Lenovo ThinkPad X240 Ultrabook Review: A Philosophical Shift
User Interface, A/V Quality, Cooling
Although Lenovo specifies the X240’s spill-resistant keyboard as simply ThinkPad Precision Backlit Keyboard (the same name as the keyboard in the T440s), it’s actually quite different. It’s also not the same as the X230’s AccuType keyboard before it. The keys have a very high-quality feel to them, with the same smooth-textured finish as that of the T440s and absolutely no rattle at all. The key travel distance is only medium and the feedback is adequate, with a bit of a softer stop than we would have (subjectively) liked. Plus, the slightly-higher-than-usual actuation force means that you’ll have to type a bit harder than you might be used to on the X240, especially if you are seeking ample feedback. Still, keystrokes are quiet in all circumstances, which is a huge plus, and with a bit of practice, you’ll be typing very quickly with few errors. The keyboard is also backlit, with two levels of brightness (plus OFF) available for selection.
Above: X220 (left), X240 (right)
Overall, in comparison to the T440s’ keyboard, we’d have to proclaim the T440s the winner—simply because its size allows for greater key travel, the actuation force is lower, and the feedback is much more certain, with a discerning click that more closely matches that of the beloved classic ThinkPad keyboards. Still, in spite of all minor quibbles, the X240’s keyboard is overall great, and certainly far above that of most other Ultrabooks. It’s just not as good as the X230’s or the X220’s.
The touchpad is another story. Our impressions of it were identical to that of the T440s’ before it, probably because both pads are nearly identical: in other words, unfortunately noisy, tragically imprecise, and just overall not up to par with previous ThinkPad input devices. Each “click” involves depressing the entire pad, and the positioning of the finger on the pad determines which virtual “button” was clicked. This is perhaps a solid concept, but sadly, with each button press, the pointer’s position is affected (however slightly), which is truly annoying. Not to mention that more force is required to actuate the clicks, something which quickly becomes tiring. Other factors of the pad’s design are all positive, from the smooth finish to the luxuriously large surface area to the gesture interpretation and accuracy—but without the ability to comfortably click, odds are you’ll be reaching for an external mouse in no time.
The optional touchscreen (with which our review unit was outfitted) is a 10-point multitouch model, and—again, like the T440s’—it’s excellent. The finish is not glossy, but rather semi-glossy (although Lenovo refers to it as matte, which isn’t exactly accurate if you compare the two finishes side-by-side). This thankfully helps to diffuse some obstructive reflections in indoor environments, though outdoor usage is still a bit of a trial. It is lacking any sort of Gorilla Glass NBT protective surface material, but the finish is at least conducive to easy finger gliding and manages to avoid fingerprints to some small degree.
Although some variants of the X240 come with a standard TN HD panel installed, ours shipped with an IPS panel of the same resolution (1366x768). Originally it was reported that Lenovo would be offering a 1080p (FHD) panel option in the X240—and in fact, in some regions, this is supposedly already available—however, the more recent Lenovo Q&As have indicated that this is regrettably not the case. The display in our unit is specified to have 300 nits brightness and a 700:1 contrast ratio (versus 200 nits and 300:1 for the TN iteration), and overall, we were pleased with our subjective interpretation of its quality. It looks to have very similar performance to the one in our X220—we just wish it were a 1080p panel!
Above: X220 (left), X240 (right)
In the previous section, we briefly touched on the screen finish, which is semi-matte. In truth, like the T440s, it’s probably around halfway between matte and glossy, which is enough to make it easy to deal with indoors, but not enough to render outdoor usage (even with the bright screen) truly easy. In shade, it’s not so bad, but in sunlight, it’s difficult to manage. Moreover, the fingerprints from the use of the touchscreen obscure the view as well—something which is an issue with all touchscreen devices.
The X240’s speakers are bottom-mounted and down-firing, and oddly enough, the one on the right side of the notebook (when it’s sitting upright) is further back than the one on the left. In practice, this isn’t really noticeable, but the speakers are nonetheless disappointing. The audio is incredibly tinny and lacking bass (even more so than that of many other notebooks of its size), and the maximum volume is insufficient, even while resting on a hard surface. Distortion becomes evident above the 40/50 volume mark.
The X240’s cooling takes about as conservative an approach as the T440s, with one significant difference: the fan’s tone in the X240 is a notable whine akin to the one in the X220 and X230 before it, and that makes it more difficult to tolerate even at lower noise levels. That’s unfortunate, because on our Windows 8 machine (which lacks compatibility with the Lenovo Power Manager software that previously could be used to configure fan speed boosts for better performance), the conservative fan speed is still sort of annoying to listen to. It’s nothing we aren’t familiar with, however, as our X220 had precisely the same issues.
The rest of the story is what sort of temperatures we see from the system under load. The fan does a reasonably good job of keeping the internal components fairly cool under load—with max CPU and GPU temperatures of 77°C and 74.1°C, respectively—but the case doesn’t fare so well, as the bottom-left area in the center (underneath the exhaust vent) climbs to a pretty hot temperature while the system is under stress. It’s hot enough that the unit is uncomfortable for use on the lap, but then again, most likely it will be resting on a table if you’re doing anything truly intensive. Fortunately, the rest of the unit remains totally comfortable—especially the top of the base unit, which becomes merely warm above that same area. The palm rest is cool under all circumstances.