With a footprint of 13.2 x 9in (337 x 231mm), the Lenovo ThinkPad X1's jet-black case is 0.4in wider than two other 13.3in rivals, the Apple MacBook Air and the Dell Vostro V130; at 0.8in thick, it’s a tenth of an inch thicker than the Air's super-slim profile.
Add in its 340g AC adapter, and the 1.7kg Lenovo ThinkPad X1 hits the road with a 2.04kg travel weight – not bad, but 140g heavier than the Vostro V130 and nearly half a kilo heavier than the Air.
Style counts for a lot with these premium lightweight notebooks. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1's angular black plastic case contrasts strongly to the MacBook Air's sleekly rounded aluminum skin; which you like better is strictly a matter of taste.
We do like the feel of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1's rubberized coating; it keeps the laptop from slipping while being carried.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 comes with 4GB of memory. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 is powered by a second-generation 2.50GHz Intel Core i5 processor that offers TurboBoost technology, letting it sprint to 3.2GHz for short-term bursts. This compares favourably with the Air's current 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo chip (which is antiquated by comparison).
The ThinkPad X1 review unit came with a 320GB hard drive and a 160GB flash storage module (which costs extra).
To protect the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 from injury, it includes a wrap-around internal frame and a display made of Corning Gorilla Glass.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1's 13.3in display is powered by Intel's HD 3000 integrated graphics chip, and offers 1366 x 768-pixel resolution. We found the screen to be bright, rich and clear in a variety of lighting environments. Like many premium notebooks now, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 comes with a backlit keyboard; the bluish glow has two brightness settings. However, be aware that using it can cut battery life by about 20 minutes.
Pointing to the keyboard
Along with something bluish, the ThinkPad X1's keyboard offers users something old and something new. It still has a pointing stick in the centre of the keyboard (a nice holdover, for those that need them, from the old IBM ThinkPads), but the touchpad has been tweaked.
Rather than having separate keys for right and left clicks, it has areas for right and left clicks at the bottom of the touchpad itself. It took us a little time to get used to it, but it worked well.
To prevent a spill from becoming a disaster, the keyboard has two prominent drain holes at the bottom so that liquids will flow out of (rather than into) the system.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 comes with three USB ports (one more than the MacBook Air); one is USB 3.0-complaint while another doubles as an eSATA connector.
There's also a combo headphone/microphone jack, volume controls and mute buttons for microphone and speakers.
In addition, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 has HDMI and Mini DisplayPort connections. Like most other ultraslim systems it lacks a separate VGA port, but you can always buy a DisplayPort-to-VGA adaptor.
Also on board the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 is a wired gigabit ethernet connection, plus 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0.
All told, the ThinkPad X1 is a high-performance bargain that could outdo the MacBook Air if only it weighed a pound less.
You can also purchase an optional 3G module; in the US it’s offered with either a Sierra Wireless Gobi module, for connecting with AT&T, Sprint or Verizon 3G networks; or an Ericsson module for connecting with AT&T's 3G HSPA network.
In our tests, it all adds up to a top-performing executive-class notebook. The system's 1275 score on PassMark's PerformanceTest 7.0 benchmark suite is double the score of the Dell Vostro V130 and even passes the Asus U36JC, which was the fastest ultrathin notebook in a recent Computerworld roundup.
In fact, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1's overall performance score roughly matches the score of the less stylish Lenovo ThinkPad L420 business laptop.
But some of its individual components didn't test as well as the overall system; the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 scored a run-of-the-mill 2.83 and 8.55 on CineBench's processor and graphics tests.
The ThinkPad X1's internal 38.4Wh battery lasted for 3 hours 47 minutes with the keyboard light off, and 2 hours 26 minutes with it on, while continuously playing videos from a USB drive.
That's nearly twice as long as the Vostro V130's running time of 2 hours and 21 minutes, but short of the MacBook Air's four hours.
When it's time to power up, Lenovo says the ThinkPad X1's battery can get to 80% of capacity in 30 minutes and can attain a full charge in 50 minutes with the system running. That's about half the time for a typical notebook.
Unfortunately, like so many other ultraslim systems, the main battery is sealed inside and can't be swapped on the road.
Lenovo also sells a snap-on wedge battery specified at 35.5Wh. This adds half an inch of thickness and 8oz weight. With both batteries attached, the laptop ran for 6 hours 2 minutes.
On top of Windows 7 Professional, the system comes with a slew of ThinkVantage utilities for adjusting just about every aspect of the X1's operation. It also includes Office 2010 Starter and Dolby Home Theater software.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 comes with a three-year warranty – which is very nice, considering that most laptops are covered for one year.
How we tested
To see how the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 compares to other executive-class systems, we used it for several hours daily for a week to write with, update a website, give presentations and work through email.
We measured and weighed the system. To test its travel readiness, we put it on a mock-up of the typical airplane seat-back table tray to see how it fitted.
While on the road, we connected it to public Wi-Fi networks and a mobile hotspot. We also used it in our office with ethernet and Wi-Fi connections.
We looked at overall performance with PassMark's PerformanceTest 7.0 benchmark test. The software exercises the major components of the system, including processor, hard drive, 2D and 3D graphics, and memory; it then compiles the results into a single score that represents its performance potential.
We also ran CineBench 11.5, which benchmarks graphics and processor performance. The software renders several photorealistic 3D scenes that stress the processor and graphics card by manipulating up to a million polygons and then reports scores for each.
Finally, we measured battery life. With a USB drive containing six HD videos connected to the laptop, we set Windows Media Player to shuffle through all the videos until the ThinkPad ran out of power while PassMark's BatteryMon charted the battery's capacity.
All tests were run three times with the results averaged.