In their quest to build ever-thinner laptops, manufacturers sometimes put battery life or keyboard quality on the back burner. Lenovo's 12.5-inch ThinkPad X260 isn't the slimmest system on the block, but this lightweight business workhorse provides a near-perfect balance between portability and productivity. Starting at $763 ($1,160 as tested), the X260 combines solid performance, a snappy keyboard, an accurate touchpad, a full suite of ports and more than 17 hours of battery life.
The ThinkPad X260 has a typical ThinkPad aesthetic, with a raven-black chassis that's accented only by the red TrackPoint nub on the keyboard and status lights on the lid and deck. Made of glass-fiber-reinforced plastic, the X260 can take a bit of a beating. Lenovo says that the laptop passed MIL-SPEC 810G durability tests for extreme temperatures, shocks and vibrations.
At 12 x 8.2 x 0.8 inches and 3.2 pounds (3.6 pounds with extended battery), the ThinkPad X260 is light enough to carry with ease and small enough to fit comfortably on most tray tables. Some competitors, such as the Dell Latitude E7270 (3.6 pounds / 12.2 x 8.47 x 0.47 inches) and HP EliteBook 745 G3 (3.4 pounds / 13.3 x 9.3 x 0.74 inches), are thinner but don't pack in as much battery life. Lenovo's laptop makes room for two batteries: one internal and a second removable unit that can have either three or six cells.
The ThinkPad X260 comes with a choice of three different screen options: a plain 1366 x 768 display, a 1366 x 768 display with IPS for better brightness and color, or a 1920 x 1080 panel with IPS. Our review unit had the entry-level screen, which displayed dull, washed-out images without a lot of detail or screen real estate. Considering that the 1920 x 1080 screen costs only $150 more, the upgrade is a no-brainer.
When I watched a trailer for Captain America: Civil War, Cap's blue suit and Iron Man's red armor both looked like they'd been soaked in bleach. According to our colorimeter, the X260's base screen can display only 67 percent of the sRGB color gamut, well below the 86-percent ultraportable laptop category average (86), Toshiba Portege A30t (113), HP EliteBook 745 G3 (84 percent) and Dell Latitude E7270 (75).
The screen registered just 184 nits, a measure of brightness, on our light meter, which is just a bit more than half of the category average (307) and at least 30 percent dimmer than its nearest competitor, the Portege A30t. However, the matte panel seemed more than luminous enough while I was using it, and it provided wide viewing angles, with colors fading only slightly at 90 degrees to the left and right.
In the video, fine details such as the wrinkles in Robert Downey Jr.'s forehead weren't as sharp as on higher-resolution laptops we've tested. More importantly for productivity workers, having only 768 pixels of vertical screen real estate means you can see about 30 percent less content above the fold than on a 1080p screen. Forget about stacking windows side-by-side, as this screen has only 1366 pixels of horizontal space.
The ThinkPad X260's bottom-facing speakers provide audio output that's mostly accurate, if not overly rich. When I played Deep Purple's guitar-heavy "Smoke on the Water" and Chic's bass-centric "Dance, Dance, Dance," the percussion was a little tinny but vocals and other instruments were clear, though a little flat. At maximum volume, sound was loud enough to fill a medium-size living room, but putting the system on my lap muffled the audio a bit.
A Dolby Audio app comes preloaded to help you tweak the equalizer settings. The program offers presets for music, movies, voice calls and games, but I found the Dynamic profile, which adjusts automatically, provided the best results.
Keyboard, TrackPoint and Touchpad
The ThinkPad X260's spill-resistant keyboard is comfortable, with snappy, well-spaced keys whose smile-shaped curves make them easy to target by feel. On the 10fastfingers.com typing test, I achieved a solid 94 words-per-minute rate, which is typical for me, but with a slightly higher than normal 5.7 percent error rate.
As with other Lenovo ThinkPad X-series laptops, the keyboard has a reasonable amount of vertical travel -- 1.6 mm -- but not as much as T- and W-series models such as the ThinkPad T460 (2.3 mm), which provide an even better experience. The optional backlight was more than bright enough in both its low and high settings.
Like other ThinkPads, the X260 offers two different navigation tools: a buttonless touchpad and a TrackPoint pointing stick. As usual, I found the TrackPoint both accurate and productivity-enhancing as I was able to highlight text and move around the desktop without lifting my hands off of the home row.
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If you're not a fan of the red nub, you'll find a lot to like in the 3.4 x 2.1-inch touchpad. In my tests, I found the pad quite precise and blissfully free of the jumpiness I sometimes experience on buttonless units. It responded quickly and accurately to pinch-to-zoom and two-finger scroll gestures and three- and four-finger clicks to open Cortana or the Windows Action Center. Perhaps because the pad is a bit small, its driver application doesn't support three-finger or four-finger swipe (for minimizing apps). Three-finger dragging to switch apps worked only sometimes.
Ports and Webcam
The ThinkPad X260 packs in almost all the ports a productivity user needs today, but we wish it had USB Type-C to future-proof it for tomorrow's peripherals and docks.
The left side houses HDMI out, a mini DisplayPort, two USB 3.0 ports and an optional SmartCard reader. The left side contains an Ethernet port, an SD card reader, an audio jack and a third USB 3.0 port.
