Lenovo ThinkPad X301 review

8 Apr 2009

An incremental upgrade from the ThinkPad X300, and ultimately a little disappointing. For this price, we expect close to perfection, and the X301 doesn't quite deliver.

Price when reviewed: 
1,774(£1,775 inc VAT)
4

The Lenovo ThinkPad X300 was a breath of fresh air when it was released early in 2008: a sub-1.5kg laptop that somehow included a sizeable screen and optical drive.

Now, just over a year later, we see the next step in its evolution. There are no fundamental changes with the X301, just nips and tucks designed to make it better suited to life on the move in 2009.

The first enhancement is the processor, with the 1.2GHz SL7100 in the X300 replaced here by the 1.4GHz SU9400. Coupled with 2GB of RAM (there's one DIMM socket free), it returned 0.78 in our benchmarks, compared to 0.67 from the X300. Truth be told, we'd hoped that Lenovo would opt for a faster processor still, but undemanding users can certainly use the X301 as their main system.

Another nice evolutionary touch is the DisplayPort that graces the X301's rear. The D-SUB still found on most laptops is starting to show its age, but many manufacturers held off switching to DVI - in part because of its limited resolution support.

DisplayPort has no such worries: you can connect screens right up to 2,560 x 1,600 with the X301, and still benefit from a digital connection (including audio). That said, Lenovo plays it safe by also including a D-SUB connector.

We're a little disappointed that Lenovo hasn't seen fit to squeeze in an eSATA port, sticking instead with three USB connectors: two on the left-hand side, the other at the rear.

Aside from this, there are only a pair of mic and headphone jacks plus the Gigabit Ethernet port; digital camera enthusiasts should note the lack of flash memory card slots.

They should also note that Lenovo hasn't improved the screen. Just as with the X300, this LED-backlit affair is neither the brightest or most colour accurate of panels, and you have to position it just so - at a 100-degree incline - to get perfect contrast.

The 1,440 x 900 resolution is about right for the 13.3in screen diagonal, but we wouldn't have complained if the resolution had been higher still - or if Lenovo had found a way to increase the screen size at the expense of the rather wide bezel.

We're also just a shade disappointed by the keyboard. It seems odd to bemoan its quality when this remains one of the best designed key layouts you can find - note the large Enter key and the well separated navigation keys (eg Home, End, PgUp, PgDn) - but it doesn't have the glorious feel of the best ThinkPad keyboards. And, dare we say it, it's just a shade rattly.

One thing we can't criticise is the build quality. As with the X300, if you pick this laptop up by the corner it feels solid as a rock with no hint of a creak. You could smite your worst enemy with it and still have confidence it would be in perfect working order afterwards.

Our review sample includes a solid-state disk too, which has obvious benefits when it comes to ruggedness: one less moving part is always welcome. Add the fingerprint reader, spill-resistant keyboard, Trusted Platform Chip and three-year warranty (albeit return-to-base) and it includes all the features most business travellers will want.

Plus, as with all new ThinkPads, there's an HSDPA wireless modem inside. You get a Vodafone SIM in the box, which includes a free 30-day trial to its mobile broadband service, so when you throw in Bluetooth, GPS and 802.11 draft-n WiFi it's undeniably well connected.

Most important of all, the X301 will keep on going. With a six-cell unit inside, this laptop stormed along for 6hrs 31mins in our light-use test, and if you choose to implement all of Lenovo's draconian battery-extending measures this can creep even higher.

Details

Price ex VAT £1,543
Price inc VAT £1,774
Overall rating 4
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 3
Performance 4

Warranty

Warranty 3 year(s) return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions 317 x 236 x 22mm (WDH)
Weight 1.520kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400
RAM capacity 2.00GB
Memory type DDR3
SODIMM sockets free 1
SODIMM sockets total 2

Screen and video

Screen size 13.3in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,440
Resolution screen vertical 900
Resolution 1440 x 900
Graphics chipset Intel GMA 4500
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 1
HDMI outputs 0
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 1

Drives

Capacity 128GB
Spindle speed N/A
Optical disc technology DVD writer
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

Wired adapter speed 1,000Mbits/sec
802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter yes

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch yes
Wireless key-combination switch yes
Modem no
ExpressCard34 slots 0
ExpressCard54 slots 0
PC Card slots 0
USB ports (downstream) 3
PS/2 mouse port yes
9-pin serial ports 0
Parallel ports 0
Optical S/PDIF audio output ports 0
Electrical S/PDIF audio ports 0
3.5mm audio jacks 2
SD card reader no
Memory Stick reader no
MMC (multimedia card) reader no
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad, trackpoint
Speaker location Below keyboard
Hardware volume control? no
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
TPM yes
Fingerprint reader yes
Smartcard reader no
Carry case no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 126
Battery life, heavy use 396
Overall application benchmark score 0.78
Office application benchmark score 0.83
2D graphics application benchmark score 0.82
Encoding application benchmark score 0.67
Multitasking application benchmark score 0.79
3D performance (crysis) low settings N/A
3D performance setting N/A

Operating system and software

Operating system Windows Vista Business
OS family Windows Vista