Exquisitely thin and light notebooks are all the rage, and though the 2008 MacBook Air wasn't the first by a mile (Lenovo's own ThinkPad X300 came out around the same time), it set the standard for fashionable, razor thin laptops. Lenovo has once again put their unique ThinkPad spin on the trend, and the result is a powerhouse portable with rugged ThinkPad good looks. It's not silver or curvy (look to Lenovo's own IdeaPad U260 for an ultraportable that makes a fashion statement), it comes only in the usual soft touch ThinkPad matte black, but it has more brains than any other 13.3" super-thin notebook on the market. It's also ThinkPad durable with an internal rollcage and Mil Spec certification for 8 tests. And if you're a ThinkPad person, you'll think the X1 is simply gorgeous. Better yet, it improves on the X300 and X301 in three key areas: price, horsepower and thinness.
Though it doesn't strike us as impossibly thin as early release images led us to believe, it's plenty skinny enough at 0.63 inches at its thinnest point, and very light at 3.73 pounds. The 13.3" ultraportable doesn't skimp on power: our review unit shipped with a second gen Intel Core i5 2520M clocked at 2.5GHz. You can get the machine with a 2.1GHz Core i3 or a mouth-watering 2.7GHz Intel Core i7. Our machine, with the Core i5, 320 gig HDD, Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205 WiFi, Bluetooth 3.0, webcam, fingerprint reader, Windows 7 Professional 64 bit, 4 gigs of RAM and a 3 year warranty sells for $1,399.
The X1 starts at $1,349 putting it in the same price range as the MacBook Air and Samsung Series 9, but it obviously offers much more horsepower since it doesn't rely on ultramobile CPUs. Intel HD 3000 graphics handle video playback, Photoshop and even some 3D gaming nicely, and you can check out our gaming video below to check it out.
The 0.65-0.84 inch thick notebook's battery is sealed inside, and Lenovo claims 5 hours on a charge, which seems mildly optimistic (we've been getting 4 hours with brightness set to 2/3 of max and WiFi on). We also have the optional $149 battery wedge that doubles battery life and weighs only 13 ounces. That means up to 10 hours of unplugged time with a weight around 4.5 pounds. Lenovo incorporated new charging technology into the X1 that allows it to charge up to 80% in the first hour-- sweet.
Why buy this instead of the also impressive 12.5" Lenovo ThinkPad X220? The 13.3", 1366 x 768 display is a bit larger and easier on the eyes for those of you who hate tiny text, and the keyboard is simply the best I've ever used (and that includes a lot of ThinkPads). The sculpted keys, spacing and tactile feel are perfect and should work well for those of you with larger hands. If 13" is your sweet spot, the X1 is currently your only ThinkPad option.
As you'd expect from a ThinkPad, the machine is tough despite its slim design and light weight. It has the usual rollcage design, liberal use of metal and the display is covered edge-to-edge with Corning Gorilla Glass. The display doesn't top the X220 with the IPS option, but at 350 nits brightness we like it, though the Gorilla Glass introduces some glare. The display panel has relatively little flex and no light pooling of the display when the panel is pressed from behind.
The internal rollcage.
Deals and Shopping:
The ThinkPad X1 has:
Second gen Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 CPU options (2.1 GHz i3-2310M, 2.5 GHz Core i5-2520M, 2.7 GHz Core i7-2620)
HDMI 1.4a and a Mini DisplayPort
Gigabit Ethernet, WiFi 802.11n (various Intel Centrino options will be available)
Optional Bluetooth 3.0
Low light web cam with dual array mic
Stereo speakers (loud!) with Dolby Home Theater v4
SD/MMC card slot
1 USB 3.0 port
1 eSata/USB 2.0 powered combo port
No internal optical drive
250 and 320 gig 7200RPM drive options, or 128 gig SSD or 160 gig Intel SSD
Gobi WWAN and Ericsson WWAN options for 3G, WiMAX option
Fingerprint reader is standard
Here's our Lenovo ThinkPad X1 video review:
Design and Ergonomics
The X1 is every bit a ThinkPad: it's angular, has Lenovo's signature matte soft touch finish that resists scratching and fingerprints, and it's built like a tank. Typical of recent ThinkPads, the X1 has both a Trackpoint embedded in the keyboard and a buttonless trackpad. The trackpad works fairly well (buttonless designs are sometimes troublesome) and you've got left and right mouse buttons and a nice tactile click when you press down on the trackpad.
The keyboard really steals the show: it's not just spill-resistant with drain holes on the underside, it's backlit with 2 stage backlighting that you'll activate using the Fn + spacebar keys (say goodbye to the ThinkLight). The key spacing feels perfect and the classic keystroke and force are here. The keys are sculpted and the overall design is clearly influenced by Lenovo's recent IdeaPad notebooks. The backspace, enter, tab and shift keys are oversized, and Lenovo squeezes small Page Up and Page Down buttons in just above the left and right arrow keys.
