Lenovo ThinkPad X201 Tablet Review

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Pros: Responsive multitouch display ; Lightweight,durable design ; Strong performance ; Crisp video playback

Cons: Mediocre battery life; Cramped touchpad

Verdict: Lenovo's super-fast multitouch convertible crams Core i7 power into an ultraportable design.

Lenovo's X200 tablet series has long been popular with road warriors and tablet enthusiasts because of its light weight, long battery life, and durable design. The ThinkPad X201 tablet is Lenovo's latest refresh, which promises even faster performance on what was already the industry's best business convertible. Other than delivering Intel's new mobile Core i7 and an optional touchpad, the $1,900 X201 (starting at $1,549) tablet offers no new riffs on this successful theme. Then again, it doesn't need to. Just be prepared for a drop in battery life.

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Design

Sporting an identical chassis to the ThinkPad X200 tablet, you'll hardly notice the difference between the X201 tablet and its predecessor. Like most ThinkPads, the X201 has a matte black chassis, complete with green indicator lights, and a bright red TrackPoint. On the deck above the keyboard are buttons for controlling audio and the blue ThinkVantage button that's used for launching a suite of Lenovo Utilities. On the lower bezel are buttons you can use when the notebook is in portrait mode, including a fingerprint reader, a power button, a screen rotating button, a button that emulates Ctrl + Alt + Delete, and another that launches the ThinkVantage menu.

At 11.6 x 10.1 x 1.3 inches and 4.2 pounds, the X201 isn't as light as a non-touch ultraportable like the X201 or X201s, but it's still incredibly lightweight and easy to carry. The Dell Latitude XT2 (11.7 x 8.7 x 1.1) is a little bit smaller.

Heat

A hot notebook is a recipe for discomfort, but fortunately, the ThinkPad X201 tablet stayed within reasonable temperatures during use. After streaming a web video at full screen for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured 95 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about on par with the 95-degree category average. The middle of the keyboard also measured 95 degrees, which is much lower than the category average of 98 degrees. And, while the bottom measured 100 degrees, that was 4 degrees below the category average of 104.

Keyboard, TrackPoint, Touchpad

The ThinkPad X201 tablet has the same keyboard layout as the ThinkPad X200 tablet, which benefits from the high level of responsiveness we've come to expect from Lenovo. However, the X201 feels a bit cramped in comparison to other ThinkPads, such as the island-style keyboard on the ThinkPad Edge 13or the extra comfy keyboard on the T410.

On our first try using the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor Test, we got a weak score of 76 words per minute with a 6-percent error rate. After we got used to the keyboard, however, that score improved to our typical 80 words per minute and 1-percent error rate. The problem, as with the X200 tablet, is that the palm rest is painfully short. If you have long hands, your wrists may rub up against the rigid edge of the notebook as you type and, if you try to keep your wrists on the palm rest, you end up contorting your hands into a less-than-optimal position.

Unlike the X201, which offers only a TrackPoint for navigation, the X201 tablet comes with an optional touchpad. We've always appreciated Lenovo's TrackPoint pointing sticks because they allow touch typists to move around the desktop without moving their hands off of the home row. However, not everyone likes to use pointing sticks, and all of Lenovo's other ThinkPads have both a TrackPoint and a touchpad. So it only makes sense that the company would put a touchpad on the X201. That said, the touchpad is extremely small at only 1 x 2.3-inches in size. However, it is highly accurate and supports multitouch gestures like pinch-to-zoom.

Ports and Webcam

For an ultraportable system, the X201 tablet packs in plenty of ports. On the right side are two USB ports, audio in and out, a bay to store the stylus, and a 56K modem port. On the left side is a Kensington lock slot, a VGA port, Ethernet, an ExpressCard/54 slot, and one more USB port (for a total of three). The front lip of the notebook features a 5-in-1 memory card reader to let you transfer data from cameras, phones, MP3 players, and other devices.


The 2-megapixel webcam provided sharp images, rich colors, and smooth video, even in low light. When speaking on Skype from a dimly lit living room, our call partner noted that there was some visual noise in the picture background, but that colors were extremely bright and shapes were free from blockiness.

