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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet review: Compact, robust and modular

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Written by Sandra Vogel on
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8.0/10

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet

Excellent
Pros
  • Compact, light and portable
  • Keyboard, tablet and stylus all included
  • Efficient kickstand
  • Solid magnetic connection between tablet and keyboard
  • Add-on modules extend functionality
Cons
  • Keyboard is slightly spongy
  • No internal housing for stylus
  • Productivity Module required for all-day battery life
  • Reflective screen
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

Five months after it was announced, Lenovo has brought its modular 2-in-1 ThinkPad X1 Tablet to market. Thanks largely to Microsoft's Surface Pro 4 and the iPad Pro (particularly the iPad Pro 12.9, but also the iPad Pro 9.7), hybrid tablets are now considered to be the real deal for business productivity. Starting at £1,049.99 (inc. VAT, or £875 ex. VAT), the 12-inch ThinkPad X1 Tablet is a premium-priced device, so you'll need to be confident that it really can be the only laptop you'll ever need.

tp-x1-tablet-modules.jpg

The ThinkPad X1 Tablet comprises the 12-inch tablet, keyboard and stylus, plus optional add-on modules.

Image: Lenovo

The predominantly black ThinkPad X1 Tablet looks every inch a ThinkPad device: both the tablet and keyboard sections have a solid metal chassis, so a protective case shouldn't be required to keep it safe from damage in a travel bag, for example.

The two sections hold together very well too, so there's no concern about them separating as you travel around. The docking mechanism relies on magnets rather than mechanical locks, but is still very secure. When lifting the whole device up by the screen, I always felt confident that the keyboard would remain solidly in place, and it didn't let me down.

tp-x1-tablet-sections.jpg

The tablet has a fold-down kickstand, while the keyboard attaches magnetically.

Image: Lenovo

It's clear from the outset that this is a device that's meant to be used as often with its keyboard as without. A metal kickstand on the back of the tablet pops out when you release a catch and provides a sizeable flat base to rest on a desk.

The stand is fully adjustable, so you can lay the screen right down on the desk if you want to, or raise it up to just shy of 90 degrees.

Because the kickstand has to be popped out to hold the screen in place, getting started is a little more time consuming and fiddly than it is with a standard clamshell laptop. I never quite got used to having to do a bit more than just lift the lid before starting to work.

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The most significant usability issue in terms of the setup is that the kickstand protrudes by about 90mm from the back of the unit. So if you need to work in conditions where desk space is at a premium, such as on a train, an airplane or even in a crowded café where you're sharing a table, you might have space issues.

On the other hand, the kickstand works really well in tablet mode because it presents a solid expanse of base to a table - as opposed to the narrow strip proffered by the Microsoft Surface, for example. And because so much of the stand is in contact with the desktop, there's no danger of the whole thing toppling backwards as you prod the touchscreen.

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The Productivity Module (top) adds an extra (5-hour-rated) battery, plus HDMI, USB 3.0 and OneLink connectors. The Projector Module (above) includes a pico-projector that can deliver a 60-inch image from about 2.5ft/2m.

Images: Lenovo

Lenovo has made a very good decision to bundle both the tablet and the keyboard together, and also to include its ThinkPad Stylus pen with every preconfigured option. The price might be on the high side as a result, but there are no financial surprises for those who want to work with the hybrid combination.

There are plenty of extras you can purchase to boost productivity, including a forthcoming Projector Module. If this add-on's pico projector is as good as the one built into the Lenovo Yoga Tab Pro 3, then it's worth investigating. Available now is the £139.20 (inc. VAT) Productivity Module, which offers a 5-hour battery boost, HDMI-out, a full-size USB 3.0 port and a OneLink+ docking port. A 3D Imaging Module with an Intel RealSense camera has also been announced, but there's no sign of that yet.

Modules are fitted by removing the docking connector from the bottom of the tablet and then snapping in the add-on, which then delivers the relevant functions and a connection for the keyboard.

The tablet section measures 291mm wide by 209.5mm deep by 8.45mm thick and weighs 795g, while the keyboard measures 290mm by 228 by 5.2mm. Lenovo doesn't quote a separate weight for the keyboard, but does give a total weight of 1.1kg. I weighed the keyboard at 280g, so that's about right.

The keyboard can either sit flat on a table or be propped up at an angle, thanks to a flexible strip that's anchored to its top edge and which allows connection to the tablet.

