Lenovo ThinkCentre X1 review: The sensible iMac alternative

The all-in-one desktop PC scene has been dominated by Apple so comprehensively, and for so long, that the rest of the industry must wonder if it’s worth bothering to produce their own. There’s still a steady trickle of other manufacturers producing machines, though, and Lenovo’s 24in ThinkCentre X1 is the most interesting to have rolled into the Alphr Labs in quite some time.

Approached from the front,  you’d think there wasn’t much in the way to worry Apple. In typical Lenovo fashion, the ThinkCentre X1 is finished in black, and the wireless keyboard and mouse supplied with the machine are equally plain in appearance. There’s the signature red highlight or two here – the dot above the ‘i’ on the ThinkCentre logo in the bottom left corner of the front bezel and a red scroll-wheel on the wireless mouse – but as far as visual interest goes, that’s pretty much your lot.

Have a look around the chassis, however, and it’s an entirely different story. From front to back, the X1 is impressively slim, measuring an improbable 11.8mm at its thinnest point, and instead of aping the flat Apple foot, Lenovo has tried a refreshingly different approach to the design of the stand.

The ThinkCentre X1 is supported by a 13mm steel bar protruding from a heavy circular base, and it’s positioned such that the screen appears to float above the desk. In its own way, the ThinkCentre X1 is a very sharp-looking machine; in fact, I prefer it to the rather lumpen iMac-like Asus Zen AiO.

What’s also excellent about this design is that it’s practical. Instead of positioning all the ports and slots at the back, a pair of USB ports, one SD card slot and the system’s 3.5mm headphone jack live on the left side of the X1, so you don’t have to reach around the side or stand up and peer over the top to plug stuff in.


There’s a sliding cover on the webcam for those concerned with protecting their privacy. And Lenovo is keen to promote the durability of the ThinkCentre X1, claiming it has been tested to withstand ten years of office dust while still running “error free”.

However, it’s the finishing touches that make the iMacs so good, and this is where the X1 falls behind. Those wireless peripherals, while perfectly usable, are deeply uninspiring when it comes to the overall design and feel. To put it brutally, they feel both cheap and nasty, the matte-black plastic they’re made from a far cry from the slick, finely designed peripherals that Apple supplies with its iMacs.

That stand, thin though it is, wobbles dramatically if you so much as nudge the screen, and I think Lenovo has missed a trick here in not specifying a touchscreen. Although its smooth, flush anti-glare screen looks as if you should be able to prod, poke and swipe it, the only result you’ll get if you touch it is a mess of greasy fingerprint marks.


Lenovo ThinkCentre X1 review: Screen quality

The quality of that screen continues the theme of practicality with a dose of disappointment. It’s a 1,920 x 1,080 resolution IPS panel, and it’s coated with a semi-matte finish that’s remarkably efficient at reducing glare from overhead office lights. Even angled directly up so it catches the light directly, it’s possible to see the onscreen image clearly through the reflections.

However, it can’t live with the iMac or the Asus Zen AiO for brightness, crispness and colour performance. The first item on this list isn’t too problematic. In an office environment, the ThinkCentre X1’s 194cd/m2 maximum brightness is ample; in fact, you should probably be dialling it down from this level to avoid straining your eyes.

However, the Full HD resolution simply isn’t high enough to compete with the market leaders. Stretched across 23.8in, the X1’s IPS panel is able to deliver a pixel density of only 93ppi, which means the pixel structure is plainly visible from normal working distances. Even the older non-Retina iMac has a sharper display than this.

Its colour performance isn’t exactly brilliant, either. Although its sRGB coverage of 95.1% ensures it doesn’t look flat, colour accuracy is far from convincing, with an average delta-E (the colour accuracy rating) of 3.07, and a maximum deviation of 6.02. The screen’s colour temperature is way off base too, at 8,188k.


Lenovo ThinkCentre X1 review: Performance

With a screen as disappointing as this, I had hoped for blistering performance, and given the description on Lenovo’s website of the X1 as “thin as a laptop, as powerful as a desktop PC”, my hopes were high.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s not quite as impressive as Lenovo makes it sound. Indeed, the internals come straight from Intel’s mobile range, with even the most powerful model featuring only the dual-core, 2.6GHz Core i7-6600U. Compared with the Asus Zen AiO, which uses a slightly underclocked full desktop chip, it looks underpowered, scoring a middling 54 in the benchmarks, although it is quicker than the base model Broadwell-based iMac 21.7in, whose 1.6GHz Core i5-5250U scored 42.

Still, the X1 feels snappy and responsive in general use, something that is no doubt helped along by our review unit’s 256GB Samsung SSD. It isn’t the quickest flash drive on the planet, but it’s still a darned sight better than a mechanical hard disk. And if you can’t spring for the SSD, it’s good to see that even the cheapest ThinkCentre X1 comes equipped with a hybrid drive as standard, so responsiveness shouldn’t suffer too badly if you trade down.


Lenovo ThinkCentre X1 review: Prices and Verdict

In the end, the Lenovo ThinkCentre X1 is a curious mixture of the good, the great and the downright frustrating. I really like the design of the main unit, but the keyboard and mouse are a letdown; it feels highly responsive, but all-out performance is limited compared with Asus’s super-fast Zen AiO; and the screen, while highly impressive from a glare reduction point of view, isn’t good enough for any kind of colour-critical work.

One good thing is that it’s reasonably priced given the specification. The review unit supplied to us, with its Core i7-6600U and 256GB SSD, is cheaper than the Asus Zen AiO, and it’s both faster and less expensive than the equivalent Apple iMac 21.5in with Retina display. But if you’ve come looking for a Windows 10-based iMac killer, I’m afraid the Lenovo ThinkCentre X1 isn’t it.

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