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This tiny ThinkPad can’t quite keep up with the MacBook Air M2

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano Gen 3 front view showing display and keyboard.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

While the laptop industry continues to move toward 14-inch laptops and larger, the 13-inch laptop remains an important category. One of the best is the Apple MacBook Air M2, with an extremely thin and well-built chassis, great performance, and incredibly long battery life.

Lenovo has recently introduced the third generation of its ThinkPad X1 Nano, one of the lightest laptops we’ve tested and a good performer as well. It’s stiff competition, but which of these two diminutive laptops stands apart?

Specs and configurations

  Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano Gen 3 Apple MacBook Air M2
Dimensions 11.5 inches x 8.19 inches x 0.58 inches 11.97 inches x 8.46 inches x 0.44 inches
Weight 2.19 pounds 2.7 pounds
Processor Intel Core i5-1340P
Intel Core i5-1350P vPro
Intel Core i7-1360
Intel Core i7-1370P vPro
Apple M2 (8-core)
Graphics Intel Iris Xe 8 GPU cores

10 GPU cores

RAM 16GB 8GB
16GB
24GB
Display 13.0-inch 16:10 2K (2160 x 1350) IPS
13.0-inch 16:10 2K IPS touch
13.6-inch 16:10 Liquid Retina IPS 2560 x 1664
Storage 256GB SSD
512GB SSD
1TB SSD
256GB SSD
512GB SSD
1TB SSD
2TB SSD
Touch Optional No
Ports 2 x USB-C with Thunderbolt 4
1 x 3.5mm audio jack
1 x optional Nano-SIM slot
2 x USB-C with Thunderbolt 4
1 x 3.5mm audio jack
Wireless Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.1
Optional 4G WWAN
Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.3
Webcam 1080p with infrared camera for Windows 11 Hello 1080p
Operating system Windows 11 MacOS Monterey
Battery 49.6 watt-hour 52.6 watt-hour
Price $1,217+ $1,100+
Rating 3.5 out of 5 stars 4 out of 5 stars

The ThinkPad X1 Nano Gen 3 starts at $1,217 for a Core i5-1340P CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a 13.0-inch 2K IPS non-touch display. Maxed out, the laptop costs $1,875 for a Core i7-1370P vPro, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and a touch display.

The MacBook Air M2 is less expensive in its entry-level configuration, at $1,099 for an 8-core CPU/8-core GPU M2 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and a 13.6-inch Liquid Retina IPS display. With an 8-core CPU/10-core GPU M2, 24GB of RAM, and a 2TB SSD, the MacBook Air M2 is quite a bit more expensive at $2,400.

Design

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano Gen 3 rear view showing lid and logo.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

The ThinkPad X1 Nano Gen 3 maintains the iconic ThinkPad aesthetic that’s been around for ages. Its chassis is black-on-black with a few red accents, and it’s identifiable from a distance as a member of the ThinkPad line. That’s great if you’re a ThinkPad fan, but to others, the design is getting a little stale. The MacBook Air M2, by contrast, adopts Apple’s contemporary MacBook design that mimics the more expensive MacBook Pros, with simple, elegant lines and no bling.

Both laptops are well-constructed. The ThinkPad X1 Nano Gen 3 is made of a mix of carbon fiber in the lid and magnesium-aluminum alloy in the chassis, while the MacBook Air M2 is chiseled out of single chunks of aluminum. The MacBook is incredibly thin and its lid is a little flexible while its chassis is rock-solid. By contrast, the ThinkPad is thicker (but still reasonably thin) and much lighter, with some flexing in the keyboard deck. You can’t fault the build quality of either laptop, but the MacBook does feel sturdier in hand.

The screen of the MacBook Air M2.
M2 MacBook Air Luke Larsen / Digital Trends

The MacBook also sports the best keyboard you’ll find on a laptop today, Apple’s Magic Keyboard with great key size and spacing and the snappiest, more precise switches around. The ThinkPad’s keyboard is the usual version, with large sculpted keys and a firmer feel. The MacBook’s Force Touch haptic touchpad has more usable surface area and offers a more precise feel, compared to the mechanical version on the ThinkPad that loses some size to buttons servicing the TrackPoint nubbin in the middle of the keyboard.

Both laptops have the same limited connectivity, with just a couple of Thunderbolt 4 ports and an audio jack. The ThinkPad has more up-to-date wireless connectivity and offers 4G WWAN for always-connected internet.

