Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet Review: Surface Pro, ThinkPad Edition

by Reads (15,244)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Software & Support
      • 8
      • Upgrade Capabilities
      • 9
      • Usability
      • 8
      • Design
      • 9
      • Performance
      • 7
      • Features
      • 8
      • Price/Value Rating
      • 7
      • Total Score:
      • 8.00
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Great build and design
    • Decent keyboard
    • Plenty of ports and inputs
  • Cons

    • Kickstand can slip
    • Mediocre battery life

Quick Take

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet is a Surface Pro with a ThinkPad twist. It’s intended for business users, but anyone looking for a high-end 2-in-1 should consider it thanks to its great build, performance, and utility.


We could claim the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet was inspired by the Microsoft Surface Pro. Both are high-end Windows 10 tablets with a kickstand, active stylus, and an extremely similar keyboard. In fact, both are indistinguishable at a glance.

Or we could claim that Lenovo brazenly stole Microsoft’s look, considering the Surface Pro 3 beat the X1 Tablet to the market with this 2-in-1 design by almost two years.

Either way, there’s no need for shame. The Surface Pro series has routinely sat at the top of the market and is cited as the pinnacle of Windows 10 devices. So if Lenovo aped the Surface aesthetic, kudos for taking from the best. Read this ThinkPad X1 Tablet review to see how the two compare.

Build & Design

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet looks  just like a Surface Pro.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet looks just like a Surface Pro.

Lenovo actually did one better than build an outright Surface clone. It melded the best parts of the Surface with some of its iconic ThinkPad features to create a more business-focused 2-in-1.

The ThinkPad X1 Tablet measures 11.45 x 8.97 x .53 inches and weighs 2.35 pounds, both with the keyboard, making it only slightly heavier and thicker than the Pro 4 and Type Cover. It feels very sturdy and well built, with a mostly magnesium build that shrugs off, dings, smudges, and fingerprints well, and can likely withstand an accidental drop or two. Lenovo claims it also has MIL-STD-810G military certification.

The kickstand sports a bottom hinge and latch release, and swings out approximately 90 degrees. It’s very tight and sturdy out of the box, and we suspect it will remain that way for the life of the tablet.

It’s stable in terms of propping up the X1 Tablet, but it too easily slides. The Surface Pro has a top hinge and the kickstand swings from the tablet’s center portion, giving the kickstand a more severe edge to dig in and remain in place. This is especially true with literal lap use, whereas the X1 Tablet can too easily slide off over the knees. Also, the X1 kickstand snaps shut when closed to around 25 degrees, which is conversely when the tablet is opened about 155 degrees.

This is a minor quibble, and there are only few instances when having the X1 Tablet open that much is even useful. But as with any device in this price range, we’re allowed to complain about the little things.

The ThinkPad X1 Tablet kickstand could be more secure.

The ThinkPad X1 Tablet kickstand could be more secure.

Ports & Inputs

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet has a great port selection, including a Mini DisplayPort, full-sized USB 3.0, and USB Type-C on the right side, and a 3.5mm headphone jack and Kensington lock slot on the left. A microSD card slot sits tucked underneath the kickstand, while a magnetic smart connector for the keyboard and accessories lines the bottom edge.

We’ve chided other high-end device makers for sacrificing port selection for mobility and/or a slick design. Here, Lenovo proves that a more balanced approach is preferable. Yes, the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S is thinner and lighter, but its single USB Type-C input hinders productivity. The ThinkPad X1 Tablet is a much more complete product, and we especially appreciate the USB Type-C charging in lieu of a proprietary input. USB Type-C is the future, while standard USB is ubiquitous in the present. Lenovo has both covered here.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet 3.5mm audio jack, volume rocker, speaker, and lockslot

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet 3.5mm audio jack, volume rocker, speaker, and lockslot

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet USB Type-C, USB 3.0, speaker, and Mini DisplayPort

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet USB Type-C, USB 3.0, speaker, and Mini DisplayPort

Keyboard & Touchpad

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet pairs with a magnetic keyboard cover (sold separately) sporting 83 island-style keys, with the letters measuring about .625 x .625 inches. The keys sport the familiar ThinkPad look, with the rounded bottom edge, and have average snap and a travel distance of about 1.25mm.

The ThinkPad X1 Tablet has the iconic ThinkPad trackball.

The ThinkPad X1 Tablet has the iconic ThinkPad trackpoint.

This is about the bare minimum travel for comfortable typing, and the ThinkPad X1 Tablet is one of the better 2-in-1s in this regard. The keyboard attaches magnetically to the bottom display bezel edge of the tablet, creating the same sloping effect we love on the Surface Pro 4, and this not only helps with key access, but provides the keys a little more give thanks to the so-slight-it’s-almost-imperceptible bounce.

