Lenovo ThinkPad X270 Review

by Reads (18,510)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Software & Support
      • 8
      • Upgrade Capabilities
      • 8
      • Usability
      • 10
      • Design
      • 8
      • Performance
      • 8
      • Features
      • 8
      • Price/Value Rating
      • 8
      • Total Score:
      • 8.29
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Incredible battery life (with extended 6-cell)
    • Swappable components, and snap-in docking support
    • Excellent keyboard
    • Beautiful 1080p display
  • Cons

    • Pricey as tested
    • Thicker than average

The business-class Lenovo ThinkPad X-series has long been known for its small size, strong build quality, excellent keyboard, and long battery life. The 12.5-inch ThinkPad X270 is the latest notebook in this lineup, and also the smallest. Starting at just under $800, it’s far from inexpensive, but it provides a wealth of business-class features that are not commonly found in a notebook this size.

The ThinkPad X270 review unit we received was nearly maxed-out, with top-shelf  specifications that placed it at a lofty $1,627. We felt, however, that even with a less expensive configuration, the ThinkPad X270 would still be a great product. Let’s take a look.

Lenovo ThinkPad X270 Build and Design

The ThinkPad X270 is physically all but identical to the outgoing ThinkPad X260 model we reviewed in 2016. It indeed looks and feels like most of the high-end ThinkPad X- and T-series notebooks we’ve reviewed over the years. Although that’s not a knock, the design of the ThinkPad X270 could be viewed as stale and boring. Ourselves, we’re fans of the all-business look, as it’s a great example of function over form.

The ThinkPad X270 is first and foremost designed to be a durable traveling companion. Lenovo says the notebook passes 12 military-grade tests. We didn’t exactly try and recreate those tests, but nonetheless felt that the ThinkPad X270’s strong feel and build materials would be more than up to the task of everyday travel. In terms of overall build quality and fit and finish, this notebook is a step well above that of a typical all-plastic consumer notebook.

The outside of the ThinkPad X270 is constructed mostly from thick plastic. On the inside, however, it has a metal support structure that keeps the chassis from flexing too much. The lid also has impressive rigidity, allowing for very little in the way of lateral movement. Likewise, we appreciate the fact the display hinges allow the lid to open a full 180 degrees. You’ll need two hands to get the lid open, though, due to the stiffness of the hinges.

The chassis measures 12×8.2 inches, which is about the norm for a notebook with a 12.5-inch display. The bezel around the display is of average size, but doesn’t look as modern as some of the nearly bezel-less notebooks on the market, such as the Lenovo Yoga 720. The starting weight with the 3-cell rear battery is 2.9 pounds, which is on the high side for a notebook this size.

At 0.8 inches thick, the ThinkPad X270 is chunkier than you might expect for a notebook with a small 12.5-inch display. Lenovo’s ultra-slim ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017/5th generation), for example, has a larger 14-inch screen, but is just 0.6 inches thick. The extra thickness of the ThinkPad X270 is not for naught, though. The first advantage of the extra thickness is support for traditional snap-in docking solutions. You also get removable memory (albeit, limited to one DIMM slot), and more admirable still, a swappable rear battery. The ThinkPad X270 also has a 2.5-inch drive bay, which are becoming far less common on today’s ultraportable notebooks. None of the aforementioned features are available on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017/5th generation).

Speaking of batteries, there are actually two inside this notebook; a small 3-cell battery is sealed inside the front of the chassis, but the rear battery is swappable on-the-fly. A 3-cell rear battery that sits flush with the chassis is standard, but you can also opt for a cylindrical 6-cell battery with a whopping 72 watt-hour capacity. It increases the thickness of the ThinkPad X270 at the rear to 1.23 inches, but the tremendous amount of battery life you get from such a battery might be worth the minor travel impediment. (See the Battery Life section of this review.)

