Lenovo's ThinkPad X280 packs strong, 8th Gen Core performance; a bright, 12.5-inch display; and a snappy keyboard into a durable, 2.98-pound package. To keep up with a business laptop market where thin is in, Lenovo's shaved about a tenth of an inch and a few hundredths of a pound off of last year's X270. However, in order to do this, the company ditched the hot-swappable batteries from prior models, leaving the laptop with endurance that's slightly below average. Starting at $1,179 ($1,817 as configured), the ThinkPad X280 is a good choice for business- and productivity-minded users who want a compact Ultrabook with plenty of ports, power and usability.
At 2.98 pounds and 12.1 x 8.3 x 0.7 inches, the ThinkPad X280 is the thinnest and lightest X200-series laptop yet. By contrast, last year's X270 was 0.1 inches thicker, but started at a nearly identical 3 pounds (3.4 pounds with extended battery). In slimming down, Lenovo decided to move to a sealed-in battery, which makes the notebook more compact.
Dell's Latitude 7390 (2.9 pounds, 0.7 inches) is a little lighter and has a larger, 13.3-inch screen. Despite its 14-inch display, Lenovo's own ThinkPad X1 Carbon is much lighter and thinner, at 2.49 pounds and 0.6 inches thick.
Aesthetically speaking, the X280 is nothing to type home about. It has Lenovo's tried-and-true raven-black design language with no special flourishes
Lenovo says that if you get the touch screen, you'll also get the glass fiber-reinforced lid, but that if you purchase a nontouch model, the lid is carbon fiber. The hard, matte lid and deck on our touch-enabled review unit wasn't as attractive as the soft-touch surfaces on the X270 or the current ThinkPad X1 Carbon. However, the carbon-fiber model could feel different. No matter which X280 you buy, the bottom is made of a magnesium/aluminum combo.
Though it's a fairly thin laptop, the ThinkPad X280 finds room for a fair number of ports.
The right side houses a USB 3.0 port, a Kensington lock slot and an optional Smart Card reader. The left side holds a USB Type-C port, a Thunderbolt 3 port, HDMI out, an audio jack and a second USB 3.0 connector.
There's also a proprietary Ethernet connector, which requires a dongle that you have to buy separately. The Thunderbolt 3 and Ethernet port together connect to Lenovo's new side-mounted docking stations.
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Durability and Security
Like all ThinkPads, the X280 is designed to withstand MIL-SPEC durability tests for extreme temperatures, dust, vibrations and other forms of abuse.
To keep your data safe, this laptop features dTPM encryption and a match-on-chip fingerprint reader. If you're worried about hackers breaking into your computer and snapping pictures of you, you can slide the ThinkShutter over the webcam. Depending on which CPU you choose, the X280 can also come with Intel vPro manageability.
Display and Audio
The 12.5-inch, 1920 x 1080 touch screen on our ThinkPad X280 provided bright, sharp images with strong colors. When I watched a trailer for Pacific Rim Insurrection, shades like the orange in a Jaeger or the blue in a laser weapon seemed vibrant and true to life. Fine details, such as the freckles on a character's face and the medals on another character's shirt, were easy to make out.
As on some other ThinkPads, the X280 uses in-cell touch technology, which puts the touch digitizer in the same layer as the display. This means the laptop can have a matte rather than a glossy surface and provide better energy efficiency.
According to our colorimeter, the ThinkPad X280 reproduces a strong 117 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is slightly above the premium laptop category average of 110 percent. However, the Dell Latitude 7390 (132 percent) and ThinkPad X1 Carbon (128 percent with 1080p, 199 percent with HDR panel) were both more vibrant.
The X280 measured 309 nits of brightness on our light meter, which puts this laptop squarely above the 287-nit category average, the Latitude 7390 (286 nits) and the X1 Carbon with 1080p screen (293 nits). However, the X1 Carbon with HDR panel offered an incredible 469 nits. Because of the X280's nonreflective display and strong brightness, colors stayed true at up to 60 degrees to the left or right and faded only slightly at wider viewing angles.
The ThinkPad X280 offers surprisingly good audio for a 12-inch business laptop. When I played AC/DC's "Back in Black," the music was loud, clear and free from tinniness. That's much better than the X1 Carbon's distorted output.
Like other ThinkPads, the X280 has Dolby Audio enhancement built in and enabled by default. Disabling Dolby in the Lenovo Vantage app made the music sound hollow. You can also change sound profiles for movies, music and voice.
Keyboard, Touchpad and Pointing Stick
The ThinkPad X280's keyboard offers snappy feedback, solid travel and good key placement. However, because the laptop has a narrower frame than 13- and 14-inch competitors, the keys are a little cramped. When I fired up the 10FastFingers typing test, I scored a modest 93 words per minute with a 5 percent error rate, both of which are a little lower than my typical rates (95 to 105 wpm, 3-4 percent).
According to our measurements, the keys offer 1.6 millimeters of travel and require 70 grams of force to actuate. By comparison, the X1 Carbon has a generous 1.8 millimeters of travel and requires 71 grams of force. Because of the Carbon's additional travel, larger keyboard space and soft-touch deck, I scored an epic 109 words per minute on that machine.
