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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Review: Thin is In

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Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Lenovo
Tagged: X1, Thinkpad, Lenovo, Intel

Introduction and Design

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Achieving smaller, thinner profiles is a long-standing goal of laptop manufacturers, but there’s been a particular obsession with ultra-thin laptops ever since Apple introduced the MacBook Air by taking it out of a manila envelope. Since then, tablets and smartphones have only increased the appeal of thin laptops. Consumers are becoming used to the idea of their electronics tightening their waistlines, and there’s no sign that this trend will stop.

The manufacturer response to this demand has been a lackluster. Laptops like the Dell Adamo came and went, but didn’t seem to put much dent in the market. That wasn’t terribly surprising, because making a laptop thin is expensive, and the Windows laptop brands generally struggle to bring in customers for products priced over $1000. 

One of the most successful responses to the Air was arguably Lenovo’s ThinkPad X series. The X series had always been thin-and-light, but was never targeted towards the average consumer. Still, these laptops – particularly the X301, which had a display size similar to the MacBook Air – seemed reasonable competition. Then Lenovo pulled the plug on the X301, leaving a 13 inch thin-and-light shaped hole in the roster. Today’s we’re looking at the plug for that hole.

Continue on and read our full review of the Lenovo X1 notebook...

Called the X1, this ThinkPad immediately positions itself as a flagship product. It has the same ain’t-it-cool vibe as the MacBook Air, but as you’ll read in this review, it achieves that by very different methods. For now, however, let’s look at the X1’s spec sheet.

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The hardware inside the X1 isn’t much different from what you’ll find in other laptops powered by second-gen Core i5 processors, but the hardware is impressive considering the size of the chassis. The X1 is just .84 inches at its thickest point, which means it’s about .3 to .5 inches thinner than your typical ultraportable laptop.

Design

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Removing the ThinkPad X1 from its packaging feels less like unpacking a laptop and more like removing a stone slab. The X1 has the trademark ThinkPad finish that includes a sand-blown magnesium alloy lid. It feels unlike anything else on the market, as it lacks the smooth, cool texture of metal but is far more robust than plastic. It’s as if Lenovo chiseled the chassis out of a slab of granite.

The thin display immediately catches the eye. It’s about an eighth-inch thick, and perfectly flat across its entire width and height. There’s no bulges, flares or decoration besides inlaid Lenovo and ThinkPad logos. Yet, in spite of this, the display feels sturdier than most. There’s not much flex to be found either when twisting the display or pressing on the lid while closed, and it’s secured by two big, sturdy metal hinges that will remain functional long after the laptop’s electronics kick the bucket.

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As mentioned, the laptop is well under an inch thick at its thickest point, but it feels even slimmer thanks to tapered edges along the sides and the front. Although this may seem like a minor design point, it’s quite convenient. The taper makes picking up the laptop from a flat surface more natural and also makes slipping the X1 in and out of a bag easier, as there’s nothing to catch on a zipper or button.

While slim, the X1 isn’t as light as you might expect. It comes in at about three and a half pounds, which is around the same weight as thicker laptops with 12 to 13 inch display sizes. There’s a lot of hardware packed into this tiny chassis, and that includes an integrated battery. The size and weight of the X1 results in a sturdy feel, but it can also make the laptop seem unwieldy at first, as your eyes will deceive you into thinking that it’s lighter than it is.

Unlike most laptops, which place some controls and the power button along the top row of the keyboard, the X1 places those controls along the right side. This is actually a great spot for them, as it makes it possible to shift the keyboard up and increase the space available for the palmrest and touchpad. There are two unique buttons to be found here. One is a long, rectangular blue button that takes you to the ThinkVantage Toolbox, and the other is a microphone mute button, handy for when you need to scream a few expletives during a conference call without your coworkers hearing.

If there’s anything wrong with the X1’s design, I can’t find it. It looks and feels like the perfect laptop. It’s thin, but robust. Attractive, but not overwrought. Functional, but beautiful. Although I could nit-pick on the lack of a user serviceable battery, I don’t see much point, as that’s a common sacrifice in the world of laptops under one inch thick.

June 24, 2011 | 06:12 PM - Posted by SquirrelEater (not verified)

Too bad about the screen resolution. This could actually rival the MacBook Air with a better screen and a slightly lower price...

June 25, 2011 | 02:52 AM - Posted by Vinc (not verified)

rival of macbook air? i don't think so.... core2 ULV vs sandy bridge... you don't do the same things with them...

June 26, 2011 | 12:14 AM - Posted by Matt Smith

Sure you do. The fact that you can do things quicker with the Sandy Bridge doesn't exclude the many, many things you can do equally well with either.

September 18, 2011 | 07:40 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Don't be ignorant....you can't expect the same performance out of an air.

July 5, 2011 | 07:40 AM - Posted by Rich (not verified)

Aside from the processor, seems like a step down from my X301. No matte screen option, lower resolution (this really kills it for me), and a non-replaceable battery. And it's heavier? I really wanted to like this one. Looks are killer and the new keyboard with backlighting is a great idea, however, there are more steps back than forward with this new flagship IMHO. Looks like I'll be holding onto my X301 for a little bit longer.

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