Unbeatable battery life. That's what you'll get with the Lenovo ThinkPad X250, a compact business laptop that lasts longer on a charge than any other notebook we've tested — at least if you opt for Lenovo's beefy 6-cell battery, which adds a bit of heft to the machine in addition to nearly doubling its longevity. That epic battery life is combined with Lenovo's excellent ThinkPad keyboard, fast performance and all the ports and docking options you could ask for in a compact, 12.5-inch business notebook.
The X250 sports the same boxy, modest design as other laptops in the ThinkPad line. The matte, black lid will look right at home in a conference room, and a few red accents add some splashes of color.
The machine feels extremely solid, thanks to its impressive durability credentials. With a frame made from carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic, it's rated to withstand dings, vibrations, pressure and dust. That's a big perk for road warriors who need a notebook that can withstand a little abuse.
Weight and dimensions
Lenovo says the lightest configuration of the ThinkPad X250 weighs about 2.88 lbs., but your machine might be a lot heftier than that if you want a touch screen. Our review unit, which is equipped with a touch panel, weighs 3.2 lbs. And with that extended 6-cell battery attached, the X250 tips the scales at 3.66 lbs. That's heavier than Dell's Latitude E7250, which weighs 3.4 lbs. with a touch screen. If you're in the market for something more portable, you might consider the HP EliteBook Folio 1020 (2.68 lbs.), though that machine is less powerful than the X250.
One advantage the X250 has over the Latitude E7250 — its closest rival — is its smaller size. The X250 is 0.8 inches thick, with a 12.03 x 8.21-inch footprint. That makes it thinner, lighter and potentially more portable than the Dell, which measures 12.2 x 8.3 x 0.83 inches.
Lenovo sells the X250 with several display options. The base model comes with a low 1,366 x 768-pixel resolution, and it's a TN panel with poor viewing angles. For an extra $80, you can upgrade to an IPS display, which has wider viewing angles. I'd recommend spending an extra $50 on top of that for the sharper, full-HD 1,920 x 1,080-pixel panel; the lower resolution will feel really cramped for screen-intensive tasks like editing documents and spreadsheets.
My review unit came with a full-HD touch-screen panel, which can be added for $200 more than you'll pay for the basic full-HD model. It felt comfortable for split-screen multitasking, and touch gestures worked well. I recommend that business users forgo the touch screen, though, since it adds a bit of weight and a lot of extra cost without adding too much useful functionality.
Like most business notebooks, all screen configurations come with a matte finish, which is handy for reducing annoying glare from overhead office lights. On the other hand, colors don't look as vibrant on matte screens as they do on glossy displays.
You won't find a typing experience this good on many compact notebooks. The X250's keys have a desktoplike feel, since they're deeper than average, with about 1.8 mm of travel (1.5 is average.) The resulting keyboard feels really comfortable for extended typing sessions. Key feedback feels snappy, and the keys have a nice sculpted shape that makes them easy to navigate by touch.
However, it's not my favorite laptop keyboard — that distinction goes to Lenovo's 14-inch ThinkPad T450s, which offers deeper keys with even better feedback. But the X250's keyboard still easily continues the excellent ThinkPad pedigree.
Touchpad and TrackPoint
Like other ThinkPad notebooks, the X250 offers a couple of different ways to control the mouse pointer. The 3.4 x 2.1-inch touchpad feels responsive, with a nice matte finish that lets my finger glide smoothly. And it's surprisingly roomy for a 12.5-inch notebook. That's mostly due to its built-in buttons, which aren't as reliable for right clicks as dedicated buttons would have been but provide more space for mouse movement. Multifinger gestures like two-finger scrolling also work well, and don't result in any jumpiness.
Then, there's the TrackPoint pointing stick — the red nub located between the G, H and B keys on the keyboard. It has a bit of a learning curve if you're not used to using a pointing stick, but I love using the TrackPoint because it lets me control the mouse precisely without requiring me to move my hands away from the keyboard's home row.
Ports and connectivity
All the ports you could need for the average workday are available on the X250. The machine offers two USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet jack for connecting to wired Internet and work networks, and mini DisplayPort and VGA-out ports for linking the X250 to a larger monitor or projector. You also get a 4-in-1 card reader to expand the machine's internal storage.
A couple of excellent security options are available on the X250, starting with a fingerprint scanner located just to the right of the keyboard. I registered all five fingers on my right hand, and found that the scanner accurately identified my prints each time I tried to unlock the notebook. A reliable fingerprint scanner is a boon for business users who want to keep their work laptops locked down but don't want to fuss with a password screen.
My review unit also came with built-in hardware encryption, which helps ensure that private work data stays private. You don't get a smart-card reader with the X250, though. That feature is reserved for Lenovo's larger ThinkPad notebooks, which have more room for additional ports.
Configurations and performance
The ThinkPad X250 can be had with a variety of hardware configurations, starting at just $755. Most users will want to upgrade from that baseline model, though, which comes with a low-res display and a modest Core i3-5010U processor with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive.
My review unit sells for $1,407 and comes with a 1,920 x 1,080 touch screen, a Core i5-5200U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 180GB solid-state drive (SSD). I saw very good performance out of the machine during my testing time. Apps opened and closed quickly, and performance felt snappy, even during heavy multitasking.
The top-end models can be configured with processors up to a 5th-generation Core i7 chip, but upgrading to the higher-end processor won't yield noticeable improvements for everyday business tasks.
The X250's battery life depends on which battery you choose. The base model's 3-cell battery offers average battery life, running for about 7 hours and 39 minutes. But with Lenovo's extended 6-cell battery attached, the machine ran for an incredible 15 hours and 12 minutes in our battery life test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi. That's nearly double the category average of 8 hours and 4 minutes — perfect if you need a notebook that can easily last through any business flight.
The extended 6-cell battery adds 0.4 lbs. to the overall package, but it costs just $5 extra and doubles your battery life. Unless portability trumps all other concerns, you'd be crazy not to choose it over the baseline 3-cell battery.
The ThinkPad X250 ships with a fairly clean copy of the Windows 8.1 operating system, with a handful of useful productivity apps that come preloaded. Those preloaded apps include some Microsoft applications like OneNote, which can sync your notes across all your devices; OneDrive, for saving files and documents to the cloud; and Skype, for quick and easy videoconferencing. You also get a free one-month trial of Microsoft Office 365 — which includes Web-connected versions of Excel, Word and PowerPoint — but you'll have to pay for a full license if you want to keep using the apps beyond the trial period.
Dell's Latitude E7250 notebook is quite similar to the X250 in most respects, but it's a bit bulkier and doesn't last as long on a charge.
The 12.5-inch HP EliteBook Folio 1020 is significantly thinner and lighter than the X250, but it's powered by a less-powerful Intel Core M processor.
Lenovo's own 12.5-inch ThinkPad Yoga 12 laptop offers a more flexible design than the X250, but it's not as durable and lacks business-centric features like a fingerprint scanner.
The X250 is easily my favorite compact business notebook, offering good performance, an excellent keyboard and the longest battery life around. The machine makes very few compromises, though it might not be the best option, depending on your needs. Lenovo's own ThinkPad T450s, for instance, offers a larger, 14-inch display that gives you more room to work, and HP's EliteBook Folio 1020 is much slimmer and more portable than the X250. But if you need a portable workhorse PC that can fit comfortably on an airplane tray table, this machine is hard to beat.