FIRST LOOK: Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 VS The MacBook Air. Who Will Win?

Written by Ardjuna Seghers     01/06/2011 | 06:12 | Category: HOME OFFICE

Gorilla glass is getting everywhere and the super-slim, semi-rugged ThinkPad X1 from Lenovo is no exception. Fresh from its Australian launch, we take a first look at this tough cookie that is hell-bound to give the MacBook Air a run for its money.

We got some hands-on time with one of the most exciting business laptops we've seen to date: Lenovo's ThinkPad X1. It's a premium, super-slim, semi-rugged 13.3 inch laptop with an IPS display protected by Gorilla glass and running on anything up to a quad-core Intel Sandy Bridge CPU. It's built in the spirit of the company's new "for those who do" logo, with all the features, power and usability you could want.

It also feels rather nice in the hand, thanks to Lenovo's classic Thinkpad soft-touch finish on the lid and base. Its thinness makes it easy to grip, and weighing in at gram over 1.7kg it's light enough to carry around all day.

As we're used to from ThinkPads, build quality was simply superb. These executive laptops have a reputation for reliability which the X1 does nothing to hurt; it's dirt, dust, temperature, spill, shock and drop-resistant.
Connectivity is plentiful (as detailed on the next page), with the headphone/microphone jack and one USB 2.0 port hidden behind a rubber flap to maintain the aesthetic.

Typing and general interaction was a joy, enhanced by the vibrant screen with its excellent viewing angles. Somehow, we have a feeling it won't just be corporate types who will want this slab of desirability, and from many quarters it's already being hailed as an Apple MacBook Air killer.

So this time we thought we would do a preview with a difference, and pit the Lenovo against its rival while taking you on a feature by feature tour. We award one point for winning in a particular category, plus a bonus point if the win is significant. Ready? Fight!
Size

The X1 might measure a svelte 16.5mm at its front, but just like with Apple's weight-loss champion it's thicker at the rear, coming in at 21mm. Unfortunately for it, the Air's thickest point is only 17mm, and it's a wafer-thin 3mm at its front. In other words: if you want your laptop to do double duty as a pizza-cutter, the Air is the best choice.

Winner: Apple MacBook Air - plus one

Weight

Since the Air uses an aluminium chassis, we thought Lenovo had a real chance in the weight stakes. Alas, it wasn't to be. The X1 weighs in at 1.71kg, compared to the Air's 1.32kg. There are genuine reasons for the Lenovo's higher BMI (including the Corning Gorilla glass layer protecting its screen) and the weight difference isn't huge, but nevertheless this one's another clear win for the Californian company.

Winner: Apple MacBook Air
Design

Lenovo has clearly put a lot of effort into its thinnest ThinkPad, and it's undeniably one of the most attractive Windows laptops available in its class, especially with a single sheet of glass covering its entire screen and bezel. However, it still looks bulky next to the seamless, tapered lines of the Air, and while its high-quality soft finish feels wonderful to the touch, it doesn't look as premium as Apple's use of  'sandblasted' aluminium.

Winner: Apple MacBook Air - plus one

 

Durability

The Air might be constructed using aluminium, but that doesn't necessarily ensure it's the more rugged machine. While the X1 is certainly no Panasonic ToughBook Executive CF-F8, Lenovo has specifically designed it to take more punishment than any other ultra-portable in its class. Its magnesium-reinforced shell, drop sensors, rugged plastic finish, spill-proof keyboard and especially scratch-proof Gorilla glass screen make it come out on top by quite some margin.

Winner: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 - plus one
Specifications

Apple is running rather behind the times with its MacBook Air. While the MacBook Pro has long since received an upgrade to Sandy Bridge, the Air still runs Intel's dual-core Core 2 Duo - a processor family that's three generations old! Meanwhile, Lenovo hasn't held back, and will spec its slim and light supermodel with anything up to a quad-core Core i7 Sandy Bridge beast.

