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Lenovo ThinkPad X121e - Usability, Screen and Speakers

Ardjuna Seghers

By Ardjuna Seghers



Our Score:


Aside from remarkable build quality and reliability, the ThinkPad brand has always been known for its excellent usability. Especially its keyboards have a well-deserved reputation as being the best mobile ones going, and the X121e does nothing to alter that perception.

Layout is excellent, with intelligent shortcut placement and dedicated Page Up and Down buttons to either side of the cursor keys. Our only niggle is that Lenovo seems to be one of the very few manufacturers to still place the Fn key to the outside of Ctrl (though you can switch their assignments around in the BIOS).

The matt keys are slightly curved to ideally accommodate your fingertips. They’re also raised much higher than on the average chiclet keyboard, giving as much travel as you could possibly hope for, with a lovely defined click. Basically, the X121e offers one of the best typing experiences of any ultraportable, and we would happily use it as our main text-editing machine all day long.

Unfortunately Lenovo’s implementation of the buttonless touchpad isn’t exactly top of its class, and we’d rather use the versions found on the Acer Aspire S3 or Samsung Series 9. Nevertheless, it still proves a reasonably accurate and responsive tool, and as with all ThinkPads you also get an alternative in the red, rubber-topped mini joystick (called a TrackPoint) located at the keyboard’s centre. This nubbin also has three of its own physical buttons, which are simply superb and can also be used in conjunction with the pad. However, in incorporating the TrackPoint, we can't help but conclude Lenovo has compromised the touchpad experience - that alternative stylish model we were talking about; drop the TrackPoint too.

Where the X121e’s 11.6in screen is concerned, it’s mostly good news again. Haters of gloss will be glad of its reflection-killing semi matt finish, and though its 1,366 x 768 resolution is standard for most laptops, on a panel this small it makes for a very sharp display. Contrast is quite decent though the darkest shade on our greyscale test was virtually indistinguishable. Still, for a matt display blacks were deep and colours punchy, with no nasty backlight bleed or artefacts to spoil the party.

In fact, the screen’s only real weakness is its viewing angles, which are about average. Colour and contrast shift both creep in if you move too far off-centre and you have to angle its hinge right to get the most out of it, but overall it’s still good enough, especially considering the X121e’s price.

On the audio front we weren’t expecting much, and not much is exactly what we got. We’ve heard worse from ultraportables, but even so the speakers here don’t exactly excel. Maximum volume would have trouble filling a small bedroom or office cubicle and the bass quotient is so low it’s almost nonexistent. You can certainly get by watching a bit of catchup TV or a YouTube clip, but for anything more involving, a decent set of headphones or external speakers is a must.

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November 18, 2011, 7:27 pm

Is the quoted battery life with a 6-cell or a 3-cell battery? Also, how loud does the laptop get under load?


November 19, 2011, 1:33 am

Agree - excellent laptop. Been running premium thinkpads at work for years and this gives hardly anything to them .. same build, it just works.

I spent my own money on this one. Got mine for about £350 - lots of deals on the Lenovo website if you watch out. Oh, and there is an SSD option on there.

I would disagree with the screen rating though - it's pretty pants on mine like most thinkpads (though my previous laptop was a TZ before some bugger nicked it.. so not really a fair comparison).


November 22, 2011, 9:18 pm

That's for the 6-cell, as you can tell from the 5,160mAh rating. As to noise, it stays fairly quiet, which is not too surprising considering it's a low-power chip in a chunky chassis.

Indeed, though as mentioned in the review some ThinkPads (like the X1) were disappointing at best.
Thanks for pointing out the SSD option (when we checked out X121e options prior to the review this wasn't available yet), amended review to match.

As to the screen, as mentioned it's fairly decent, except for its viewing angles. Compared to similarly priced rivals it certainly holds its own, as cheap laptop/netbook displays tend to be rather poor, making an average effort good.


November 26, 2011, 1:44 am

I got this laptop for my wife to replace her ageing and incredibly slow EeeePC 1000H. The difference between the two of them is light and day as you would expect going from an Atom with 1Gb RAM to an I3 with 4Gb RAM. However that is only the beginning. The extra screen size and resolution make a huge difference to the user experience (and the extra speed, did I mention the speed?). The other really good thing about it is the HDMI connection. The ability to plug a single plug into the TV (as opposed to fiddling with seperate sound and video cords) is excellent for watching videos off the laptop or just using the TV as a huge screen for viewing images etc. Plug a large USB drive into the laptop and it becomes a tiny media player.


November 26, 2011, 1:47 am

@Godji - The laptopis barely audible under load.

Keep an eye out for deals on Lenovo, I got it for under AUS$600 when it first came out - which was the same price I payed for the EeeePC I bought 3 years ago which it was replacing.


November 30, 2011, 6:01 pm

After reading this and doing some more poking about i have ordered one of these to replace my Acer Aspire One. I am very much looking forward to the speed increase and being able to watch full screen iplayer/youtube as well as some very light gaming.

James Reckitt

December 8, 2011, 12:47 am

Nice review! Tempted to order one of these for Christmas to replace my trusty NC10 (which I still love, but the screen res gets a little irritating when working on long docs). Maybe some of the commenters who have bought one to replace netbooks will be able to help me here - how great is the performance upgrade from an Atom to this i3 (or the AMD equivalent)?


January 24, 2012, 7:17 pm



January 23, 2013, 11:37 pm

nice review on an excellent product. most interested in the i3 ver, it's just like a polo gti comparing to other netbooks as kia rio on market from the performance perspective


August 23, 2013, 9:15 am

Mobile broadband 3G should be a NO, in the UK at least. Even the Lenovo tech support team don't seem to know this, but WWAN on the spec sheet means there's a slot for a sim card but nothing behind it. I was told to return my laptop and buy a new one, so to save being without a computer I duly bought a new one then they refused the refund as the order details clearly stated that you needede to upgrade to get mobile broadband :). To enable mobile broadband you need to buy a £95 additional card. I would consider a different brand or buy Lenovo products from ebay or another supplier who knows how their products work. You're more likely to get what you want.

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