Its 720p webcam captured acceptable, but unimpressive images. Under the overhead lights of our office, my features were clear but not particularly sharp. When I shot in my nearly pitch-black living room, the camera was able to capture a dark and noisy image, but at least my face was visible. Business users who need to conduct a video call will be satisfied.
The ThinkPad X260 has the all the security and manageability features that corporate IT departments require. It comes standard with TPM encryption and, if you configure it with a Core i5-6300U CPU or better, it has Intel vPro for remote management. An optional fingerprint reader ($20) allows for biometric logins, but unfortunately, it's the kind that requires you to swipe your digits rather than using a simple press.
With an Intel Core i5-6300U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, our review configuration of the ThinkPad X260 was more than powerful enough to handle serious productivity tasks and multitasking. Lenovo's laptop handled everything we threw at it with aplomb, not slowing down at all even when I had more than a dozen active Chrome tabs open and a 1080p video playing in another window.
On Geekbench 3, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance, the X260 scored a strong 6,424, which is comfortably ahead of the ultraportable notebook category average, the AMD A8-powered HP EliteBook G3 and Core i5-6200U-powered Toshiba A30t. However, the Dell Latitude E7270, which we tested with a Core i7-6600U processor, scored an even-stronger 7,544.
Lenovo's laptop had no problem crunching numbers, as it took just 4 minutes and 12 seconds to complete our spreadsheet macro test, in which we match 20,000 names with their addresses. That's much faster than the category average (7:05), the Toshiba Portege A30t (4:31) and HP EliteBook 745 G3 (6:36). The Dell Latitude E7270 (3:41) was a tad quicker.
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The 256GB SSD on our review unit provided solid performance, copying 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 32 seconds. That's a rate of 157.1 MBps, which is about on par with the category average (154.4), slightly ahead of the HP EliteBook 745 G3 (124.1) and way faster than the 7,200 rpm hard drive in the Toshiba Portege A30t (41.9). The Dell Latitude E7270 returned a slightly stronger rate of 181.75 MBps.
While we wouldn't recommend gaming on the ThinkPad X260, Lenovo's laptop and its integrated Intel HD 520 GPU are more than adequate for mainstream productivity work or video viewing. On 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, a synthetic graphics benchmark, the X260 (59,489) outpaced the Toshiba Portege A30t (53,939) and HP EliteBook 745 G3 (44,377) as well as the category average (46,031), while falling a little short of the Latitude E7270 (74,468).
The ThinkPad X260 offers truly epic battery life, provided you opt for the six-cell, 72-watt-hour extended battery. With a larger battery on board, Lenovo's laptop lasted a full 17 hours and 14 minutes on the Laptop Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits of brightness. That's more than double the ultraportable category average (8:12), the Dell Latitude E7270 (8:02), Portege A30t (7:01) and HP EliteBook 745 G3 (5:54).
Even Lenovo's own ThinkPad T460 (13:12), which uses the same batteries, lasted 4 hours less. However, if you opt for the X260's three-cell battery, which costs $15 less and is 0.4 pounds lighter, you get a solid but unimpressive 8 hours and 16 minutes of endurance.
No matter what battery you choose, Lenovo gives you the ability to swap it out, without having to turn off the computer. Using a system the company calls PowerBridge, the X260 has an internal three-cell battery in addition to its removable unit, so the laptop can remain on (potentially for hours), even while its rear unit is out. Similarly sized competitors from HP, Toshiba and Dell don't even have removable batteries.
Software and Warranty
Lenovo ships the ThinkPad X260 with a handful of useful utilities and a minimal amount of bloatware. Lenovo Companion performs hardware and software scans to keep your laptop running smoothly, while Lenovo Settings gives you fine control over the camera, touchpad, wireless radio and other components.
Unfortunately, like most Windows 10 laptops, it also comes with some unnecessary apps like Candy Crush Soda Saga, Flipboard and a tile that links to the Windows Store page for Adobe Photoshop Express.
The X260 comes with a standard one-year "depot" warranty on parts and labor, which includes free shipping if you need to send your laptop in for service. You can also pay between $39 and $579 extra to extend the term up to five years or add on-site service and accidental-damage protection.
The ThinkPad X260 starts at $764, but we wouldn't recommend getting the base configuration, which comes with the bland 1366 x 768 display, a slow-paced Core i3-6100U CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. If you buy from Lenovo, you can pick up a Core i3/Core i5/Core i7 CPU, a high- or low-res display, up to 16GB of RAM, and a hard drive or SSD. Our $1,160 review configuration had the base-level 1366 x 768 display, a Core i5-6300U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD.
For the best experience, we strongly recommend purchasing the X260 with the 1920 x 1080 display, a $150 option and the high-capacity battery, which adds only $15 to the price. We wouldn't even consider purchasing it without these options.
The ThinkPad X260 is a fantastic choice for people who need to be productive on the go, because it's an ideal size for small tables (or your lap), but provides epic battery life, a comfortable keyboard and strong mainstream performance. If you want a slightly better typing experience or larger display, consider the ThinkPad T460, which is a bit bulkier but offers similar features and more than 13 hours of endurance. However, if you need a laptop that provides the best mix between portability and usability, the X260 should be at the top of your list. Just make sure you get it with the 1920 x 1080 screen.