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Lenovo ThinkPad X200 Review

Highs

  • Lightweight; powerful processor; outstanding build quality; respectable price

Rating

Our Score 8
User Score 7

Lows

  • Lacks an optical drive and a touchpad
...for lightweight travelers, this systems hard to beat.

Summary

While Lenovo’s ultra-sleek X300 may have stolen the show as the company’s MacBook Air competitor back in April, the machine’s astronomic price tag also left most would-be buyers pressing against the window glass like gawkers at a Maserati dealership. To fill the gap between the flagship X300 and the smaller, but far more affordable 12.1-inch X61, Lenovo released the X61’s successor in July, the X200. The reworked machine has grown in width to make room for a new widescreen XGA screen, picked up Intel’s latest generation Montevina mobile chip for better speed and efficiency, and stirred in some extra features and refinements as well.

Size vs. Performance

Unlike the MacBook Air and other featherweights that must shave off every millimeter possible, the X200 makes few performance concessions in the name of size. While machines like the Air, X300 and Toshiba Portege adopt processors clocked all the way down to 1.2GHz to cut down on heat, the X200’s less space-constricted frame allows for a much faster Intel Core 2 Duo pushing 2.4GHz, and a standard 2.5-inch hard drive with capacity up to 250GB.

Lenovo did, however, sacrifice an optical drive. Depending on your usage, this can either turn into a complete deal-breaker, or a minor annoyance. We found that the inability to load discs was a huge pain while loading software, but much less so in day-to-day usage. Since thumb drives and the Internet have largely taken over for file transfer where CDs and DVDs once ruled, you may even forget about the X200’s missing disc drive until you want to watch a DVD on a plane or burn a CD for the car.

Intel Centrino 2

The X200 has the distinction of being one of the first laptops on the market using Intel’s new Centrino 2 platform, also known as Montevina. Besides the usual round of performance upgrades that come with a next-generation chip, Intel also tweaked the processor for power efficiency, and we noticed the results in testing the X200. Battery life improved notably from the X61, and the machine also stayed cooler under load.

New Real Estate

The old Lenovo ThinkPad X61 was the last notebook in Lenovo’s line-up still clinging to the old 4:3 screen ratio, and it went dead for good reason. The new 12.1-inch widescreen not only lends extra on-screen workspace, it also produces a longer form factor with all sorts of side benefits. Most significantly, it allows the keyboard to grow to the same size as the one of Lenovo’s full-size T-series laptops, doing away with the stubby backspace key and all the other frustrations of the X61’s shrunken board. For folks who do a lot of sitting with their laptops, the longer form also lends itself to a much comfortable base (no longer will grown men have to sit with knees knocked together to keep a laptop situated.) And although the thicker bezel around the widescreen doesn’t look quite as clean as the minimalist X61 bezel, it does leave room for an integrated webcam, which the old machine could never fit.

Still a Lightweight

Surprisingly, Lenovo managed to tack on the extra inches on without boosting weight. The X200 retains the same 2.95-pound weight as its predecessor (when equipped with a four-cell battery), making it one of the few laptops light enough to comfortably hold in one hand and operate with the other. You probably won’t want to type out a thesis paper or watch Titanic this way, but if you’ve ever had to tap out a quick e-mail at Starbucks when there aren’t any tables, or scrounge for Wi-Fi on the city streets, you’ll come to appreciate it quickly. And when it’s time to pack up and go, it nestles into almost any space.

Interface Options (or lack thereof)

One thing the X200 doesn’t pick up with the expanded form factor: a touchpad. While ThinkPad veterans probably won’t protest the missing interface much, newcomers may find Lenovo’s signature red TrackPoint mouse device (basically a red eraserhead that you mash with your finger) a little disorienting at first. Even as ThinkPad pros, we found the lack of a touchpad for scrolling slightly irritating during extended Web browsing sessions.

Lenovo X200 Keyboard
Image Courtesy of Lenovo

Build Quality

Build quality remains a highlight for ThinkPads, a quality Lenovo has succeeded in carrying over from the brand’s IBM days. While a three-pound featherweight will never come off as solid as the ten-pound bricks of yesterday, the X200 package feels tight and dense, the way a well-built piece of equipment should, and closes with a satisfying click. Lenovo even relocated the hard Wi-Fi switch from the front (where it could be easily switched by accident on the X61) to the side. Our only complaint would be the display hinges, which don’t have quite enough grip to keep the screen from drooping down on its own at certain angles.

Operating System

Although our X200 came healthily equipped with a 2.4Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo and 2GB of RAM, we still found Vista choking between window switches, stalling for seconds at a time erratically, and crashing, all while using nothing but the pre-installed software. These hiccups didn’t render the system unusable by any means, but we would highly recommend ordering it with Windows XP or downgrading, which resolved all the same issues on the Lenovo ThinkPad X61.

Software Bundle

Lenovo’s ThinkVantage utilities manage to tie the notebook’s various gizmos and features together fairly neatly, but power users still may want to slim down the suite that runs on startup, since our machine had over 10 ThinkPad-related programs chugging away in the background by default. We were also disappointed with how thin some of the offerings were, like Lenovo Camera Center, which is basically no more than a window prompting users to download Skype. As a benefit to this approach, bloatware and trialware are both kept to a minimum.

Lenovo ThinkPad X200
Image Courtesy of Lenovo

Boot Time

Given how long many notebooks need to crank Vista awake, start-up and shutdown times for the X200 were a pleasant surprise. It will boot up and open a browser window in under 55 seconds, and shut down in 15 seconds flat. For a travel machine that will be turned on and off frequently to save power between uses, this turns out to be a major benefit.

Ports and Connectors

Almost every inch of the X200’s tiny circumference has been dotted with inputs, outputs and doors, but given the small size of that space, its offerings aren’t really anything above normal. You’ll find three USB ports, headphone, microphone, Ethernet and modem jacks, a VGA connector, and card reader. That’s all the essentials for life on the road, but we would have liked to see more video outputs, like S-video, to make the X200 more compatible with different displays for presentations.

Performance

When Vista wasn’t throwing us a curveball, we found the Lenovo to be a snappy performer with more than enough power to handle the serious multitasking that business users will likely put it through. Staples like Word and Firefox loaded handily and responded quickly even after multiple programs were already running. Without a discrete graphics card, the X200 certainly doesn’t go far with games, but that doesn’t make it a complete dud, either. Older games, along the line of Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, will run acceptably after tweaking the settings, which is probably enough to provide a short diversion for the suit-and-tie crowd that Lenovo targets.

Conclusion

The X200 improves upon the X61 in several significant ways without diminishing its number one selling point: weight. Most notably, the transition to a widescreen manages to nudge the notebook just out of the size category that might be called “annoyingly small” and into a more comfortable range. The $1,199 USD price tag places it a cool grand below the X300, and with more grunt under the hood, too. Due to its lack of an optical drive, we probably wouldn’t recommend buying the X200 as a sole do-it-all machine, but for lightweight travelers, this systems hard to beat.

Pros:

• Lightweight
• Powerful Intel Centrino 2 Processor
• Outstanding build quality
• Respectably priced for its features

Cons:

• No optical drive
• No touchpad

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