Lenovo ThinkPad X1 (1291-23M) ultraportable laptop

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 review: A 13in semi-rugged ultraportable with a full-voltage Core i5 CPU

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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 (1291-23M)
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 (1291-23M)
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 (1291-23M)
  • Lenovo ThinkPad X1 (1291-23M)
  • Expert Rating

    3.75 / 5

Pros

  • Semi-rugged design
  • Full-voltage Intel Core i5 CPU
  • Solid state drive

Cons

  • Touchpad could be better
  • Had problems recognising SIM cards
  • Could use more premium features

Bottom Line

The ThinkPad X1 is the type of laptop that no reviewer wants to give back to the vendor. It feels solidly built and great to use, but it could be better. In particular, its touchpad needs refinement, it could use more premium features such as an ambient light sensor, and Lenovo needs to make sure that all of its features work perfectly straight out of the box -- the 3G modem in our review model didn't recognise our SIM cards.

Would you buy this?

Battery life

A sealed designed means that the ThinkPad X1 has a non-removable battery, and this is one reason why the unit is so thin and sturdy. The lithium ion battery isn't large (it has four cells and a 38.4 Watt-hour rating), and it only lasted 2hr 17min in our rundown test, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness and loop an Xvid-encoded video. That said, it's not bad for a 4-cell battery. The screen is very bright though, and turning down its brightness while using the X1 for basic Web browsing and document creation will allow you to get more than three hours out of the internal battery. An optional 6-cell, 35 Watt-hour battery slice is available; it's said to provide 10 hours of overall battery life and it costs around $150.

One thing we love about the X1 is its RapidCharge feature, which allows the battery to be recharged in a relatively short amount of time. In our tests, it took only 44min for the battery to charge to 95 per cent — it took 1hr 17min to get to 100 per cent. If you only have 30min to charge it, then it will get to around 80 per cent. Lenovo says it can withstand up to 1000 rapid charge cycles, while the optional battery is good for 300 non-rapid cycles.

A comprehensive battery utility is also supplied, which allows you to select from many pre-defined plans and also to create your own. A Battery Stretch feature is available, and this allows you to get more out of a dying battery by disabling the wireless modules, decreasing colour depth and screen idle time, and also lowering the CPU speed.

Specifications and performance

The CPU in the ThinkPad X1 is a full-voltage Second Generation Intel Core i5-2520M, which has two cores, Hyper-Threading and a frequency of 2.5GHz. Along with 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM, integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics and a 128GB, 3Gbps Intel SSD, the laptop performed very well. It recorded a time of 40sec in the Blender 3D rendering test, 46sec in the iTunes MP3 encoding test, and it turned a DVD file into a 1.5GB Xvid file in only 49min using AutoGordianKnot.

Compared to the 13in Sony VAIO SB Series, which also runs a 2.5GHz Core i5-2520M CPU and 4GB of RAM, it's faster. The extra performance can be attributed to the 3Gbps Intel SSD drive, which recorded a rate of 73.10 megabytes per second (MBps) in our transfer tests, in which we copy 2.12GB worth of 2-50MB files from one location on the drive to another. This is much faster than a 7200rpm hard drive, which averages around 30MBps in this test (see the Lenovo ThinkPad W520 as an example).

What it all boils down to is that the ThinkPad X1 can be used for serious work despite its small frame and thin chassis. It's not great at processing 3D graphics in real time (its 3DMarko6 score of 2549 can attest to this) but its integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics are still good enough for rendering high-resolution photos, and even playing simple games.

User comfort

As for usability, we're a little disappointed that the X1 doesn't come with a matte screen, but its brightness is high enough to make it comfortable to use the laptop outdoors or in a well-lit room. We only had to make slight vertical adjustments to the screen to combat reflections and they were mostly visible in photos and movies with dark scenes — they weren't a major problem when writing documents or browsing the Web. Overall it's a good screen with decent viewing angles and a native resolution of 1366x768.

Unlike most other ultraportable laptops, the ThinkPad X1 comes with both a touchpad and a TrackPoint device for navigation. The Trackpoint can be useful when you're using the notebook in your lap and don't want to move your hands too far from the keyboard, but the way it's positioned means it sometimes gets in the way while typing. The touchpad has tiny bumps on it that can take a while to get used to — we'd prefer it to be a smooth touchpad instead. Nevertheless, its responsiveness was quite good in our tests; we were able to use two-finger scrolling and pinching and three-finger flick gestures without getting frustrated.

The touchpad differs from others in the ThinkPad range in that there are no separate left- and right-click buttons. Like Samsung's Series 9 and HP's dm1, for example, the touchpad's buttons are located under the touchpad and are part of the touchpad. We're not big fans of this design as it can be a pain to perform right-click and drag functions. We also don't like the fact that the entire pad is clickable — it doesn't feel as horrible to click as the touchpad on the Gateway EC39C though.

We love the keyboard; its chicklet-style keys feel rock-solid when you press them and they possess good travel and responsiveness. The keyboard is backlit (you won't find a screen-mounted light on this ThinkPad) and two brightness settings can be selected. It's not as good as the backlight on the Samsung Series 9, but it does the job.

Conclusion

Overall, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 is a marvellous little laptop that should be at the top of your list if you're after a powerful ultraportable. We like its build quality, keyboard, performance and features; we like its quick boot-up time of only 27sec (including the time to swipe your finger to log in) and also its quick battery-charging time.

However, we think the touchpad needs a little refining and we wish the integrated 3G modem and SIM card slot worked properly straight out of the box (we're still working with Lenovo on a solution to this). We'd also like to see some more premium features such as an ambient light sensor for the screen and an automatic trigger for the keyboard backlight.

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