First published: November 29th, 2016. Last updated: February 7th, 2017
While the rise of the tablet hasn’t resulted in the end of the PC and laptop as some predicted, it did result in an entirely new hybrid category of 2-in-1s in a bid to combine the best of both worlds, the portability of a tablet and the comfort of typing on a physical keyboard that you get with a PC. We know have laptops with screens that rotate a full 360 degrees into a “tablet” mode, as well as large display tablets that come with detachable keyboards.
Lenovo has been at the forefront of this trend with their popular Yoga series, and the company has brought this aspect over to their more business-orientated ThinkPad series as well. Lenovo brings everything that makes the ThinkPad laptop so popular to a tablet form factor, but does it manage to stand up to the original? We find out, in this in-depth review of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet!
The ThinkPad series has never been about style or elegance, going back to its IBM roots, and the X1 Tablet is no different. It retains the general look and feel and build quality of its laptop counterparts, with the magnesium alloy body and matte black finish being signature elements of the line. The design is understated to say the least, and the only noticeable bit of flair is the red LED dot above the “i” on the ThinkPad logo on the back of the tablet.
What the X1 Tablet lacks in style, it makes up for in ruggedness. While it may not be as sleek as some of the competition, the tablet does come with a MIL-STD 810G certification for protection from humidity, mechanical shock, high and low temperatures, and a whole lot more. The looks of the tablet aren’t all the important when considering its business-oriented nature, but being able to keep it safe from accidental bumps and drops and more is great regardless of whether it’s a work or personal device.
With a thickness of just 8.45 mm, a weight of 795 grams, and a 12-inch display, the X1 Tablet is relatively portable, but there is a kickstand on the back that lets you prop up the tablet for when you are watching videos and movies, using it in the laptop mode, or if you’re just tired of carrying it around. The kickstand features an unique orientation as well, with the hinge of the stand at the bottom and opening out to become a flat plate of sorts that holds the tablet in position.
This is unlike what you may have seen with the Surface Pro 4 and other out there, which feature kickstands with the hinge at the center of the back. The latter can also be quite uncomfortable with the kickstand pressing into your lap, while in the case of the X1 Tablet, it lays flat. On the flip side, there have been a few instances when the tablet has slipped off my lap because there is no resistance, so that’s something to be careful about.
Taking a look around the device, the headphone and mic jack, volume rocker, and the kensington lock slot are on the left side, and on the right is a USB Type-C port, a full-sized USB 3.0 port, and a mini DisplayPort. Up top is the power button and at the bottom is the magnetic keyboard dock port and a button to release the bottom cover. Hidden under the kickstand are the microSD card slot and a nano-SIM slot. The dual speaker setup is side firing, with speaker units found on both the left and right sides. On the front, to the right of the display is a fingerprint scanner.
Adding the detachable keyboard that comes with the tablet completes the signature ThinkPad look, with the keyboard retaining the appearance of what is found with its laptop counterparts, down to the red trackpoint that is nestled between the B, G, and H keys, the large trackpad, and the two physical left and right click buttons. The keyboard connects to the tablet via the magnetic dock.
I say appearance because understandably, this keyboard doesn’t give the same feel as what is available with the regular laptop. The keyboard is thin with a thickness of just 5.2 mm, which helps with portability, but results in the keys not having much travel. That said, the keys are well-spaced out and easy to type on once you get used to the shallow feel. They also have a slight curve to them to better contour to your fingers and allow for a more comfortable typing experience. They keyboard is also backlit with two levels of brightness available. Keep in mind that it is disabled by default though.
The keyboard can also be propped up magnetically at a slight angle that some users may prefer. However, the keyboard doesn’t feel sturdy enough when using it in this position, not because of anything wrong with the build quality, but because of how thin it is. There is a little give when typing unless your touch is quite light, and I did have a better time when the keyboard was flat.
The trackpad is actually quite impressive and provides an experience similar to what you’d get on a laptop, and also does a good job with recognizing gestures like pinch to zoom and two finger scrolling. The red trackpoint works as expected too and combines well with the two physical left and right click buttons at the the top of the trackpad. That said, unless the trackpoint is something you are already used to, it’s not something you will have to learn to use since the regular trackpad works so well.
The ThinkPad X1 Tablet comes with a beautiful 12-inch IPS LCD display with a 2160 x 1440 resolution and 3:2 aspect ratio. The screen is easily one of the best features of this tablet, providing colors that pop without being over saturated, wide viewing angles, a lot of sharpness, and good brightness. Whether for work or play, you are going to have a great time doing anything on this display.
If there is one point of contention, it has to do with how glossy and reflective the display is. This is a problem with any touchscreen nowadays, but it seems even more pronounced here. It isn’t really a problem indoors, but while the brightness is high enough to allow for comfortable viewing in the shade when outdoors, you’ll be hard pressed to see anything on the screen in direct sunlight.
A variety of configurations are available with the X1 Tablet, ranging from the low-end model with an Intel Core m3 processor and 4 GB of RAM, and going all the way up to the high-end version featuring the Intel Core m7 processor and 16 GB of RAM. Obviously, the higher up the list you go, the more expensive it is going to become. This particular review unit comes with the Intel Core m5 processor and 8 GB of RAM.
