Lenovo ThinkPad X1 review

For weeks now, Lenovo aficionados have been salivating. Thanks to a series of leaks, more than a few of you have been awaiting the ThinkPad X1, the skinny, girlfriend-proof follow-up to the company's vaunted X series. One problem: it didn't officially exist. Well, the jig is up, and the X1 is at last a real, whirring product, on sale tomorrow with a starting price of $1,349. As expected, it marries that iconic red nub and rock-solid construction with some flourishes you haven't yet seen on a ThinkPad, including a 13.3-inch Gorilla Glass display, integrated, fast-charging battery, and a buttonless trackpad. And, as you may have gathered from those leaked shots, it's the slimmest ThinkPad yet, measuring just 16.5mm (0.65 inches) at its thinnest point.

Throw in Intel Core 2011 processor options and you'll see Lenovo has made one lofty promise: a svelte system that performs like a heavyweight and whose design is modern, but not too much of a departure from the classic ThinkPad uniform. So how close does the X1 come to living up to these towering claims? Let's find out.

Look and feel

Even with some contemporary touches, the X1 still looks -- and feels -- like a ThinkPad. It comes decked out in a soft, rubbery finish that should seem familiar to anyone who's handled an X Series notebook. This time around it coats each and every surface, including the sides, making the design feel that much more seamless. While that finish isn't a big part of the durability equation (more on that in a bit), it goes a long way in making the X1 feel like the premium notebook it is.

Lenovo also took ThinkPad's classic boxy shape and chiseled it down into something more tapered. The chassis (13.3 x 9.1 x 0.65-0.84 inches) isn't as cartoonishly thin as the MacBook Air, and because of its wedge profile the X1 will particularly suffer in comparisons that dwell on the back end of the chassis, near the hinge. Still, it's near-impossible to look at it and not appreciate how trim it is, especially toward the front where the lid opens. At 3.7 pounds, it feels heavier than we gathered from those leaked shots (especially this one). But let's be clear: this thing is easy to grab one-handed.

On the inside, the X1 uses the same RollCage construction as previous ThinkPads to make the chassis rigid. This laptop does do away with a latch enclosure, though. On the one hand, this helps the notebook achieve that clean look, but we can see it disturbing folks who take comfort in hearing their lid click into place. Given how solid the body feels, though, we didn't notice ourselves handling it any more gingerly than we would have it there were a latch. Should the notebook not hold up, it's covered under a three-year warranty -- fairly standard for business machines.

Lenovo also took the volume and mute controls you're used to seeing above the keyboard and instead placed them along the right side of the deck. With the exception of a memory card slot and covered 3.5mm headphone jack and USB 2.0 ports, you won't find any openings on the sides or front lip of the laptop. The rest -- a 20V AC port, USB 2.0-eSATA combo, USB 3.0 port, HDMI-out, a DisplayPort, and a covered SIM card slot for optional 3G connectivity -- neatly line the back edge. The bottom of the notebook is fairly clean, thanks to that non-removable battery, though you'll still find a smattering of screws and assorted openings. The back side is studded with four rubberized feet, which make the laptop comfortable to type on when placed on a flat surface.

The X1 also steps up to a 720p webcam. As you can see in the still photo below, the image quality is bright with vibrant, accurate colors. The camera also picked up a fair amount of detail, such as the shine in our hair and the texture of our skin, though even after we resized the picture for this website, you can still see graininess in the dim hallway in the background.

Keyboard and touchpad

Although not much has changed in the way of materials and durability, the X1 does get a facelift in the form of a chiclet (and backlit!) spill-resistant keyboard, coupled with a buttonless touchpad. Rest assured, though: Lenovo hasn't mucked with the secret sauce that makes its keys so comfy to type on. Everything about them -- their concave shape, the sturdy panel, the officious click they make -- remains superb.