The X1 also doubles the Air's maximum memory to a whopping 8GB and offers more flexibility in its permanent storage, though where SSDs are concerned Apple offers a higher capacity (256GB compared to the X1's 160GB). The only area where the Air unequivocally wins out is in the graphics department, thanks to its Nvidia GeForce 320M.

Winner: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 - plus one
Connectivity

Considering the MacBook Air is using outdated internals, it's no surprise to find that its connectivity is also below-par. It offers two USB 2.0 ports for data, where its Lenovo rival has one USB 3.0 port, one combined USB/eSATA port and a USB 2.0 port. In other words, if you're a fan of fast external storage, the ThinkPad's the way to go. The X1's card reader supports SDXC where the Air only goes up to SDHC.

Both laptops sport a combined headphone/microphone jack, but the X1 gives you a Gigabit Ethernet port where the Air doesn't. When it comes to video, the Air utilises a Mini DisplayPort connector, which requires an adapter to hook it up to most monitors and all televisions. Lenovo gives you not only Mini DisplayPort, but also HDMI 1.4, which will happily stream audio and video to almost any monitor and TV in the world.

Winner: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 - plus one


Screen

At first glance this one would appear obvious. After all, the Air's 13.3 inch screen offers a resolution of 1,440 x 900, while the X1 'only' gets you 1,366 x 768 pixels. But things aren't as straightforward as that. You see, where the Air's screen uses a TN panel (albeit a very good one), Lenovo has opted for IPS (the same panel type used in professional monitors such as the HP DreamColor LP2480zx and indeed Apple's own iMacs), giving you accurate colours and perfect viewing angles. The seamless, 'borderless' Gorilla glass layer covering also enhances the X1's look in addition to providing superb protection. Overall, Lenovo comes out ahead by a cat's whisker.

Winner: Lenovo ThinkPad X1

 

Webcam

This one's easy. The Air has a standard definition webcam with an ordinary microphone, while its ThinkPad rival has a HD (720p) webcam with dual noise-cancelling microphones.

Winner: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 - plus one
Keyboard

Let's get one thing clear straight off the bat: both of these ultraportables sport excellent chiclet-style keyboards that make typing a pleasure. However, from our time with the X1 its keys offer feedback that's just a little deeper. It also gives you a few handy function keys and extra controls that Apple omits and, most importantly, offers three levels of backlighting, where Apple stopped offering backlighting on its MacBook Airs for this latest generation. To top it all off, you can spill a cup of coffee all over it without damaging your laptop.

Winner: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 - plus one
Touchpad

We've only ever come across one touchpad on a Windows laptop that can match Apple's creations, and that was on the Samsung Series 9 900X3A. Lenovo's 'buttonless' touchpad integrated into its X1  is almost identical to that found in its ThinkPad X220 Tablet) and does work quite well, but it's simply not on the same level. Not even the secondary TrackPoint can make up for the Air's superiority here.

Winner: Apple MacBook Air - plus one
Battery Life

Like the screen, this one is far from straightforward. Lenovo quotes a 10-hour battery life for its ThinkPad X1, but that's with the optional 'slice' battery included, which would make the laptop thicker and heavier. Based on our experience with the X220t, we would guestimate the battery life sans slice to be around five to six hours, leaving the MacBook Air firmly in the lead with its seven hours figure. On the other hand, the X1 does offer a nifty quick-charge feature, where the laptop is charged to 80 percent capacity in 30 minutes! Even so, on balance we'd say Apple wins out.

Winner: Apple MacBook Air


So when the final tally is recorded, who is our champion? With 11 points on the Lenovo side and only eight for Apple, the X1 really does look like an Air killer.
However, to an extent they are just different machines for different markets. OS preferences aside, if you want power, reliability and features, go for the ThinkPad. If you're after the most stylish looks or the longest battery life (without a slice), go for the MacBook.
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