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The keyboard has a flexible magnetic strip that supports several typing angles.

Image: Lenovo

The keyboard is a typical ThinkPad design, with a TrackPoint sitting between the G, H and B keys, and three buttons above the trackpad for cursor control and scrolling. The trackpad has its own pair of embedded buttons and is responsive to use.

We found the keyboard a little bit spongy and unsatisfying to type on. It's also on the small side, and people with larger hands may find things a little cramped. Still, this goes with the territory of a relatively small-screen device.

Because it has to function as a standalone tablet, there's a fairly wide bezel around the 12-inch IPS touchscreen, which makes it look small compared to, say, the 13.3-inch edge-to-edge screen on the one-piece Dell Latitude 13. Still, its resolution of 1,260 by 1,440 pixels (216ppi) is high enough to deliver plenty of detail when creating or reading text, looking at web pages and watching video. It's annoyingly reflective though.

Lenovo's bundled ThinkPad Stylus is powered by an AAAA battery and can handle 2,048 levels of pressure. The ThinkPad X1 Tablet incorporates Lenovo's WriteIt app, which allows you to make input into text boxes in pretty much any app you're likely to encounter.

There's no integrated housing for the stylus on the chassis, which is not surprising as the pen's diameter is greater than the thickness of both the tablet and the keyboard. Lenovo's solution is a holder that slots into the device's only full-size USB port. This rubbery unit looks out of place against the ThinkPad's otherwise sleek lines -- and of course it puts that USB port out of action.

There are four preconfigured models on Lenovo's UK website, which you can also customise. I was sent the £1,379.99 (inc. VAT) model:

  • Intel Core M5-6Y54, Windows 10 Pro 64, 12-inch 2160 x 1440 IPS touchscreen, Intel HD Graphics 515, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD £1,049.99 (inc. VAT)
  • Intel Core M5-6Y54, Windows 10 Pro 64, 12-inch 2160 x 1440 IPS touchscreen, Intel HD Graphics 515, 8GB RAM, 192GB SSD £1,229.99 (inc. VAT)
  • Intel Core M7-6Y75, Windows 10 Pro 64, 12-inch 2160 x 1440 IPS touchscreen, Intel HD Graphics 515, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD £1,379.99 (inc. VAT) -- review unit
  • Intel Core M7-6Y75, Windows 10 Pro 64, 12-inch 2160 x 1440 IPS touch screen, Intel HD Graphics 515, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD £1,759.99 (inc. VAT)

Ports and connectors are all on the tablet section. The single USB 3.0 port has already been noted, in addition to which there's a Mini-DisplayPort, a single Type C USB port that doubles as the charge connector and 3.5mm headset jack.

The system controls are also all on the tablet. There's a fingerprint reader and an NFC touch point on the bezel, while the on/off switch is on a long edge -- top left when you're working in laptop mode. In this orientation, the volume controls are on the left short edge and the speaker grilles are on each of the short edges.

With the Projector Module, the ThinkPad X1 Tablet is potentially ideal for presentations to small groups, so you'll appreciate its audio output, which is perfectly adequate for the task.

On the back of the tablet are slots for a Nano-SIM and a MicroSD card, although the entry-level preconfigured model does not support mobile broadband. Both slots are safely hidden under the kickstand when it's closed, but are visible when the stand is in use.

There are two cameras: a 2-megapixel front camera for video calls and an 8-megapixel rear camera with a flash.

According to Lenovo, you'll get up to 10 hours' life from the X1 Tablet's 2-cell, 37Wh battery, but that's optimistic in our experience. During testing, even when basically idling one morning, the battery dropped from fully charged to 75 percent, while in general usage I could only get between 5.5 and 6.5 hours before needing to recharge the battery.

For a (claimed) extra 5 hours of battery life, you'll need to consider the Productivity Module, even though this will add weight, bulk and cost (£139.20 inc. VAT). At least the one-piece charger is not too burdensome to carry around.

Conclusion

Lenovo's 12-inch ThinkPad X1 Tablet is a compact and robust modular 2-in-1 hybrid that's a serious challenger to Microsoft's Atom x7-based Surface 3. It's not cheap though, and while the tablet, keyboard and stylus are all shipped as standard, the optional Productivity Module will probably be required to get reliable all-day battery life.

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