And while you might feel ambivalent about Lenovo once again going with an integrated touchpad, know that this is one of the better ones we've tested. The textured pad feels wonderful and makes a satisfying low-pitched sound when you press it -- one of our favorite details. And the two-finger scrolling just works in a way that it too often doesn't on other gesture-enabled trackpads.

That's not to say the touchpad is perfect, though. It incorporates the same Synaptics technology found in scads of other laptops, including the Toshiba Satellite E305, whose imprecise trackpad cost it points in our review. With the X1, too, we had occasional moments where the pad registered a right click instead of a left. On the whole, though, we felt in control of both our clicks and our scrolling.

In fact, though, by the end of our testing period we had come to prefer the pointing stick and its accompanying mouse buttons. The nub has a pattern of fine raised dots and was wide enough to cradle our finger comfortably. It also has a low rise -- lower even than the keys surrounding it - so we didn't struggle with our finger falling off the nub while we moved the cursor around. The pointing stick is also well-spaced from the matching buttons, which meant clicking with the thumb of that hand felt natural. As for the buttons, they provide good tactile feedback and make nary a sound -- all without feeling mushy. As an added convenience, you can disable the trackpad by pressing a function key built into the left side of the space bar.

Display and sound

As we said, the X1 has a 13.3-inch, 350-nit display fashioned out of edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass. We think that scratch-resistant panel is a brilliant addition, and hope more notebook makers start incorporating it. The one trade-off, though, is that in adopting Gorilla Glass, Lenovo traded a matte, easily viewable display for a highly reflective one. The screen is glossy in a way that's likely to irk and disappoint a lot of people -- not least among them, ThinkPad loyalists. While we were watching a movie, the screen was too reflective from the sides, and appeared washed out when we viewed it head-on, with the lid pushed down. Worse, it'll pick up fingerprints just from you opening and closing the lid.

To Lenovo's credit, of course, it appears to have opted for a reflective panel for the sake of durability -- a noble cause if ever there was one. In other words, there's no evidence its design team jumped on the glossy-is-sexier bandwagon. Unfortunately, the X1's resolution is limited to 1366 x 768. It's a shame, especially since the X301 was offered with a 1440 x 900 option. The X1's pixel count will be sufficient for web surfing and word processing, but it's disapointing that the company would cut the pixels on a laptop it hopes will be sexy and versatile enough to strike a chord beyond the boardroom.

The X1's Dolby speakers are loud enough that even with the sound set to the median volume setting we often felt compelled to take it down a notch (or several). The quality ain't bad either -- especially for a laptop this small. Songs by Michael Jackson, James Brown, and Sam Cooke sounded lively and multi-faceted. Jim Morrison's vocals in "Touch Me," meanwhile, come through as forcefully as The Doors surely intended them to. In short, this isn't the overwhelming tinniness you might have resigned yourself to. Particularly because this system can withstand spills and manhandling, we'd have no qualms about trotting it out to play DJ at our next party.

Performance and graphics

Our $1,399 test unit came armed with a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2520M, integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics, Windows 7 Professional (32-bit), 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB 7,200RPM hard drive. Throughout our testing, we had no problem juggling email, web video, Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, all while downloading movies and a slew of Word documents and PDFs. Our test unit booted up in 49 seconds, which is decently fast for a Windows laptop. Indeed, the X1's score of 7,787 on PCMark Vantage, a performance benchmark, is in the same ballpark as -- if not slightly higher than -- what we've seen from other Core i5 systems we've tested recently.

The X1 has an integrated Intel HD 3000 cards, which notched 3,726 on 3DMark06. That was good enough for us to play Angry Birds at full-screen without any stuttering, though it's a lower score than we've seen from other laptops with thee same graphics card, such as the Toshiba Satellite E305, which garnered a 4,547 on the same test. Then again, we assume for anyone considering this system, gaming is not priority numero uno.