It might not seem like much at first, but that give makes all the difference. By contrast, the keyboards on the TabPro S and new Apple MacBook lay flat and don’t have this bounce. Each keystroke bottoms out with more force. The effect becomes evident in the form of sore fingertips a few hundred words into a long email or essay.

It’s a minor detail, but we love the addition of indicator lights for the volume mute key and the microphone. Especially in a business setting, knowing your computer speakers are muted at a quick glance proves useful.

The trackpad measures about 3.6 x 2.1 inches and has a slight texture. It’s reasonably responsive, but small owing to the space dedicated to the three-button getup that works in conjunction with the iconic ThinkPad keyboard trackpoint. The team at NotebookReview prefer a larger touchpad here, but the ThinkPad trackpoint has an extremely dedicated user base that probably would raise a stink if Lenovo excluded it.

Display

The 12-inch IPS display has 10 touch points and a 2160 x 1440 resolution, which results in a 3:2 aspect ratio and 217 pixels per inch. Both the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and Surface Pro 4 have denser display, which hover around 265 ppi, but it’s near impossible to tell the difference without an eagle eye and a side by side comparison.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet has a great display by any metric, with wide viewing angles and high max brightness, measuring 335 nits. Colors are accurate, with whites having a slight yellow tint, and contrast deep enough to cut through overhead glare as well as any other device on the market.

The physical Gorilla Glass display is slightly more reflective than some competing devices, and the fingerprint scanner on the right portrait edge wasn’t accurate in our testing. It simply didn’t work on too many occasions, and often required multiple presses when it did. We had the same complaint about the Microsoft Type Cover with Fingerprint ID reader, and it’s an area where Microsoft and its hardware partners need to step things up.

Speakers & Camera

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet has a pair of side-facing speakers that do an adequate job of pumping out sound. They aren’t particularly loud, but the sound is balanced and pleasant, with no shrill tones or muddied bass. They do the job for personal use, but not much more, and hit the low mark set by other mobile device speakers.

It has a 2-megapixel front camera and an 8-megapixel rear. Both are perfectly suited for video chat, but not much more. We typically ignore tablet and notebook cameras, as we’d sooner flip a coin than base a buying decision on the shooter; but given the new Apple MacBook ships with a paltry 480 x 720 FaceTime camera, it’s worth noting Lenovo does it right.

Performance

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet is available with the full range of sixth-generation Intel Core m processors, RAM ranging from 4GB to 16GB, and an SSD ranging from 128GB to 1TB capacity. Our review unit came with a sixth-gen Intel Core m7-6Y75 (1.2GHz, 1.51GHz), 8GB RAM, HD 515 graphics, and a 256GB SSD.

Our stock take on the Core m applies. It runs cool and it doesn’t require a fan, enabling very thin and light devices. It’s swift at startup, and near indistinguishable from more powerful Core i devices up until a moderate workload. With a dozen or so Chrome tabs open, the Windows email client, Slack, and an Office app, the processor shows its limits. But it can still surprisingly muscle through more demanding photo and video editing with a deliberate approach and a bit of user patience. It won’t run many AAA games made in the last three or four years well, but older titles like Portal are playable.

Of the 234GB available on the SSD in our ThinkPad X1 Tablet review unit, about 56GB was already taken up out of the box, with necessary “System files” taking up 34.5GB. There’s a small amount of Lenovo bloatware on board, but nothing too offensive. Thankfully, our review unit didn’t ship with the ever-annoying McAfee or Norton pestering us with “free” protection trials and ill-timed scans.

Our ThinkPad Tablet X1 review unit has the following specifications:

12-inch IPS touchscreen display with Wacom pen support (2160×1440 resolution, 3:2 aspect ratio)

  • Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
  • 6th-gen Intel Core m7-6Y75 (1.2GHz, 1.51GHz)
  • Intel HD Graphics 515
  • 8GB LPDDR3 RAM
  • 256GB SSD
  • 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
  • 8-megapixel rear camera, 2-megapixel front camera
  • Dimensions: 11.45 x 8.97 x .53 inches
  • Weight: 2.35 pounds
  • Ships with Wacom pen, keyboard cover, USB Type-C AC adapter
  • Price as configured: $1,649

Benchmarks

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet compares well against similar devices. Please note that these benchmarks measure the Core m7 X1, while the Surface Pro 4 we reviewed had a less powerful Core m3 processor. Also, the VAIO Z flip model excelled due to its external Iris graphics.

wPrime processor comparison results (listed in seconds – lower scores mean better performance):

wprime

PCMark8 Home (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows for general activities from web browsing and video streaming to typing documents and playing games (higher scores mean better performance):

pcm 8 h

PCMark8 Work (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows for work-related productivity tasks (higher scores mean better performance):

pcm 8 w

Geekbench 3 is a cross platform benchmark that measures overall performance (higher scores mean better performance):

geekbench

3DMark 11 measures the overall gaming performance of the GPU (higher scores mean better performance):

3dm 11

CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance tests:

cdmark

Battery

The Lenovo ThinkPad has a 37Whr battery that the company claims can last up to 10 hours. It didn’t fare so well on the strenuous Powermark Balanced test, however. With the display set at 70%, the ThinkPad X1 Tablet lasted 3 hours and 22 minutes. This is on the very low end of what a user can expect, but it’s not a good result.

powermark

Thankfully, our ThinkPad X1 Tablet review unit was quick to charge, going from dead to 55% battery after just 30 minutes plugged in.

