by Andrew Baxter
The 12.1-inch screen Lenovo ThinkPad X200s ultraportable notebook is a lighter and slightly less powerful version of the ThinkPad X200. The three major advantages the X200s offers over the X200 is a lighter weight, higher resolution LED backlit screen and better battery life. The better battery life comes as a result of using a lower voltage processor in the X200s, so that does leave you with a less powerful processor. If you're a user that values battery life and lower weight over performance then the X200s could fit your needs better than the X200 -- so long as you can justify the extra $500 price tag for those needs.
The ThinkPad X200s is a 12" screen ultraportable business laptop that replaces the X61s predecessor, the X200s is the lightest notebook offered in the ThinkPad series. With the smallest 4-cell battery installed the X200s weighs in at an amazingly light 2.47 lbs. Consider the fact many of the 7 to 10-inch screen sized netbooks are weighing in at 2.5 lbs these days and here we have a 12.1" screen highly durable laptop with that same weight (along with a laundry list of superior features over netbooks) and you can start to understand what it means to have a nicely engineered product and why "you get what you pay for."
The X200s shares all of the same rugged features found in the larger sized T400 series, such as a magnesium roll cage and spill proof keyboard, and more. It also has the comfort of a full-sized keyboard that matches the size of the larger ThinkPad T400 (14.1" ) /T500 (15.4") series.
Since the X200s is designed to be a notebook for road warriors it uses an Intel Core 2 Duo low voltage (LV) processor to provide better battery life. While an LV processor does mean slower performance compared to the regular voltage Core 2 Duo processors used in an X200, for most normal business tasks you will not notice a slow down due to the lower clock speed.
The X200s also offers a bevy of wireless options and SSD storage to appeal to the business user types who worry about how they will connect to the Internet and how their data will be protected.
The Specifications of the X200s being reviewed are as follows:
The price of the above configuration at the time of this review is $2,078 USD.
Competing Ultraportable Notebooks
It's always good to know what the competition is out there for similar notebooks, so here's a list of 12" business ultraportables sold by other manufacturers and links to reviews if available:
The competition and design choices among each of the different 12.1" business notebooks are very interesting. Dell chose to offer the Latitude E4200 feather-weight 2.2lb SSD only laptop that can be decorated in Blue, Red or Black. HP went the route of offering an optical drive in their 12.1" 2530p. Toshiba also offers an optical drive in their 12.1" R600 laptop. The ultraportable category is always quite fascinating as it's where each company allows their engineers to really innovate and unleash their design prowess. Sure, more 14" and 15" laptops get sold, but it's the 12 - 13" screen laptop category that turns heads and gets the most attention for design.
Design, Looks and Build Quality
The all black staid look of the X200s can be called either clean and professional or downright boring, depending on your take. At last check bankers and CEO's still wear black suits to work so why should Lenovo change when its customers aren't either. You can't go wrong with black.
At 1.2-inches thick the X200s is not super-model thin like the Dell Latitude E4200 which is less than 1-inch thick, nor is the X200s offered in red, blue or pink like the E4200. Nor does the X200s have a striking look or built-in optical drive such as you get with the Toshiba Portege R600. In terms of looks and eye-candy factor, the ThinkPad X200s is the least interesting of its competitors.
Where the X200s does shine is in the fact it has an incredibly light starting weight of 2.5lbs and still feels more durable than any other ultraportable we've handled. When you pick up the X200s with a 4-cell battery after seeing how solid it looks and feels, you'll simply be amazed by the weight. Upon initially picking the X200s up before bootup this author thought it must have been a hollowed out prototype. The case feels rugged and durable so it seems like the the case alone should weigh 2.5lbs. One trick Lenovo uses to keep weight down comes with the carbon and glass fibre composite lid that offers durability better than titanium at a mere 22% fraction of titaniums weight. Material choices such as a magnesium roll cage that reinforces both the bottom of the notebook and keyboard area along with strategically placed plastic reinforcement plates also contribute to the durable feel of the X200s.
The most noticeable change we see between the X200s and its ThinkPad X61s predecessor is that the display is widescreen instead of the 4:3 ratio aspect screen seen on the X61s. This offers a lower overall system profile, more spacious keyboard and ability to more easily view two windows side-by-side.
More subtle design changes between the X61s and X200s include red accented mouse buttons coming back from the ThinkPad days of old. The volume control buttons have gone from a silver color on the X61s to black on the X200. The power button look changes to that seen on the ThinkPad X300, except it is not backlit.
The steel hinges that we're used to seeing on ThinkPad notebooks are of course still in place. The hinges keep the screen firmly in place with no wobble, even during bumpy plane rides. There are two latches to hold the lid tightly closed when you have it in a bag.
There are two spill drains on the keyboard area that will carry any liquid spills safely out of the bottom of the notebook. Spilling that morning cup of coffee on your X200s might not be disastrous thanks to this feature.
