Hands on: Can the ThinkPad X1 take on the MacBook Air?

Lenovo is trying to pick up a more style-conscious audience with its new ultrathin laptop

Known for its straightforward business laptops, Lenovo is adding a touch of style with its new ThinkPad X1. The ultrathin laptop will be available May 24th for a starting price of $1,399.

With a footprint of 13.2 x 9 in., the ThinkPad X1's jet-black case is 0.4 in. wider than two other 13.3-in. rivals, the Apple MacBook Air and the Dell Vostro V130; at 0.8-in. thick, it is a tenth of an inch thicker than the Air's super-slim profile.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1
Lenovo ThinkPad X1

Add in its 12 oz. AC adapter, and the 3.8-lb. ThinkPad X1 hits the road with a 4.6 lb. travel weight -- not bad, but 5 oz. heavier than the Vostro V130 and about 1 lb. heavier than the Air.

Style counts for a lot with these premium lightweight notebooks. The ThinkPad X1's angular black plastic case is a strong contrast to the MacBook Air's sleekly rounded aluminum skin; which you like better is strictly a matter of taste. I do like the feel of the X1's rubberized coating; it keeps the laptop from slipping while being carried.

The X1 is powered by a second-generation 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 processor that offers TurboBoost technology, which allows it to sprint to 3.2GHz; it comes with 4GB of memory. This compares favorably with the Air's current 1.9GHz Core2 Duo chip (which is antiquated by comparison). The ThinkPad X1 review unit came with a 320GB hard drive and a 160GB flash storage module (which costs an extra $400).

To protect the X1 from injury, it includes a wrap-around internal frame and a display made of Corning's Gorilla Glass.

The X1's 13.3-in. display is powered by Intel's HD 3000 integrated graphics chip and offers 1366-x-768-pixel resolution. I found the screen to be bright, rich and clear in a variety of lighting environments. Like many premium notebooks, the X1 comes with a backlit keyboard; the bluish glow has two brightness settings. However, be aware that using it can cut battery life by about 20 minutes.

Pointing to the keyboard

Along with something blue, the ThinkPad X1's keyboard offers users something old and something new. It still has a pointing stick in the center of the keyboard (a nice holdover from the old IBM ThinkPads), but the touchpad has been tweaked. Rather than having separate keys for right and left clicks, it has areas for right and left clicks at the bottom of the touchpad itself. It took me a little time to get used to it, but it worked well.

To prevent a spill from becoming a disaster, the keyboard has two prominent drain holes at the bottom so that liquids will flow out of (rather than into) the system.

The ThinkPad X1 comes with three USB ports (one more than the MacBook Air); one is USB 3.0-complaint while another doubles as an eSATA connector. There's also a combo headphone/microphone jack, volume controls, and mute buttons for microphone and speakers.

In addition, the ThinkPad X1has both HDMI and DisplayPort connections. Like most other ultraslim systems it lacks a separate VGA port, but you can purchase a DisplayPort-to-VGA adapter for $35.

It also comes with a wired Gigabit Ethernet connection, plus 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 3.0. You can also purchase an optional 3G module for $125; it can be either a Sierra Wireless Gobi module for connecting with AT&T, Sprint or Verizon 3G networks, or an Ericsson module for connecting with AT&T's 3G HSPA network.

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