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Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Tablet review: as good as Surface Pro but with USB-C

Lenovo’s third-generation ThinkPad X1 Tablet aims to be a no-compromise Windows 10 detachable that gives users what Microsoft’s Surface won’t: USB-C and Thunderbolt 3.

The form factor is familiar. The actual computer is squeezed into an 8.9mm thick tablet with a kickstand out the back and a magnetically attached keyboard that sits up on an angle for better typing.

But here Lenovo departs from the winning minimalist Surface 2-in-1 formula, bringing ThinkPad staples such as a pointing nipple, trackpad buttons, bucket-shaped keyboard keys and optional road-warrior appealing 4G.

That’s not to say this is a pure workhorse, but the matt-black paint job, ancient-looking ThinkPad logo and red highlights certainly give the impression this machine is about getting stuff done.

The 13in screen is bigger than you’ll find on the Surface Pro and the Eve V, and that makes it easier to use solo as a laptop. The screen itself is pin-sharp, colourful and just about bright enough to use outdoors. Movies look great on it, with good viewing angles, and while the bezels around the outside are quite large, they accommodate two front-facing speakers, a fingerprint scanner and a Windows Hello-enabled IR face recognition system.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet review



The kickstand is as good as that on the Surface Pro and by far the best solution for propping up a detachable tablet, either on its own or connected to the keyboard. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

On the back is a solid-feeling kickstand with a wide angle of motion, which is just as good as that on the back of the Surface Pro, and perfect for getting the right angle on your lap or desk.

The front-facing speakers are perhaps a weak point for using the X1 Tablet as a media machine, because although they are relatively clear and distortion-free, they’re also not very loud and lack any sort of bass. They’ll be fine if you’re hand-holding the machine to watch a TV show, but watching something while cooking and hearing what’s going on over an extractor fan is a no-go.

The X1 Tablet is designed to be more durable than most. The screen is covered in a sheet of Gorilla Glass, like most of the competition, but the ThinkPad line has a history of going the extra mile in testing against humidity, vibration and mechanical shock, meaning it should cope with the everyday jolts and jostles of commuting.

Specifications

  • Screen: 13in QHD+ LCD

  • Processor: Intel quad-core Core i5 or i7 (8th generation)

  • RAM: 8 or 16GB

  • Storage: 256, 512GB or 1TB SSD

  • Operating system: Windows 10 Home or Pro

  • Camera: 8MP rear, 2MP front-facing

  • Connectivity: Wifi ac, Bluetooth 4.1, 2x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C), headphones, TPM, microSD, face recognition, fingerprint scanner, optional nano sim and NFC

  • Dimensions: 304.1 x 226 x 8.9mm (15.1mm with keyboard)

  • Weight: 890g (1,270g with keyboard)

High-end ultraportable performance

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet review



The tablet and keyboard snap together with magnets. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The X series is Lenovo’s top-end ThinkPad line, which means the X1 Tablet comes with all the power you’re likely to want.

That includes your choice of the latest eighth-generation quad-core Intel i5 or i7 processor, 8 or 16GB of RAM and plenty of storage.

The machine as tested had a Intel Core i7-8550U processor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage and 4G, and absolutely flew through everything I threw at it.

While the integrated Intel UHD 620 graphics card may be the weakest point of the X1 Tablet, the machine managed to handle some enormous 23,000-pixel wide images without breaking too much of a sweat.

The fans in the tablet fire up more often than some competitors, but they also don’t get particularly loud unless you’re doing something very processor-intensive. Most of the time they’re inaudible in an office environment.

Overall performance is excellent, matching that of a high-end ultraportable machine, but don’t expect to do hardcore gaming on it – I didn’t try it with an external graphics card.

Seven-hour battery

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet review



The matt black looks a little dull, but feels like it’ll resist scratches and scuff well. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

One of the things that’s sacrificed in most PC tablets is battery life. Lenovo quotes “more-than-all-day” battery life of nine-and-a-half hours, but the reality is the ThinkPad X1 Tablet lasts only around seven hours between charges. That was with the “Better battery life” power setting active, word processing in Typora, browsing in Chrome, using Nextgen reader, some image editing in Affinity Photo and lots of email in Microsoft Mail.

It’s enough to get through most of a day’s work, but isn’t enough to leave the charger at home on intensive days. Thankfully as it uses USB Power Delivery to charge, any USB-C charger with sufficient wattage should work such as those shipped with other laptops or even multi-chargers putting out 30W or more.