Lenovo ThinkPad X270 Ports and Inputs

The port selection is perhaps the aspect of the ThinkPad X270 that has seen the most change since the last generation. Along the left edge, you’ll find the USB-like AC power jack, the cooling exhaust vent, a USB Type-C port (no Thunderbolt 3 support), a full-size HDMI video-out, a USB Type-A 3.0 port, and a SmartCard reader on top. (The latter was deactivated in our review unit; it’s a $10 option.) The USB Type-C port is new on the ThinkPad X270, and seems to have replaced the mini-DisplayPort and one of the USB Type-A ports that was on the ThinkPad X260.

The ports along the right edge have remained the same as they were on the ThinkPad X260, however. Left to right, you have a headset jack, a USB Type-A 3.0 port, a full-size SD card reader, a WWAN SIM slot right above it (deactivated in our review unit, since it didn’t come with a WWAN card), the Ethernet jack, and finally, the Kensington-style cable locking port. SD cards insert fully into the reader, and are flush with the edge; we’re especially glad to see this. It’s common for SD card readers to be entirely left out of a notebook’s design.

Should you need more connectivity, don’t forget that the ThinkPad X270 supports several types of docking solutions, including snap-in. Lenovo sells versions of the latter that support multiple monitors.

Lenovo ThinkPad X270 Screen and Speakers

Lenovo offers two display choices on the ThinkPad X270. The 1080p panel on our review unit was the upgrade option, a minor $70 step up from the base 720p panel. In addition to having a much more usable screen resolution relative to the base 720p panel, the 1080p panel uses IPS technology. It provides wide viewing angles for a more consistent picture, no matter how you have the display angled.


The base TN panel is prone to distortion when not viewed head-on. We had the TN panel on the ThinkPad X260 when we reviewed it, and found it mediocre at best in terms of image quality. The 1080p panel on our ThinkPad X270, on the other hand, has a wonderful picture. The high contrast, brightness, and good color bring just about anything to life. The anti-glare surface of the display is another plus, as you won’t have to worry about annoying reflections from ambient or overhead light sources.

There are two speakers inside the ThinkPad X270’s chassis. The sound quality was average at best, muted and with just a touch of bass. The clarity also suffered, given the speakers were projecting sound from inside the chassis. The setup seemed to get just loud enough for personal use at top volume.

Lenovo ThinkPad X270 Keyboard and Touchpad

We love the keyboard on the ThinkPad X270, feeling immediately at ease when we started typing on it. The precise up-and-down movement has a sensible amount of travel, and the keypresses make just right amount of audible feedback. The keyboard support deck is solid and inflexible. Our only nitpick is the lack of an indicator light on the Caps Lock key. An icon pops up on the screen when you press Caps Lock, but we like to be able to know what the status is without having to press the key. Otherwise, the keyboard layout on the ThinkPad X270 is very usable.

Dedicated Home and End keys reside at the upper right, while Page Up and Page Down are next to the up-arrow key. It’s admirable Lenovo didn’t integrate these keys as secondary functions into the arrow key cluster, as is a common practice. The arrow keys are just a bit smaller than full-size, but at least they’re all about the same size.

Keyboard backlighting is actually an optional feature on the ThinkPad X270, which we find surprising in this day and age. It’s a no-brainer $40 upgrade; don’t leave home without it. You can toggle the two levels of brightness, or turn it completely off by pressing the Fn and space bar keyboard shortcut. The biometric fingerprint reader is also optional; throw in $20, and it’ll be in the palm rest, just below the arrow key cluster. The fingerprint reader allows the ThinkPad X270 to support Windows Hello biometric login in Windows 10.

In the center of the keyboard is the infamous red ThinkPad pointing stick, the go-to device for true touch-typists. The idea with the pointing stick is that you don’t have to remove your hands from the keyboard in order to use the mouse. The pointing stick has three dedicated buttons just below the space bar, all of which offer excellent tactile feedback.

