Len­ovo Thinkpad X1 Tablet re­view: as good as Sur­face Pro but with USB-C

The Guardian Australia - - Science / Technology - Sa­muel Gibbs

Len­ovo’s third-gen­er­a­tion ThinkPad X1 Tablet aims to be a no-com­pro­mise Win­dows 10 de­tach­able that gives users what Mi­crosoft’s Sur­face won’t: USB-C and Thun­der­bolt 3.

The form fac­tor is fa­mil­iar. The ac­tual com­puter is squeezed into an 8.9mm thick tablet with a kick­stand out the back and a mag­net­i­cally at­tached key­board that sits up on an an­gle for bet­ter typ­ing.

But here Len­ovo de­parts from the win­ning min­i­mal­ist Sur­face 2-in-1 for­mula, bring­ing ThinkPad sta­ples such as a point­ing nip­ple, track­pad but­tons, bucket-shaped key­board keys and op­tional road-war­rior ap­peal­ing 4G.

That’s not to say this is a pure work­horse, but the matt-black paint job, an­cient-look­ing ThinkPad logo and red high­lights cer­tainly give the im­pres­sion this ma­chine is about get­ting stuff done.

The 13in screen is big­ger than you’ll find on the Sur­face Pro and the Eve V, and that makes it eas­ier to use solo as a lap­top. The screen it­self is pin­sharp, colour­ful and just about bright enough to use out­doors. Movies look great on it, with good view­ing an­gles, and while the bezels around the out­side are quite large, they ac­com­mo­date two front-fac­ing speak­ers, a fin­ger­print scan­ner and a Win­dows Hello-en­abled IR face recog­ni­tion sys­tem.

On the back is a solid-feel­ing kick­stand with a wide an­gle of mo­tion, which is just as good as that on the back of the Sur­face Pro, and per­fect for get­ting the right an­gle on your lap or desk.

The front-fac­ing speak­ers are per­haps a weak point for us­ing the X1 Tablet as a me­dia ma­chine, be­cause al­though they are rel­a­tively clear and dis­tor­tion-free, they’re also not very loud and lack any sort of bass. They’ll be fine if you’re hand-hold­ing the ma­chine to watch a TV show, but watch­ing some­thing while cook­ing and hear­ing what’s go­ing on over an ex­trac­tor fan is a no-go.

The X1 Tablet is de­signed to be more durable than most. The screen is cov­ered in a sheet of Go­rilla Glass, like most of the com­pe­ti­tion, but the ThinkPad line has a his­tory of go­ing the ex­tra mile in test­ing against hu­mid­ity, vi­bra­tion and me­chan­i­cal shock, mean­ing it should cope with the ev­ery­day jolts and jos­tles of com­mut­ing.

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions Screen: 13in QHD+ LCD

Pro­ces­sor: In­tel quad-core Core i5 or i7 (8th gen­er­a­tion)

RAM: 8 or 16GB

Stor­age: 256, 512GB or 1TB SSD Op­er­at­ing sys­tem: Win­dows 10 Home or Pro

Cam­era: 8MP rear, 2MP front-fac­ing Con­nec­tiv­ity: Wifi ac, Blue­tooth 4.1, 2x Thun­der­bolt 3 (USB-C), head­phones, TPM, mi­croSD, face recog­ni­tion, fin­ger­print scan­ner, op­tional nano sim and NFC

Di­men­sions: 304.1 x 226 x 8.9mm (15.1mm with key­board)

Weight: 890g (1,270g with key­board) High-end ul­tra­portable per­for­mance

The X se­ries is Len­ovo’s top-end ThinkPad line, which means the X1 Tablet comes with all the power you’re likely to want.

That in­cludes your choice of the lat­est eighth-gen­er­a­tion quad-core In­tel i5 or i7 pro­ces­sor, 8 or 16GB of RAM and plenty of stor­age.

The ma­chine as tested had a In­tel Core i7-8550U pro­ces­sor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of stor­age and 4G, and ab­so­lutely flew through ev­ery­thing I threw at it.

While the in­te­grated In­tel UHD 620 graph­ics card may be the weak­est point of the X1 Tablet, the ma­chine man­aged to han­dle some enor­mous 23,000-pixel wide im­ages with­out break­ing too much of a sweat.

The fans in the tablet fire up more of­ten than some com­peti­tors, but they also don’t get par­tic­u­larly loud un­less you’re do­ing some­thing very pro­ces­sor­in­ten­sive. Most of the time they’re in­audi­ble in an of­fice en­vi­ron­ment.

Over­all per­for­mance is ex­cel­lent, match­ing that of a high-end ul­tra­portable ma­chine, but don’t ex­pect to do hard­core gam­ing on it – I didn’t try it with an ex­ter­nal graph­ics card. Seven-hour bat­tery

One of the things that’s sacri­ficed in most PC tablets is bat­tery life. Len­ovo quotes “more-than-all-day” bat­tery life of nine-and-a-half hours, but the re­al­ity is the ThinkPad X1 Tablet lasts only around seven hours be­tween charges. That was with the “Bet­ter bat­tery life” power set­ting ac­tive, word pro­cess­ing in Ty­pora, brows­ing in Chrome, us­ing Nextgen reader, some im­age edit­ing in Affin­ity Photo and lots of email in Mi­crosoft Mail.

It’s enough to get through most of a day’s work, but isn’t enough to leave the charger at home on in­ten­sive days. Thank­fully as it uses USB Power De­liv­ery to charge, any USB-C charger with suf­fi­cient wattage should work such as those shipped with other lap­tops or even multi-charg­ers putting out 30W or more.

