Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet hands-on

One month of mixed usage

Lenovo can’t seem to get enough of hybrid and modular designs. The ThinkPad X1 Tablet has a little bit of both, but despite sounding like a full-on tablet, the convertible we have here behaves more like a laptop. Let us explain.

Convertibles aren’t a new concept; in fact, all the hybrid notebooks released in the past couple of years feel like they’re playing catch-up to Microsoft’s pioneering Surface lineup. To stand out, every execution is a bit different. Take the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S, for example: It disguises itself as an Android tablet, but it’s a full-fledged Windows computer through and through. The ThinkPad X1 Tablet takes a different path, choosing to be a business-oriented Windows convertible with modular components more than anything else. It’s this kind of flexibility that makes this fledgling category so exciting.

Since hybrid laptops are so distinct from one another and function differently for every type of user, we’ll apply the same idea to the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet. After all, certain features will serve an office worker really well, but a multimedia buff not so much. We’ll simplify things by narrowing down the usage cases to four.


Writers will love the keyboard

Despite lots of convertibles successfully acting like actual laptops, few manage to provide a pleasant typing experience. We have to applaud Lenovo for upholding the ThinkPad lineup’s image and bringing its keyboard expertise to the X1 Tablet. It has to be the most laptop-like implementation we’ve seen on a convertible this year.

Key travel is splendid for a keyboard this thin, and there’s a distinct amount of space between each key. Wrists rest comfortably on the end of the board, and since the attachment doesn’t have its own power supply, there’s no heat to make your palms sweat. There’s also backlighting in case you’re working at night and are too lazy to reach for a light switch.

With the keyboard attached, there are a total of three ways to navigate: You can use the tablet’s touchscreen, the keyboard’s trackpad, or the signature red TrackPoint. We’ve always chosen the trackpad, because the touch experience on Windows 10 still feels five years behind iOS and Android devices, and the TrackPoint felt mostly unnecessary when there’s a touchscreen available. This isn’t to say the trackpad wins by default; the three clicky buttons above the trackpad and its compatible Windows gestures are fast enough to speed through open tabs on Chrome and Microsoft Office.

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Artists shouldn’t give up their graphics tablets for this

The stylus pen is both a blessing and a bother. It’s great that you don’t have to plug it into a power source to charge, but you also have to go through the hassle of finding an uncommon AAAA battery to slide in once the bundled one is dead.

Using it to draw on the touchscreen is a slippery affair. Without any replaceable tips or added texture, the stylus glides across the display like ice. This is bad news for anyone who wants precise control over inputs, and if you want to backtrack on any mistake, there’s no eraser on the other end to save you. The good news is that it behaves like an actual pen, thanks to a thick body and 2,048 levels of sensitivity. On top of that, the stylus has built-in left- and right-click buttons that you can program to other functions on Windows.

Fortunately, the build we received is equipped with an Intel Core m5 processor and 8GB of RAM, making it more than qualified to handle Photoshop and some light video editing. We managed to make the X1 Tablet open a hundred high-resolution photos at once on Photoshop without trouble, and the tablet didn’t flinch when we began editing each one. There are variants with a weaker Core m3 or faster Core m7 installed, but the one we have here seems suffice for everyday tasks. The 256GB SSD that came with our unit is also recommendable, since Windows 10 takes up a lot of space and you can easily eat up more once all your videos and apps are imported.


Multimedia consumption is a mixed bag

We can summarize this section in two parts: The available ports make connectivity on the X1 Tablet seamless, but the 12-inch display and stereo speakers don’t do their ends of the job.

With so many manufacturers relying on a sole USB Type-C port for charging and plugging in peripherals, it’s such a breath of fresh air to see the X1 Tablet offer a full-sized USB port, USB Type-C port, an audio jack, and Mini DisplayPort. The USB port accepts all those flash drives stored in your desk drawer, while the Type-C port is used for charging, as well as future-proofing in case every single company begins focusing on USB-C as the only standard.

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It’s those things that push the X1 Tablet into laptop territory, but it’s a shame it doesn’t leap in terms of visuals or sound. The stereo speakers, in particular, are a lot weaker than what you’d find on much smaller smartphones. And in spite of its 2160 x 1440-pixel resolution, sharpness and strong color reproduction seem lost on the display. Plugging in external speakers and pumping up the brightness to maximum are prerequisites to movie watching.

If you want to get fancy, Lenovo is selling a presenter module for $279 that can shoot a 60-inch projection from about two meters away. We weren’t able to try it out ourselves, but we can say with certainty that it’s a hefty investment, so consider your lifestyle and living space before spending the extra cash.


Built for travelers

Something all users are going to appreciate is the adjustable kickstand at the back of the tablet. You can adjust it freely without set positions or help from the keyboard attachment. The stand is also wide enough to sit on your lap as long as you keep your legs together. And even with the keyboard attached, the whole thing is feather-light for a laptop replacement at 1.1kg.

Behind it, you can find slots for a microSD card and SIM card. Anyone who transfers photos from a camera during a trip and needs a data connection to instantly upload online knows how vital these two slots are. If for some unfortunate reason your camera is unusable, there’s a decent 8-megapixel camera with LED flash at the back of the tablet to help out – just don’t expect any miracles.

And now, we must ask: How’s the battery life? To be frank, it’s average compared to all the other tablets and laptops we tested. With mixed usage, which involves streaming TV shows, surfing on Chrome, and editing on Photoshop every now and then, the X1 Tablet can last a little less than five hours on a full charge. What’s impressive it how fast the tablet charges, able to achieve an ample amount of juice in only 30 minutes of charging.

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Like the presenter module mentioned earlier, the productivity module costing $149 comes to the rescue. Lenovo claims it can add an additional five hours to the battery life, which means it would double the endurance if it works as advertised. We highly recommend purchasing one if you plan to work far from a wall socket; plus, it provides additional USB 3.0 and full-sized HDMI ports.


Fun in a block

You really can’t tell by the industrial design and blocky exterior, but the X1 Tablet is more fun to use than it looks. And by fun, we mean it doesn’t give you a headache when you make it work. In typical ThinkPad fashion, the tablet simply takes all the tasks you throw at it and performs. You don’t have to put much thought into using it, such as charging the keyboard or stylus. Snapping the keyboard on and adjusting the angles are straightforward, and once you begin typing, you forget for a moment that it isn’t an actual notebook.

Again, you can’t rely on it for pure multimedia consumption. The battery life and audio-visual outputs just don’t hold up. Lenovo probably noticed these weakness during the production stages, and hence, we have the productivity and presenter modules to fill in the cracks. The pair of attachments actually bolster the functionality and make the tablet a true entertainment device, but you’ll have to pay the hefty price.

(Notes: The ThinkPad X1 Tablet package Lenovo sent us came with the tablet itself, attachable keyboard, and stylus pen. According to Lenovo, if you purchase the variant costing P83,990 in the Philippines, it’ll come with everything we mentioned, plus the productivity module. Elsewhere, the X1 Tablet’s price begins at $1,029 for the entry-level Intel Core m3 variant, and it costs around $1,299 for a Core m5 build similar to what we have.)

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