The touch pad just under those three buttons is its own button, as the surface can be pressed down anywhere to make a click. The right-click area is a narrow zone at the lower right, exactly where a dedicated right-click button would reside on a traditional touch pad. Our sole complaint about the touch pad is that the clicks are a bit loud for our liking; the three buttons for the pointing stick are considerably quieter. But as far as buttonless touch pads go, the one on the ThinkPad X270 ranks up there as one of the best.

Lenovo ThinkPad X270 Performance

The ThinkPad X270 has specifications befitting a mainstream notebook. Its processor (CPU) choices consist of Intel 7th generation/”Kaby Lake” dual-core variants with a 15-watt thermal design power (TDP) rating.

The Core i7-7600U CPU in our review unit is the fastest offered, with a 2.8GHz base clock, and a 3.9GHz Turbo Boost clock. The least-potent processor offered is the Core i5-7200U, running at 2.5GHz base, with a Turbo Boost clock up to 3.1GHz. The Core i5 is a fine choice for most usage. The Core i7-7600U was an eyebrow-raising $300 upgrade over the base Core i5, for which we’d have trouble making an argument in most scenarios. For businesses that need remote management support, the Core i7-7600U does support Intel vPro, but so does the less-expensive Core i5-7300U. The latter is an $80 upgrade, by comparison.

Playing today’s latest 3D titles isn’t going to be a possibility on the ThinkPad X270. It’s equipped with Intel HD 620 graphics, which are integrated into the processor, and don’t have dedicated memory of their own. The Intel HD 620 is good for HD video playback, including 4K.

The ThinkPad X270 supports up to 16GB of RAM, which isn’t a selling point. What is a selling point, however, is that the RAM is replaceable. In other words, the memory isn’t soldered to the motherboard, as is increasingly becoming the case with modern ultra-thin notebooks. The ThinkPad X270 has enough thickness to support a traditional DIMM slot. Our review unit had a 16GB stick of DDR4-2133 installed. The minimum amount of memory we’d suggest for today’s workloads is 8GB.

For storage, the ThinkPad X270 has a single M.2 Type-2280 (80mm) slot for solid-state storage drives (SSD). The 512GB drive in our review unit was a Toshiba model, running on the PCI Express bus, and having NVMe protocol support. It was plenty fast for the tasks the ThinkPad X270 is designed to run. The ThinkPad X270’s thickness gets you a traditional 2.5-inch bay, as well.

For wireless, the ThinkPad X270 comes with the Intel 8265 wireless card with 802.11ac band support, and also has Bluetooth 4.1. WWAN 4G wireless is offered as an option.

Our Lenovo ThinkPad X270 Signature Edition review unit has the following technical specifications:

  • 12.5-inch display (1,920×1,080 resolution, IPS panel, anti-glare surface, non-touch)
  • Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
  • Intel Core i7-7600U dual-core processor (2.8GHz, up to 3.9GHz Turbo Boost, 4MB cache, 15-watt TDP)
  • Intel HD 620 integrated graphics w/ shared memory
  • 16GB DDR4-2133 single-channel RAM (1x 16GB; max. supported)
  • 512GB M.2 Type-2280 PCI Express SSD w/ NVMe support (THNSF5512GPUK TOSHIBA)
  • Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265 wireless LAN w/ Bluetooth 4.1
  • Integrated fingerprint reader
  • Backlit keyboard
  • 3-cell li-ion front battery (23.2 watt-hour); 3-cell li-ion rear battery (23.2 watt-hour); 6-cell cylindrical rear battery (72 watt-hour)
  • Dimensions: 12.03 x 8.21 x 0.8 inches (1.23 inches height w/ 6-cell 72 watt-hour cylindrical rear battery)
  • 1-year limited warranty
  • Weight: 2.9 pounds w/ 3-cell rear battery
  • Starting price: $783
  • Price as configured: $1,627