Thun­der­bolt 3 ports

The X1 Tablet comes with just two Thun­der­bolt 3 ports that dou­ble as USB-C ports. Hav­ing Thun­der­bolt 3 is a huge boon as the ex­pan­sion ca­pa­bil­i­ties are end­less, in­clud­ing the holy grail of one cord to charge, con­nect a 4K mon­i­tor and ev­ery other pe­riph­eral you can think of. It’s a sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tage over com­peti­tors that lack even USB-C.

How­ever, hav­ing only two ports, one of which will be needed for power, means you will rely on docks or hubs. It’s not such a big deal for most, but a bit of port-jug­gling is in­evitable if you don’t in­vest in a dock of some sort.

There’s also a mi­croSD card reader, which is great, but it’s hid­den in a sim­slot sim­i­lar to that which you would find on a smart­phone. It’s not prac­ti­cal as a hot-swap­pable me­mory card reader as you need a sim ejec­tor tool to get it out, and it means eject­ing the 4G sim if you’ve got one at the same time.

Key­board

Un­like Mi­crosoft’s Sur­face Pro, the X1 Tablet comes with a key­board, and what a key­board it is. Win­dows 10 de­tach­ables such as this live or die by the qual­ity of the key­boards, as most of the time they’re used like a lap­top.

Len­ovo’s key­board is the best I have used on any de­tach­able, and bet­ter than the vast ma­jor­ity of lap­tops. The keys are full-sized, solid, feel great un­der your fin­gers and have enough travel to make for a com­fort­able, sat­is­fy­ing typ­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

The track­pad is equally good. It’s pretty big, has a smooth, pre­cise sur­face and a solid click to it, as well as plenty of op­tions to cus­tomise the ex­pe­ri­ence. But there’s also a ThinkPad stal­wart in the form of the lit­tle red nip­ple Track­Point be­tween the G, H and B keys, and three mouse but­tons be­tween the space­bar and the track­pad. I found lit­tle use for them ex­cept when on a train where the end of the key­board was pressed up into my gut by the zero legroom block­ing the track­pad.

The key­board does have its quirks, such as the Fn key in the bot­tom left cor­ner in­stead of Ctrl, some­thing I had to al­most im­me­di­ately switch round in set­tings for mus­cle-me­mory cut and paste. There aren’t any me­dia keys ei­ther.

Win­dows Hello

The X1 Tablet has an IR-based fa­cial recog­ni­tion sys­tem that’s just as good as that on Mi­crosoft’s Sur­face line. It recog­nises you from the lock-screen and au­to­mat­i­cally logs you in, mak­ing lo­gin seam­less.

There’s also a fin­ger­print scan­ner, which has a slightly odd com­bi­na­tion of tap­ping and swip­ing for reg­is­ter­ing your fin­ger­print, but works well in dayto-day op­er­a­tion. I didn’t end up us­ing it at the desk as the face recog­ni­tion worked so well, but it was use­ful for un­lock­ing the tablet when hand­held in por­trait ori­en­ta­tion, and the more bio­met­ric op­tions the bet­ter.

Ob­ser­va­tions

To turn on the X1 Tablet from open­ing the key­board you have to hit the power but­ton or press the Fn key on the key­board

You get a choice of Win­dows 10 Home or Pro

The op­tional ThinkPad Pen Pro clips into the side of the ma­chine with a de­tach­able holder and works well for mark­ing up or sign­ing doc­u­ments

The Len­ovo Van­tage app takes care of driver up­dates and set­tings be­spoke to the X1 Tablet with min­i­mal fuss

Price

The third-gen­er­a­tion Len­ovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet starts at £1,480 with a Core i5 pro­ces­sor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of stor­age and key­board and tops out at £2,422 with all the op­tions.

The ma­chine as tested cost £1,973.59 with a Core i7 pro­ces­sor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of stor­age and 4G.

For com­par­i­son, Mi­crosoft’s Sur­face Pro 6 starts at £879, with mod­els sim­i­larly priced to the X1 Tablet.

Ver­dict

The ThinkPad X1 Tablet proves that Len­ovo can make a great de­tach­able 2in-1 Win­dows 10 tablet com­puter. It’s not cheap, but of­fers sim­i­lar or bet­ter spec­i­fi­ca­tions than its chief ri­val the Mi­crosoft Sur­face Pro, in­clud­ing the much-needed mod­ern port se­lec­tion of Thun­der­bolt 3.

The X1 Tablet feels like it can take a beat­ing and will sur­vive the rigours of mo­bile work­ing, which is what it was de­signed for. The screen is great, and at 13in is an ideal size, the kick­stand and key­board are bril­liant and per­for­mance is top-notch.

The seven-hour bat­tery life could be bet­ter, but the in­te­grated 4G and two bio­met­ric op­tions are wel­come additions. It’s still a bet­ter ma­chine for work than play, but it is good enough to pull dou­ble duty un­less all you want to do is watch videos from across the room.

If you’re in the mar­ket for a topend 2-in-1 Win­dows 10 de­tach­able, the Len­ovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet should be on your list.

Other re­views

Mi­crosoft Sur­face Pro re­view: very nearly al­most the fu­ture of Win­dows PCs

Mi­crosoft Sur­face Go re­view: tablet that’s bet­ter for work than play

Mi­crosoft Sur­face Book 2 re­view: a pow­er­ful yet pricey lap­top-tablet combo

Eve V re­view: up­start Win­dows tablet for power users has great po­ten­tial

A com­puter squeezed into an 8.9mm thick tablet ... the ThinkPad X1. Pho­to­graph: Sa­muelGibbs for the Guardian

The kick­stand is as good as that on the Sur­face Pro and by far the best so­lu­tion forprop­ping up a de­tach­able tablet, ei­ther onits own or con­nected to the key­board. Pho­to­graph: Sa­muel Gibbs for the Guardian

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