Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme review: A powerful business laptop with a top-quality 4K screen

thinkpad-x1-extremeheader.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    8.5 Excellent

Pros

  • Very solid hardware design
  • Powerful configuration
  • 4K screen is superb
  • Plenty of RAM and storage options in bespoke configurations

Cons

  • Quite heavy to carry regularly
  • Moderate battery life on 4K version

Lenovo's ThinkPads are well regarded, solidly built, feature-rich business laptops. The 15.6-inch ThinkPad X1 Extreme is currently available in two off-the-page configurations on Lenovo's UK website, at £1,619.99 (inc. VAT; £1,349.99 ex. VAT), or £2,266.79 (inc. VAT; £1,888.99 ex. VAT). Described as an "ultralight powerhouse" that "handles demanding computing tasks without a hitch", the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is a pricey laptop -- but does it deliver value for money?

Lenovo doesn't mess around with the basic design of its ThinkPad range, so here we have a very classic look and feel. The matte-black chassis looks vast on this relatively large ThinkPad, which is adorned only by the X1 logo sitting in one corner and the ThinkPad marquee in the opposite corner. The whole unit tapers towards the front with the bottom edge raising itself slightly from the desktop. This angled edge continues into the sides and the back, allowing the sides and back to house a pair of speaker grilles that are slightly elevated from a desk (or from clothing if the ThinkPad is on your lap), which helps to avoid muffled sound.

thinkpad-x1-extrememain.jpg

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme is a powerful 15.6-inch laptop weighing 1.7kg with an FHD non-touch screen or 1.8kg with a 4K touch-screen. The entry-level price is £1,619.99 (inc. VAT; £1,349.99 ex. VAT).

Images: Lenovo

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme is 'extreme' in several ways. The 15.6-inch screen is larger than any that's been seen in the X1 range before, for example, so it obviously requires a bigger chassis. The FHD non-touch version measures 361.8mm by 245.7mm by 18.4 mm and weighs 1.7kg, while the 4K touch version is slightly thicker (18.7mm) and heavier (1.8kg). This laptop is destined to spend most of its time deskbound, rather than be a regular travel companion.

Should you need to travel with it, this ThinkPad is characteristically tough. Four layers of reinforced carbon fibre are built into the lid section, including a core shock-absorbing layer. I was able to bend the lid slightly in my hands, but it's remarkably solid for such a wide screen.

thinkpad-x1-extremeflat.jpg

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme's screen will lay flat, but this is no 360-degree Yoga-style laptop.

Image: Lenovo

The ThinkPad X1 Extreme does not have a Yoga-style 360-degree rotating screen. It will lay back far enough to sit flat on a desk so that information can be shared, but there's no option for a tent, presentation or tablet modes. If you need that sort of flexibility in a ThinkPad, check out the ThinkPad X1 Yoga (3rd Gen).

There are two configurations of the ThinkPad X1 Extreme available on Lenovo's UK website. The £1,619.99 (inc. VAT) model has an FHD IPS (1,920 x 1,080) non-touch screen, while the £2,266.79 model, like my review sample, has a 4K UHD HDR (3840 x 2160) touch-screen. You can tweak the specification of either model up to a point -- adding the UHD touch-screen to the FHD non-touch laptop, for example, adds £256.80 to the price.

Top ZDNET Reviews

The 4K screen on my review unit responded well to touch input and was extremely sharp and bright, which should appeal to users wanting to create content directly on-screen. When working on battery power, the default 80 percent screen brightness setting worked well for me -- just as well because this laptop's high-level specs are something of a challenge for the battery, as we shall see.

The speakers deliver good-quality sound and at decent volume. Dolby Atmos support means that a range of sound profiles are available to enhance audio quality.

The keyboard is up to Lenovo's usual high standards. The pot-bellied keys are large, with plenty of travel and a real springiness to the action. The enter key is wide and tall, and there's enough space for the function keys and the arrow keys to be relatively large. Keys require a little more force to depress than usual, but this is easily accommodated and I could touch type at normal speed with no problem.

thinkpad-x1-extremekeyboard.jpg

Touch-typing at speed is no problem on the ThinkPad X1 Extreme's spacious, responsive keyboard.

Image: Sandra Vogel/ZDNet

Lenovo's TrackPoint sits between the G, H and B keys, with two associated buttons and a scroll bar that lie above the touchpad. The touchpad itself is responsive, and I prefer its slightly tactile finish to smoother, glassier options (although others may differ). The keyboard backlight offers two brightness levels, and is toggled with the Fn key/spacebar combination.

