Connectivity on the X1 is unsurpassed by business standards,
and even for a consumer laptop only its lack of LightPeak/Thunderbolt (as found
on the Air and Z) prevents it from leading the pack. For starters, on the wireless front you
get Bluetooth 3.0, Wi-Fi N and, for an extra £91, optional 3G (mobile
Unusually, most of this ThinkPad’s physical connections are
found around the rear, with the few ports at the left side protected by a
rubber flap, which also helps to maintain its streamlined looks. Under this
you’ll find a microphone/headphone combi jack and single USB 2.0 port. The
right houses a wireless switch and SDXC card reader, as well as a removable
panel for easy hard drive access.
At the rear we have Gigabit Ethernet, a SIM card slot, USB
3.0 port, combi eSATA and USB 2.0 port that also offers sleep-and-charge, and
both HDMI 1.4 and mini DisplayPort for video. That’s a great selection that
covers almost every base. Our only complaint is that the X1’s inward-sloping
slides make the USB 2.0 port mounted there difficult to get at, and we’re not
sure how necessary the rubber flap is, for while it offers great protection
against dirt and dust, the ports at the rear aren’t protected at all.
The good news continues when it comes to usability. The
ThinkPad brand’s reputation with keyboards is of such a consistent standard
that we could safely predict that the experience in this regard was going to be
pretty good. What we couldn’t predict is that the example found on the X1 is
not only the best keyboard on any ultraportable we’ve ever used, but one of the
best keyboards on a laptop, period.
Though its styling suggests chiclet, the keys offer all the
size and feel of a regular keyboard. Their matt finish and slightly concave
shape means fingers rest in them naturally and you never hit a nearby key by
mistake. Apart from Lenovo’s signature quirk of placing the Fn key to the left of Ctrl (though you can switch this around in the BIOS), layout is close
to perfect. In a nod to maintaining its looks the traditional blue Enter key is
now standard black.
The best thing about this keyboard though is its flawless
feedback. Each key offers far more travel than we’re used to from a slim
laptop, just the right amount of resistance, and a click that’s defined without
being noisy. There’s also absolutely zero flex. It’s simply the next best thing
to typing on a desktop keyboard, and superior even to previous Lenovo efforts
like that of the X220 Tablet.
And the good keyboard news doesn’t end with its ergonomics.
White backlighting can be turned on or off using the space-bar, a system we
prefer over the light sensors used in most rivals. Also, in a demonstration we
attended earlier this year, Lenovo spilled a glass of water all over the
spill-resistant keyboard and the laptop still worked fine afterwards, so most
spills certainly shouldn’t be an issue.
While the button-integrated, multi-touch touchpad (which
Lenovo calls a ‘clickpad’) isn’t bad by any means, it just doesn’t match up to
the superlative keyboard. Its large, textured surface is not unpleasant, and
– unlike earlier non-Apple examples of touchpads that integrate their buttons –
it’s quite usable. However, compared to the frosted-glass masterpiece found on
the Samsung Series 9 and Series 7 laptops, it isn’t as responsive, pleasant or as usable, with clicks
being stiffer and easier to get wrong, and its dimpled surface more wearing.
Of course, with ThinkPads the touch- or trackpad isn’t your
only choice for moving your cursor about, as you also get a TrackPoint. This
red, rubber-topped mini joystick is located in the centre of the keyboard and operates
with the tip of a finger. While it does take a little getting used to, after a
while it’s quite easy to operate. It comes with three responsive buttons, one
of which is exclusively used for scrolling.