Lenovo X1: A Solid, Sleek Answer to MacBook Air
The X1 13.3-inch laptop is in many ways Lenovo's response to the MacBook Air. However, the heavier, angular and much more capable X1 should be considered on its own merits for business users who want a durable, sleek and portable system.
The Lenovo business-class system has a number of ThinkPad firsts including a bright, 13.3-inch display fronted with Corning Gorilla Glass. The battery charging and management system is now equipped with Lenovo's RapidCharge technology that can get a dead battery to an 80 percent charge in 30 minutes. In my road tests, using the optional feather-light wedge battery, I was able to fly from San Francisco to Atlanta (approximately seven hours, outlet-to-outlet) with no break in the action. I was browsing email, writing notes and accessing an external hard drive. The power scheme was set for "balanced" with the screen dimming after 5 minutes and the system sleeping after 30 minutes of inactivity.
Although the X1 isn't as svelte as a MacBook Air, it has many more important characteristics for enterprise users. My test system came equipped with a second-generation cool-running Intel Core i5 processor. (The X1 can use the i7, but the MacBook Air maxes out with an Intel Core Duo.)
The X1 also features 4GB of DDR3 (double data rate type 3) RAM. (The X1 can hold a maximum of 8GB, while the Air maxes out at 4GB.) In pretty much every category of compute, storage capacity and all around capability, the X1 has more of everything.
Moving away from a somewhat apples-to-oranges comparison of the X1 and MacBook Air hardware, I subjected the device to benchmarks and usage tests at eWEEK Labs to judge its suitability for business use.
Speaking of business use, longtime ThinkPad users should brace themselves. Lenovo is experimenting with style. And the results of this experimentation introduced a couple of concerns. Until now, the design of the iconic ThinkPad put engineering and performance before frippery and bangles. In the X1, the engineering and performance are still there, but are now locked in a fight with an angled chassis that forced covers onto some of the ports and hid the speakers under the upper edge of the keyboard deck.
Fortunately, most of the ports are on the back of the X1. The traditional top-hinge design means that these ports are easily accessible even with the display open. All told, there are three USB ports (one USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0), a Mini Display port, an RJ45 network jack, an external Serial ATA port (a combo port that doubles as one of the USB 2.0 ports that can also supply power to the peripheral device), and a four-in-one card reader.
In another first-and a bow to fashion-the X1 uses island-style keys in place of the classic, chamfered key caps found in ThinkPads up until now. The new keyboard provided easy typing action, and didn't detract from the overall fit and finish of the X1.
I didn't notice any hesitancy while using the X1 for business applications-and some non-business applications, including watching on-demand Netflix content in my hotel. However, the X1 turned in unimpressive average scores from Passmark Software's Passmark Performance Test (1212) and Primate Labs Geekbench (5231.) Both these benchmarks were run on the system directly after the X1 was unboxed. The only change I made to the configuration was to set the Windows 7 power option to "high performance." All tests were run while the X1 was plugged in to wall power.
Trying to Be Small
Angles and wedges are used to give the X1 the appearance of being small. Thus, while it is true, as Lenovo often states, that the X1 is a mere 16.5 mm thick, that is only at the edge closest to the user. The rear of the unit is almost an inch thick, and it is that thick when rubber feet are included in the measure. The optional wedge battery adds about another half inch. In the more important "airport-handling test" the X1 passed with flying colors. The exterior matte-black chassis is easy to grip while also being slim enough to easily slip in and out of my carry-on for security inspection.
The trackpad has gained a left- and right-click action and lost the bottom row mouse-click buttons to retain a large track area inside the 13.3-inch by 9.1-inch by 0.84-inch dimensions of the X1. These buttons are still present at the top of the trackpad.
Because the screen is edge-to-edge glass, there is no top bezel. This means that the ThinkLight has been replaced with another ThinkPad first, a backlight in the six-row keyboard itself. This is a big improvement as hands on the keyboard easily blocked the ThinkLight.
In pre-launch briefings, it was common to see Lenovo product managers standing on top of a closed X1 to demonstrate its solid construction. I did not attempt this flashy trick, but based on my day-to-day use, I can say that the Gorilla Glass display combined with the roll-cage chassis design likely means that while style has invaded some aspects of Lenovo design, the X1 has all the hallmarks of being able to live up to the rugged life of a business system.
Editor's Note: This story was corrected. The MacBook Air can be configured with a maximum of 4GB RAM, not 2GB as was originally stated.