The entry-level model has a 720p camera above the screen with a ThinkShutter, a cover you can slide in front of the lens if you're worried about privacy. I last saw this on the Yoga C930, and it's also a feature of several ThinkPad models. My review unit, which is closer to the top-end specification, had a 720p camera with IR for Windows Hello authentication, but no ThinkShutter.

SEE: 20 pro tips to make Windows 10 work the way you want (free PDF)

My review sample featured a Core i7 processor and discrete Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti graphics -- a powerful combination that uses a new aluminium alloy bottom cover that's designed to dissipate heat more efficiently. I found this to be reasonably effective, although the system still ran slightly warm at times. RAM can go up to 64GB, but my review sample came with 'just' 32GB. The full RAM complement will cost you though -- an extra £513.60 (inc. VAT) on the 32GB price.

My review unit had a 1TB SSD, and it's possible to configure the laptop with two SSDs, bringing the total capacity to a massive 2TB. Again, the full SSD storage capacity isn't cheap -- an extra £370.80 (inc. VAT) on top of the 1TB price.

Here the two off-the-page the configurations on Lenovo's UK website:

  • Intel Core i5-8300H, Windows 10 Home, 15.6-inch 1,920 x 1,080 pixel non-touch screen, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti 4GB GPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD
    £1,619.99 (inc. VAT; £1,349.99 ex. VAT)
  • Intel Core i7-8750H, Windows 10 Pro, 15.6-inch 3,840 x 2,160 pixel touch screen, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti 4GB GPU, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD
    £2,266.79 (inc. VAT; £1,888.99 ex. VAT)
thinkpad-x1-extremeports.jpg

A 15.6-inch chassis gives plenty of space for ports and slots.

Image: Lenovo

There's a generous array of ports and connectors. The right edge has an SD card reader and two USB 3.1 ports, while the left edge has a full-size HDMI port, a 3.5mm headset jack, a mini-Ethernet port (Lenovo provides a dongle with an RJ-45 connector), and a pair of USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports. Charging is via Lenovo's proprietary connector rather than the Thunderbolt 3 ports. That's a shame in some ways, but it does mean that the Thunderbolt ports are always available.

The 4K touchscreen and Core i7 processor in my review unit gave the 4-cell, 80Wh battery something of a hammering. With the screen at its default battery-power brightness of 80 percent and a fairly light workload of writing into a web-based app while streaming music, with some pauses for video playback, the battery was reduced to 44 percent after four hours. A full day's work on battery power would be a stretch with this configuration, especially under heavy workloads. I would expect the FHD screen to last longer. Lenovo, incidentally, claims battery life of 'up to' 15 hours, noting that this "varies significantly with settings, usage, and other factors".

There are plenty of security facilities, including a fingerprint sensor on the wrist rest, vPro support in some configurations, and a smart card reader as an optional extra. In addition, as mentioned earlier, you can either have the ThinkShutter or an IR camera for Windows Hello authentication.

Conclusions

'Extreme' is the right word to describe this laptop: it has a large 15.6-inch screen which, in 4K guise (as reviewed), is very watchable; high-end CPU and discrete GPU options allow it to handle demanding tasks; and with two SSD slots there's potential for a lot of internal storage.

The let-down is that the 80Wh battery struggled to give me a day's work from my 4K-screen review sample.

RECENT AND RELATED CONTENT

https://www.zdnet.com/product/lenovo-thinkpad-p1/

Lenovo ThinkPad X380 Yoga review: A classy 13-inch 360-degree convertible
The X380 Yoga combines typical ThinkPad features with a 360-degree screen, keyboard lock-out in tablet modes and a bundled stylus.

Lenovo ThinkPad P1 review: Workstation power in a portable package
The 15.6-inch ThinkPad P1 is thin and light for a workstation-class laptop, and has plenty of options to maximise performance, at a price. Battery life is a concern though.

Lenovo claims pole position in IDC and Gartner PC market share reports
Both Gartner and IDC have reported that the Chinese company again boasted the most shipped PC devices in the third quarter of 2018.

Lenovo Q2 2018: Revenues surge, Motorola breaks even
Lenovo's results are strong, buoyed by the break-even of Motorola worldwide.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme adds graphics chops to its top biz laptop (CNET)
Lenovo incorporates an Nvidia 1050 Ti Max-Q GPU into its ThinkPad X1 line to complement its Dolby Vision HDR-qualified screen.

Best Laptops for 2018 (CNET)
Our editors hand-picked these products based on our tests and reviews.

Read more reviews

Top ZDNET Reviews