Finally, both laptops have 1080p webcams that offer quality images for videoconferencing. The ThinkPad has an infrared camera for Windows 11 Hello facial recognition along with a fingerprint reader in the palm rest, while the MacBook has a Touch ID fingerprint reader embedded in the power button. Both make it easy to log in without a password.

Performance

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano Gen 3 side view showing lid and vents.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

The ThinkPad X1 Nano Gen 3 uses 28-watt Intel 13th-gen CPUs, and we reviewed the laptop with the Core i7-1360P, a 12-core (four Performance and eight Efficient), 16-thread CPU that typically provides excellent productivity performance. Its Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics are weak, however, and don’t do much to speed up creative processes.

The MacBook Air M2 uses Apple’s M2 processor, with eight CPU cores and either eight or 10 GPU cores. We reviewed the latter, and it too provided excellent productivity performance that closely matched the ThinkPad in our CPU-intensive benchmarks. The MacBook is likely to be faster in creative applications, though, thanks to a variety of GPU optimizations.

Performance for most users is likely to be similar, although the MacBook Air M2 does have the benefit of being fanless and so running more quietly. At the same time, its chassis gets a bit warmer than the ThinkPads under high loads.

Geekbench
(single/multi)
Handbrake
(seconds)
Cinebench R23
(single/multi)
PCMark 10
Complete
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano Gen 3
(Core i7-1360P)
Bal: 1,813 / 8,755
Perf: 1,795 / 8,877
Bal: 138
Perf: 109
Bal: 1,572 / 6,467
Perf: 1,619 / 7,301
5,312
Apple MacBook Air M2
(M2)
Bal: 1,925 / 8,973
Perf: N/A
Bal: 151
Perf: N/A
Bal: 1,600 / 7,938
Perf: N/A
N/A

Display

The screen of the MacBook Air on a table.
Digital Trends

Apple’s MacBooks have always enjoyed excellent displays, and the MacBook Air M2 is no exception. Its 13.6-inch Liquid Retina IPS panel is sharp and bright, with wider and more accurate colors than average and outstanding contrast. It’s an excellent display.

The ThinkPad X1 Nano Gen 3’s 13.0-inch IPS display is also good, with equally high brightness, slightly higher contrast, but narrower and less accurate colors.

Both displays are great for productivity users, but the MacBook’s panel is better for creators.

Brightness
(nits)
Contrast sRGB gamut AdobeRGB gamut Accuracy DeltaE
(lower is better)
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano Gen 3
(IPS)
480 1,570:1 100% 76% 1.50
Apple MacBook Air M2
(IPS)
486 1,310:1 100% 90% 1.08

The MacBook Air M2 also has better audio, with four speakers and a number of optimizations that simply outclasses the dual upward-firing speakers in the ThinkPad. You’ll be much happier listening to music and streaming video on Apple’s laptop.

Portability

A side of the MacBook Air showing the ports.
Digital Trends

Both laptops are tiny, and each offers something distinctive in terms of its portability. The ThinkPad X1 Nano Gen 3 is one of the lightest laptops we’ve tested at 2.19 pounds, while the MacBook Air M2 is one of the thinnest at 0.44 inches.

But there’s no comparison when it comes to battery life. Apple’s Silicon processors are incredibly efficient, and the MacBook Air m2 lasted almost three times as long in our web browsing test and twice as long in our video looping test. It can last a couple of days on a charge where you’ll be plugging in the ThinkPad by lunchtime on the first day.

Web browsing Video
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano Gen 3
(Core i7-1360P)
6 hours, 10 minutes 10 hours, 38 minutes
Apple MacBook Air M2
(M2)
17 hours, 59 minutes 21 hours, 9 minutes

The MacBook Air M2 is longer-lasting and more modern

The MacBook Air on a table in front of a window.
Digital Trends

The ThinkPad X1 Nano Gen 3 is a nice little laptop, with good performance, a solid build, and a generally productivity-friendly design. But it’s starting to look a bit stale.

The MacBook Air M2, by contrast, is an elegant example of modern design. It also lasts incredibly long on a charge and offers the best keyboard and touchpad among 13-inch laptops. It wins this comparison handily.

Mark Coppock
Mark has been a geek since MS-DOS gave way to Windows and the PalmPilot was a thing. He’s translated his love for…
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