This quirky tablet is a genuine rival to the Surface Pro 4, with modular units to add extra features.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet offers something different: upgradability. This is achieved through a series of plugin modules that add features as and when you need them.
Lenovo could 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 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.
Lenovo is also selling a Presenter Module that includes a pico projector capable of displaying 60in displays from 2m away.
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 between each key, so typos are kept to a minimum, and the touchpad is good, with a smooth top and a responsive action.
It’s light and slim, too. Adding the keyboard increases the weight from 725g to 1.1kg, while it measures 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’s design isn’t perfect, 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.
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 this module in place, you have to remove yet another eminently losable plastic strip.
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.
The 12in screen is good without being spectacular. It’s an IPS panel with a 3:2 aspect ratio and a resolution of 2,160 x 1,440. It reaches a maximum brightness of 403cd/m2, and contrast is a reasonably high 1,105:1, although the sRGB coverage isn’t great at 86.9%. I was much more impressed with the colour accuracy of this screen compared with the HP Elite x2, but it can’t compete with the Surface Pro 4’s all-round excellence.
Don’t expect cutting-edge power, either, because Lenovo employs a Core M processor rather than a Core i5 or Core i7. In testing, we’ve found these throttle back once you start pushing them (for example, when encoding video), but they’re fine for occasional bursts of activity, and Lenovo has eliminated another performance bottleneck by using NVMe SSDs in its pricier models.
In the case of the sample provided for this review, I have a Core m7-6Y75 running at 1.2GHz with 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB Samsung NVMe SSD. It’s as quick and responsive in day-to-day use as you’d expect it to be. Intel’s Core M processors always struggle when pushed intensively in our multitasking benchmarks, where this machine scored just 5, but the relatively high score of 64 in the image-editing section gives a better indication of everyday performance.
The SSD is supremely fast as well, gaining sequential write and read speeds of 2,075MB/sec and 1,374MB/sec in AS SSD, keeping Windows 10 Pro feeling fast and responsive. However, battery life is less than impressive. The ThinkPad lasted 5hrs 44mins in our video-rundown test, which makes the Productivity Module yet more tempting.
The ThinkPad X1 Tablet is a peculiar mix of the wonderful and the awkward, then, but how does it stack up against its key rivals, the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 and HP Elite x2 in terms of the overall package? In some ways it surpasses both of them, especially given that neither has the facility to add components in the way the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 does, and it’s a match for both in terms of its ergonomics.
On the other hand, certain parts of the design are clunky, the modules themselves are pricey, and battery life is poor.
There’s no direct comparison with the Surface Pro 4 since its specifications start at the Core m3, then skip straight to Core i5 and Core i7, but the HP Elite x2 is a close match and it comes out on top for value.
In short, there’s nothing drastically wrong here, but the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet’s price is certain to put off many potential customers.