Lenovo Thinkpad X220T 12.5in tablet PC
A fondleslab too far?
Review A recent business profile of Lenovo in a national newspaper made an interesting assertion. "Anyone you spot on the Tube using a ThinkPad has almost certainly obtained it from their employer," claimed the reporter.
Tablet with a twist: Lenovo's ThinkPad X220T
Well, discerning readers know this isn’t true. The build quality, devotion to no-frills heavy lifting, the aftermarket support, and ease of maintenance have long made ThinkPads a favourite. This is a machine for people who know their work, and want to buy the best tool possible to get it done.
The X220 is the most significant overhaul to the premium lightweight X-series in three years; the new model replaces both the X201 and the pricey flagship, the X301. The standard laptop isn’t in the channel yet and wasn’t available for review, but the Tablet version is here; I’ll start by summarising the changes common to both laptop and tablet models.
The single biggest change is a slight increase in width over the X200/X201, to accommodate a 12.5in (diagonal), 1366 x 768 screen. This offers a little more real estate than the 1280 x 800 of the X200s, but at the expense of vital vertical viewing area – a consequence of shifting from 4:3 to 16:9 ratio displays in line with the rest of the market. This isn’t a popular move with long-time users – and remember that some 13.3in X300s models offered a 1440 x 900 resolution display option. If you need one, Fujitsu still offers laptops with 4:3 ratio displays.
Lenovo has also brought modern display I/O to the X-series with Displayport. The X301 had a Displayport, but no card slot, while the X200s shunned DVI and HDMI digital video ports. Don’t worry, the VGA port is still there. And it’s a relief to see the Expresscard 54 slot, an endangered species these days, going strong – giving access to a range of essential upgrades such as fast I/O (Firewire, eSATA), SSD cards and professional audio options.
The new widescreen aspect consequently broadens the keyboard real estate
The build quality is as you’d expect, outstanding, with a magnesium alloy chassis, showing no hint of flexing, and the familiar matte finish. The keyboard makes the most of the room in the expanded chassis, and ranks as the best I have used on an X-series, and perhaps any ThinkPad, being firm, light, consistent and perfectly sprung. Finger fatigue is noticeably less after using a well made keyboard. It is a sheer pleasure to use. The extra vertical space has allowed Lenovo to use doublesized Delete and Escape keys.
With the new model Lenovo has also attempted to improve its reputation for dim screens. The X220T uses an IPS screen rated at 300 nits, this model uses Gorilla Glass and was markedly more bright than the predecessor-but-one. All the models use matte, antigloss displays. The review sample was equipped with a quadcore Intel i7-2620M processor at 2.7Ghz, 4GB of RAM and, disappointingly, a Hitachi Travelstar 7200rpm HD.
That higher edge on one side is due to the antennae housing
This level of processing power in a portable comes with a penality; protruding from the rear of the machine is a substantial six-cell battery. While some maintain that the tapered battery is useful as a handle when using the machine in tablet, portrait mode, I found that it made the machine look significantly more bulky than it needs to, or would do with the flush three-cell battery.
By comparison with the venerable 15in T42, the X200 felt tiny. Now the X220 feels only slightly smaller. Incidentally, there’s a protrusion at the front lip of the lid that houses the antennas, but this helps to open the lid.
Closed for business
The extra space on the X220T allows the inclusion of both a Trackpad and Trackpoint; the former is multitouch and a one piece design, with no clear indication of which areas activate the left and right buttons. Getting one piece trackpads right is elusive. This one of the few sub-par design decisions on the machine, and I found I shunned it completely. It's possible to turn off the trackpad in the BIOS. Do yourself a favour and save some frustration.
Taking the tablet
In one major departure to previous Lenovo tablets, the screen rotates only clockwise. This is not a Thinkpad you want to pick up by the lid with one hand, although most of the time, it will do so without the base unit swivelling away. A pressure-sensitive, sensor-packed Wacom-style tablet stylus is included, that slots in the right-hand side of the machine. The touch display worked well, but may be disconcerting to those of you familiar with cruder resistive screens and more modern capacitive touch screens.
The screen allows touch or stylus use
Like the new consumer fondleslabs, the screen can be enabled to be finger sensitive – it’s off by default - but obviously, the Windows UI is optimized for finer input, that calls for a pen or mouse. I found a bug where enabling the screen disabled the machine's TouchPad and TrackPoint input. It was hardly an inducement to use the machine as a convertible.
The X220T can be ordered with optional Gorilla glass; Lenovo also includes its SimpleTap overlay intended to give one touch access to features such as sleep, volume mute and toggling the radios.
In tests with PCMark Vantage, the X220T notched up 4338 PCMarks which is significantly under par with other Core i7 machines Reg Hardware has tested. No doubt the absence of a separate grsphics card makes an impact here and if the X220T had been supplied with the optional 160GB SSD, this result would have been improved still further.
The iconic Trackpoint as it's officially called, adds a tactile treat to this fondleslab
As for 3D gamers, you can go whistle, the Thinkpad X-series has never been for you, given that Lenovo relies on Intel’s integrated graphics to shift the pixels. With the six-cell battery, I found the machine cruised through six hours of constant use, with WiFi turned on and the screen set to around 2/3 of its maximum brightness. Achieving over seven hours was possibly simply by judicious use of the WiFi.
If time isn't of the essence, you can opt for the three-cell battery, but there’s no room for an UltraBay battery pack. Well, that's because there’s no UltraBay. Instead you can buy a battery slice that clips under the chassis which gives 5800mah in a six cell battery, taking it to 20 hours – although adding a kilo to the weight and a $229 hole in your pocket.
Take the tablet? The X220 laptop seems a more practical option
There are significant compromises to opting for the Tablet variant of the X220. It adds substantially to the weight and mass, and for some inexplicable reason, the usual Thinkpad keyboard light is absent (even though the keyboard decal indicates it’s there).
Tablet PCs have failed to win a mass market, but they maintain the following of a loyal and helpful user community. Yet, nine years after launch, Microsoft’s software still doesn’t feel like a coherent or mature product.
Lenovo has consolidated much of the best of two product lines in the X220T. Potential buyers may want to consider the Thinkpad Air-killer, the forthcoming X1, before parting with your cash, but this model's compromises (no user replaceable battery) may not appeal to traditional ThinkPad customers.
With Windows 8 offering a revamp that is specifically designed around touch, and with cheap lightweight devices offering sit-back use, it is difficult to see the appeal of this hybrid design. Inside the Lenovo X220T is probably the best business laptop on the market, struggling to get out. ®
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