Lenovo Thinkpad X1 notebook review: Thin and flat is where it is at
Ask the people on the street about their views on business-centric machines and the answer you are most likely to receive will probably be something along the lines of how such devices are usually well-known for their uptime, robustness, and more importantly, their typically ugly-as-heck design. However, most people will also be hard-pressed to deny that the notebooks with the ugliest designs are typically the devices that end up looking the most business-like and professional.
And like most of the notebooks that have been sold under the ThinkPad branding, much of the X1's design efforts have been focused on maintaining that 'professional and business-like' image. Don't believe us? Check out the image below.
ThinkPad veterans will be fully aware of how their favourite business-grade notebook is known for shipping with a matte-finished body, and the good news is that Lenovo's new ThinkPad X1 business notebook is no exception to the rule. That being said, we could not help noticing that, unlike most of the matte-finished notebooks that we have previously reviewed, the X1's matte coating appears to be a little prone to smears and fingerprint smudges. However, if it is of any consolation, this is largely a cosmetic issue which should be of little concern to the average business user.
While Lenovo may have touted the X1 and the thinnest notebook in its ThinkPad line up, we have to admit that we were not all that impressed with what Lenovo had to show. For one, the Macbook Air, which is widely recognized by many has being the device that set the bar for ultra-thin notebooks, measures in at mere 17mm in height, while the new Sony VAIO Z notebook which we recently reviewed managed to clock an impressive (but not quite as thin) height of 19mm. With Lenovo's X1 sporting a maximum height of close to 22mm, we'd say that the X1 comes across as a concrete block when stacked up against the likes of Apple's Macbook Air and Sony's new VAIO Z.
That being said, you might have realized that the 22mm height we measured for ourselves is a far cry from the fabled 16.2mm thickness which Lenovo had been boasting about in the notebook's official launch. Technically, both figures are correct; 22mm is what the ruler will return if one measures the X1 from its thickest points (i.e. the 'actual' height), while taking the measurements from the notebook's thinnest area will net a result of 16.2mm. In other words, the X1 is only as thin as the user perceives it to be. As for us, we are just satisfied to know that the X1 has no problem squeezing into the manilla envelope we always use for our thinness tests.
Of course, with the X1 being designed to be a business notebook, it goes without saying that users are going to have certain expectations of Lenovo's new ultra-thin notebook. As far as we are concerned, the X1 gets the green light in this particular aspect, especially where features and robustness are concerned. To begin with, Lenovo has confirmed that the X1's body is crafted out of a mix of magnesium and carbon fibre. This gives the X1 a much greater deal of structural integrity as opposed to the previously-reviewed Sony VAIO Z which was assembled mostly out of carbon fibre, and is thus more suited for handling the typical dings and dongs of mobile computing. Indeed, we did not experience flexing of any sort of the X1's chassis for the duration of our review.
Expandability-wise, we did not have much to comment on the array of I/O ports that Lenovo has made available on the X1, if only because these are the kind of ports one would typically expect to come standard on just about any notebook. However, as one would expect from a ThinkPad, most of the X1's ports are located at its rear, which plays host to an Ethernet port, a USB 3.0 port, two video-out ports (HDMI and mini-DisplayPort), as well as a hybrid eSATA/USB2.0 port, along with the obligatory DC-in jack.
The X1's left houses a 3.5mm audio-out jack and an additional USB 2.0 port, both of which are well-concealed behind a protective hatch, while the right features a hardware switch for the notebook's internal WiFi card and a multimedia card reader which, interestingly, is shipped without a bundled dummy card. Also located on the right is a hatch that provides access to the X1's hard disk bay. More information on that soon.
We were baffled over Lenovo's decision to drop the ubiquitous VGA-out port in favour of digital video output interfaces such as HDMI and mini-DisplayPort. While we understand how space is a premium on ultra-thin business notebooks such as the X1, it should not be forgotten that VGA is a popular video output interface that still sees extremely heavy use in virtually all business environments. After all, when was the last time you saw people connecting their notebook to a business-grade projector in schools or offices via newfangled interfaces such as HDMI and mini-DisplayPort?
Flipping the X1 over reveals the existence of a handful of ventilation holes neatly laid out in the form of various lines adorning the notebook's back side. Also situated here at the top left corner is a slot for connecting the X1 to an external battery pack for supplementing the built-in battery with additional juice while on the move. Yes, you read that right: the X1's main battery is built into the notebook and is not accessible to users under any circumstances.
Unlike Sony's new VAIO Z notebook which makes use of proprietary hardware to achieve its ultra-thin frame, Lenovo's X1 does so with the use of standard, off-the-shelf hardware that one would typically find in most notebooks that are being sold on the market today. For example, providing the X1's internal storage space in a standard 2.5-inch solid-state drive or SSD from Intel that boasts a maximum capacity of 256GB. Doing a bit of research on the SSD's model number reveals that it is part of Intel's X25-M series of SSDs that are fabricated off the 34nm process.
While most notebooks are designed to allow user access to their hardware via the underside, the X1 does things a little differently by requiring users to pry off its keyboard in order to achieve the same goal. And considering how the keyboard is connected to the X1's motherboard by only two extremely thin ribbon cables (which are very prone to snapping if not handled carefully), we'd say that attempting to gain access to the X1's hardware is not something a weak-hearted enthusiast should attempt to do.
Providing the X1's wireless networking capabilities is a half-height Intel WiFi card with a model number of 633ANHMW. Quick research on the model number reveals that this card is part of Intel's Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 family of WiFi cards, which the chip giant claims is capable of supporting wireless connections over the 802.11 a, b, g and n bands.
However, it seems that Lenovo was forced to make certain compromises in order to successfully achieve the X1's ultrathin design, for we realized that the notebook came with only one SODIMM slot for memory as opposed to the two which most notebooks sport. This means that dual-channel support on the X1 is not possible under any means.
Fliping the lid open reveals the X1's keyboard and trackpad, as shown below. As is the case with the entire ThinkPad line of business-centric notebooks, the X1 features two pointing devices, namely the trackpad and the pointing stick that is wedged between the G, H and B keys.
Of course, this also means that users will have to deal with the swapped placements of both the 'Fn' and 'Ctrl' keys on the X1, which is a standard trait found on virtually all ThinkPads. However, it appears that Lenovo has finally moved to address complaints over the switched key placements by adding an option to the notebook's BIOS to switch the mappings at the hardware level, as shown below.
That being said, it seems that Lenovo had apparently seen it fit to introduce a new keyboard quirk immediately after fixing one, and this time, it comes in the form of the Print Screen button being mapped to what is typically the location for the context menu button.
Last but definitely not least, the X1 comes bundled with a backlit keyboard; this opught to be well-received by busy professionals who often find themselves hammering away at their notebooks in the dead of night to churn out lengthy reports.