Display and Touchscreen

Just like the X200 tablet, the X201 tablet's matte screen has a resolution of 1280 x 800, with bright colors and fantastic viewing angles even at 90 degrees to the left or right. The lid has a very strong middle hinge that rotates the screen either left or right and flips it around into tablet mode.

The display uses a capacitive digitizer that supports both stylus input and multitouch gestures with up to two fingers at a time. Using Windows 7's built-in support for touch, we easily performed basic tasks like swiping upwards on taskbar icons to launch jump lists, pinching to zoom in/out on photos, and drawing with two fingers at once in Windows Paint. Using Microsoft Touchpack, which comes preloaded, we were able to play entertaining touch games like Garden Pond, a game in which you move paper boats around a Japanese pond by splashing the water with your fingers.

Using the stylus, we were able to navigate accurately around the screen and take advantage of Windows 7's built-in handwriting recognition. Though our handwriting is worse than most doctors', the system was able to correctly translate most of our scribbles to text on the first try.

If the built-in Windows touch functionality isn't enough, Lenovo includes its SimpleTap interface for easy access to control panels and utilities when in tablet mode. By either double tapping on the desktop or tapping on the red SimpleTap button, you get a an overlay filled with large tiles that serve as shortcuts to perform basic functions like changing the volume, adjusting brightness, locking the computer, or turning on the webcam. You can also add custom tiles that will launch any program you want, or even web pages.

Multimedia and Sound

Playing movies (even in high-definition) on the X201 tablet was a pleasant experience. Both when we streamed a 720p episode of Fringe from Fox.com and when we played a 1080p WMV file from the Microsoft HD Showcase, images were incredibly crisp, colorful, and smooth. If you plan to watch movies on the X201 tablet, keep in mind that it does not have a built-in optical drive, so you'll either need downloaded content or an external drive.

The sound quality of the X201 tablet's speakers was more than good enough to play movies, and better than expected when playing music. Though the sound was a little tinny when we streamed a heavy metal song, a dance track, and a jazz tune from Napster.com, it was loud enough to fill a room, and richer than we usually hear from a business system.

Performance

With a blazing fast 2.13-GHz Intel Core i7-640LM CPU, the X201 performed well on everything we tried, whether it was transcoding video, playing a 1080p clip at full screen, or surfing the web. On PCMark Vantage, which measures overall system prowess, the X201 scored a whopping 5,445, which is about double the ultraportable category average of 2,715 and well ahead of the Dell Latitude XT2 (2,887) and ThinkPad X200 tablet (3,473), both of which use previous generation Intel processors.



The X201 tablet's 5,400-rpm, 320GB Fujitsu hard drive is a bit of an Achilles' heel, as it booted Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) in a slow 1 minute and 18 seconds, 17 seconds slower than the category average. In addition, it completed the LAPTOP Transfer Test, in which we copy 4.97GB of mixed media files, in a time of 4 minutes and 24 seconds. This rate of 19.3 MBps is slower than the category average of 21.2 MBps, not to mention the X200 tablet with a 7,200 rpm hard drive (26.4 MBps), and the whopping 38 MBps offered by the Dell Latitude XT2 and its SSD.



When we transcoded a 114MB MPEG-4 to AVI using Oxelon Media converter, the X201 tablet really shined, completing the task in a mere 58 seconds. That's more than twice as fast as the category average of 2:23.

Graphics

The ThinkPad X201's integrated Intel Graphics Media Accelerator HD chip was not good enough to turn the notebook into a gaming machine, but it was more than adequate for other multimedia tasks, including playing 1080p video or zooming around the globe on Google Earth. On 3DMark06, which measures overall graphics performance, the X201 tablet scored a solid 1,500, about 80 percent above the category average of 849 and comfortably faster than the X200 tablet (1,071) and Dell Latitude XT2 (641).



As a business ultraportable, you wouldn't expect the X201 tablet to play high-end 3D games, and you'd be right. Playing World of Warcraft at 1024 x 768 resolution, the notebook managed a barely playable 23 frames per second, 8 fps below the category average. When we raised the resolution to 1280 x 800 and turned up the special effects, the frame rate dropped to an unplayable 7 fps.

