Through seven generations, the Surface Pro has enjoyed having very few rivals. Pretenders have come and gone, but when it comes to Windows 10 2-in-1s with a detachable keyboard, the Surface Pro is all on its own.
That’s about to change, but not from a brand you might expect. At CES 2021, Lenovo has announced the ThinkPad X12 Detachable, a surprising new device in the otherwise conventional ThinkPad line of laptops.
After spending some hands-on time with the device, it has a chance at giving the Surface Pro 7 a run for its money.
As you can probably tell, it’s nearly impossible to talk about the ThinkPad X12 Detachable without referencing the Surface Pro 7. Is there a 12.3-inch tablet? Check. Built-in kickstand? Yep. Magnetic tear-away keyboard cover? You betcha.
The ThinkPad X12 Detachable doesn’t seem interested in shaking up the formula too much, but is instead aimed at reimagining the Surface Pro as a ThinkPad. That means a more utilitarian look and more modest materials. It’s made from, a soft-touch magnesium that ThinkPad X12 users should be familiar with and is meant to blend in with traditional office settings rather than stand out.
Remember, this is a business device, and it couldn’t be mistaken for anything but. The audience for ThinkPad lovers who also want a true detachable 2-in-1 experience might seem small, but that’s exactly who the X12 Detachable is for.
My only disappointment is that the ThinkPad X12 Detachable doesn’t make strides in areas where the Surface Pro 7 is weak. The bezels are still quite large, especially when compared to the latest generations of iPads. And then there’s the weight. The tablet portion itself is slightly lighter than the Surface Pro 7 (1.74 pounds) at 1.67 pounds. Meanwhile, they’re nearly identical in thickness.
But once you include the keyboard cover, the X12 Detachable loses a lot of its portability. At 0.75 pounds, its keyboard cover is thicker and heavier than Microsoft’s, and makes the entire package of the X12 Detachable only marginally lighter than many laptops.
Keeping the tablet light and the keyboard heavier is the same approach Apple has taken with its Magic Keyboard for the iPad, which weighs a whopping 1.3 pounds all on its own.
A Windows tablet is nearly useless on its own. Lacking proper app optimization, most will use a device like the ThinkPad X12 Detachable in laptop mode with its keyboard cover attached.
Like the Surface Type Cover, the keyboard can either sit flat on the table or magnetically attach higher on the screen for a slight arch. Either way, the typing experience is fantastic. It features a standard ThinkPad keyboard, complete with 1.5mm of key travel and the TrackPoint red nub. It’s an impressive feat for Lenovo to have pulled off in such a small package. The typing experience is easily the biggest draw of the X12 Detachable, which makes on-the-go work every bit as comfortable as on a clamshell laptop. The keyboard is even properly backlit for working at night!
The touchpad, though, isn’t quite as good. It’s plastic, and has a subtle texture on the surface that keeps tracking from feeling smooth. In this regard, I’d take the Surface Pro any day.
In addition to having a touchscreen, the ThinkPad X12 Detachable has support for a full-featured stylus, the Lenovo Precision Pen. A pen loop hangs off the keyboard, which I don’t love. For convenience’s sake, I’d prefer a magnetic pen that can attach to the screen. The good news? Lenovo says it’ll be bundling the keyboard and stylus together, unlike Microsoft, which frustratingly sells them separate.
The ThinkPad X12 Detachable’s ports are limited to two Thunderbolt 4 ports, both located on the right side of the tablet. That’ll be enough for most uses, and ensures you can do things like charge and connect to an external display at the same time. Lenovo includes an adapter in the box, to make sure HDMI and USB-A are always available.
The 5-megapixel front-facing camera is decent, and matches what Lenovo has brought to the rest of its X1 laptops. The problem? It’s still 720p, which is totally unacceptable for a tablet. In an era where we depend on webcams more than ever before, tablets with 1080p webcams like the Surface Pro or iPad Air were easy recommendations for improved videoconferencing. That’s a huge missed opportunity for the ThinkPad X12.
The ThinkPad X12 Detachable doesn’t have the sharpest screen in the world. It’s 1920 x 1280 in a 3:2 aspect ratio, which equals a 187 ppi (pixels per inch). That pales in comparison to the 267 ppi of the Surface Pro 7.
Fortunately, the X12 Detachable fares a bit better in performance — at least in theory. I haven’t been able to test it yet myself, but it comes with the latest 11th-gen Tiger Lake vPro processors. They represent a meaningful generational leap in performance, and include the highly improved Intel Iris Xe graphics. The Surface Pro 7 has yet to receive this processor update, though it’s likely not too far off from getting it.
The ThinkPad X12 Detachable also includes a 42 watt-hour battery. Lenovo says it can last up to 9.98 hours on a single charge, though that measure is based on MobileMark 2018, which can be generous with battery life. Lenovo also says the device can charge from zero to 80% in one hour.
The ThinkPad X12 Detachable will be available starting later this month. The price will start at $1,149, and it can be configured with up to 16GB of RAM, a TB of SSD storage, and a Core i7 vPro processor.
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