Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet review: The Surface Pro 4 rival you can expand
We first encountered the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet at the CES technology show in Las Vegas earlier this year, and at that time aping the Surface Pro 4’s flappy keyboard and kickstand seemed the thing to do. Seven months on, the number of alternatives has swelled to an almost unhealthy number, but none of the pretenders have yet come close to threatening Microsoft’s market-leading design.
The ThinkPad X1 Tablet at least offers something different: upgradability, through a series of plugin modules that add new features as and when you need them. Lenovo was able to send only one of these to test – the “Productivity Module”. Its key skill is to boost the X1 Tablet’s ten-hour battery life, but it also has a series of extra ports: one USB 3, Lenovo’s proprietary OneLink+ connector and a full-sized HDMI video output, to complement the USB 3, mini-DisplayPort and USB Type-C ports around the edges of the tablet itself.
In tandem with the keyboard – which connects in a similar fashion to the detachable keyboard found on Microsoft’s Surface products – this turns the ThinkPad X1 Tablet into a proper portable workhorse. With the Productivity Module clipped to the bottom and the keyboard attached to its front, the tablet is heavier and thicker than the Surface Pro 4 by quite a large margin, but its stamina is more fitting for a device designed for office use. The bad news is that the extra battery will set you back £139.
That’s not the only expansion module available for the ThinkPad X1 Tablet, though. Also available is a “Presenter Module” that includes a pico projector capable of displaying 60in displays from two metres away. However, this is even pricier than the Productivity Module, at a whopping £361, and with a brightness rating of 32 lumens, I can’t imagine it will be all that effective anyway.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet: Design and keyboard
The good news is that, despite the fact that nominally they’re optional extras, the prices you see on the Lenovo website include both the keyboard and the pressure-sensitive ThinkPad Pen Pro stylus.
That keyboard, together with the well-designed kickstand, lends it a practicality and “lappability” that’s unrivalled among its 2-in-1 tablet rivals – and that includes the Microsoft Surface Pro 4.
Instead of the hinge point being in the centre of the tablet, creating a thin edge for it to balance on, the ThinkPad X1 Tablet’s kickstand hinges out from the bottom edge. Although this doesn’t make much difference on a desk, when it comes to perching it on your lap, the kickstand’s flat surface area rests on your thighs, making it feel more secure. It’s an adjustable hinge, too, so you can tilt it back and forth to achieve the most comfortable viewing angle and, in typical ThinkPad fashion, the quality of the keyboard is excellent.
The keys have a soft, cushioned action that gives it a great touch-typing feel and there’s loads of travel (1.35mm per keystroke to be precise). There’s also plenty of space in between each key, so typos are kept to a minimum, and the touchpad is good, too, with a smooth top and a reliable and responsive action. Lenovo has even found room here for the traditional ThinkPad red-dot trackpoint, nestled in between the keyboard’s G, H and B keys.
It’s all very light and portable. Adding the keyboard increases the weight from 725g to 1.1kg, which is pretty good for a 12in 2-in-1, and it’s pretty slim as well, measuring 14.2mm thick with the keyboard and 8.6mm without. And I do like the inclusion of a fingerprint reader. Embedded in the front-right bezel, next to the screen, this can be used to unlock the tablet in a trice – a quick dab of your thumb is all that’s required – without having to type a password.
The ThinkPad X1 Tablet isn’t all about practical excellence and thoughtful design, however. The main problem is the means by which you attach the extra modules. To add a module, you have to first remove a plastic strip that runs the length of the tablet’s bottom edge. (And don’t lose it, because it will cost you £35 to replace.)[gallery:7]
If that wasn’t bad enough, the mechanical clips that secure the extra modules in place are tricky to engage. It took me several attempts to get the productivity module firmly seated and locked in. And to attach the keyboard with the Productivity Module in place, you have to remove yet another eminently losable plastic strip.
Having said all of this, one thing in favour of the system is that, once your modules are in place, it’s impossible to dislodge them by accident, and the magnets holding the keyboard in place are equally strong and secure.
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