The notebook's volume, speaker mute and mic mute keys are conveniently located on the keyboard deck and most ports are at the rear. These are: Ethernet RJ45, a SIM card slot (for optional WWAN), a USB 3.0 port, HDMI port, mini Display Port, combined eSata/USB 2.0 and the power jack. An additional USB 2.0 port and 3.5mm combo headphone/mic jack live under a rubber door on the left side. The laptop has a sleep indicator LED at the right rear corner of the lid and an illuminated power button on the keyboard deck. The wireless on/off hardware switch and SD/MMC card reader are located on the right side.
To access the hard drive, you'll remove a door on the left side that's secured with a small Phillips head screw. To access the single RAM slot and wireless cards, you'll unscrew two small Phillips head screws (labeled) on the bottom and remove the keyboard.
Though Lenovo eschews curves in their ThinkPad line, they don't avoid interesting angles: the front and side edges don't taper in a curvy MacBook Air fashion but rather fall away in a bevel. This looks cool and it's certainly different from other notebooks, though the very thin and hard front corners can be a pain point if the notebook slides forward in your lap.
Heat and Noise
The ThinkPad X1 has a single large vent on the left side near the back, and lines of vent holes on the bottom. Extremely thin machines made with metals tend to transfer heat and get very hot to the touch, but the X1 stays relatively cool when doing typical business tasks. The fan is audible and on most of the time (whether plugged in or unplugged), but it's not screamingly loud thanks to Lenovo's "Owl" design cooling fan blades that reduce air turbulence. That said, this is a machine with a full mobile Intel Core CPU rather than a ULV CPU, and it requires some cooling, so the fan will rarely be off. When we played very demanding 3D games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, the laptop blew extremely hot air out the main vent (110 F) and the hotspot on the bottom reached an uncomfortably hot 103 F. To be fair, COD was more than the X1 could handle and it struggled to maintain 20fps, while Left 4Dead 2 played fine and didn't heat up the machine to seriously uncomfortable levels. When using the X1 for Photoshop CS5, MS Office and web browsing, temperatures remained lap-safe.
Keyboard removed for RAM and wireless upgrades.
Horsepower, Performance and Gaming
The ThinkPad X1's full mobile second generation Intel Core CPUs set it apart from the generally less powerful ultramobile crowd. Rather than going with ULV (ultra low voltage) CPUs, Lenovo offers the machine with up to a 2.7 GHz Intel Core i7 2620M CPU with Intel HD 3000 graphics. That's quite a powerful machine by any notebook standard except gaming rigs with serious dedicated graphics. It can handle Photoshop and large RAW files, coding, database work and anything else you care to throw at it. Just don't expect it to play CRYSIS or Mass Effect 2. The X1 had no trouble with Left 4 Dead 2 at native resolution and it can play less demanding 3D games well.
Here's our 3D gaming video where we test the X1 playing Left 4 Dead 2 (it did well) and Modern Warfare 2 (it was just playable).
There's no internal optical drive, and our machine shipped with a 320 gig 7200RPM conventional hard drive. You can also order the laptop with a 128 gig SSD or Intel's 160 gig SSD. The ThinkPad has a single DDR3 SODIMM RAM slot, and ours came with a 4 gig module. The motherboard can address up to 8 gigs of RAM, though 8 gig modules are very expensive and hard to find.
PCMark: 7367 PCMarks
TV and Movies: 4282
Lenovo loves Display Ports, and the X1 has a mini DisplayPort that can drive up to 2560 x 1600 resolution. We hooked it up to our 30" Apple HD Cinema display and it worked fine with good image quality (though contrast was a bit high by default). When driving that high a resolution, we had to disable the internal display or the ThinkPad would drop down the resolution on the monitor. The notebook has an HDMI 1.4a port but no legacy VGA port.
The internal panel is bright and colorful, and Lenovo states that it has 350 nits brightness. Indeed, we found ourselves turning down the brightness in most environments. It's covered from bezel edge to edge with Gorilla Glass, and that introduces some glare though it's not nearly as mirror-like as consumer notebooks with gloss displays. I'm not a fan of gloss displays, but the X1's didn't bother me.
This ThinkPad has a fun side, and the HDMI port works well for streaming the latest Hulu or Netflix content to an HD TV. The built-in stereo speakers are incredibly loud, and sound quality is relatively full for notebook speakers. With no internal DVD drive, you won't be watching DVDs on the road, but you can load iTunes shows and other subscription/downloadable content as well as your own videos for entertainment on the road.
If you're in the market for an ultraportable with full-size laptop performance, it's hard to beat the Lenovo ThinkPad X1. If you're a ThinkPad person, to see the X1 is to lust for the X1. It's large enough to offer a readable display, a decent sized trackpad and an excellent keyboard, yet it's impressively thin and light. The build quality is superb, and this ThinkPad should prove as durable as its brethren. The display might have literally been the weak point, but Corning Gorilla Glass saves the day. Honestly, for serious performance and rugged build quality, the ThinkPad seriously outperforms the MacBook Air and Samsung Series 9. It's only real competition at the moment is Lenovo's own ThinkPad X220, for those who don't mind going a little smaller. The X220 offers even better battery life and is even more portable.