Review: Lenovo ThinkPad X121e

 
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Published: October 20, 2011 11:00 PM
By Alexandre Botella / Pierre Anzil
The Lenovo X121e is an 11.6-inch ultra-portable laptop with a Core i3 processor and a matte screen. It's targeted at the pro market as the perfect companion for business trips. It therefore has to be robust and powerful, with decent battery life, which of course gives it a spec that will also interest other users.

Connectivity: the essential for everyday use

While it certainly won't be winning any prizes for style, the X121e is robust and has a nice finish. The hood is covered with a sort of rubber, anti-scratch coating.

Lenovo ThinkPad X121e review

The keyboard is pleasant to use overall. There's only one drawback as far as we're concerned: placing the function key to the right of the control key. This leads to some keying errors, at least until you get used to this atypical layout.
    
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 underneath them 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. This does take a little getting used to however.

Lenovo ThinkPad X121e reviewThe webcam (640 x 480 pixels) gives a relatively clean image. Movements aren't well rendered however and this can be annoying, during business meetings for example.

The connectivity is nothing to write home about. There are three USB 2.0 ports, a VGA out, an HDMI out, an Ethernet (RJ45) port and a headphones/mic combo as well as an SD card reader.
For everyday usage this is pretty much all you'll need, though a USB 3.0 port would have provided for faster data transfer. Note also that there's no DVD rewriter, but this of course isn't surprising on a laptop this size. If you really require one, you can connect an external one up to one of the USB ports.

This 11.6-inch ultra is quiet. In our experience, you can use it to do your word processing when you're on public transport, without burning your knees. When you push the components a bit more however, it's best to have a desk or table on which to place it because it does then expel hot air at up to 40°C.
 
Lenovo ThinkPad X121e review - heatThe X121e's temperature readings when you push the components hard
Readings taken using a Fluke Ti25 (Distrame) camera
 
 
Lenovo ThinkPad X121e review - trackpad
TrackPad and touchpad

Lenovo ThinkPad X121e review - closed Hood


Lenovo ThinkPad X121e review - connections
  VGA out, HDMI, USB 2.0 port, RJ45, headphones and mic socket
Lenovo ThinkPad X121e review - more connections
 
SD card reader, USB 2.0 port, power supply


Processor power: good performance

A low energy Intel Core i3 processor has been selected for this machine, the i3-2357M, which is lower performance than models such as the i3-2310M. According to our readings, which include 3D modelling, data archiving and full HD video encoding, it takes around 50% more time than the Core i3-2310M to complete the same tasks.

Note that it is still twice as rapid as the Intel Atom or AMD E-350 type processors that are found in netbooks and certain less powerful notebooks, so though no war machine, it does give you a certain flexibility. Office documents and everyday tasks such as Internet browsing are a walk in the park for it.

Video playback and gaming: yes and no

The X121e doesn't come with a discrete graphics card and therefore has to rely on the Intel HD 3000 chipset. While this allows it to handle HD video playback, it does limit its gaming capacity. You'll be able to do some retro gaming but otherwise you'll have to make some serious compromises in terms of your graphics options and screen definition. Even then, this won't be enough for the most demanding recent titles.

Audio: mediocre speakers

The X121e can boast pretty good audio ins/outs. Noise and crosstalk are limited and you'll be able to communicate well enough with it.

Unfortunately the same can't be said for the speakers. They saturate very rapidly and the only really viable solution for listening to music is to go for an external audio kit.

Battery life: 4h20  

You'll get 4h20 video playback time (headphones plugged in, screen at 100 cd/m², wi-fi and Bluetooth off). The Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch - which is more powerful - lasted 4h30 under the same conditions. This, along with the fact that the X121e only weighs 1.5 kg makes it an ideal travelling companion.
3/5 Lenovo ThinkPad X121e DigitalVersus 2011-10-21 00:00:00

Pros

  • Robust / Small
  • Matte panel
  • Quiet
  • Moderate temperatures
  • Processor can handle all everyday tasks easily (office documents, Internet browsing)

Cons

  • Panel has false colours and poor contrast ratio
  • Low gaming capacity
  • Speakers saturate rapidly

Conclusion

Perfect for professionals on business trips, this Lenovo ThinkPad X121e laptop is a good companion for anyone who moves around a lot or who does a lot of document work and Internet browsing. While it won't satisfy those looking for absolute performance, the X121e is a good netbook alternative.

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