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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet review: A Surface Pro 4 rival you can count on

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
1,380
inc VAT (as of 19th July)

Expensive and almost flawless, the ThinkPad X1 Tablet is a deserving Surface Pro 4 competitor

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Taking a stab at the Surface Pro 4, the ThinkPad X1 Tablet looked to be a top contender when we first got some hands-on time with it at CES at the beginning of the year. Fast forward to the summer, the number of 2-in-1 devices gunning for Microsoft’s crown has grown exponentially, with some, like the HP Elite X2, hitting pretty close to the mark.

Lenovo are all about choice when it comes down to the ThinkPad X1 Tablet. With a bunch of different plugins and upgradability options, which add some new features to the mix, you should be able to find the right device and extras to suit your needs. Bear in mind, it’s not all that cheap if you want all the extras, but it’s nice to see Lenovo at least offering them.

For the purposes of this review, Lenovo sent over their ‘Productivity Module’ to test with it, which increases the battery life, and adds an extra USB3 port, HDMI port and OneLink+ connector. It adds a sizeable bit of bulk to the device, and you’ll have to fork out an extra £140 for it too.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet performance module

The ThinkPad X1 Tablet comes in a variety of flavours, with plenty of specs to pick and choose from - prices start at £1,050 and head up steeply. You get the choice of either an Intel Core M5-6Y54 or M7-6Y75 processor, 8GB or 16GB of ram and SSD sizes ranging from 128GB to 512GB. All options include Windows 10 Pro, a 12in 2,160x1,440 display and an Intel HD Graphics 515 chip too. If you decide to go for the best specs on offer, it’ll run you just shy of £1,760.

Thankfully, even if the price at first looks to be pretty high, at least you get both the keyboard and the pressure-sensitive ThinkPad Pen Pro stylus included in the box too. Paired with the brilliantly designed and easy to use kickstand, you’ve got both a practical and portable device that stands almost unrivalled against its 2-in-1 competitors, even the Surface Pro 4.

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Keyboard and touchpad

There’s even more good news here as the quality of the keyboard is excellent, with soft, cushioned keys providing an enjoyable touch typing feel with plenty of travel. The keys are nicely spaced out too, making full use of the space given to them, and after a lengthy amount of time spent with it, typos were kept to a minimum.

The smooth touchpad is similarly responsive and reliable, alternatively Lenovo has even found the space to include its trademark Trackpoint nub, which is found snuggling between the G, B and H keys.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet keyboard

Design

Lenovo has definitely made portability and lightness a priority, considering it weighs just 725g on its own. Add the keyboard into the mix and you’re still only looking at slightly over 1Kg. Considering the fact that it’s a 12in 2-in-1, you’d think it’d be heavier, with the 8.6mm thickness also something worth shouting about.

A fingerprint reader, found on the right side bezel when using it landscape, is a welcome addition, and adds that extra layer of security with Windows Hello integration. It’s much faster, and a trifle more secure, than having to type in a password to unlock it.

It’s not all perfect when it comes to design, though, with the extra module attachments proving to be particularly tricky and often flimsy, to attach. If you want to add a module, you first have to remove the plastic strip running along the bottom edge, which is so thin that it can easily be lost. Try not to though, as a replacement strip will cost you £35.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet accessories

The extra modules are secured by tiny mechanical clips, and are incredibly fiddly to attach to the tablet itself and I never got it right first try. Thankfully, you can use the keyboard with the productivity module attached, but this requires yet another plastic strip to come off.

The process almost feels like you’re assembling some kind of rifle, though without any of the expertise of a highly-trained marksman. Once attached, they are held firmly in place, thanks to some rather strong magnets, but the whole thing is very time-consuming.

Ports and connections

Just the device on its own is a little limited when it comes to ports and connections. With just one USB3 port, one USB Type C port and a mini-DisplayPort on the side, the productivity module begins to look like a necessary purchase.

You’re out of luck if you’re expecting an Ethernet port for wired network connectivity here and you’ll have to make do with the built-in 802.11ac wireless if you want to stay connected to the internet.

Display

The 12in 2,560x 1,440 IPS display is positively outstanding, especially for a device as small as this. Reaching a peak brightness of 405cd/m2, you’ll have no problems using it outside in direct sunlight. Screen contrast is particularly high, at 1,105:1, with a decent but not outstanding sRGB colour gamut coverage of 86.9%.