Battery Life and Wi-Fi

The increased performance offered by the ThinkPad X201's Core i7 processor comes with a significant cost in battery life. Where the original X200 tablet lasted 7 hours on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi, the X201 tablet managed only 5 hours and 10 minutes, even though both systems had the same eight-cell battery. The X201 tablet's time was 21 minutes below the category average, though it beat the Dell Latitude XT2 (3:25) by more than 90 minutes.



The X201 Tablet's 802.11a/g/n Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6200 wireless card provided a strong transfer rate of 35.8 Mbps at a distance of 15 feet from the router. At 50 feet, it provided a palatable rate of 20.5 Mbps.

Greenness

The ThinkPad X201 Tablet took 2 hours and 6 minutes to charge to 80 percent of capacity, and a full 4:43 to reach 100 percent. During that time, the notebook used an average of 34.1 watts. Its LAPTOP Battery Efficiency Rating of 31 is worse than the category average of 19.8 (lower is better), and way behind the original X200 tablet's rating of 13.9. That's the price the planet pays for Core i7.

Configuration Options

Though our configuration is priced at $1,900, the X201 tablet starts at $1,549. The notebook can be configured with a wide variety of options. In addition to the 2.13-GHz Core i7-640LM CPU our unit came with, a less-expensive (and powerful) 2-GHz Core i7-620LM CPU is available.

You can configure the system with anywhere from 1GB to 8GB of RAM, a four- or eight-cell battery, and a variety of storage options. When it comes to the storage drive, you can get a 5,400-rpm hard drive in 160GB, 250GB, or 320GB capacity, a 7,20- rpm hard drive in 320GB or 500GB capacity, or an encrypted 7,200-rpm drive in 250GB capacity. Prefer a solid state drive? Lenovo offers an SSD in 80GB or 128GB sizes.

The 12.1-inch screen is available in three versions. The basic option comes without multitouch capabilities or outdoor viewing. You can step up to either the multitouch version that we reviewed, or a SuperBright Outdoor version. We highly recommend that you get the multitouch screen, a 7,200-rpm hard drive or SSD, and the eight-cell battery. Multitouch greatly enhances the user experience; our tests show that the 5,400-rpm hard drive is too slow. Unless you plan to use your notebook mostly in the office, it's important to get the most battery life you can.

Software and Warranty

In addition to the Lenovo SimpleTap interface described in the touch section above, the X201 tablet comes with the standard array of ThinkVantage utilities, including Lenovo Power Manager, which gives you fine control over your power consumption, Lenovo Airbag protection to protect the hard drive from shakes and drops, and Lenovo Access Connections to help manage your wireless connections. Perhaps the most interesting of these tools is the Password Manager, which stores and encrypts all of your passwords. As mentioned above, Microsoft TouchPack, a series of touch-friendly casual games and small apps, comes preinstalled.

A one-year warranty on parts and labor comes standard, along with 24/7 toll-free support. To see how Lenovo did in our latest Tech Support Showdown, click here.

Verdict

With its faster processor and new touchpad, in many ways the ThinkPad X201 is still the business tablet to beat. However, its faster performance comes with a significant drop in battery life (from 7 hours to 5 hours in the case of our configuration), so if having all-day endurance is important to you and the original X200 tablet is still available when you're shopping, you may want to consider the older model. However, if you want the best business tablet on the market, the $1,900 ThinkPad X201 is it.

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Author Bio
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master's degree in English from NYU.
Avram Piltch, Online Editorial Director on
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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
CPU 2.13-GHz Intel Core i7-640LM
Operating System Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)
RAM 4GB
RAM Upgradable to 4GB
Hard Drive Size 320GB
Hard Drive Speed 5,400rpm
Hard Drive Type SATA Hard Drive
Display Size 12.1
Native Resolution 1280x800
Optical Drive
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card Intel Graphics Media Accelerator (Core i7)
Video Memory 64MB
Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n
Bluetooth
Mobile Broadband
Ports (excluding USB) VGA
Ports (excluding USB) Modem
Ports (excluding USB) Microphone
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) Ethernet
USB Ports 3
Card Slots ExpressCard/54
Card Slots 5-1 card reader
Warranty/Support 1 year parts and labor
Size 11.6 x 10.1 x 1.3-inches
Weight 4.2 pounds
Company Website www.lenovo.com