Lenovo ThinkPad X301 notebook

Lenovo’s ThinkPad X300 impressed us more than most, taking a similar design approach to the achingly desirable MacBook Air, but making the incredibly thin form factor more usable. The ThinkPad X301 is an update which Lenovo hopes will continue to steal sales from its rival.

Outwardly, the design has been left alone, which has both good and bad points. Some will find it difficult to stomach £2000 on a machine that looks little different to all the other ThinkPads from the past decade, even if it is super-slim. On the plus side, it won’t look dated if you still have it in a few years, and there’s no doubting the quality on offer.

Magnesium alloy is used throughout the construction, and the matt finish to the case is both tactile, and a vast improvement over the glossy fingerprint-magnet finish favoured on most current consumer machines.

Lenovo was keen to point out the impressive rigidity this laptop boasts, thanks to an integral roll cage within the chassis and the screen itself. With metal hinges also in place, it feels every bit as impressively made as the MacBook Air, if not tougher, even if it doesn’t look as nice. It’s also light, at 1.5kg.

One thing that is a world apart is the 13.3-inch screen – and it’s one of the best panels we’ve seen at this size. The 1440 x 900 pixel resolution is pin-sharp, yet producing images and text large enough to read for those without perfect 20/20 vision.

The matt standard TFT finish also offers usability that matches the best, proving resistant to reflections and fingerprints when used out and about. With LED backlighting, colour reproduction is also excellent, while aiding battery life.

Other components within the X301 are also configured for optimum battery life, such as the integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD graphics card. Performance doesn’t match that of the MacBook Air’s Nvidia GeForce 9400M chip, but it’s a reasonable solution for corporate use, and powerful enough for comfortable movie playback and office use. As a result of the low-powered components - along with a ULV processor - we managed to run the Lenovo for over 5 hours when out and about, easily enough for a morning’s work, and about 20 minutes more than we managed from the X300.

The X301’s ULV Intel Core 2 Duo processor has been upgraded from the 65nm U7600 chip found in its predecessor to the smaller 45nm U9400 solution. Along with a faster clock speed - at 1.4GHz vs 1.2GHz - the latter processor also features more L2 cache and a faster FSB, which promises to enhance performance slightly. Memory remains at 2048MB as standard, although it’s faster DDR3, and overall we found the X301 convincingly quicker than the machine it replaces.

The biggest improvement over the X300 comes as a result of ever-tumbling memory prices and capacity increases, with the SSD storage rising from a mere 64GB to more usable 128GB. It is a pricey inclusion though, and you’ll be able to get a near identical model with a standard 120GB hard drive for £1539.

When it comes to features, as with the laptop the X301 replaces, emphasis remains firmly on business use. This means an analogue-only VGA-out port for hooking up an external display, with no concessions to consumer luxuries such as a high-definition HDMI port or a memory card reader. The X301 is still far more usable than the MacBook Air, however, with three USB ports and a DVD rewriter crammed into that skinny chassis. Connectivity also remains excellent, with an integrated 3G/HSDPA adapter alongside 802.11n Wi-Fi and Gigabit Ethernet.

Verdict

Yes, it’s expensive, and it remains a million miles away from the MacBook Air when it comes to pure desirability but, as with the X300, the ThinkPad X301 is a solid choice and a far better machine for the business user.

Along with the incredibly thin chassis and light weight, this is every bit as tough as larger ThinkPad models, and is a machine tailor-made for a life on the road. Think carefully about how much you need that SSD, however, as the regular hard drive model looks like a bargain in comparison.