by Andrew Baxter
While cheap netbooks are all the rage these days, just a few months ago the attention was being lavished on expensive, high-end thin and light notebooks. Namely the 13.3" screen Apple MacBook Air and Lenovo ThinkPad X300. Fast forward several months and several hundred stock market points lower and expensive laptops don't seem quite as appealing, which might be why the recent release of the Lenovo ThinkPad X301 was mostly a silent entrance on stage left. Still, if you're a CEO that happens to still have a job these days and you like to have the latest and greatest in ultra-mobile computing technology, cost not being a concern, the ThinkPad X301 could be a fit.
Before going too far we'll preface this review by saying it's going to sound a whole lot like the X300 review we did back in February. That's simply because the new X301 is just a refresh to the X300, and design wise everything remains the same. Internally you have a new Montevina platform Intel chipset and Lenovo also saw fit to add a DisplayPort interface this time around, but other than that we're talking carbon copy of the X300 here. Which isn't a bad thing by any means, since the X300 won high praise.
The review unit ThinkPad X301 we have comes with the following specs:
Notice the dimensions of the X301, it is well under 1-inch thick, meaning it's easy to slip into a bag for carrying purposes. The light weight makes that doubly the case.
Build and Design
The ThinkPad X301 is as solid as you get in terms of build quality. The internal chassis and roll cage use an advanced carbon-fiber / glass-fiber material that provides both strength and light weight. The case material is made of magnesium, press as hard as you want anywhere on the body of the notebook and it will not flex. Like all ThinkPads, the X301 is designed for accidental abuse and drops. The screen is held down using a latch mechanism with button release, something that's more and more rare these days with notebooks as most other manufacturers move to a latchless design.
The build quality leaves no doubts and the X301 design also makes it standout. That said, there's nothing crazy going on here, the black boxy look of a ThinkPad is still very much so intact. However, the glossy bottom bezel area and the cool light illumination on the ThinkVantage button and power button add a nice touch, plus add to the usability. The speakers located on the front corners of the notebook add a nice design accent. The heat vent grills are painted black to blend with the rest of the notebook design, you don't see any copper colored internals. The screen is centered for those hung up on symmetry. And last and probably most important, the X301 is very thin, a cool look by de facto.
The weight of the X301 with a 3-cell battery and weight saver can get you under the magic 3lb mark at 2.93lbs. If you're going to be unplugged for any duration of time you'll probably want the 6-cell battery, which bumps the weight to 3.32lbs. Still a very comfortable weight to be carrying.
Input and Output Ports
The ThinkPad engineers have done a great job of squeezing in as many useful ports in a thin design that they can. Indeed, the X301 adds an extra port to the mix over the X300 in the form of the DisplayPort located on the back.
Here's what's included:
Three USB ports is very generous for this size and dimension laptop. It would have been very nice to have a media card reader slot, especially an SDHC compatible one so that you could quickly boost storage capacity.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The full-sized keyboard on the ThinkPad X301 remains the same as that on the X300. It has no flex, every key feels individual, and the key travel distance is perfect. Lenovo has added a matte finish to the keys so that they don't wear and get all shiny over time. For added usability the Caps Lock has a green light indicator and the power button a white light to show power is on.
People that like a touchpad and complain about it being missing on the ThinkPad X200-series have nothing to complain about here, a decent sized touchpad with scrolling areas is in place on the X301. This reviewer actually prefers the TrackPoint pointing stick over the touchpad and exclusively uses that method of input, but in testing out the touchpad it was found to be responsive and the size adequate.
Just to the right of the touchpad is a fingerprint reader, a feature common to many business notebooks. The palm rest area is especially comfortable, it has a rubberized paint finish so it both feels and looks nice. It's very smooth and pleasing to the touch, almost satin in feel.
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