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Lenovo X1 Tablet Review

Lenovo is no stranger to the 2-in-1 market — the Yoga series is still the shining example of how it’s done — but we haven’t seen as much from them in the tablet-first style. Devices like the Microsoft Surface Pro are basically supercharged tablets that can become laptop replacements with soft, detachable keyboard covers. They tend to be lighter on the back and much easier to use as tablets, but the trade-off is that they tend to be a little less powerful (save for the Surface Pro itself) and have slightly shorter battery life.

With the X1 Tablet, Lenovo has taken a uniquely business-oriented stab at the tablet-first 2-in-1. This is a ThinkPad, and that means the detachable keyboard bears all the hallmarks of Lenovo’s well-known laptop keyboards, including the TrackPoint nub and the physical touchpad buttons. They’ve also added a few enterprise hardware features, along with a whole line of detachable modules that can make the X1 Tablet even more capable. The result is a solid productivity machine, although it’s slightly underpowered for its price and has some limitations that only those detachable modules — which are sold separately — will fix.

Note: We reviewed the Intel Core m5/8 GB RAM/256 GB SSD configuration. We did not have access to any of the modules, so while we will mention them, we can’t speak to their quality.

Build

The X1 Tablet has a 12″ display with pretty large bezels, although the top and right bezels hold the webcam and flash and a Windows Hello-enable fingerprint scanner, so they have some reason to be. It’s not too far off from the Surface Pro 4 in size and weight — the X1 Tablet is 2.3 pounds and .53″ thick, which is about the same weight and one-tenth of an inch thicker than Microsoft’s slate (mostly because of the more robust keyboard). Around the edges, you’ll find a USB 3.0 port, a USB Type-C charging port, a mini DisplayPort, a 3.5 mm audio port, a volume rocker, an SD card slot, and a Kensington Lock slot. The physical on/off button is on the top of the tablet when connected to the keyboard, and there’s a rear camera on the back. There’s also a Nano SIM card slot tucked behind the kickstand.

The X1 Tablet’s best improvement on the Surface Pro 4 can be seen in that kickstand. Instead of being locked into only two viewing angles, the X1 Tablet’s kickstand hinge is on the bottom of the tablet, with a solid piece of metal that lays flat on whatever surface you’re working on. This allows you to adjust the viewing angle exactly to where you want it, and the hinge is definitely sturdy enough to hold its position once you’ve got it positioned just right. Not only is the greater breadth of viewing angles nice, this style of kickstand is also far better for the times when you need to use the device on your lap or on uneven surfaces. Lenovo really nailed it here.

Lenovo used magnesium in the frame, although there’s certainly some plastic used as well. They’re saying the X1 Tablet meets military testing, which means it can take some punishment from drops and extreme temperatures. We didn’t test either, and while we believe Lenovo, we still wouldn’t drop this tablet — we could see the frame taking some damage.

Performance/Battery

Lenovo went with only Intel Core m processor (m3, m5, or m7) configurations here, with between 4 GB and 16 GB of RAM and between a 128 GB and 1 TB PCIe-NVMe SSD available. The X1 Tablet comes standard with a 2160 x 1440 IPS display. The model we reviewed had an Intel Core m5 processor, 8 GB of RAM, and a 256 GB SSD.

Core m processors are usually tabbed for 2-in-1 devices that fall on the tablet side. They aren’t as powerful as Core i processors, but they do have some advantages. The main one is that they run on relatively little power, in part allowing device to become fanless and quiet as a result. Not having a cooling fan helps make the X1 Tablet as thin as it is, too. The X1 Tablet doesn’t have much of a problem with getting hot, either — occasionally it’ll get a bit warm in a patch on the back above the kickstand, but nothing concerning.

But, the Core m processor isn’t as great for performance. It’s hard to call the X1 Tablet a true laptop replacement — it struggles with tabbed browsing past six or seven tabs, with noticeable slowdown in navigating and loading pages. The touchscreen remains responsive, but trying to use keyboard shortcuts can get frustrating once the latency kicks in. It’s great if you’re only working with Word or Excel plus a few tabs, but anything more will really tax the X1 Tablet.

