With a sturdy snap-on keyboard, a handy kickstand and excellent active-pen support, Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Tablet was made for work. In addition to a gorgeous 12-inch display and snappy performance, you get business-class security and durability credentials. But can the X1 Tablet beat the Surface Pro 4 for sheer productivity potential?
The X1 Tablet looks like it means business, with a boxy design and a relatively plain matte-black shell. The front of the system includes a 12-inch display, a somewhat thick black bezel and a fingerprint scanner along one edge.
It feels like a work machine, too, with an extremely rigid construction. Lenovo says the system offers business-class durability, so the tablet can withstand dings, humidity, vibrations, extreme temperatures and more. That's good news for anyone who needs to lug the X1 Tablet back and forth between home and the office.
The X1 Tablet's kickstand folds down from the middle of the tablet's back. The kickstand, coupled with the rigid keyboard that comes included in the box, makes Lenovo's system feel more stable for lap use than does the Surface Pro 4. That's a big deal, since most 2-in-1 tablets have fallen far short of Microsoft's setup in this regard. Even with the X1 Tablet's display tipped all the way back, I never once worried about the device toppling over onto the floor.
The kickstand flips out when you push a small switch on the back of the tablet. This kickstand is easy to reach, and I never had trouble finding it by touch alone. When you're done using the kickstand, it clicks firmly back into place.
For a detachable 2-in-1, the X1 Tablet offers a decent selection of ports. The right edge has a USB 3.0 port, a USB Type-C port (which doubles as the charging port) and a Mini DisplayPort for connecting the system to a monitor or projector.
The right edge adds a Kensington lock slot for physically securing the device at your desk. Finally, you'll find a nano SIM slot and microSD card slot on the back of the slate, behind the kickstand.
A fingerprint reader — located conveniently along one of the X1 Tablet's short sides — gives the slate a nice security boost. The one-touch reader took just a few minutes to set up, and it proved reliable during my testing period, whisking me away to my desktop with one quick touch. It's especially convenient when you're using the X1 Tablet without its keyboard, since typing in a login password is tricky on a touch screen.
Otherwise, the X1 tablet provides the same security features you'd expect to find on a traditional ThinkPad laptop. That includes a Trusted Platform Module for hardware-based encryption, and Intel vPro technology for secure remote management.
The X1 Tablet's 12-inch display is just a tad smaller than the Surface Pro 4's 12.3-inch panel. Regardless, either display is going to feel a bit cramped if you're used to working on a larger, 13- or 14-inch laptop. At least the X1 Tablet's display is extremely sharp, with a resolution of 2160 x 1440 pixels. Text looks crisp, and colors pop.
This screen is bright, too, topping out at 335 nits of brightness, outshining the 305-nit category average. My only complaint is the glossy finish on the display, which picks up reflections from windows and overhead office lights. I much prefer a matte display on a work notebook. The Surface Pro 4 also has a glossy screen.
Lenovo's active pen accessory, which comes included with the X1 Tablet out of the box, is the perfect tool for workers who want to jot down notes on the X1 Tablet's display. The pen is powered by Wacom technology, so you get full pressure-sensitivity. I was able to feather my strokes and taper my lines with ease, so writing on the digital display felt very natural.
The pen has two buttons the on its side; one functions as a right click, while the other triggers the eraser tool. I wish the buttons were a bit larger or protruded a bit, though. Since they're flush with the side of the pen, I often had to look down to find them, which slowed my workflow a bit.
My other complaint is that there's nowhere on the tablet to store the pen when it's not in use. In comparison, the Surface Pro 4's pen attaches magnetically to that tablet's edge, so that the stylus is always ready when you need it.
The X1 Tablet's detachable keyboard matches up well with the Surface Pro 4's keyboard, which is to say that it's pretty dang nice. The accessory snaps magnetically to the bottom of the tablet, and it feels rigid and sturdy.
The keys are a bit on the shallow side, with just 1.25 millimeters of travel. That's typical for a snap-on keyboard, though it's noticeably less than the 1.5mm we look for on a laptop computer. The Surface Pro 4's layout offers a deeper 1.4mm of travel and slightly snappier feedback with each stroke, which makes for a more comfortable typing experience overall. Regardless, I typed up this entire review on the X1 Tablet and came away feeling satisfied.
The X1 tablet's biggest weakness has to be its battery life. The system ran for a disappointing 5 hours and 32 minutes on our battery test, which simulates continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi.
To be fair, detachable 2-in-1 tablets, especially those with as much power as this one, aren't generally known for their epic battery life. Still, rival systems lasted longer, including the HP Spectre x2 (6:31) and Surface Pro 4 (6:04). At least the X1 Tablet outlasted Dell's XPS 12, which ran for just 5 hours and 17 minutes on the same battery test.
On the bright side, frequent travelers have the option to pick up an extended battery module (dubbed the Productivity Module, more on it below). The add-on boosts your runtime significantly, to about 8 hours and 15 minutes, but it also makes the system a bit bulkier.
The X1 Tablet performs like a champ for everyday work tasks. My review unit came equipped with a 1.2-GHz Intel Core m7-6Y75 processor with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB of speedy solid-state storage. That's more than enough power for serious multitasking and document editing.
The system cranked out a very solid score of 6,497, which blows away rivals, including the HP Spectre x2 (5,814) and the XPS 12 (4,875). The Surface Pro 4, which is powered by a speedier Intel Core i5 processor, was the performance champ, though, cranking out a score of 6,811 on the same test.
The X1 Tablet was similarly impressive on our spreadsheet test, matching 20,000 names to their addresses in just 4 minutes and 31 seconds. That's about a minute faster than the Spectre x2 and XPS 12, but 20 seconds behind the Surface Pro 4.
Lenovo sells the ThinkPad X1 Tablet in a handful of hardware configurations. The baseline model sells for $1,029 with a low-power Intel Core m3-6Y30 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD.
The midrange model is a much better sweet spot for workers, since it comes equipped with a beefier Core m5-6Y57 processor. That will run you $1,349.
Performance-hungry workers might want to shell out for the configuration featured in this review, which offers a speedy Intel Core M7-6Y75 processor with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, all for a steeper $1,649.
A line of special add-ons, which Lenovo calls modules, can be purchased separately to expand the X1 Tablet's functionality. Adding them is easy; they simply snap firmly onto the bottom of the device. The Productivity module, pictured above, adds an additional USB 3.0 port, an HDMI-out port and a OneLink+ docking connector. This connector lets you easily connect the system to a monitor and to desktop accessories. The module also includes an extended battery, which gives you about 3 hours of extra juice.
But that module doesn't come cheap; it costs an extra $150 over the base price of the tablet. A RealSense 3D camera module, which can boost the system's security by enabling facial recognition, is also available, for $150. Finally, a Wall Projector module, which will let you beam presentations onto any wall or flat surface, will be available for $280.
For workers, Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Tablet is the best in its category, but only by a little. Among other 2-in-1 tablets, only the Surface Pro 4 comes close to matching the X1's sturdy construction and business-class security features. The two tablets offer similarly speedy performance and impressive displays.
The Surface Pro 4 has a slightly comfier keyboard and lasts a little longer on a charge, but the X1 Tablet's optional Productivity Module helps level the playing field on that front. Even without the additional module, the ThinkPad X1 Tablet is my favorite overall work tablet on the market.