Long battery life; Strong performance; Light weight; Display has great viewing angles; Responsive keyboard
Washed-out, flaky webcam; Short palm rest ; Poor palm rejection
A fast Core i5 processor, well-designed clickpad, and epic endurance help the 12-inch Lenovo ThinkPad X220 rise to the top.
Lenovo's ThinkPad X200 series has a long history of combining lightweight portability, epic battery life, and uncompromising performance. The 12.5-inch, $1,299 ThinkPad X220 offers a couple of new riffs on this familiar theme, including a 16:9 screen, an Intel 2nd Generation Core processor, and a large textured clickpad, but can the new model live up to the storied legacy of its predecessors?
At 12 x 9.1 x 1.25 inches and 3.6 pounds (with a nine-cell battery), the ThinkPad X220 is extremely light and thin, comparing favorably to last year's ThinkPad X201 (11.6 x 9.2 x 1.4 inches, 3.8 pounds with a nine-cell battery) and the HP EliteBook 2740p. However, the 13-inch MacBook Air is much lighter and thinner (12.8 x 8.9 x .68 inches, 2.9 pounds). The standard six-cell battery takes 1 inch off the depth of the notebook and 0.2 pounds off its weight. The optional battery slice, which attaches to the bottom of the system, adds 0.6 inches of thickness and 1.5 pounds of weight.
The X220 sports the tried-and-true ThinkPad aesthetic, complete with a rubberized lid and a metallic Lenovo logo, and raven-black sides, bottom, and deck. As usual, the only dashes of color are the bright red TrackPoint and a light blue Enter key on the keyboard. Perhaps the most noteworthy departure from other high-end ThinkPads is the absence of a latch on the lid.
There are few things more uncomfortable than a hot notebook, so we must give kudos to the X220 for keeping it cool. After streaming a video at full screen for 15 minutes, we measured the touchpad at just 82 degrees Fahrenheit, the keyboard at a cool 86 degrees, and the bottom at a reasonable 91 degrees. We consider temperatures below 95 degrees to be comfortable.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The ThinkPad X220's keyboard offers the kind of amazing tactile feedback and concave shaped keys that allow touch typists to input quickly and accurately. Due to these advantages, we were able to score a strong 86 words per minute on the Ten Thunbs Typing Test, better than our typical 80 wpm average.
Like those on Lenovo's ThinkPad T Series, the X220's keyboard also features an enlarged Esc and Delete to make those frequently used keys easier to target. The keyboard also has a full array of extended keys such as Scroll Lock and Pause for users who need them. Unfortunately, while the keyboard itself feels great, the short 2.5-inch palmrest will leave many users' wrists hanging over its edge, which can be uncomfortable and can place added strain on the shoulders and wrists.
Those who prefer touchpads will appreciate the X220's 3 x 1.75-inch textured clickpad. Though we've been critical of previous buttonless touchpads because they were jumpy, the X220's Synaptics-powered pad was accurate and comfortable to use. It also supports a wide variety of multitouch gestures and edge scrolling.
However, we did notice frequent problems with the pad's ability to reject accidental touches from our palms. When we were using the TrackPoint to navigate and our wrist brushed against the pad, we sometimes ended up clicking on the desktop by accident or, worse still, the touchpad and the TrackPoint were both trying to drag the pointer in opposite directions, leading the pointer to temporarily get stuck in place.
Display and Audio
Though we wouldn't recommend using the X220 has a home stereo, when we played both the bass-heavy "Forget Me Nots" and the orchestral theme from the Empire Strikes Back, sound was true and loud enough to fill a room.
Ports and Webcam
For such a small notebook, the X220 has plenty of ports. On the right side are an SD card reader, an Ethernet port, an audio jack, and a powered USB connection that can charge your devices even when the notebook is off. On the left are a VGA port, DisplayPort, two more USB ports (for a total of three), and an ExpressCard/54 slot, something you don't see on many notebooks these days.
The ThinkPad X220 has a couple of features designed to enhance the video conferencing experience, the most obvious of which is a row of buttons on the upper left side of the deck that quickly allow you to raise and lower the volume or mute/unmute the microphone. In the Lenovo Communications utility, you can optimize the microphone for single voice or multiple voice calls, both of which worked as advertised when we conducted a conference call over ooVoo. The keystroke noise suppression setting, which is supposed to filter out the noise of your typing, didn't work as well. Our conference partner clearly heard our strokes with the suppression enabled, though they were even louder and more annoying with it disabled.
With its 2.5-GHz Core i5-2520M CPU, the ThinkPad X220 has more than enough performance for the most demanding tasks, even video editing. On PCMark Vantage, a benchmark that measures overall performance, the X220 scored a whopping 7,719, about double the ultraportable notebook category average of 3,837 and a bit faster than the X201's 7,050. That showing is also miles ahead of the HP EliteBook 2740p (5,374) and the 13-inch MacBook Air (5,390).
The 320GB, 7,200-rpm Hitachi hard drive booted Windows 7 Professional (64-bit) in a speedy 47 seconds, which is about 14 seconds faster than the category average (61 seconds) and 20 second faster than the HP EliteBook 2740p (67 seconds). However, the 13-inch MacBook Air, which has a high-speed SSD, boots into Mac OS X in just 15 seconds. The X220 is available with a number of SSD options that can decrease its boot time, including Lenovo's RapidDrive technology, which pairs an 80GB SSD boot drive with a traditional hard drive for storage.
