When buying a lightweight laptop, you often have to choose between functionality and portability, sacrificing amenities to save space. Built for business but user-friendly enough for anyone, Lenovo's 12.5-inch ThinkPad X250 offers a full HD display, a snappy keyboard, epic battery life and a complete suite of ports in a durable chassis you can take anywhere. You can find laptops that are a bit thinner or lighter, but Lenovo's long-lasting ultraportable ($1,407 as tested, $755 to start) is great for serious work, and lets you leave your dongles and power brick at home.
The ThinkPad X250 has Lenovo's simple but classy ThinkPad aesthetic, with a raven-black lid, deck, sides and bottom. The red TrackPoint pointing stick and silver ThinkPad logos on the deck and lid provide a splash of color.
At 12.03 x 8.21 x 0.8 inches, Lenovo's 12-inch ultraportable isn't the thinnest laptop on the market, but its girth allows it to provide strong battery life and all the ports you need, a worthwhile trade-off. During my testing, the X250 slipped into my bag easily and felt very comfortable in my hand as I carried it around the office.
Lenovo's published starting weight for the X250 is 2.88 pounds, but the touch screen added some additional ounces to our test configuration, which clocked in at 3.2 pounds with the default battery and 3.66 pounds with the extended unit. The EliteBook Folio 1020 (2.68 pounds) and MacBook (2.03 pounds) are quite a bit lighter, but the Latitude E7250 (3.4 pounds) is a little heavier.
Durability and Security
Like other ThinkPads, the X250 is designed to withstand some punishment. Its carbon-fiber- reinforced plastic lid and glass-fiber-reinforced plastic bottom allow it to pass 11 MIL-SPEC durability tests, including those for extreme temperatures, pressure, vibrations and dust.
Large businesses will appreciate the notebook's security features. Lenovo's 12-inch ultraportable comes standard with a fingerprint reader for biometric logins. Two of its storage options, a 180GB SSD and a 256GB SSD, are Opal 2.0 compatible, which means that they can hardware encrypt themselves.
The ThinkPad X250 offers a better typing experience than most notebooks on the market, with a good tactile feel and a lightly curved key shape. Because of the snappy feedback, I scored 95 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, which is my typical rate. The keys have a solid 1.8mm of travel and require 56 grams of actuation force, which is excellent. However, the 14-inch ThinkPad T450s' keyboard is even snappier, providing 1.9mm of travel and 63 grams of actuation force.
The keyboard is both spill resistant and backlit, so you can see your keys well enough not to drop soda on them in the dark, but you won't break the computer if you do it anyway. Both backlight settings are more than bright enough to view in low light.
TrackPoint and Touchpad
Like other ThinkPads, the ThinkPad X250 offers both a TrackPoint pointing stick and a traditional touchpad. Though it's not for everyone, I prefer the TrackPoint because it provides extremely accurate navigation and lets me keep my hands on the home row. While some business notebooks from Dell, HP and Toshiba also have pointing sticks, the competitors' nubs just aren't as comfortable or accurate as Lenovo's TrackPoints. The X250's TrackPoint has its own trio of mouse buttons, which is a big improvement over the X240, which built these buttons into the top of its touchpad.
The 3.4 x 2.1-inch buttonless touchpad provided accurate navigation around the desktop, without a hint of jumpiness. It accurately registered several multitouch gestures, including pinch-to-zoom, two-finger rotate, three-finger swipe for changing between photos in a gallery and four-finger swipe to show the task menu. Windows 8 gestures, such as swiping in from the right for the Charms menu, also worked consistently.
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Display and Audio
The ThinkPad X250 has four different screen options: 1366 x 768; 1366 x 768 with IPS; 1920 x 1080 nontouch (also IPS); and 1920 x 1080 with touch but less brightness. Our review unit's 1920 x 1080 IPS touch screen offered sharp images and plenty of screen real estate, but dull colors and middling viewing angles.