Thunderbolt 3 ports

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet review



Two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a Kensington lock slot and a sim tray are all in one side. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The X1 Tablet comes with just two Thunderbolt 3 ports that double as USB-C ports. Having Thunderbolt 3 is a huge boon as the expansion capabilities are endless, including the holy grail of one cord to charge, connect a 4K monitor and every other peripheral you can think of. It’s a significant advantage over competitors that lack even USB-C.

However, having only two ports, one of which will be needed for power, means you will rely on docks or hubs. It’s not such a big deal for most, but a bit of port-juggling is inevitable if you don’t invest in a dock of some sort.

There’s also a microSD card reader, which is great, but it’s hidden in a sim-slot similar to that which you would find on a smartphone. It’s not practical as a hot-swappable memory card reader as you need a sim ejector tool to get it out, and it means ejecting the 4G sim if you’ve got one at the same time.

Keyboard

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet review



The keyboard is excellent, and better than most laptops. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

Unlike Microsoft’s Surface Pro, the X1 Tablet comes with a keyboard, and what a keyboard it is. Windows 10 detachables such as this live or die by the quality of the keyboards, as most of the time they’re used like a laptop.

Lenovo’s keyboard is the best I have used on any detachable, and better than the vast majority of laptops. The keys are full-sized, solid, feel great under your fingers and have enough travel to make for a comfortable, satisfying typing experience.

The trackpad is equally good. It’s pretty big, has a smooth, precise surface and a solid click to it, as well as plenty of options to customise the experience. But there’s also a ThinkPad stalwart in the form of the little red nipple TrackPoint between the G, H and B keys, and three mouse buttons between the spacebar and the trackpad. I found little use for them except when on a train where the end of the keyboard was pressed up into my gut by the zero legroom blocking the trackpad.

The keyboard does have its quirks, such as the Fn key in the bottom left corner instead of Ctrl, something I had to almost immediately switch round in settings for muscle-memory cut and paste. There aren’t any media keys either.

Windows Hello

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet review



The fingerprint scanner has a bit odd set up, but works well when you don’t want to use the face recognition system. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The X1 Tablet has an IR-based facial recognition system that’s just as good as that on Microsoft’s Surface line. It recognises you from the lock-screen and automatically logs you in, making login seamless.

There’s also a fingerprint scanner, which has a slightly odd combination of tapping and swiping for registering your fingerprint, but works well in day-to-day operation. I didn’t end up using it at the desk as the face recognition worked so well, but it was useful for unlocking the tablet when handheld in portrait orientation, and the more biometric options the better.

Observations

  • To turn on the X1 Tablet from opening the keyboard you have to hit the power button or press the Fn key on the keyboard

  • You get a choice of Windows 10 Home or Pro

  • The optional ThinkPad Pen Pro clips into the side of the machine with a detachable holder and works well for marking up or signing documents

  • The Lenovo Vantage app takes care of driver updates and settings bespoke to the X1 Tablet with minimal fuss

Price

The third-generation Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet starts at £1,480 with a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage and keyboard and tops out at £2,422 with all the options.

The machine as tested cost £1,973.59 with a Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage and 4G.

For comparison, Microsoft’s Surface Pro 6 starts at £879, with models similarly priced to the X1 Tablet.

Verdict

The ThinkPad X1 Tablet proves that Lenovo can make a great detachable 2-in-1 Windows 10 tablet computer. It’s not cheap, but offers similar or better specifications than its chief rival the Microsoft Surface Pro, including the much-needed modern port selection of Thunderbolt 3.

The X1 Tablet feels like it can take a beating and will survive the rigours of mobile working, which is what it was designed for. The screen is great, and at 13in is an ideal size, the kickstand and keyboard are brilliant and performance is top-notch.

The seven-hour battery life could be better, but the integrated 4G and two biometric options are welcome additions. It’s still a better machine for work than play, but it is good enough to pull double duty unless all you want to do is watch videos from across the room.

If you’re in the market for a top-end 2-in-1 Windows 10 detachable, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet should be on your list.

Pros: solid construction, good screen, brilliant keyboard, Thunderbolt 3, optional 4G, microSD card reader, fingerprint scanner, face recognition

Cons: only two USB-C ports, microSD card reader not easily accessible, expensive

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet review



The red dot on the ‘i’ glows when the machine is in standby. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

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