Business owners rejoice! The first affordable ThinkPad ultraportable laptop has arrived. The ThinkPad X100e is an 11-inch notebook packed with a low-voltage AMD processor, powerful ATI integrated graphics, and one of the best keyboards we've tested on an ultraportable laptop. Is this the ideal companion for road warriors? Take a look at our review to find out.
Lenovo ThinkPad X100e Specifications:
If there is a single laptop brand name that is synonymous with business it has to be ThinkPad. Extremely solid build quality, excellent keyboards, precision TrackPoints (that red dot in the middle of the keyboard) and fantastic warranty support have been the cornerstones of the ThinkPad legacy going all the way back to the days when IBM still owned the brand. The Lenovo ThinkPad X100e continues this tradition with one of the best built ultraportable notebooks we've seen in our office.
With a starting weight around three pounds and a simple black industrial design, the designers of the ThinkPad X100e attempted to deliver the ThinkPad heritage at an extremely affordable price. Lenovo admits that their customers have demanded a "ThinkPad netbook" for several years now, but the ThinkPad engineers debated whether it was possible to deliver a durable, reliable, business-class laptop at "netbook" prices.
The solution? Don't call it a netbook. That might sound funny, but it's no joke. Lenovo engineers started from the ground up with the goal of creating an "affordable ultraportable notebook" at a netbook price. In ThinkPad terms, engineers had to deliver a product that was built for business in terms of durability, usability, connectivity, serviceability, and warranty coverage ... all while keeping this laptop as inexpensive as possible. Businesses still demand the best, but in this economy they now also demand it for less money.
Those customers familiar with the famous ThinkPad keyboards will probably notice the new layout of the ThinkPad X100e's keyboard. The new "Chiclet" keyboard is a radical shift from the traditional ThinkPad keyboards and is again similar to what you'll find on the ThinkPad Edge series of notebooks. That said, this is still a ThinkPad keyboard in every way that matters. Lenovo uses a new keycap design that prevents the caps from popping off like they would on cheaper keyboards. The key spacing and support structure underneath the keyboard help deliver a fantastic tactile feel an prevent typing errors despite the small footprint of the keyboard.
Screen and Speakers
The 11.6" LED-backlit screen on the X100e is similar to the 1366x768 display used on most ultraportable budget notebooks. The biggest single advantage of this screen over ultraportables like the Alienware M11x or the Dell Inspiron 11z is the fact that this screen features a matte surface. Unlike the glossy displays on consumer notebooks, the matte screen on the X100e doesn't reflect sunlight or strong indoor lights, making it easier to read what is on the screen in any environment. Horizontal viewing angles are good out to at least 60 degrees to either side before you start to notice color distortion. Vertical viewing angles are below average as the display becomes over exposed or colors begin inverting after moving the screen 15 degrees forward or back.
Speaker quality is average as the maximum volume output is loud enough to fill a large meeting room with clear sound. There is a little distortion at the maximum volume setting and bass output is minimal, but the speakers deliver good enough quality for a good video conference or webcast. That said, the speaker location on the bottom of the notebook means sound is directed down and away from you rather than up toward your ears. If you plan on using the X100e like a "laptop" rather than using it on a desk then the speakers might be muffled on your lap.
As previously mentioned, the new "Chiclet" keyboard on the X100e is a radical shift from the traditional ThinkPad keyboards. Despite the change, this keyboard maintains the same level of quality that business users expect when they hear the ThinkPad name. Lenovo uses a new keycap design that prevents the caps from popping off like they would on cheaper keyboards. One of the main benefits of choosing a Chiclet-style keyboard is that it allows for more space in between the keys on an ultraportable laptop. This means fewer typos compared to netbooks with cramped keys. The individual keys on the X100e have a springy, responsive action and each key has a curved surface similar to the traditional ThinkPad keyboard. Typing noise is minimal, with no loud "click clack" noises while typing. The palmrests are a little small for average adult male hands but they support the wrists without causing additional stress points while typing.
It's hard to complain about this keyboard since it is genuinely fantastic, but if there is one flaw to the X100e's keyboard it is the lack of backlighting. We're starting to see more and more laptops with backlit keyboards and business travelers would likely appreciate the ability to see their keyboards on dimly-lit airplanes.
Ports and Features
Port selection is good enough to get the job done while on the road. In fact, the port layout on the X100e looks almost identical to what you'll find on most consumer netbooks. Unfortunately, most ultraportable notebooks with Intel-based low-voltage processors now also feature either HDMI or DisplayPort. In addition, since the X100e is aimed at business professionals we would have liked to see either an eSATA port or a USB 3.0 port for extremely fast data transfers.
Right: 4-in-1 card slot, one USB 2.0 port, and Kensington Lock slot
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