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Lenovo has had an ultraportable convertible tablet in its ThinkPad lineup for a while. Back in early 2009 we tested, and rather liked, the 12.1in. ThinkPad X200 Tablet. The X220 Tablet is the latest model, and Lenovo has given us a late pre-production sample to evaluate.
The ThinkPad X220 Tablet weighs 1.76kg with a 4-cell battery, and somewhat more with the optional 9-cell unit
The ThinkPad X220 Tablet has a neat, tidy and compact design. We don't think a convertible tablet housing a 12.5in. screen could get much smaller than 30.5cm by 22.9cm by 2.7-3.13cm; the weight, 1.76kg, is perfectly acceptable too.
This weight is quoted with a 4-cell battery, whereas our review sample was provided with the optional 9-cell battery. The bigger battery protrudes about 2.5cm from the back of the chassis along about two-thirds of its length, adding both size and weight — but also, obviously, delivering extra battery life.
The characteristic matte-black outer shell includes two useful status lights that show you when the notebook is in hibernate mode and when the battery is charging. The remaining LEDs, showing wireless status and hard drive activity, are on the screen bezel.
Inside, this convertible tablet features Lenovo's usual abundance of buttons. The keyboard is topped by a row of full-size number keys, with 12 two-thirds-size Fn keys above that. A bank to the right of these contains five further similarly sized keys, including a double-height Delete key plus Home, End, PgUp and PgDn keys. Four more keys sit above Fn keys 9-12, many of which have secondary functions.
The ThinkPad X220 Tablet has a busy keyboard, plus a touchpad that can be used in buttonless mode
There are four cursor keys, with secondary media control functions, in the bottom right corner of the keyboard; in what are usually empty spaces in this 'inverted-T' are a pair of keys to step back and forwards when web browsing.
The keyboard is further filled with a double-height Esc key top left, and a bank that includes a mute button, a volume rocker, a microphone mute button (for use during conference calls), a ThinkVantage button and an on/off switch.
To top all this off, the X220 Tablet has two cursor-control systems. There's a small pointing stick sitting between the G, H and B keys, which can be used with a pair of large buttons and central scroller beneath the space bar. There's also an innovative buttonless touchpad: the whole unit depresses, and pushing it in towards the bottom edge emulates left and right clicks. We're not sure we like the feel of this, as it seems rather flimsy. But it does remove the need for a second set of buttons, and you can always resort to the two trackpoint buttons if necessary.
The screen bezel contains further controls. There's a duplicate on/off switch, a button that accesses a lockdown screen (where you can switch users, log off and so on) and a third button that rotates the screen. There's also a fingerprint reader on the bezel and a webcam capable of 720p video recording.
Lenovo's SimpleTap provides a finger-friendly launchpad for a range of activities
The X220 Tablet's 12.5in. 1,366-by-768-pixel screen is made from extra-tough Gorilla Glass and is slightly duller than we'd like. Viewing angles in the vertical plane are good, and acceptable but not great in the horizontal plane. The screen is touch sensitive, and Lenovo includes its SimpleTap application: you double-tap on the screen with two fingers to launch a quick settings area with finger-friendly icons for use in tablet mode.
The screen swivels around a central pivot and lays flat facing outwards. Without a hinge to hold the screen in place there's a little play here, which could prove problematic in the long term. The protruding 9-cell battery proves to be a rather comfortable grab-bar that helps you hold the notebook firmly.
The ThinkPad X220 Tablet can be specified with either a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2520M processor, a 2.7GHz Core i7-620M or a 2.7GHz Core i7-2620M. You get 4GB of RAM as standard with the Core i7 options, 2GB with the Core i5, with a maximum RAM capacity of 8GB.
Hard drive capacities range between 160GB and 320GB, and there are SSD options up to 160GB. Windows 7 Professional 64-bit was preloaded on our review sample.
The ThinkPad X220 Tablet can be configured with mobile broadband as an option; Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) comes as standard, along with Bluetooth and Gigabit Ethernet.
I's a shame that Lenovo has not been able to squeeze an optical drive into the chassis. Enough people still use optical drives on a regular basis for them to be regarded as a basic requirement, and we've seen similar-sized notebooks with integrated optical drives — Toshiba's Portégé R700, for example.
The available edge space has been used to provide a decent range of ports and connectors. Most are on the left-hand side, where you'll find a physical wireless on/off switch, an ExpressCard slot, two USB 2.0 ports, a DisplayPort and a VGA connector. The right side has a further USB 2.0 port, a flash card reader, an Ethernet (RJ-45) connector and an audio combo jack. There's also a housing for a digitiser pen, which Lenovo provides as standard. The front tapers inwards and so cannot house any connectors at all.
Performance & battery life
Because Lenovo sent us a late pre-production sample with specifications that don't quite match what you'll see online, it would have been unfair for us to note the Windows Experience Index (WEI) or run our usual battery benchmarks.
However it's worth noting that Lenovo quotes a battery life of up to 9 hours with the 6-cell battery that's supplied as standard and up to 16 hours with the optional (£102) 9-cell battery in our review sample.
Battery Stretch helps you fine-tune power management settings for maximum battery life
Lenovo's Power Manager software allows you to control how battery power is used to a fine degree, and includes a facility called Battery Stretch that's designed specifically to help you squeeze the most uptime from the battery.
Our ThinkPad X220 Tablet was a late pre-production sample with somewhat non-standard specs, so it's not possible to deliver a definitive verdict. That said, the design and build are typically solid — although a hinge to keep the lid in place would be welcome, along with an option for an internal optical drive.
ThinkPad fans should have no problems with the X220 Tablet, although the buttonless touchpad could prove something of an acquired taste.