If you’re a diehard Windows user, then you probably denounce Apple products like the MacBook Air when in public, while secretly envying their sleek aesthetics in private. Although the Lenovo ThinkPad X301 isn’t as pretty as the Air, it comes very close — and packs in far more hardware.
Critics of the MacBook Air inevitably aim for one main criticism. As highlighted by this ad parody, its seemingly impossible thinness comes from the conspicuous absence of an optical drive and the lack of expansion ports, aside from a single USB connection.
By contrast, the ThinkPad is an engineering delight. Not only is there an optical drive and three USB 2.0 ports, it also has Gigabit Ethernet, a D-sub port and a DisplayPort. A 3G SimCard reader is also available for mobile Internet access. Despite all of this, the notebook weighs a mere 1.4kg without the power supply and 1.7kg with it included.
Unfortunately, cramming in all these goodies comes at high price: $3722 is a sizeable sum of cash, especially with talk of a recession. Buyers should make sure their hearts are set on an ultraportable before making the leap.
Luckily, there is plenty of bang for your bucks. To avoid turning the Lenovo into a lap scorcher, the X301 uses a 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 processor. The use of a 64GB solid state drive (SSD) also helps reduce heat and noise, and the system packs 2GB of DDR3 RAM.
Users who are noise-conscious will love the Lenovo for its silent operation. The use of an SSD means there are fewer moving parts, and the SSD and the ultra-low voltage processor mean less heat extraction is necessary. Additionally, the keyboard's soft keys mean you won't be bothering people around you with your clicking.
The X301 completed our Blender 3D render test in 2min 7sec, which is indicative of less than amazing performance from the ultra-low voltage processor, but this was expected. This processor's performance was confirmed by our iTunes benchmarking, where we convert 53min worth of WAV files into 192Kbps MP3s. The ThinkPad completed the test in 1min 59sec. However, this is still relatively good for a unit of this size.
In our WorldBench 6 test the ThinkPad got a score of 73. This means that office tasks are easy to perform.
What isn’t great is the low battery life. In our DVD rundown test, the Li-Ion battery in the ThinkPad lasted just 1hr 17min. Although an additional battery can be bought and inserted where the DVD-RW drive is located, replacing the DVD-RW drive is somewhat troublesome.
The X301 looks like a shrunken ThinkPad. Users shouldn’t see this as a downside, however, because notebooks are like human heads. When you can shrink one down, it’s strangely compelling. Road warriors will be happy to hear that the full-sized keyboard is fantastic. The bounce back is perfect and will have worker bees typing out documents at top speed. Unfortunately, the traditional Lenovo layout with the Function key on the bottom left instead of a Control key will irk most users.
The standard ThinkPad TrackPoint pointing device sits in the middle of the keyboard and works quite well, as does the touchpad. The only negative is the small size of the left- and right-click buttons, but most owners will get used to this fairly quickly. Also useful is the keyboard light. It shines a very small LED down onto the keyboard. While it isn’t bright enough to type with for any length of time without damaging your eyes, it is better than nothing.
The X301 has a very sturdy 13.3in screen with a native resolution of 1440x900. The viewing angle is average, and the image quality is good with strong colour contrast.
One gripe we have is the ThinkPad’s latching system. Instead of having a release spring in the middle of the unit’s front, Lenovo has installed it to the right. This makes it hard to open the device with one hand. If closed shut with pressure from only one side then the other side’s latch fails to lock properly.
Apart from this, it’s a solid and very well-built device that feels like it could take a lot of travel wear and tear.