Battery Life

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 (Core i5-2410M)



3:31 / 6:57

Samsung Series 9 (Core i5-2537M)




13-inch MacBook Air (Core 2 Duo, GeForce 320M)




ThinkPad X220 (Core i5-2520M)




ASUS U36Jc (Core i5 / NVIDIA GeForce 310M)


2,048 / 3,524


Dell Vostro V13 (Core 2 Duo)




Toshiba Portege R705 (Core i3-350M)


1,739 / 3,686


Notes: the higher the score the better. For 3DMark06, the first number reflects score with GPU off, the second with it on.

Configuration options

It's important to know that while you can customize the RAM, storage, and wireless options, the processor is non-negotiable. Lenovo confirmed that US customers can only buy the X1 with that Sandy Bridge Core i5 processsor, although it'll be available in other countries with 2.1GHz Core i3-2310M and 2.7GHz Core i7-2620M CPUs. In case you're curious, the most tricked-out configuration you'll be able to buy in the states -- one with 8GB of RAM, a 160GB SSD, and Gobi broadband module -- will ring in at $1,799 without the slice battery.

Battery life and software

According to Lenovo, the X1's non-removable battery will last about 1,000 cycles, after which point it should reach 80 percent capacity. Like the rest of the hardware, it's protected by a three-year warranty. Although the company promises you can squeeze up to ten hours of battery life out of the X1's svelte body, you'll have to attach a 35.5Wh slice battery ($150) before you even think of testing that claim. As it is, the six-cell / 38.4 Wh standard battery promises a modest max of 5.2 hours.

In our battery rundown, which entails playing a movie at 65 percent brightness with WiFi on, we got three and a half hours of juice with the standard battery. That's more than an hour less than what we got out of the most recent MacBook Air on the same test, though admittedly, the Air didn't fare nearly as well in PCMark Vantage. The slice boosted the X1's longevity to seven hours, but that extra piece of hardware makes the system even thicker than a two year-old ThinkPad T400s we happen to have lying around.

That's a taxing test, of course, and not necessarily indicative of how you use your notebook. When using the X1 to surf the web, read blogs, and play Angry Birds for Chrome at full screen, we got around four and a half hours of with the six-cell battery. Still, we noticed the battery life rating in the system tray plummet as soon as we even clicked on the browser tab for Angry Birds. After ten minutes of play, the estimated amount of time we had left dropped by 40 minutes. Skype calls, too, drained the battery faster than garden-variety web surfing -- after a 45-minute call, our remaining battery life rating had sunk about 30 percent. But as soon as we switched to a less intensive activity, such as responding to emails, the battery life estimate started to tick up.

On the plus side, Lenovo wasn't kidding about the fast-charging battery. The company's RapidCharge technology promises to rebound from 0 to 80 percent in just 30 minutes. Indeed, in our test we saw the battery life shoot up to 62 percent in under 20 minutes. It's just too bad that AC adapter will be a necessity for so many people using this thing while out and about.

As you'd expect with a business machine, the X1 is nearly devoid of bloatware, though it does come with a few pre-installed programs, including Skype 4.2 for Business, Microsoft Office 2010 Starter, Norton Internet Security 2011, and Windows Live Essentials. And, as you'd expect, Lenovo bundled its ThinkVantage suite of utilities, which monitor system problems as well as metrics like power management. These programs are easy to navigate -- and not too intrusive.


As you can probably tell, we like the X1. A lot. It's as thin and durable as it is ergonomically sound, it performs briskly, and particularly thanks to those strong speakers, we can see people snapping this up even if their lives aren't scheduled around meetings and business trips. But for some people, that short battery life -- and, to a lesser extent, the glossy display -- could be heartbreaking deal-breakers. On the one hand, we'll be the first to admit that our battery test is more grueling, perhaps, than your daily routine. And the slice helps, though it piles $150 on top of the price, and gives the laptop a chunkier profile, which defeats the purpose of splurging on a notebook this slim. Despite this flaw, we found ourselves interacting with it as more than just a corporate black box, but our personal notebook. In that regard, the X1 hits its mark.