The X280 also has Lenovo's famous red TrackPoint pointing stick between its G and H keys. I prefer the TrackPoint to any touchpad, because it's incredibly precise and I can use it without ever lifting my hands off of the home row. However, many people can't get used to the idea of pushing a nub around and, for them, there's the touchpad.
The 3.9 x 2.2-inch buttonless touchpad offers smooth and accurate navigation. During my testing, I never experienced any jumpiness or stickiness. It responded accurately to multitouch gestures such as three-finger swipe. However, when I was zooming in and out of web pages in Chrome browser, I sometimes had to repeat my pinch gestures before they were recognized.
With its Core i7-8550U CPU, 16GB of RAM and 512GB NVMe-PCIe SSD, our review configuration of the ThinkPad X280 offers strong performance. Even with over a dozen tabs open and a video transcoding in the background, the laptop didn't show any sign of lag.
On Geekbench 4, a synthetic test that measures overall processing power, the X280 scored a strong 12,898, well above the category average (9,679). However, the Core i5-8250U-powered X1 Carbon fared a little better (13,173) as did the Core i7-8650U-powered Dell Latitude 7390 (13,990).
Lenovo's 12.5-inch laptop took just a minute and 19 seconds to match 65,000 names with their addresses in Excel. That's significantly faster than the category average (1:45) but a few seconds behind the times from the X1 Carbon (1:11) and Latitude 7390 (1:07).
The X280 took a reasonable 21 minutes and 26 seconds to transcode a 4K video to 1080p using HandBrake. That time is about a minute quicker than the average (22:23) but several minutes slower than those for both the X1 Carbon (19:00) and the Latitude 7390 (17:00) .
The 512GB NVMe-PCIe SSD copied 4.97GB of files in just 13 seconds for a rate of 392.2 megabytes per second. That rate is faster than the category average (271.1) and the Latitude 7390's showing (318 MBps). However, the X1 Carbon was noticeably quicker (565.4 MBps).
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The ThinkPad X280 has Intel's integrated UHD 620 graphics processor, which is more than good enough for productivity or even photo editing, but it's not designed for demanding games, 3D animation or the editing of large videos. The laptop scored 75,288 on 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, which is slightly below the category average (80,328) and the scores from the X1 Carbon (80,588) and Latitude 7390 (80,426).
When we played Dirt 3, a simple racing game that runs on any laptop, the X280 returned a frame rate of 71 fps, which is a little better than the category average (59 fps) and results from the X1 Carbon (64 fps) and Latitude 7390 (56 fps).
For an ultraportable laptop, the ThinkPad X280 has a rather disappointing battery life. Lenovo's laptop endured for 8 hours and 1 minute on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi. That's 25 minutes short of the category average, 3 hours behind the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's time and more than 2 hours less than the Dell Latitude 7390's result.
By moving from a removable, dual-battery system on prior X200 series notebooks to the single, sealed-in battery on the X280, Lenovo has cut the weight but also the endurance. Last year's ThinkPad X270 endured for an epic 13 hours and 15 minutes with the extended battery, a full 5 hours longer than this year's model.
The 720p webcam captured reasonably bright and accurate images of my face. When I shot a picture of myself in my dining room, the red hairs in my beard and the tan in my shirt looked true to life.
Fine details like the creases in my forehead were hard to make out, but I can certainly live with that.
The ThinkPad X280 stayed relatively cool throughout our use. After streaming a video for 15 minutes, the touchpad reached 85 degrees Fahrenheit and the keyboard hit 94 degrees, both below our 95-degree comfort threshold. However, the bottom reached 100 degrees.
Software and Warranty
Lenovo is really light on the preinstalled software. The only first-party app is Lenovo Vantage, which provides all the settings for the camera, audio, battery and other components.
Microsoft preloads a slew of bloatware on every Windows 10 PC, so the ThinkPad X280 also comes with Bubble Witch Saga, Autodesk SketchBook, Age of Empires, and several other apps you may or may not be interested in.
Lenovo backs the X280 with a standard one-year warranty, under which the company pays for shipping. You can pay extra to extend the term by up to four additional years and add accidental-damage protection or on-site service. See how Lenovo fared in our Best and Worst Brands report and Tech Support Showdown.
The ThinkPad X280 starts at $1,179. For that price, you get a 1366 x 768 nontouch display, a Core i5-8250U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. On Lenovo.com, you can configure the laptop to order, choosing your own processor, screen resolution, storage and RAM options. We recommend upgrading to the 1920 x 1080 touch screen ($148) and at least a 256GB SSD ($121).
Our $1,817 review configuration had a 1920 x 1080 touch display, a Core i7-8550U CPU, a 512GB SSD and 16GB of RAM.
From its lightweight chassis to its snappy keyboard and colorful display, has a lot to like. However, it's hard to ignore the lightweight elephant in the room: Lenovo's own ThinkPad X1 Carbon.
The X1 Carbon has a 14-inch screen, a better keyboard and 3 hours of additional battery life, plus it weighs half a pound less. Though the X1 Carbon starts at a much-higher $1,789, an X280 with similar specs (Core i5 CPU, 1080p screen, 512GB SSD) costs just $100 less at publication time. Perhaps the X280 will get cheaper and the price delta will grow, but right now, it's hard to argue against spending a few dollars more.
However, if you're looking for a lightweight business laptop that starts at a decent price, the ThinkPad X280 could be your best choice.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag