The Lenovo ThinkPad X100e is an 11.6” laptop, which you might call a netbook, except Lenovo isn’t using that nomenclature to avoid the perception that the ThinkPad X100e is a cheap underpowered notebook. Many people were surprised that Lenovo released a budget level ultraportable ThinkPad, after all the ThinkPad branding is associated with high-end business laptops that have excellent performance and build. However, the ThinkPad brand need not worry as the X100e is a laptop worthy of the ThinkPad brand, it’s not perfect but there’s a lot to like based on the functionality and price.
I picked up the ThinkPad X100e from Amazon.com for around $450, it only had 1GB of memory installed on the model I purchased but I upgraded it to 3GB. Here are the full specs of the ThinkPad X100e I’m reviewing after this upgrade to 3GB:
The biggest unknown for me in purchasing the ThinkPad X100e was how the processor and overall performance would be. I wasn’t surprised to find it was much slower than full-sized notebooks, the PCMark Vantage benchmark score of 1,311 was only about half that of a Dell Inspiron 14 with a dual-core Pentium processor that scored 2,437. You can definitely feel a bit of lag on the X100e at times, but for the most part, it’s performance is just fine for running Office and productivity applications. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for multimedia. Certain sites with Flash on them would slow down quite a bit, for instance, viewing a Lost preview on Hulu at 480p resulted in very choppy playback and frame stuttering. There were no issues with the wireless connection so we can’t blame poor streaming video performance on that, it was all due to the processor struggling. I used another laptop with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor and it played back the preview flawlessly.
The integrated graphics for the ThinkPad X100e meanwhile performed better than comparable Intel integrated graphics. All the same, I wouldn’t rely on the ThinkPad X100e to get you far doing any 3D gaming, while it might serve ok for playing an older game such as Half-Life 2 at native resolution, that’s about the limit. Overall the ThinkPad X100e felt like it performed about the same as an Intel Atom equipped netbook. Below are some benchmark scores for those that are interested.
The black version of the ThinkPad X100e I have looked like just about every other ThinkPad, it’s a very business professional in its design and not especially flashy. That said, the chiclet-style keyboard and small size help to make this laptop look cool. The signature red pointing stick and red striped mouse buttons also spruce up the overall design. It’s also refreshing to use a netbook that does not have a glossy screen or lid. The ThinkPad X100e instead uses a matte type screen and matte lid. This means it does not pick up dirty fingerprints as easily as other consumer netbooks and that the screen is not so reflective.
I have no complaints with the design, the only major downer is the fact that the battery sticks out of the back:
The battery sticking out certainly detracts from the overall design, but I’d still rather have a larger sized battery for the longer battery life you get with that.
The build quality of the ThinkPad X100e is not as rugged or polished as the larger sized ThinkPads, such as the X200 or T400, but it is still on par or better than many other netbooks. Worth mentioning is the fact that the keyboard is spill-resistant, so if you spill some liquid on the keyboard it will get carried out of the bottom. The ThinkPad X100e case is built entirely of plastic, from a distance it’s hard to tell but when you’re up close it’s obvious. The plastic is rugged though, there is little flex on the body. Most importantly, the keyboard is stiff and without flex, just like a ThinkPad keyboard should be.
The bottom line, while Lenovo has produced the cheapest ThinkPad to date based on the purchase price, it does not look or feel cheap.
The ThinkPad X100e has an 11.6-inch screen with a 1366×768 widescreen resolution. This is a standard resolution for laptops these days, with an 11.6-inch screen it will enable for comfortable reading of text when web browsing, but you won’t be able to fit more than one window on the screen at the same time due to the limited real estate inherent with any netbook. The 1366×768 resolution is optimal for movie viewing, but for a business laptop without an optical drive that may not be your #1 use.
The screen finish is matte, none of the glossy reflective overlay that’s ubiquitous in consumer laptops today. Colors don’t pop quite as much without this glossy finish, but on the whole, I prefer the matte finish as it’s easier on the eyes over long periods of time. The screen is more than bright enough, I think many people will be comfortable setting screen brightness 2 – 3 notches down from the top-level brightness.
The hinges on the lid are firm, it’s actually a little tough to open the lid from the closed position, so I have no doubt that over time the hinges will hold up well. The hinges allow the screen to go back to almost 180-degrees open, not that you would want to use such an orientation, but the option is there.
