Review: Lenovo ThinkPad X1

 
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Published: December 9, 2011 10:28 AM
By Alexandre Botella / Pierre Anzil / Guillaume Letoupin
Translated by: Jack Sims
The ultrabook phenomenon hasn’t yet done for conventional ultraportables completely. The X1 from Lenovo is a 13.3-inch with an Intel Core i5 processor. With the U260 Lenovo showed us that it was able to do compact and high performance. Let’s see if it has managed to add a little extra battery life.

Hardware: rich, well distributed connectivity

With a matte black magnesium chassis, the X1 won’t scratch easily. It’s a sober looking machine – some may even find it a bit austere compared to some of the other 13.3-inch models recently tested, such as the UX31E. In any case, the various components are well fitted together: there’s no play or give in the chassis, which is all the credit of the X1.

X1 clavier

Like the chassis, the backlit keyboard looks a bit raw but is perfectly satisfying to use. Keying is supple, quiet – with the exception of the space bar which makes a bit more noise than the other keys – and the keys are all a decent size. Perfect for word-processing. Volume control and micro buttons are also included on the right in place of the combination of buttons you find with the competition, which is very practical.

The touchpad is entirely clickable and has a crenellated coating which doesn’t spoil the glide. Contrary to appearances, the touchpad buttons aren’t placed at the top but underneath. Two red lines draw your attention to this positioning. The large click buttons are in fact for use with the red trackpad placed in the middle of the keyboard. This allows you to keep your hands on the keyboard while you’re moving the cursor around, though it does take a little getting used to.

X1 webcamThe 720p webcam offers detailed rendering of the images it records, even in less bright environments. The rendering of movements could be improved but is still better than 90% of models used for laptops.

Although a little too thick to qualify as an ‘ultrabook’ (a maximum of 2 cm according to Intel’s criteria), this laptop remains very slim (2.31 cm). To limit its girth without sacrificing connectivity, Lenovo has placed the connectors along both the sides of the X1 and at the back.

At the back, you’ll find a combo USB 2.0/eSATA port, a USB 3.0 port, an RJ45 (Ethernet) port, a mini-DisplayPort out, an HDMI out and a power supply socket. On the right hand side, under a cover, there’s a USB 2.0 port and a mini-jack headphones/mic combo. Finally, on the left, there’s an SD card reader. The only accessory lacking is a DVD rewriter, though this is no longer really an issue.

The X1 also has a slot at the back allowing you to insert a SIM card and this allows you to connect via 3G (depending on your package) when wi-fi isn’t accessible.

Perfectly quiet and cool on start-up, the X1 gets louder when you push the components harder (heavy applications, gaming and so on) though it won’t wake the neighbours and won't be noticeable in a room where there's a bit of background noise.
In terms of temperature management, it does better than the Macbook Air 13.3-inch, but a lot worse than the UX31E. This won’t put the X1 at risk, but with hot air coming out onto your knees at 45°C, you won’t want to use it on your lap for too long.
  
X1 temperatureThe X1’s temperature readings when you push the components hard.
Readings taken with a Fluke Ti25 camera

 

x121e
RJ45 port, SIM card slot, USB 3.0 port, HDMI out, mini DisplayPort out, eSATA/USB 2.0 combo and power supply socket

 
x121eTrackpad





Asus ux31e connectique côté droit
  Wi-fi antenna switch, SD card reader
Asus ux31e connectique côté gauche
USB 2.0 port, headphones/mic combo.


Processor: good general performance

The X1’s Intel Core i5-2420M is very slightly more powerful than the one tested on the U36SD (Intel Core i5-2410M) but they give more or less exactly the same performance (2% faster on the X1 for the same tasks). This makes the X1 an all-round machine, with office document processing and Internet browsing a walk in the park and more demanding applications (video encoding, 3D modelling, decompression) handled efficiently in reasonable processing times.

The start-up time, without an SSD (available as an option), isn't the fastest, with the X1 taking 1 minute 10 seconds, while some models take under 30 seconds. It only takes 10 seconds to turn it off however.

Gaming: undemanding titles advised

As there are no discrete graphics here, this ultrabook has to make do with the capacities of its integrated chipset and while it’s perfect for decoding HD videos, it’s a lot less impressive with games. Old, undemanding titles (Left for Dead), or major concessions in terms of graphics options and screen resolution are the only way forward with the X1.

Audio: speakers lack power

In spite of some Crosstalk, which however is almost inaudible, the headphones/mic mini jack combo gives good quality audio (decent dynamics). Indeed, we advise you to use headphones rather than the on-board speakers, which don’t give enough volume.

Battery life and portability: very disappointing

Our test of the X1’s battery life left a bad taste in the mouth. At 2h15 video playback (screen at 100 cd/m², headphones plugged in, wi-fi and keyboard backlighting off), this machine is far from the ideal travelling companion. This is a shame as, with its weight (1.69 Kg) and size (33.7 x 21.3 x 2.13 cm), it slips into a bag very nicely. It is however too dependent on electric plugs and its charger is far from compact.
3/5 Lenovo ThinkPad X1 DigitalVersus 2011-12-09 11:28:00

Pros

  • Good CPU performance
  • Robust / Small
  • Separate volume control buttons

Cons

  • No disc player
  • Panel with very low contrast (173:1) and inaccurate colours
  • Low gaming capacity
  • Low battery life (2h15)
  • On-board speakers lack power

Conclusion

With battery life of 2h15, the X1 may be powerful and well-equipped but we aren’t able to give it more than a three-star rating. The Asus U36SD seems a better choice to us, especially as it costs almost half as much as the X1 (remember, price isn't included in our rating criteria).

OUR SCORE 3/5
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