As well as build quality and durability, ThinkPads have an impeccable reputation for their keyboards, which tend to be without exaggeration the best to be found on laptops. There’s nothing ‘chiclet’ about this affair, and it’s all the better for it.
The full-size keys offer superb feedback that’s crisp yet springy, with a pleasantly audible click. There’s just enough matt palm-rest for your hands to rest comfortably while typing, and the touchpad never gets in the way. Basically, this is as close as you can get to the typing experience of the classic IBM Model-M keyboards of yore on a mobile machine.
Layout is pretty much spot-on, though as ever the blue Enter key is US style and – our only complaint – Fn is still to the outside of Ctrl. Lenovo is one of the few manufacturers that still cling to this archaic convention and we really wish it wouldn’t, but at least you can swap the functionality of these two keys around in the BIOS.
A small panel set into the keyboard area along the top-right contains the ThinkVantage button (which gives access to ThinkPad-specific utilities) and a set of volume controls, which thankfully aren’t unnecessarily replicated on the keyboard. Volume up and down is set to a responsive rocker switch, while both volume- and microphone-mute buttons have indicator LEDs.
Of course, no ThinkPad would ever be complete without its signature TrackPoint, a tiny, red rubber-topped joystick in the centre of the keyboard operated with the tip of a finger. While it does take a little getting used to, after a while it’s quite easy to operate and even beats the touchpad in some situations, and its three buttons are very responsive.
However, while on the older X200t this was the only means of input, on the X220 Lenovo hasn’t just added a touchpad, it has added a brand-new model that integrates its buttons into its touch surface. With a very mildly dimpled surface, the pad provides a pleasant tactile surface and, without needing to make room for separate buttons, offers enough space for multi-touch gestures.
For those afraid that the button integration might have led to something as unwieldy as the infamous ClickPad on the HP tm2, we have good news: Lenovo’s implementation works. Not only does the pad rarely mistake a click for a touch, but the ‘buttons’ offer deep, positive feedback with a distinct click and – surprisingly – no dead zone.
We would have preferred it if this touchpad had run all the way to the front as on the X220, since the ridge in front of it occasionally makes the ‘buttons’ a bit harder to press. However, this is a very minor niggle and, overall, the X220 Tablet offers one of the best ergonomic experiences going.