The 7,200-rpm hard drive took just 2 minutes and 38 seconds to complete the LAPTOP File Transfer test, which involves duplicating 4.97GB of mixed media files. That data rate of 32.2 MBps is on a par with the ultraportable category average of 31.1 MBps and far better than the HP EliteBook 2740p's 18 Mbps. Of course, the 13-inch MacBook Air and its SSD blew this away with a rate of 78.3 MBps.
There's little doubt that the ThinkPad X220 is good enough for mobile video editing. The notebook took a mere 43 seconds to transcode a 114MB MP4 to AVI format using Oxelon Media Encoder, over a minute faster than the 1:54 category average. It also took a mere 37 seconds to encode a 5-minute HD clip to an iPod touch format video using Cyblelink Media Espresso, much quicker than the 3:40 category average.
The ThinkPad X220 comes with an integrated Intel HD Graphics chip, which is good enough for playing 1080p videos and performing most tasks, though you can forget about serious gaming. On 3DMark06, which measures overall graphics prowess, the X220 scored a respectable 3,494, which is more than double the category average of 1,611 and far better than the 1,900 that last year's ThinkPad X201 saw. However, the 13-inch MacBook Air, which has a discrete Nvidia GPU, managed 4,611.
With the special effects turned down, the X220 managed a playable frame rate of 34 fps in World of Warcraft, but that number dropped to an unplayable 14 fps when we turned up the special effects. Those numbers compare unfavorably to the 56/24 fps turned in by the 13-inch MacBook Air.
With its 2.5-GHz Core i5 CPU and Intel HD graphics, the X220 proved capable of playing any video we threw at it with great aplomb. Whether we were streaming a 720p episode of Fringe or playing a downloaded 1080p QuickTime trailer for The Battle of L.A., playback was completely smooth (37 and 48 fps, respectively) with sharp, distortion-free images.
Battery Life and Wireless
No matter which battery option you choose, the ThinkPad X220 will let you stay unplugged for a long time. With its default six-cell battery, the notebook lasted a whopping 7 hours and 51 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi. That's two hours longer than the category average of 5:32 and over an hour more than the 13-inch MacBook Air's time of 6:36. However, the X201s saw an even better 8:31 with a nine-cell battery.
While 8 hours is excellent, those looking for intercontinental endurance would be best served with one of the X220's extended battery options: The nine-cell battery on the X220 lasted 12 hours and 39 minutes. With the six-cell battery and the optional $179 battery slice attached to the bottom of the notebook, the X220 lasted an even longer 15 hours and 44 minutes, though at the expense of an additional 1.6 pounds of weight and an inch of thickness. With both the 9-cell battery and the battery slice, the Lenovo X220 lasted an epic 20 hours and 18 minutes while still weighing only 5.2 pounds.
The Intel Centrino 6205 802.11n radio produced strong transfer rates of 43.7 and 19.6 Mbps at distances of 15 and 50 feet from our router, respectively. Those scores compare favorably to the 31/19.6 Mbps category averages, though the HP ProBook 4720s (46.1/20.4 Mbps) and the original ThinkPad X201 (50.6/33.2 Mbps) did a little better.
The powered fingerprint reader is one of our favorite security features on any notebook. After you configure it, you can power on the notebook and log into Windows with just a single swipe.
Software and Warranty
Interestingly, Lenovo hasn't pre-loaded all of its apps; it allows you to decide whether or not to install its Password Vault password manager, Access Connections wireless connection manager, and SimpleTap touch UI. We think users will appreciate having the option to skip these utilities.
Lenovo backs the ThinkPad X220 with a standard one-year warranty on parts and labor, though extended warranties are available for up to three years. ThinkPlus protection plans that insure against accidental damager are available at additional cost. Click here to see how Lenovo did in our tech support showdown.
You also have a choice of a six- or nine-cell battery and the option to add a $179 battery slice to the bottom for even more endurance. The screen is available in both regular and extra-bright versions, though both have the same 1366 x 768 resolution. You can also pay extra to make one of the USB ports a USB 3.0 port for higher speed transfers.
You can choose hard drives ranging from 160GB to 320GB in 7,200-rpm or 5,400-rpm speeds and SSDs of 128GB or 160GB capacities. An 80GB mSATA SSD can be paired with one of the hard drives to give you the best of both worlds, a speedy boot and application drive for high performance and a large hard drive for data storage.
Verdict13-inch MacBook Air. However, if you want something that packs a ton of power into a tiny package, the X220 is an excellent choice.
|CPU||2.5-GHz Intel Core i5-2520M|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)|
|RAM Upgradable to||8GB|
|Hard Drive Size||320GB|
|Hard Drive Speed||7,200rpm|
|Hard Drive Type||SATA Hard Drive|
|Optical Drive Speed|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics|
|Wi-Fi Model||Intel Centrino 6205|
|Bluetooth||Bluetooth 3.0 + EDR|
|Touchpad Size||3 x 1.75 inches|
|Ports (excluding USB)||VGA|
|Ports (excluding USB)||ExpressCard/54|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Ethernet|
|Ports (excluding USB)||DisplayPort|
|Ports (excluding USB)||Combo Headphone/Mic Jack|
|Card Slots||SD/SDHC Card reader|
|Warranty/Support||One year standard|
|Size||12 x 8.1 x 1.25 inches|
|Weight||3.4 pounds / 5 pounds (with battery slice)|