Review: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet

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Introduction, design, features and specs.

As the BYOD (aka “bring your own device”) movement gains more traction than ever, people are expecting more portable, multi-purpose and even stylish devices. Lenovo, the de facto leader in the business hardware world with IBM’s ThinkPad brand in hand, has been paying close attention.

It’s latest attempt to appease the iPad-hungry audience is the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet, arguably its most adaptable computing device yet. Complete with hot-swappable modules, a built-in fingerprint sensor for Windows Hello and ThinkPad’s signature slick but understated design, is this the work-ready tablet to rule them all? It’s a bit more complicated than that.

Design

Lenovo clearly crafted the ThinkPad X1 Tablet with versatility in mind, drawing inspiration from unique ideas of its own (e.g. a projector module similar to that of the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro) while cribbing – and improving upon – at least one from the market-leading Surface Pro 4 (e.g. the magnetized keyboard cover for multiple typing angles).

Like so many of its products, Lenovo’s new modular business hybrid comes coated in a black, soft touch paint that looks slick and understated, a hallmark of the brand that is never lost on Lenovo. If you’re trying to give off a professional but tech-savvy vibe, this tablet’s profile will serve you well.

However, we have one major pain point with the ThinkPad X1 Tablet design: the kickstand. Rather than opening out and upward, like the Surface Pro 4, this tablet’s hinge opens out and downward, so that the base of the kickstand rests on your lap, not the edge of it like with Microsoft’s solution.

Because this arrangement doesn’t offer much resistance beyond its sturdy hinge, it’s far easier for this tablet to slide off of your lap than it is for Microsoft’s. That’s because the latter uses the friction created by the lip of its kickstand to keep it steady.

While a bit of a pain, and definitely a matter that should be accounted for in considering whether to pick one of these up, the reasoning for the design makes sense. The various connections and controllers for the tablet’s available modules likely need that space that would otherwise be thinned out for a hinge that flips upward. But, was that a worthy trade off?

March of the modules

Well, that’s tough to say with 100% certainty, as we’ve yet to use Lenovo’s Presenter module outside of a press briefing. But, the fact that the Productivity Module boosts battery life by nearly two hours in our tests speaks pretty well as to whether it’s worth a bit less stability on your lap.

And that’s before you even consider the additional ports it offers: one more USB 3.0, HDMI and Lenovo’s OneLink port. Not a bad trade-off at all. That said, it’s the $150 (about £116, AU$197) price tag that will hurt more than a bit of a slippery grip on your legs.

The Presenter Module, while we haven’t been able to test it out in any detail since CES, throws an 854 x 480-pixel image up to 60 inches wide from 200cm (about 6.5 feet) away. The module operates fanlessly and adds up to 2 hours of juice to the tablet’s battery. Finally, its HDMI port can accept both incoming and outgoing connections.

However, at $300 (about £226, AU$394), the Presenter Module is rather prohibitively priced. Granted, IT fleets might only carry a few of these for employees to share, but for the individual at a startup that might be looking at this versus a legit, full HD projector for about the same price, it becomes harder to justify.

Regardless, with modularity sweeping the tech scene right now, we hope that Lenovo continues exploring and – more importantly – refining these ideas, because something tells me this trend isn’t going to fade anytime soon.

Spec sheet

  • Here is the ThinkPad X1 Tablet configuration sent to TechRadar for review:
  • CPU: 1.2GHz Intel Core m7-6Y75 (dual-core, 4MB cache, up to 3.1GHz with Turbo Boost)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 515
  • RAM: 8GB LPDDR3 (1,866MHz)
  • Screen: 12-inch, 2,160 x 1,440 FHD+, IPS multi-touch display (3:2 aspect ratio)
  • Storage: 256GB SSD (M.2)
  • Ports: 1 x USB 3.0, 1 x USB-C, Mini DisplayPort, microSD, 3.5mm audio jack, Nano SIM port
  • Connectivity: Intel 8260 dual-band 802.11ac with Bluetooth combo
  • Weight: Tablet: 1.69 pounds (0.77 kg); Keyboard: 0.66 pounds (0.30 kg)
  • Size: Tablet: 11.45 x 8.24 x 0.33 inches (291 x 209.5 x 8.45 mm); Keyboard: 11.41 x 8.97 x 0.20 inches (290 x 228 x 5.2 mm; W x D x H)

The configuration you see above goes for around $1,600 (about £1,199, AU$2,096), with the starting setup poised to run you about $1,100 (around £830, AU$1,440) – both of which come with the ThinkPad Keyboard cover. The entry-level spec halves both the available memory and storage space while bringing the dual-core processor down 100MHz in frequency.

Without the keyboard cover, which we’d say is all but essential, the ThinkPad Tablet X1 starts at $899 (about £679, AU$1,199)?. That’s a bit pricier altogether than Microsoft’s latest Surface Pro 4 device, but it’s hardly an apples-to-apples comparison.

Speaking of the keyboard, expect to find nothing less than Lenovo’s stalwart typing pedigree on display. This is all but a traditional Lenovo AccuType keyboard, with a firm keyboard deck and the satisfying kickback you’ve come to love plus the traditional, accurate and smooth TrackPoint inputs.