In the PCMark 8 Work conventional benchmark test, the X1 Tablet scored 2452, which puts it comfortably between low-powered office PCs and full notebooks. In the graphics-intensive 3DMark Sky Diver test, it scored 2449, which is closer to the office PC side. That’s not too much of a concern — the X1 Tablet was meant to be a basic productivity machine from the beginning, and it’s good enough to be exactly that.

A somewhat surprising problem was battery life. With normal, mixed use (for me, this is between six and eight tabs open, one of which is streaming music from YouTube), I got just a bit over five hours. Lenovo has a separate performance module that should double that number, but it does cost extra. It’s worth noting that I used Chrome, which isn’t the most energy-efficient browser. In the PCMark 8 Work conventional battery life test, the X1 Tablet scored 3 hours and 16 minutes.

The 2160 x 1440 IPS display gets bright and color reproduction is pretty solid, although there’s still quite a bit of glare in direct sunlight — this is a much better device for working indoors, although if creativity strikes outside and you want to use just the tablet, we wouldn’t say it’s unusable.

There are a number of features that make the X1 Tablet well-positioned as a solid enterprise alternative to the Surface Pro 4. The front-facing 2 MP camera works well for video calls, while the rear 8 MP camera does a great job of scanning documents. If you’re considering the X1 Tablet as a BYOD choice for the office, it also has Intel vPro, a Trusted Platform Module, and multi-factor authentication using the fingerprint scanner.

Modules and Accessories

When the Lenovo X1 Tablet was announced, we were under the impression that the keyboard would come standard. It didn’t work out that way, unfortunately. The base price is still $900, as quoted at the CES unveil, but the keyboard is now $140 extra. That makes the X1 Tablet less competitive with the Surface Pro 4 on price, but the good news is that, as usual, the Lenovo ThinkPad keyboard will be worth it for many.

The keyboard attaches to the tablet magnetically, using a series of gold connectors on the bottom of the tablet and top of the keyboard. The fit is very secure, and it turns out the keyboard is also adjustable. There’s a flexible section on the keyboard cover between the connector and the keyboard itself that has a few rows of magnets. One or more of these magnets can be snapped to the bottom of the tablet to raise the height of the keyboard. This is pretty cool in practice, although at steeper angles, there was some give in the keyboard, which is to be expected given how thin it is.

Speaking of thinness, the ThinkPad keyboard cover isn’t as satisfying as a full one, but it’s still probably the best 2-in-1 keyboard cover out there. Lenovo has managed to get 1.25 mm of key travel out of the keys, which feels as good as other lesser full laptop keyboards when typing. Better yet, Lenovo managed to fit in a keyboard backlight, which is activated manually using Fn+Space. All of the usual ThinkPad features are on this keyboard, too — the physical touchpad buttons and the TrackPoint nub. These work just as well as they do on a full ThinkPad keyboard, although the touchpad itself feels a little flimsy, especially when clicking. It also wasn’t very smooth, making dragging and dropping a little difficult.

Occasionally, we did run into an issue where the keyboard would stop working. Usually, restarting would fix the problem, but sometimes it was necessary to remove the keyboard and reattach it. It was a serious problem with the first review unit we received, but the second unit fared much better, so we may have just been unfortunate to get a lemon the first time around.

The keyboard is now an extra, but the stylus isn’t. It has 2,048 levels of pressure sensitivity, two programmable buttons on the side, and is a digitizer pen, so you can turn your handwriting into typing. It glides smoothly over the touchscreen and feels good in the hand, although we would have liked it to be just a bit longer. The pen is powered by a AAAA battery, which is sort of a rare sight. It’s odd that such an uncommon battery was used, but we prefer this to the awkward rechargeable styli of the sort found on the iPad Pro. The stylus also comes with two holders — one that can be slid into the USB 3.0 port, and the other that can be put into a dedicated slot. The former is more secure, but the latter is more practical.

There are also productivity and presenter modules that can be attached to the bottom of the X1 Tablet, in between the tablet and the keyboard. The productivity module includes a onelink+ port, an HDMI port, and a battery that adds five hours of use (the HDMI port is on the tablet anyway, but is covered up by the plastic shield that goes in between the tablet and the keyboard). The presenter module also makes use of that HDMI port and adds a projector that can throw an image up to 60″. We don’t know about the status of the 3D imaging module, which is to have a 3D camera for scanning physical objects. We didn’t get to test out any of those three modules, so we can’t vouch for their quality.

Read on for the verdict…

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