According to our colorimeter, the X250's screen can display only 64.3 percent of the colors in the sRGB gamut, well below the ultraportable notebook category average (78.7 percent), the Apple MacBook 12-inch (102 percent) and the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 (95 percent). When I watched a trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron, the red in Iron Man's armor and the blue in Ultron's eyes seemed flat and lifeless. Lenovo's own ThinkPad T450s covers 100.8 percent of the sRGB gamut on its touch screen.
However, the X250's display is quite bright. Measuring 387 nits on our light meter, it's well above the category average (272) and even slightly higher than the MacBook (353) and Dell Latitude E7250 (360). However, light kept bouncing off the screen in a sunny room, and, even when not in direct light, colors faded when I moved farther than 45 degrees to the left or right. The nontouch 1920 x 1080 display, which costs $200 less, would probably fare better.
The touch screen was highly responsive to all of my taps and gestures. It also supports 10-point interaction, as I was able to draw in Windows Paint with all my fingers at once.
The notebook's speakers were loud enough to fill an office, but I didn't enjoy listening to music on them. When I played the bass-heavy "Forget Me Nots," the drum-laden "Uptown Funk" and the guitar-centric "Holy Diver," the sound was tinny, flat and downright unpleasant. The included Dolby Digital Plus software allowed me to choose from different sound profiles, such as Movies or Music. Enabled by default, it added some depth to the audio as the music sounded even worse when I turned Dolby off.
Ports and Webcam
The ThinkPad X250 has all the ports a worker on the go would need. The right side houses a headphone jack, a USB 3.0 port, Ethernet and a 4-in-1 card reader, something you don't get on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The left side hosts the power port, VGA out, mini DisplayPort and a second USB 3.0 connector.
The 720p webcam captured detailed, colorful images of my face. However, when I took a photo in the dim light of my living room, the image appeared a little washed out.
With its 2.3-GHz Intel Core i5-5300U CPU, 8GB of RAM and 180GB SSD, our configuration of the ThinkPad X250 provided plenty of performance for productivity and multitasking.
The notebook scored a solid 5,259 on Geekbench 3, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance. That's comfortably above the category average (4,253), the Core i5-5300U-powered Dell Latitude E7250 (4,866), the Core M-5Y71-powered HP EliteBook Folio 1020 (3,814) and the Core M-5Y31-powered MacBook (4,631). The ThinkPad X1 Carbon, which was also configured with a Core i5-5300U processor, scored slightly higher (6,110).
The X250's 180GB Intel SSD is much faster than a hard drive, but slower than a lot of other solid state drives. It took the notebook a modest 47 seconds to complete the Laptop File Transfer Test, which involves copying 4.97GB of mixed-media files. That's a rate of 108.3 MBps, far below the category average (183.5 MBps), the MacBook (254.5 MBps) and the Folio 1020 (182 MBps).
It took the X250 a reasonable 5 minutes and 7 seconds to complete our Spreadsheet Macro test, which matches 20,000 names with their addresses in OpenOffice Calc. That time is 60 percent quicker than the category average (8:33) and comfortably ahead of the Folio 1020 (6:36) but a little slower than the MacBook (4:33), Latitude E7250 (4:42) and X1 Carbon (4:47).
You can play videos, edit photos or do casual gaming with the X250's Intel HD Graphics 5500 chip, and even play some mainstream games at low resolution. When we fired up World of Warcraft at 1,366 x 768 resolution with auto-detect settings, the game played at a smooth 42 frames per second. However, that rate shrank to an unplayable 26 fps at 1,920 x 1,080. Both of those rates are about on par with the category averages (37/27 fps) and slightly ahead of the Dell Latitude E7250 (32/24 fps).
Lenovo's ultraportable scored a solid 50,906 on 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, a synthetic benchmark that measures graphics performance. That's comfortably higher than both the category average (50,906) and the Folio 1020 (33,802).