Of course, the whole set of keys is brightly and uniformly backlit. But, the stars of the show are the two magnets through which the keyboard attaches to the tablet or any module that’s attached to its base.

Taking the concept one step further than the Surface Pro 4, these offer not one, but two additional angles from which to type. Then again, we find ourselves using the “default” that’s at about a 35-degree angle than the new one that’s about 50 degrees – it’s simply too elevated.

At any rate, this is one of the most comfortable keyboard covers we’ve ever typed with, so kudos to Lenovo on that.

Performance, screen, battery life and verdict

Lenovo’s latest business-bent tablet has done Intel’s Core m line of chips a great service with some positive PR. Despite what assumptions you may have about the fabricator’s line of mobile-focused silicon, the ThinkPad X1 Tablet nearly surpassed the Surface Pro 4 model we tested late last year housing an albeit dated Core i series CPU.

The Lenovo system also completely smoked the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S we reviewed earlier this year, though Samsung’s was rocking a Core m3 chip while the X1 Tablet here contains an m7 model of the same generation.

Benchmarks

  • Here’s how the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S performed in our suite of benchmark tests:
  • 3DMark Cloud Gate: 4,905 points; Sky Diver: 2,744 points; Fire Strike: 678 points
  • Cinebench CPU: 236 points; OpenGL Graphics: 34 fps
  • Geekbench: 3,214 points (single-core); 6,437 points (multi-core)
  • PCMark 8 Home: 2,403 points
  • PCMark 8 Battery Life: 3 hours and 8 minutes

We get it, these numbers alone don’t say much about what this tablet is capable of, so we’ll put that into perspective. With one of the beefiest Intel Core m chips to date, the Tablet X1 can all but handle the same workloads the Surface Pro 4 can, coming within three – yes, it was that close – points of its PCMark 8 score.

With graphics test scores like these, I wouldn’t expect to get much more out of the Tablet X1 than silky smooth HD video playback and the most casual of games during those lunch breaks. As far as productivity goes, that 8GB of RAM will let you keep way more than 10 browser tabs open without having to reload their contents. And, that chip will do just fine throughout various intense spreadsheet functions, like VLOOKUP.

Oddly enough – considering this is Core m we’re talking about here – what you have to look out for is battery life.

Latching onto longevity

Lenovo projects its Tablet X1 to last for up to 10 hours of continuous use. However, in our testing, we saw just over three hours from the PCMark 8 Battery Test at 50% brightness. That said, slapping on the device’s battery-packing Productivity Module increased its lasting power in the test, which simulates general use from word processing to video chatting, to 4 hours and 37 minutes.

In our local video playback test (also at 50% brightness), the tablet lasted for 5 hours and 7 minutes without the module and 6 hours and 45 minutes with it attached. So, if you want something close to all-day battery life from this device, the Productivity Module is all but required. However, the module costs, again, a cool $150 (about £115, AU$200).

The module does add a bunch of valuable ports in addition to extra battery life. But, when the Surface Pro 4 can reliably last for 5-plus hours, and Samsung’s TabPro S even longer at 6-plus hours – both without the need for a $150 attachment – it’s enough to make you second guess.

A sharp, but simple, screen

Perhaps part of the blame for the X1 Tablet’s relatively short battery life is its awfully sharp screen. Taking a cue from Microsoft’s Surface, the 3:2 display puts out 2,160 x 1,440 pixels, which is quite a lot for word processing, spreadsheet work and presenting to potential clients or what have you.

Don’t get us wrong, the IPS panel, with its screen-sharably wide viewing angles, is downright gorgeous. Colors pop but look realistic, and it gets plenty bright – not to mention that the bezels are pretty thin considering the fingerprint sensor on the right bezel. But, is it perhaps a bit overkill for who you might figure the target audience is? In our opinion, the general professional would do just fine with a standard FHD screen if it meant even a small amount of extra longevity.

So, is this the new go-to tablet for professionals, or does that accolade still belong to the Surface Pro 4 or iPad Pro? Again, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

We liked

Versatility is the name of this tablet’s game, and the ThinkPad X1 Tablet has no rival here. Theoretically, the X1 Tablet can last as long as how many charged-up Productivity Modules you have on hand, which power users will appreciate. Plus, the keyboard cover, being adorned with Lenovo’s AccuType keys, is arguably the best tablet keyboard on the market.

We disliked

That said, achieving the X1 Tablet’s superior versatility gets expensive pretty quickly, especially when bought in individual units. Also, spending that extra cash doesn’t get you as much battery life over the competition as we feel it should. Finally, the hinge design isn’t all that conducive to lap typing, which train and/or bus commuters will find bothersome.

Final verdict

For the ThinkPad diehards out there, you’ve just met the best business-bent tablet that money can buy. However, no product exists in a vacuum.

For as impressive as the ThinkPad X1 Tablet is, both Apple and Microsoft still rule the roost when it comes to ergonomics and cost-effectiveness. Unless you’re running several presentations a day on the go or have incredible love and loyalty for AccuType keyboards, there isn’t a terribly compelling reason to buy this tablet over either Microsoft or Apple’s.

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