Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet (2017) review: Competition pushes this competent tablet down

Though the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet (2017) is competent, competitors like the Samsung Galaxy Book are pushing past it.

Credit: Mark Hachman / IDG

As for the ThinkPad Pen Pro itself ($35 if sold separately), it provides 2,048 levels of pressure. Though there’s no “eraser” as on Microsoft’s Surface Pens, the Pen Pro contains both a left- and a right-click button that can be configured as you choose. It's powered by a AAAA battery, standard for tablet pens. Drawing with it was issue-free, also standard. 

Although you’re probably not buying the X1 Tablet for features like its audio capabilities, it’s worth noting that its speakers sound quite flat. Oddly enough,the Dolby Audio technology Lenovo included makes for a pleasurable listening experience when headphones or earbuds are plugged in. 

Lenovo X1 tablet 2017 Mark Hachman / IDG

The fingerprint sensor on the X1 Tablet recognized my finger without fail.

The two cameras on the new X1 work well, providing HDR and digital zoom. They’re a bit slow to focus, however—typical of tablets—and photos are a bit washed out. Neither camera is Windows Hello capable, but the fingerprint reader to the right of the tablet worked flawlessly as a Windows Hello authentication device.

Though Lenovo doesn’t emphasize the tablet’s modularity, the new X1 still supports “feature expansion,” the add-on modules that differentiated the first-gen X1 Tablet. The first X1 could be expanded via a $150 Productivity module, $300 pico-projector Presenter module, and a $220 3D Imaging module. Now just the first two modules exist. (We previously reviewed those modules, and their performance should remain relatively unchanged with the second-gen X1 Tablet.)

Lenovo X1 tablet 2017 Mark Hachman / IDG

A small spacer clips off of the X1 Tablet, allowing an expansion module (not shown) to be installed. Don’t lose that spacer!

Each of the modules snaps in between the tablet and the keyboard, though you’ll have to remove, set aside (and not lose), a small plastic cover that will cost you $30 if you misplace it. Obviously, buy the module that suits your needs. I prefer the cheapest, Productivity module “barrel battery,” which can add up to five hours of battery life, a bonus that can serve you well just about anywhere. 

Performance: Rather basic

Reviewers tend to put a somewhat outsized emphasis on benchmarks, if only because they’re one of the only metrics available to assess performance. For a device like the X1 Tablet, just one benchmark matters: the PCMark Work benchmark, which measures basic office tasks. For such chores—think Microsoft Office, Google Docs, or just basic web surfing—the second-gen X1 Tablet's anemic i5 chip suffices. Remember, a browser like Chrome or Microsoft Edge can eat up system resources like any other app, but system memory—not processing power—is more important here.

Of course, any tablet will be helped immensely by 8GB of memory, a decent SSD, and a competent processor. Lenovo skimped a bit on the latter, but it’s not a deal-breaker. Processors have advanced far enough that the second-gen X1 Tablet can even provide some light gaming on the road, provided you pick and choose your application.

We compared Lenovo's  X1 Tablet (2017) against many other two-in-one tablets, as well as some notebooks. We’ve also included processor speeds and display resolutions, where applicable, so you can better assess competing options.

Again, the most important benchmark is PCMark Work, which measures performance across a range of office tasks. 

Lenovo X1 tablet 2nd generation pcmark work IDG

We’ve also included the PC Home and Creative benchmarks, which stress the tablet through image manipulation and light gaming. The numbers say the second-generation X1 is simply middle-of-the-road—and that’s compared to older tablets, such as the Surface Pro 4 and Surface 3.

Lenovo X1 tablet 2nd generation pcmark home IDG
Lenovo X1 tablet 2nd generation pcmark creative IDG
Lenovo X1 tablet 2nd generation pcmark creative IDG

We also test the tablet’s ability to render a scene using the Cinebench benchmark by Maxon, which asks each core of the processor to render part of an image. It’s based on Cinema 3D, a 3D content-creation tool. While it’s completely unrealistic to expect the X1 Tablet (2017) to render a complex 3D scene for movie work, we can use it to reveal how powerful the tablet is compared to its competition. It’s a popular benchmark for even high-end CPUs. Again, Lenovo’s second-gen X1 Tablet is decidedly mediocre.

Lenovo X1 tablet 2nd generation cinebench IDG

The Handbrake test, using the open-source tool of the same name, measures how well the tablet’s processor transcodes a top-tier movie title into a file format that can be viewed on a tablet. Again, the X1’s performance falls well below its immediate competition, and into the range of older tablets. 

Lenovo X1 tablet 2nd generation handbrake IDG

Gaming is a factor, though to a lesser degree. As a measure of potential gameplay, the 3DMark benchmark reveals that you won’t be able to play much after a long day of PowerPoint presentations. Take heart, though—solid, non-intensive PC games like TerrariaOxenfree, and Microsoft’s own Minecraft are quite playable, and even older first-person shooters like Saints Row 4 are (barely) playable at their lowest settings. 

Lenovo X1 tablet 2nd generation 3dmark sky diver IDG

Finally, there’s battery life. PCWorld measures this by setting the display’s light output to a precise level (verified with a light meter), then looping a 4K video until the battery expires. In terms of its overall rankings, Lenovo’s new X1 Tablet and its 36.4 watt-hour battery performed better here than in other benchmarks. At 8 hours, 2 minutes, that’s barely a typical workday, but most of a long plane flight. Nevertheless, you have many other options if this is a major consideration in your two-in-one purchase.

Lenovo X1 tablet 2nd generation battery life IDG

Conclusion: Consider the competition 

As the charts above demonstrate, the Lenovo X1 Tablet (2017) is an average two-in-one tablet, ranking somewhat beneath its competition in terms of performance and battery life. Still, while the performance is somewhat limiting, you’ll probably be pleased with the overall quality.

Nevertheless, competing tablets like the older Surface Pro 4 and Samsung Galaxy Book offer a compelling combination of features at a more affordable price—even given the Galaxy Book's 4GB of memory. Keep an eye on the Lenovo X1 Tablet, though; the design is mostly right, and Lenovo just needs to twiddle the knobs of performance, price, and battery life to nail it. 

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Mark Hachman

PC World (US online)
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