The ThinkPad X250 stayed relatively cool throughout our tests, though the bottom got a little warm during extended video playback. After 15 minutes of streaming, the touchpad measured 84.5 degrees Fahrenheit, while the keyboard clocked in at 88.5 degrees, both well below our 95-degree comfort threshold. However, the bottom was a much warmer 102 degrees.
The ThinkPad X250 has some of the best endurance on the market, provided you opt for the extended six-cell battery. With the larger battery on board, Lenovo's ultraportable lasted for 15 hours and 12 minutes on the Laptop Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits of brightness. That's nearly double the category average (8:04) and well ahead of the MacBook (8:43), the Latitude E7250 (9:18), the Elitebook Folio 1020 (6:49) and Lenovo's own X1 Carbon (8:00).
However, with the three-cell battery, the ThinkPad X250 lasted a below-average 7 hours and 39 minutes. The ThinkPad T450s, which uses the same batteries, lasted a nearly identical 7:31 and 15:26 with its three- and six-cell units, respectively.
Since touch screens use significantly more power than regular displays, a nontouch version of the X250 will undoubtedly last longer with either battery. No matter which battery you choose, the X250 lets you swap it out without even turning the computer off, thanks to a second, three-cell battery that runs down after the external unit. Lenovo calls this technology Power Bridge, and it's also available on the 14-inch ThinkPad T450s.
Our review configuration of the Lenovo ThinkPad X250 has an MSRP of $1,407. For that price, you get the notebook with a 1,920 x 1,080 touch screen, a Core i5-5200U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 180GB SSD and an extended battery.
The base model costs just $755, but comes with a 1366 x 768 nontouch display, a Core i3-5010U processor, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. You can configure the X250 with processors up to Core i7, a variety of hard drives and SSDs, Windows 8.1 or 7, and a 1366 x 768 or a 1920 x 1080 display in touch or nontouch variety. You also get to choose between the regular and extended battery, which costs only $5 more but doubles the endurance.
We recommend that you configure the X250 with the nontouch 1920 x 1080 display, a $130 option, because the touch version adds weight, sucks up more power and costs $330. Opting for the extended battery adds 0.4 pounds of weight, but it's a no-brainer.
Software and Warranty
Lenovo preloads the ThinkPad X250 with several useful utilities and a minimal amount of bloatware. Lenovo Settings is a modern UI app that lets you configure the touchpad, power plan, webcam, audio and other functions. Fingerprint Manager Pro sets up the fingerprint reader so you can use your digits rather than a password to log in to Windows. Lenovo Solution Center runs hardware scans and helps keep your drivers up to date. Lenovo Reachit helps you manage data across multiple devices and platforms, using cloud storage. Shareit syncs files directly among phones, tablets and PCs.
Like almost every laptop, the X250 comes with free applications we could do without. Pokki Start Menu looks like a Start menu replacement for Windows 8.1, but it doesn't actually replace the Start button at all. However, it does point you toward the Pokki app store. Users who want a replacement Start Menu can download a free one, such as Classic Shell, which does not try to sell you apps.
There's also a free trial of McAfee LiveSafe security software. However, you could just as easily download free security software or a different trial version on your own.
Lenovo backs the ThinkPad X250 with a standard one-year warranty on parts and labor. You can extend the warranty up to four years or add extras such as accidental-damage protection and on-site service for prices ranging from $39 to $320.
If you're looking for a no-compromise business ultraportable with a focus on productivity, the ThinkPad X250 is an excellent choice. With more than 15 hours of battery life (using the six-cell battery), a snappy typing experience, a high-res display and full-size Ethernet and SD Card readers on board, this 12.5-inch laptop lets you work on the go with confidence.
If you're willing to carry a larger notebook and want an even better keyboard and screen, Lenovo's 14-inch T450s is worth considering. However, if you want a laptop that's small enough to fit on the most cramped tray table, powerful enough to use for mission-critical work and long-lasting enough to make it through an international flight, the ThinkPad X250 is your best