The port selection on the ThinkPad X100e is about what you’d expect for a netbook. It comes with 3 USB ports, a 4-in-1 media card reader, one monitor out port, an Ethernet port, and finally a combined headphone/microphone port. The USB port on the right side has a unique feature in that it is a powered port that can even be used to charge devices when the laptop is turned off. Some might be upset that there is no HDMI port, the Acer Aspire 1410 I reviewed had this port. The absence of an HDMI port doesn’t upset me too much, this laptop isn’t intended as a multimedia machine but rather a portable work laptop. I really like the fact there is a built-in media card reader for easy transfer of pictures from your digital camera using an SD card or simply to use an SDHC card for extra storage. Unfortunately, an SD card does not fit all the way in, it sticks out. Below are pictures of each side of the laptop and a description of the ports you will find there:
Front side: indicator lights for battery charge and sleep state.
Left side: 2 USB ports, Ethernet port, headphone/microphone combined port
Right side: 4-in-1 media card reader, powered USB port
Backside: Power jack and monitor out port
With the brightness set to two settings below the top level and wireless turned off I was able to achieve exactly 4 hours and 10 minutes of battery life on the ThinkPad X100e. You could probably get 4.5 hours of battery life if you turned screen brightness all the way down and had wireless turned off. A more real-world scenario of wireless being on and having the screen brightness close to full while doing work usually gets you between 3 – 3.5 hours of battery life. This is definitely not as good as other netbooks I’ve used such as the Acer 1410. Overall battery life is adequate, but far from impressive.
The chiclet-style keyboard for the ThinkPad X100e is hands down the best keyboard I’ve ever used on a netbook. The keyboard is an ISO full-sized, spill-resistant keyboard, meaning liquid spills of up to 10 ounces will be carried out at the bottom of the keyboard. The keyboard feels very much like a standard ThinkPad, each key is easy to press and keys provide very comfortable feedback when pushed. The keyboard is firm and without sag, just very pleasing overall to use.
To accompany the excellent keyboard is both a great pointing stick and touchpad design, the same as you’ll find on other ThinkPads. I use the pointing stick more than the touchpad, I find it’s simply more efficient because I don’t have to lift my hand from the keyboard to move the cursor when using the pointing stick. But if you prefer the touchpad, it’s a nice size and easy to use on the X100e. You can scroll vertically by scrolling your finger up and down on the right-hand side of the touchpad. There is also a pinch and zoom feature in which you can zoom in by using the same finger gestures on the Apple iPhone.
The only odd thing about the keyboard is the diminutive sized PgUp and PgDn keys and the fact that the Ctrl and Fn switch is flipped to what you get on other manufacturers’ keyboards. Overall, there’s little to complain about with the excellent usability of the ThinkPad X100e keyboard.
The speakers for the X100e aren’t much to write home about, they’re located on the front underside of the laptop. So while they are stereo speakers, the fact that they point down makes them a bit muffled and rather mono sounding in nature. The clarity from the speakers is quite decent though, so they’re fine for dialogue and music without much bass. You can of course use the headphone port and a good set of headphones to achieve a superior listening experience.
A lot of people often wonder how hot and loud a laptop is. While I’ve heard reports of from others of the X100e running hot and the fans making a lot of noise, I have not experienced this. The fan is actually so quiet I can’t even detect the sound in a room with even a small amount of ambient noise. And while the palm rest areas do get warm when the CPU is running at 100%, the heat is nothing ridiculous and certainly tolerable. I would say neither the heat nor noise aspect of the X100e is issued unless you are very sensitive to such things.
The ThinkPad X100e is a pleasure to use thanks to its excellent keyboard and usability design features. The nice bright LED screen coupled with the fact it is not glossy and reflective will be appealing to a lot of people. The overall design is perfect for business users or students at a professional school, think MBA or law student-types. For the price of $450 you get a lot of the ThinkPad features you would expect but without the price tag. The build quality and performance are certainly not on par with the larger more expensive ThinkPad models you can buy, but nobody spending $450 on a netbook would expect that anyway. The most disappointing aspect of this netbook is the AMD processor, it’s a bit better than the maligned Intel Atom processor, but not by a whole lot. Also, the 4-hour max battery life is certainly below that of what you can get with other netbooks. If you’re a big fan of the ThinkPad brand and put keyboard and input usability as a feature above all else, the ThinkPad X100e is certainly worth considering.