Keyboard: Typist Heaven and Backlight Too
The machine features a revised island style keyboard that's moving toward Lenovo's ThinkPad Edge Chiclet design, and we love it. It turns me into a typing wizard--it's just that good. Nice key travel, good key shape and separation and oversized keys where you expect them. You can order it with two stage keyboard backlighting and the ThinkLight is there too. The white backlight illuminates the key edges in a diffuse manner. It gets the job done though it's not as sharp looking as the Dell XPS 13's backlight. The ThinkLight as ever will be your best friend on the airplane thanks to plenty of illumination from the single white LED that shines down from the display bezel's top edge.
I know some of you are ThinkPad purists and will mourn the change in key surface texture and the loss of the seventh row, but give this one a try; you just might grow to love it. The page up and down keys are now located in the arrow key cluster (a logical location) and some keys that haven't been terribly popular since the DOS days are gone (SysReq, anyone?).
The trackpad is Lenovo's usual ThinkPad TrackPoint ( eraser stick pointer embedded in the keyboard) and a "ClickPad" (trackpad). The trackpad is smaller than we'd like, and there's no room for a larger one given the short wrist rest area and mouse buttons above the trackpad for the pointer. It is however responsive and stable with no unexpected cursor jumps. Two finger scrolling works well, though space is a bit tight for multi-finger gestures. The trackpad surface lacks texture and feels fairly slick which isn't so great, though to be fair it works well enough.
Display with IPS Option
The display resolution is 1366 x 768. That might bum out you eagle eyed folks, but at 12.5", it's the ideal resolution for those of us with average eyes. Our review unit shipped with the IPS 300 nit matte display, and this is a must have option. Fortunately, it usually doesn't add much to the price, and it's one of those features that sets the Lenovo apart from the small-screen competition. It's simply exquisite. Colors are good, there's nearly no glare and contrast is pleasing. Editing images in Photoshop is a pleasure thanks to the decent color calibration and movies look great. The speakers are quite loud for a machine this small, but they're not wildly full despite the Dolby Advanced Audio. The display opens beyond 180 degrees; great news for those of you who like to kick back in bed with your laptop propped on bent knees.
Ivy Bridge Performance
As you've probably read, the big improvement with Ivy Bridge lays in its HD 4000 integrated graphics that simply blows away the second gen's HD 3000 graphics and even trounces lower end dedicated graphics. The Lenovo ThinkPad X230 is the perfect notebook for this tech because it relies solely on integrated graphics. If we were talking about performance machines like the HP Envy 15 with serious dedicated graphics, we'd be less excited since we rarely use integrated graphics on that class of machine. But when we leave behind our gaming Envy and want a little entertainment on the road, the ThinkPad X230 makes it possible. Yes, we got mid-30's FPS at native 1366 x 768 resolution in Skyrim! And we played Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3 at native resolution on low settings at 35-50 FPS. That's impressive.
For those of you who are more practically minded, that means more contribution from the GPU when using Adobe Photoshop, and plenty of processing power for development work and video editing (go with the Core i7 for 1080p video editing). While processor scores aren't seriously improved, 3DMark Vantage scores were twice as fast on the X230 with an Intel Core i5 vs. the X220 running on Sandy Bridge. The X230 scored 500 points faster than the X220 in PCMark Vantage.
Our review unit runs on the 2.6GHz Intel Core i5-3320M. It has 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM and a 320 gig 7200RPM hard drive (Lenovo's base drive). That's a decently fast drive, but with an SSD drive this thing would really scream and benchmark numbers for PCMark Vantage would no doubt be a few thousand points higher.
3D Mark Vantage: 3209 (GPU 2607, CPU 10,423) on Performance test preset
PCMark Vantage: 8152
TV and Movies: 4751
* Both 3DMark and PCMark were run on the Energy Saver power setting, which is Lenovo's Balanced mode, and the notebook was plugged in.
Windows Experience Index:
Graphics (for Aero): 5.1
Gaming Graphics: 6.3
There are three battery options: the 6 cell, 4 cell and 9 cell. There's also a 6 cell sheet battery for extremely long battery life. Ivy Bridge, based on a 22 nanometer process (the smaller the CPU the cooler and more power frugal) saves battery life too. Our unit with the 6 cell battery averaged 6.5-7 hour runtimes with brightness set to 11 (approx. 66%) and WiFi active in a mix of business uses. The machine charges extremely quickly: we plugged it in with a 45% charge and it reached 96% in 30 minutes!
Last year, the ThinkPad X220 won our Editor's Choice award, and it passes the crown on to the new ThinkPad X230. Yes, there are thinner and sexier looking ultraportables, but none pack the processing power, IPS display and that unbeatable keyboard. Certainly at a starting price just under $1,200 this is an extremely fast machine with excellent battery life and superb portability. If you're a road warrior who wants to travel light but you need a full mobile third gen Intel Core CPU and refreshingly strong integrated graphics, the Lenovo ThinkPad X230 is still the one to beat.
Price: $1,179 starting price, $1,249 for our configuration
Web Site: www.lenovo.com