Pen

The ThinkPad Pen Pro is comfortable to hold and flows easily on the display, but some users will prefer a bit more resistance, similar to pencil on paper. Hover actions register at about 1.5cm, and that’s more than enough. It’s Wacom tech, supporting 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity, and two programmable buttons. It’s powered by a AAAA battery (included), and the X1 Tablet ships with two docking options: a loop that slots into the tablet’s USB input, and another that slots into the keyboard.

That’s about as good a docking solution you’ll find on a thin-and-light device. The Surface Pro 4 has a magnetic strip along its side, but the keyboard pen loop is more secure.

x1tabletpentest

Looking at the pen test, the X1 Tablet has slight trouble straightening out slowly drawn lines, just like the Pro 4 and drops fast strokes on the left side. We experienced better all-around results with the VAIO Z flip model.

Expandability & Accessories

Lenovo is famous for its ThinkPad expansions, and the ThinkPad X1 Tablet has a unique set of modular accessories that makes use of the X1’s smart connector. The Productivity Module costs $149, and it brings a full-sized HDMI port, additional USB 3.0 port, a Lenovo OneLink+ docking connector, and an additional 5-hour battery boost; the 3D Imaging module, also $149 ads a rear-facing Intel RealSense R200 3D camera, turning the X1 tablet into a 3D scanner; and the Presenter Module adds a full-sized HDMI port and an integrated Pico projector capable of projecting a 60-inch display from 2 meters.

Lenovo claims the X1 Tablet has “enterprise-class serviceability,” allowing user access to the battery, WWAN card, and SSD for replacement and repairs. Since ThinkPads are targeted at business users and enterprise customers, this is a no brainer, and could be the deciding factor a business looking to roll out slick new 2-in-1s. It’s worth noting given how most devices in this class require special service agreements and specialized tools for repair.

Value

It’s hard to pin down the exact price of any ThinkPad considering Lenovo frequently offers “instant saving” for those buying direct, and third-party resellers offer various sales as well. As of this writing, the base X1 Tablet with an Intel Core m3-6Y30MB processor, 4GB LPDDR3 SDRAM 1866MB, Windows 10 Home 64-bit, 128GB Solid State Drive (SATA3), and ThinkPad Pen Pro costs $809.10 with “instant savings,” but is listed at $899. A keyboard brings the total to $935.10, listed at $1,039.

A Microsoft Surface Pro 4 with similar specs costs $899, and the Surface Type Cover brings that total to $1,029, or $1,059 with the Fingerprint ID. Microsoft also offers the occasional discount.

A Samsung Galaxy TabPro S also has similar specs and ships with a keyboard folio, and Samsung claims it will soon offer an active pen, which will be sold separately. It only has a USB Type-C port, and costs $900.

While there are subtle differences between the ThinkPad and Surface Pro, most users will find one just as good as the other. Both have similar builds and input selection. Our blanket advice is to go with whichever is cheaper, all other things equal. At $935.10, the ThinkPad is also a better buy than the $900 TabPro S. It has more ports and a more comfortable keyboard. It’s a toss-up at the ThinkPad’s full price of $1,039, however, given the TabPro S is a solid device in its own right.

Conclusion

ThinkPad X1 tablet back

ThinkPad X1 Tablet review unit

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet could also be called the Surface Pro 4 ThinkPad Edition. It takes everything we love about Microsoft’s Windows 10 two-in-one and adds a ThinkPad twist.

There’s a lot to like here. The build quality is superb, and the full complement of ports, including USB Type-C, can’t be beat. The mobile keyboard is one of the better we’ve tested, and ThinkPad fans will love the inclusion of the trackpoint. The modular expansions also give the ThinkPad X1 Tablet unique features unrivaled by other devices.

If only the battery lasted longer, and the kickstand did a better job anchoring the tablet, this would be an unbeatable 2-in-1.

But it’s still a really good 2-in-1, and those in the market for a powerful Windows 10 mobile device would be wise to consider the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet.

Pros:

  • Great build and design
  • Decent keyboard
  • Plenty of ports and inputs

Cons:

  • Kickstand can slip
  • Mediocre battery life



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  1. barushki

    The Core-m series do not require a fan, but is the X1 tablet fanless?