Lenovo ThinkPad X270 Benchmarks

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

PCMark8 Home (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for general activities from web browsing and video streaming to typing documents and playing games (higher scores mean better performance):

PCMark8 Work (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for work-related productivity tasks (higher scores mean better performance):

3DMark Fire Strike is a newer DirectX 11 benchmark that measures overall graphics card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):

CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:

Lenovo ThinkPad X270 Heat and Noise

The left half of the ThinkPad X270’s chassis became lukewarm to the touch after extended usage, but was overall a cool-running notebook. Noise-wise, the fan inside the ThinkPad X270 came on more often than we expected. It usually turned on at a low speed while we were surfing the Internet, only turning off when we were doing something truly mundane, such as word processing. The fan is located on the left side of the chassis. It’s audible at any speed in a quiet room, though whether it’s actually a bother is debatable. There’s a hint of fan whine at its maximum speed, but we only ever heard it run that fast while running our most intensive benchmarks. Overall, we felt the fan noise could be ignored in most situations.

Lenovo ThinkPad X270 Battery Life

We use our Powermark benchmark in Balanced mode to more accurately gauge real-world battery life. The results from this test can be considered a worst-case scenario. The testing consists of automated web browsing, gaming, video playback, and office productivity workloads. We run the test with wireless off, and approximately 50 percent screen brightness.

Powermark battery life comparison chart listed in minutes (higher scores mean better performance):

Here you’ll see the ThinkPad X270 listed twice; both with the 3-cell rear battery, and with the more powerful 6-cell 72 watt-hour extended battery. The time from the latter is simply astounding; it may be the highest we’ve recorded from a notebook. Remember, this is a worst-case scenario; with lower screen brightness and less intense usage, you could add 30 percent or more to these numbers. The fact remains, however, that the competing Dell Latitude 12 7000 (7280) did outlast the ThinkPad X270 with its base battery option, if not by a massive margin.

Lenovo ThinkPad X270 Power Adapter

The included 45-watt (20V x 2.25A) power adapter connects to the ThinkPad X270 on the left side, via Lenovo’s proprietary USB-like connector. The end that connects to a wall outlet has two prongs. The cord from the wall to the power brick is 38 inches; the brick itself is 3.6×1.5×1.1 inches (LxWxH); and the cable from the brick to the ThinkPad X270 is 63 inches. That gives you just over 8.5 feet of reach from the nearest plug. The total weight of the brick, including the cables, is less than one pound.

Lenovo ThinkPad X270 Conclusion

You’ll have a hard time topping the Lenovo ThinkPad X270 when it comes to a small, do-it-all travel companion. With its internal roll cage and durable exterior, it’s built to last. On the inside, this 12.5-incher hides some pleasant surprises: it has user-replaceable memory, where we’re used to seeing soldered memory; a 2.5-inch drive bay; support for snap-in docking stations; and a swappable rear battery. Those are all features uncommon in small ultraportable notebooks.

Granted, the ThinkPad X270 is a bit thicker and heavier than we’d expect a notebook this size to be, but we think it’s a sensible tradeoff for the advantages gained.

Our tester topped $1,600, but you can put together a balanced ThinkPad X270 configuration with a Core i5 processor, its beautiful 1080p display, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage for right around $1,200. We wouldn’t necessarily call it a bargain, but it’s a fair price for the included feature set. An upgrade to the 6-cell 72 watt-hour rear battery will slightly increase the weight and thickness, but will literally get you the possibility of all-day battery life. With that upgraded battery, the ThinkPad X270 had some of the best battery life we’ve seen in any notebook.

We’re overall more than happy to send the Lenovo ThinkPad X270 off with a well-deserved recommendation.

Pros:

  • Incredible battery life (with extended 6-cell)
  • Swappable components, and snap-in docking support
  • Excellent keyboard
  • Beautiful 1080p display

Cons:

  • Pricey as tested
  • Thicker than average



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