I had no qualms with the colour accuracy in practice, especially when placed side by side with the HP Elite X2’s 76.6% which looked much more drab with a noticeable blue and green tint. While the Surface Pro 4 still leads the pack in terms of display quality, Lenovo has done enough here, with one of the better displays you can buy on such a device.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet front

Performance and battery life

Sadly, it goes a little bit downhill here, especially considering the Thinkpad X1 has already ticked all the right boxes. The 1.2GHz Intel Core m7-6y75 processor isn’t exactly industry leading and is a far cry from the fully fledged Core i5 and Core i7 processors found in the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga.

As you’d expect, performance really took a hit when running our rigorous 4K benchmarking tests, with a disappointingly mediocre 27 score overall. This puts it well behind the Surface Pro 4’s 44 score and the HP Elite X2’s 34, with the processor noticeably struggling during video encoding. While this shouldn’t be a problem for quick bursts of less performance-heavy tasks such as word processing and general web browsing, don’t expect desktop-level performance here.

There is some recompense in terms of battery life, though. The X1 tablet's score of 8 hours and 36 minutes in our constant video rundown test, beat out the Surface Pro 4 by around an hour. It's not a huge difference but many would choose battery over performance any day.

Obviously, this isn’t a gaming machine, yet the Intel HD Graphics 515 chip paired with the 16GB of RAM does the job for some light gaming here and there, so long as you’re not after top-end visuals at high frame rates. You should be able to squeeze in a little bit of Minecraft, as it never dips below 30fps at the default render distance. Turn up the render distance and you’ll find frequent frame drops as you move around, though.

Running older games such as Dirt: Showdown isn’t too much of a problem if you aren’t fussed about having the graphical settings up to the highest in order to get a playable framerate. Running it at 1,280x720 on Ultra Low settings garnered just under 40fps, but as soon as you upped the quality and resolution, performance took a massive dip. It’s a shame you can’t make full use of the pretty 2,560x1,440 resolution display, but it’s to be expected on a device this compact.

Conclusion

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet surpasses its rivals in more ways than one, but is held back by just a couple of flaws. Its sheer upgradability is the star here, with plenty of add-ons and extras you can get with it, something the likes of the Surface  Pro 4 and HP Elite X2 don’t have.

The X1 Tablet is near flawless in its design too, with fantastic ergonomics paired with its super slim and lightweight portability. There are some parts of the design that are a bit clunky, especially considering how awkward it is to attach any of the extras, but those are options some many never have to engage with.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet side

With the base model starting at £1,050, rising up to £1,760 if you want the best specs you can get, this definitely isn’t bargain basement, but neither are its main competitors. You do get the excellent keyboard and stylus in the box too, but the extra modules aren’t included and are also eye-wateringly expensive.

Needless to say, Lenovo has done a commendable job with the ThinkPad X1, and while stonkingly expensive, it is a worthy Surface Pro 4 competitor that’s up there with the best of them. If you want the keyboard and stylus, a bit more battery life, and are interested in the modules, then the Lenovo is the better buy.

Still don't know what to spend your hard-earned cash on? Check out our best laptop guide to help you make the right decision.

Buy the ThinkPad X1 Tablet now from Lenovo

Core specs
ProcessorDual-core Intel Core m7-6Y75
RAM8GB
Memory slots (free)N/A
Max memoryN/A
Dimensions291 x 9 x 210mm
Weight725g
SoundRealtek High Definition Audio
Pointing deviceTouchpad, touchstick
Display
Screen size14in
Screen resolution2560x1440
TouchscreenYes
Graphics adaptorIntel HD 520
Graphics outputsMini DisplayPort
Graphics memory1GB
Storage
Total storage256GB SSD
Optical drive typeNone
Ports and expansion
USB ports1x USB3
BluetoothYes
Networking802.11ac
Memory card readermicroSD
Other portsPort replicator
Miscellaneous
Operating systemWindows 10 Pro
Operating system restore optionRestore partition
Buying information
Parts and labour warrantyThree year RTB
Detailswww.lenovo.com/uk
Part numberSP40G76043