Lenovo ThinkPad X1: The Perfect Laptop

Rob Enderle
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I went to see "Bridesmaids" with my wife last weekend largely because she went with me to see "Thor" (I loved it - her, not so much) the weekend before. I actually enjoyed "Bridesmaids" (don't tell her). There was a character in the movie that reminded me of the difference between the Apple MacBook Air and the Lenovo ThinkPad X-1. I'll get to that in a minute, but I think this product, due out next week, may set the bar for laptop computers.


Let me explain.


Form over Function, Function over Form


The character I'm thinking of in "Bridesmaids" (which is kind of a female version of "The Hangover") was played by Jon Hamm, who is best known for his role as Don Draper in "Mad Men" (another guilty pleasure). In the movie, he is this really attractive, wealthy guy with the mindset and loyalty of an 18-year-old boy in heat. You know the type who drives a Porsche and likes the ladies, but not someone you'd want your sister to date, let alone marry. That is kind of how I think of Apple laptops. They are beautiful, sleek, but they can't spell security, the word "robust" doesn't apply to them, and even their charger is difficult to fit into a power strip. Oh, and God help you if you spill water on one. The MacBook Air exemplifies Apple's form over function strategy, which, while incredibly popular, isn't often the most practical.


Now in the movie, the lead, played by "Saturday Night Live" actress Kristen Wiig, starts off with this loser but starts dating a cop (I can relate. I used to be one. Really). And while this guy isn't bad-looking (never seen the actor before that I can recall), he is supportive, he is there for her when she needs help, and well you kind of know how this is going to turn out. That's more of a ThinkPad: It isn't as hot as a MacBook, but it sets the bar for reliability and just simply being there when you need it to be. In short, the ThinkPad X-1 is more balanced, with more function balanced with form, and while it isn't bad-looking at all, its beauty is more than skin deep.


I should point out that the ThinkPad group is the only vendor that really asks both analysts and customers what they should build before they build it so, by way of disclosure: I actually helped define this one just a little bit.


ThinkPad X1 - Best Laptop in the World?


So let's start. The product, as you would expect, is very light and thin. It has several layers of built-in security. A ThinkPad is tested to a number of military-level drop and shock specifications. As with most high-end ThinkPads, it has a magnesium chassis. New to this model, and unique to the class, it uses Corning's Gorilla Glass, which is vastly more resistant to breaking or cracking. The screen is a 13-inch, SuperBright display - the largest you can get to work in coach. It works in well-lit rooms (or with the airplane shades open), but unfortunately it's not bright enough for direct sunlight (I so want a laptop with a true outdoor screen).


The keyboard is water-resistant and has drain holes, but sodas will likely still make the keys stick. The keyboard is backlit, which is unusual for a business laptop (common in consumer products) and it has an HDMI port so you can use it to watch movies in hotel rooms without needing a dongle. Also, the keyboard - ThinkPads are known for the best keyboards in the world - has been specially modified for typing accuracy.


It is also one of the first laptops with Intel's WiDi technology, which provides a way to move the screen image without using an HDMI cable. In short: You can leave the laptop on your lap and still send the movie to the hotel TV with a WiDi receiver (I have yet to try this myself).


The ThinkPad starts with five-hour battery life, which is high for an ultra-thin product, but is one of the few laptops in its class to have a battery slice that makes it iPad-like with 10-hour, or all-day, battery life.


Finally, you can get up to an Intel i7 with second-generation Intel Sandy Bridge in this thing, making it the most powerful laptop in the class. (I'm not aware of anyone doing true high-performance discrete graphics in this class and Sandy Bridge has the best graphics Intel has ever done.) You will take a hit in battery life and the price goes up with the i7, but life isn't about tradeoffs.


A few months ago, one of these was passed around to analysts who were running a variety of notebooks, including MacBooks, and virtually every one drooled over this puppy.


Wrapping Up: The Perfect Laptop?


Perfection is subjective and what is perfect for me may not be perfect for you. However, as a showcase of new technology and incredible reliability, the ThinkPad stands out and nearly two out of three technology analysts prefer it as a product class - these are folks who give advice on laptops for a living. For a lot of you, if not most, this may be the closest thing to a perfect laptop, particularly if you got it with the optional SSD drive and an i5 processor (the i7 is overkill) and the battery slice. Granted, it isn't cheap, but with volume discounting it won't kill you either.


Then again, in the movie "Bridesmaids," the lead was number three in the playboy's stable and clearly some folks like form over substance. Fortunately for me that is not the case. I like a more balanced relationship and the ThinkPad X-1 may be the most balanced laptop to have ever hit the market at any price.

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