The ThinkPad X301 boasts the same 13.3-inch display, 1.5kg weight and 19mm thickness as its predecessor, the ThinkPad X300. In fact, with the exception of a new DisplayPort connector, the X301's case is essentially identical to that of the X300, right down to the built-in DVD burner. The real change is inside the case: Lenovo has stocked the X301 with Intel's latest Centrino 2 platform, including the just-released ultra-low-voltage Core 2 Duo SU9400 processor. It will be available in the UK in October.
The new CPU helped the ThinkPad X301 realise measurable gains over its predecessor on our performance benchmarks, though it trailed similar systems that were built on full-voltage Centrino 2 processors, such as the Fujitsu LifeBook T1010. The trade-off, of course, is that the ThinkPad X301 outlasted those systems on our battery drain tests. Though our biggest complaint with this ultra-sleek ThinkPad remains the price -- the base configuration costs £1,900 and goes up from there -- we still recommend it for frequent travellers seeking portability and usability without sacrifice. That said, users looking for a slightly less expensive ultraportable may want to consider the 12-inch ThinkPad X200.
Like all ThinkPads, the ultraportable X301 features a rectangular black case built around a sturdy chassis. There's still a blue ThinkVantage button above the keyboard, a fingerprint reader below it, and a keyboard light on the top edge of the display. ThinkPad fans will notice small touches that make the X301 a little more attractive than other ThinkPads, however. The lid and wrist rest feature an appealing soft matte finish; the ThinkVantage, power and mute buttons glow when pressed; and the front edge is devoid of any ports or switches.
In addition to the keyboard light, the ThinkPad X301's display bezel includes a 1.3-megapixel webcam and a noise-cancelling digital microphone for Web conferencing. The matte-finish display itself features a 1,440x900-pixel native resolution that's sharper than that of the MacBook Air and other similarly sized screens, resulting in text and icons that are slightly smaller than you'd expect. So far the sharper resolution hasn't caused tremendous problems, though we did find ourselves pumping up the font size on a newspaper's Web site so we could read a lengthy article. We also zoomed in when working on documents and spreadsheets. The benefits: more screen real estate for multitasking and, when it's time for a break, beautiful video.
Given the amount of typing the typical person does through the course of the working day, a keyboard can make or break an ultraportable. The ThinkPad X301 actually uses the same keyboard found on Lenovo's 14- and 15-inch models -- which is to say, not the condensed keyboard found on previous X series models and many ultraportable laptops from other manufacturers. After conducting several days' work on the ThinkPad X301, we still don't feel like we've been typing on a laptop. We love it.
Lenovo decided to include both the red rubber TrackPoint pointing stick and a touch pad on the ThinkPad X301. The decision is understandable: many ThinkPad users are viscerally attached to their TrackPoints, while other users can't stand it, so why not include both methods? The double sets of mouse buttons seem to run counter to the overall theme of simplification that the ThinkPad X301 embodies, however.
In order to make room for the TrackPoint's buttons, the touch pad is placed rather low on the wrist rest, with its buttons near the laptop's front edge. Fortunately, the ThinkPad X301 is thin enough that we could use the touch pad with our wrist resting on a desk surface -- or on our leg, when the laptop was in our lap. Of greater concern is the fact that, during our lazier typing moments when our wrists dropped to the wrist rest, we were likely to graze the touch pad and accidentally misplace the cursor.