The ThinkPad Active Protection System (APS) for the hard drive is still part of the mix. The APS is software on board that works with a built-in accelerometer to detect drops and knocks and remove the read-write head of the hard drive so as to prevent any damage to the data.
For upgrades and repairs that might come up down the road, the X200s keeps the user in mind with easy to remove access panels and covers. The most frequent upgrade items being the HD and RAM are accessed through panels on the bottom and side of the X200s. Other items such as the keyboard, wireless cards, and backup battery can be reached by removing a handful of labeled screws on the bottom, and easily popped out. Worth noting is that even if you don't get WWAN configured at purchase, the necessary antenna is installed by default so all you would have to do is open up the X200s and put in the WWAN card and voila, built-in WWAN.
Input and Output Ports
The X200s port selection has changed a bit from the X61s, placements are especially a bit different. Gone is the old style PC card slot, it's now an ExpressCard 54mm expansion slot. The FireWire port the X61s had is dropped with no appearance on the X200s. You can choose between an SD card reader and no built-in modem or an enhanced 5-in-1 card reader and a modem.
The port locations are best described by taking a picture tour:
Left side - power jack, heat vent, USB port, monitor-out port, Gigabit Ethernet, USB port, ExpressCard 54mm slot, wireless on-off switch:
Front side - SD card slot or optional 5-in-1 card reader:
Right side - USB port, headphone out, microphone, modem port:
Keyboard and Touchpoint
The keyboard on the X-series ThinkPad has always been a standout in the field of ultraportables. Now with the extra real estate width the keys that were slightly shrunken on the X61s appear in their full glory here. The keyboard on the X200s is exactly the same as that on the T-series, so it's entirely comfortable to type on with no adjustments necessary for smaller keys you often find on ultraportables. The feel of the ThinkPad keyboard is well documented as being one of the best in the industry. Each key feels individual and the feedback you get from a key press is very satisfying. The keyboard is also quiet and won't click or rattle to annoy others in a business meeting room, lecture hall or wherever you happen to be working.
While there have been some complaints regarding keyboard flex on the T-series, there is no noticeable flex on the X200s under normal typing pressure. Of course, if you apply extra force on the keyboard you'll generate some flex, just as with any object that has space inside.
The lack of a touchpad will probably come as a shock to some users. To save space the X200s omits the touchpad system in favor of just a touchpoint/trackpoint. The trackpoint is a navigation stick in the middle of the keyboard, it allows you to move a cursor around the screen efficiently as you can keep your fingers on the keys while using it. Some users that are familiar with a touchpad will take some time to adjust to the trackpoint, and potentially never get over the fact the X200s is touchpad-less.
The mouse buttons just below the space bar are easy to use with a nice travel distance, good smooth feedback, and no stiffness or annoying click noisiness.
The ThinkPad X200s screen is of the LED backlight variety and has a high resolution WXGA+ (1440 x 900) type display. The LED backlight has a thinner profile than a regular CCFL backlit display, a lighter weight and is more power efficient.
Screen brightness is very good, measuring in at over 200 nits, which is better than the sub 200-nit screen the ThinkPad X61s had. The screen brightness can be adjusted along fifteen levels, if the room is dark it's recommended to dim the screen to half brightness in order to protect your pupils, there's no ambient light sensor to do that for you like with some business laptops.
The 1440 x 900 WXGA+ resolution is a real gift for those of us who crave being able to see more on a screen. The X200 offers a maximum resolution of XGA (1280 x 800) with no option for a higher resolution, so the X200s offers about 20% better viewing real estate. Of course, if you have poor vision the smaller text and icon sizes that come with the higher resolution might be a problem. For most, the higher res screen will mean better productivity. As an example of the extra screen real estate WXGA+ gets you on a 12" screen over XGA, you can see the top 9 forums displayed on the screen of the X200s while only the top 4 forums display on the XGA ThinkPad X61 screen with 1024 x 768 resolution.
Below is a screenshot of the NBR forums from a ThinkPad X61 12" screen with 1024 x 768 resolution display
Below is a screenshot of the NBR forums from the X200s 12" screen with 1440 x 900 resolution display
The viewing angles on the X200s screen are typical for a laptop, the horizontal viewing angles are decent while vertically colors tend to invert as you tilt the screen away from you. With business users you'll often find a 3M privacy filter in place, especially when a business person is on the road, so we don't care as much about how good the viewing angles are on a portable business laptop - the goal might actually be for as few people around you to see the screen as possible.
The mono-speaker on the X200s is located on the front side underneath the keyboard. The speaker loudness is good, but because the speaker is located on the bottom of the laptop, the sound direction isn't exactly optimal. The speaker sound quality is ok enough for listening to speech audiobut not as great when it comes to highs and lows associated with music, you'll want to plug-in earphones when listening to tunes.
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