The performance has been as smooth as expected, and the device can handle any general tasks very well. 8 GB of RAM means that you can have multiple apps and Internet tabs open without any slow down. It’s not going to be as fast as any more powerful tablets out there, including the high-end X1 Tablet models, but you won’t see a noticeable difference in day-to-day use or unless you run any benchmark tests. There were a few instances of the pointer lagging behind the trackpad though, but enough to be a problem, and that likely has more to do with the attached keyboard than an issue with the processing package.
Up to 1 TB of SSD storage options are available with the X1 Tablet, and this particular comes with a 256 GB SSD. Again, the higher you go, the more expensive the device is going to be, but one thing to keep in mind is that the storage and RAM cannot be upgraded after the fact, so it may be better to err on the side of caution and opt for one of the more higher-end versions of the tablet, depending on your needs.
The tablet comes with a capacitive fingerprint scanner placed along the middle to the right of the display. The placement is ideal for unlocking the device with your right thumb when holding the tablet, and any other when it is standing on a table. It is a fast and accurate scanner that works with Windows Hello, and you don’t have to press down on, so you won’t have to worry about pushing the tablet down when it is propped up.
As mentioned, the X1 Tablet comes with dual side-firing speakers. Front-facing speakers is obviously the best way to go, but this placement works well enough. The speakers offer good sound quality with crisp and clear sound, but unfortunately, don’t get particularly loud, so you won’t have the best audio experience unless you are in a relatively quiet space.
The X1 Tablet comes with a stylus as well, that Lenovo calls the ThinkPad Pen Pro. The stylus is closer to the size of a traditional pen than what is available with the X1 laptops, but unlike the latter, the Pen Pro requires an AAAA battery to run (that is also included in the box). The stylus uses Wacom’s AES technology to delivery 2048 levels of pressure sensitivity.
The stylus works extremely well, particularly when using it with Lenovo’s WRITEIT app. Unfortunately, there isn’t a slot of the stylus on the tablet itself, but you do get a holder that plugs into the USB 3.0 port. That is a useful way to have to pen close by, but only if you don’t need to use the only available regular USB port of the device.
While the keyboard and stylus come with the tablet, Lenovo also has a few different modules available that add a variety of capabilities to the device. The bottom of the tablet as a button to remove the cover, and you can then slot the module in its place.
So far, there is the Productivity module, which adds another USB 3.0 port, a OneLink+ port, and a HDMI port, while also serving as a battery extender. Another is a RealSense 3D camera module, that will allow you to scan objects in 3D, and finally, there is a projector module. Unfortunately, we don’t have any of the modules to test out, but this is certainly an interesting way to expand the capabilities of the tablet.
Battery life is one aspect of the ThinkPad X1 Tablet that is somewhat disappointing, especially when considering the fact that it is meant to serve your primary device and a laptop replacement. The device packs a 4,690 mAh battery, which is rather small for a tablet of this size and with such a high resolution display.
Lenovo rates the battery as able to provide up to 10 hours of continuous usage, but in my experience, the battery life was a little more than half that. It gets closer with lighter usage, but with even a little bit of load, the battery life can go down to even around 4 hours. Surprisingly, the tablet does better with video watching, and the device has lasted up to 6 hours with video almost continuously running. If you are looking to get more out of the tablet, you may have to pick up the Productivity module, that will add another 4-5 hours to the battery life.
The camera isn’t a big part of the tablet experience, especially if you have any mid-range or above current generation smartphone, but the cameras of the ThinkPad X1 Tablet will do in a pinch. The rear 8 MP camera captures a lot of detail and there is plenty of sharpness to be had. That said, the overall image seems to be yellow tint to it, the color temperature is on the warmer side, and there have been a few instances where the color reproduction could have been more accurate.
The same holds true for the 2 MP front-facing camera. Selfies look good enough and images are sharp and with a surprising amount of detail for a 2 MP shooter, and the camera will certainly do a good job with video calls. However, as is the case with the rear camera, the color temperature is on the warmer side, and everything appears to have a yellowish tint to it, which particularly messes with skin tone. Unsurprisingly, neither of these cameras do a good job in poor lighting conditions.
Pricing and final thoughts
The price of ThinkPad X1 Tablet ranges from around $1200 for the low-end version with the Core m3 processor and 4 GB of RAM, going up to around $1800 for the highest-end model. The keyboard and stylus are included with the device, but the modules will set you back an additional $280 for the Presenter (projector) module, while the Productivity module and the RealSense 3D camera are priced at around $150.
So, there you have it for this comprehensive review of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet! The device has a lot going for it, starting from the solid and durable build, the gorgeous display, an impressive attachable keyboard, and good performance. The battery life is a let down however, and the only way to alleviate this problem is to buy an additional module that will add to the already expensive tablet. The ThinkPad X1 Tablet is definitely good enough to take on the competition, but the question of whether any of these hybrids are worth it over a traditional laptop remains.