a smaller 3.0 x 1.5-inch touchpad below. We still prefer the pointing stick, but the touchpad is decent for navigating as well. It's smaller than that on the dm1z, but it does have two dedicated buttons rather than those sometimes-frustrating integrated button ClickPads. That said, the multitouch gestures on the HP system seemed more responsive, and while two-finger scrolling on the ThinkPad works, it's jittery in comparison.
Thankfully, Lenovo's also kept the matte 11.6-inch, 1366 x 768-resolution display untouched. Cutting out the sometimes distracting glare of glossy displays, the matte screen is still sufficiently bright and horizontal viewing angles continue to be better than vertical ones. Tilting the screen back to about 40 degrees caused a bit of color distortion, but it didn't really prove too problematic when watching the Rango trailer with the X120e on our lap. The webcam on the top of the bezel is still optimized for low-light situations. That still creeps us out just a bit, but it did work quite well when we turned down the lights -- our face was still pretty clear to our friend on Skype. The speakers on the front lip of the laptop were quite loud at full blast, and while they were fine for hearing that call and Jon Stewart's voice in a Daily Show clip, listening to Wiz Khalifa's "Black and Yellow" was fairly tinny.
Performance and graphics
|Lenovo ThinkPad X120e (AMD Zacate E350)||2465||2080||4:56|
HP Pavilion dm1z (AMD Zacate E350)
|Lenovo ThinkPad X100e (AMD Athlon Neo)||1511||1060||3:27|
|HP Mini 5103 (dual-core Intel Atom N550)||1523||143||6:16|
|ASUS Eee PC 1215N (Atom D525 / NVIDIA Ion 2)||1942||181 / 2480||5:42|
Acer Aspire One 721 (AMD Neo Neo K125)
|Dell Inspiron M101z (dual-core AMD Neo K325)||2572||1311||3:35|
|Lenovo ThinkPad Edge 11 (Core i3 ULV)||2964||1105||4:42|
|Alienware M11x (Intel Core 2 Duo SU7300)||2689||654 / 5593||4:30|
|Notes: the higher the score the better. For 3DMark06, the first number reflects score with GPU off, the second with it on.|
Of course, that processing power is coupled with some really nice graphics on the same chip, and as we mentioned AMD's Radeon HD 6310M core absolutely trounces Intel's GMA 3150 netbook and GMA 4500 ULV graphics solutions. Similar to the dm1z, it scored a couple hundred points less than some netbooks with NVIDIA Ion 2, but when it came to doing normal graphics intensive stuff we couldn't tell the difference. Streaming and local high-def video were no challenge for the little system even when output to a 42-inch HDTV using ASUS's WiCast. We should note, that we encountered a "video card" error when we tried to play a 1080p .mov file in Windows Media Player – HD .wmv files played fine in the Microsoft program, but we had to download VLC Player to get the .mov clips working. Lenovo's looking into that issue, but we assume it's driver related as we didn't have that issue on the E-350-powered dm1z. We also noticed some 1080p YouTube videos turning the screen green when we went to play them at full screen. Playing 720p YouTube clips at full screen didn't result in the same issue, so we assume that it's another AMD driver related issue. As for gaming? We saw the same sort of experience as the dm1z -- in WoW: Cataclysm, our gnome was prancing and jumping around the screen at 27fps with the resolution set at 1024 x 768. And Flash games, like Canabalt, sailed along.
Update: Lenovo sent us a BIOS updated which fixed the 1080p .mov video playback issues. The X120e should be shipping with this new software.
Battery life and heat
Remember when the X100e made our jeans feel like we had just taken them out of the dryer? Well, the X120e does no such thing. The palmrest and underside of the system stayed quite cool during our long periods of use. However, much like the dm1z, the left vent seemed to be working overtime and made a noticeable sound. We guess we'll take that over burning temperatures any day.