Screen and Speakers
The 11.6″ LED-backlit screen on the X120e appears to be the same 1366×768 display used on the previous ThinkPad X100e. I am particularly fond of the matte screen surface since it doesn’t reflect sunlight or strong indoor lights like glossy displays. Contrast and color saturation are only average with a total contrast ratio of 117:1 in our lab and a maximum brightness setting of 156 nit. 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. As with the old X100e, 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 X120e like a “laptop”, then you should expect the speakers to be muffled on your lap.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The ThinkPad X120e uses the same “Chiclet” keyboard on the X100e that is quite different than the traditional ThinkPad keyboards. Despite those differences, the keyboard maintains the same level of quality that business users expect when they hear the ThinkPad name. Lenovo uses a 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 X120e 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 pretty small for average adult male hands but they support the wrists without causing additional stress points while typing.
As with the X100e, our only real complaint about this keyboard is the lack of LED backlighting. Yes, adding a backlit keyboard option would make this netbook alternative a little more expensive, but it would make it that much more attractive to business travelers who need to see their keyboards on dimly-lit airplanes.
The Synaptics touchpad and TrackPoint provide a fantastic pair of control points for moving your cursor in various applications. If you regularly use the larger touchpads found on MacBooks and desktop-replacement notebook PCs, you might consider the tiny touchpad on the X120e to be very cramped. However, the touchpad on the X120e is roughly the same size as the touchpads on any modern netbook. The TrackPoint buttons include the traditional middle button found on most ThinkPads. Overall, the touchpad and TrackPoint were both a joy to use, with a fast response time and no discernable lag. Sensitivity was excellent and no adjustment was needed out of the box. This particular touchpad has some multi-touch capabilities, including pinch-to-zoom and pivot-rotation. The touchpad buttons seem to have a slightly shallow clicking depth compared to other ThinkPads, but they still provide a deeper press than most netbook touchpad buttons.