Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano Review

Posted on May 22, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 18 Comments

Weighing under two pounds despite its 13-inch display, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano is the lightest ThinkPad ever made. Better still, it offers killer Intel Evo battery life and performance, making it an ideal companion for those on the go.

Design

From a design perspective, the ThinkPad X1 Nano is, if anything, familiar. Like other X1-class ThinkPads, it uses a lightweight carbon fiber hybrid material behind the display panel and a magnesium-aluminum chassis. It comes in any color you want, as long as the color you want is black.

I understand why some might be getting bored of this look, but I like the ThinkPad X1 vibe, and find that the Nano provides the perfect blend of understated and professional good looks. The materials feel nice to the hand, and the wedge-shaped design is classic, but it also picks up lots of skin oil.

From a usability perspective, the Nano is also just big enough to not cause any problems when typing. The keyboard isn’t quite full-sized, but I never had any issues. And the wrist rest isn’t too small, as is the case with the HP Spectre x360 13. As good, the Nano passes the same MIL-STD 810H durability tests as do other ThinkPads. Good looks, utility, and durability? That’s about all one can ask of such a PC.

Display

Lenovo, like other premium PC makers, is finally waking up to the need for less widescreen displays, and I’m delighted to report that the Nano provides a 16:10 display panel that is ideal for productivity work and reduces the bezel sizes somewhat.

The 2K (2160 x 1350) IPS display panel is 13-inches instead of the more typical 13.3-inches, and it lands at a nice middle ground between Full HD and 4K/UHD. It provides Dolby Vision HDR output, 450 nits of brightness, and either anti-glare or anti-reflection/anti-smudge capabilities depending on the configuration. It’s a terrific display, and it can lay flat, but it’s missing multitouch capabilities.

Internal components

Because of its tiny, space-constrained frame, the ThinkPad X1 Nano utilizes Intel’s ultra-portable class “Tiger Lake” 11th-generation Core processors, which are even more efficient than the U-series chips that are common in Ultrabooks. These are quad-core designs, built on Intel’s 10+ nanometer SuperFin manufacturing process, and they can be configured to consume between 7 and 15 watts of power. The review unit shipped with the best processor in this class, an Intel Core i7-1160G7 with Iris Xe integrated graphics.

These processors support up to 32 GB of RAM, Intel says, but the Nano comes with 8 or 16 GB of RAM, depending on configuration. Storage choices include 256 GB, 512 GB, and 1 TB of PCIe-based SSD.

Performance has been terrific in the mainstream productivity tasks that I typically perform, including heavy Microsoft Edge, Word, and Affinity Photo usage, plus communications apps like Microsoft Teams and Skype.

And while the fan does kick on from time-to-time, it’s never particularly loud, and the PC never gets hot. Overall, it’s clear that the UP4-series processor that Lenovo chose for the Nano is ideal for its typical use cases.

Connectivity

Connectivity is modern: Lenovo provides Intel Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 capabilities, and you can opt for a SIM card slot at order time and add 5G (CAT20) or LTE/4G (CAT9) cellular connectivity as well. I never had any issues with connectivity, and I was interested to see Windows 10 pop-up a notification explaining that I was connected to a Wi-Fi 6 wireless network during a recent trip, the first time I’ve ever done so.

Ports and expansion

Given the Nano’s tiny size, I won’t feign surprise that it only includes two USB-C ports, but I am disappointed that they’re both on the same (left) side of the PC. In the good news department, both are Thunderbolt 4 powered, so they are sufficiently modern and powerful and offer power, display, data, and always-on capabilities.

Beyond those two ports, you’ll find a combination headphone/mic jack on the left side as well. On the right, there’s only a power button, which is a curious placement for a non-convertible notebook PC, and a vent for the cooling system.

Audio and video

The Nano provides stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos sound and two upward-firing and two downward-firing woofers, and they provide a terrific spatial audio experience despite the tiny enclosure. You can use the bundled Dolby Access app to manually select a sound preset—Game, Movie, Music, and more—but I find that the default Dynamic preset accurately adjusts the sound according to the content you’re enjoying.

The Nano also provides four 360-degree microphones and a typically middling 720p webcam for video calls. The webcam has a manual ThinkShutter privacy switch, which lets you physically cover the camera, and it supplies Windows Hello facial recognition capabilities too.

That’s all to be expected, but the Nano’s webcam also provides an interesting new feature: A human-presence detection sensor that dims the display and then switches the PC into a Modern Standby state when you walk away from the computer—and turns it back on when you approach—helping preserve battery life.

Keyboard, touchpad, and fingerprint reader

Lenovo was able to squeeze a nearly full-sized keyboard into the ThinkPad X1 Nano despite its small size, and I never had any issues typing accurately, even with my Gorilla-sized hands. This is an improvement on the classic ThinkPad typing experience, with backlit, island-style keys in Lenovo’s familiar scalloped shape, and the keystrokes are short, concise, and clicky. Lenovo says that the key travel is similar to that of other ThinkPads, but it feels shorter to me, which I prefer. Most ThinkPad keyboards are a bit too loose, in my experience.

What impresses me most here, however, is the lack of flex in the keyboard base. With many portable PCs, especially ultraportable models like the Nano, I can often press down on the middle of the keyboard and experience a lot of flex. Not so with the Nano: This thing is rock solid and easily resists my sustained presses.

The keyboard does have one major issue, however: Lenovo inexplicably reverses the positions of the Ctrl and Fn (Function) keys, as it does on many (but not all) ThinkPads. Usually, you can fix this through an option in the Lenovo Vantage app, but the Commercial Vantage app that’s included with this PC doesn’t allow that. So I had to make the change in the Nano’s firmware configuration, which isn’t exactly discoverable.

The glass precision touchpad is smallish given recent trends, but I prefer that and found it to be accurate enough that I didn’t need to disable 3- and 4-finger gestures, which is rate. The Nano also includes ThinkPad’s unique TrackPoint pointing system, which should please fans. I really enjoy this system, and like how you can use the middle button with the TrackPoint nubbin for scrolling.

Like other modern ThinkPads, the Nano also provides a fingerprint reader, though it’s unfortunately on the right wrist rest instead of being integrated into the keyboard as I prefer. Regardless, it’s fast and accurate, and its Match-on-Sensor and Synaptics PurePrint technologies mean that it’s both secure and spoof-proof.

Portability

With a curb weight of under two pounds and a tiny 11.53 x 8.18 x 0.66-inch frame, the conversation turns from whether the ThinkPad X1 Nano is portable—of course it is—to whether its smallish 3-cell 48 watt-hour battery can provide meaningful longevity.

As an Evo-based PC, it should meet this obvious need, since Intel has certified that it should deliver 9 or more hours of battery life. But in my experience thus far, few Evo PCs have met or surpassed this mark. Well, here’s some good news: The Nano delivered almost 9 hours of battery life on average, and I never configured power management for the best battery life. It also supports Rapid Charge fast charging, so you can recharge 80 percent of capacity in 60 minutes using the bundled 65-watt USB-C power supply.

In the bad news department, the review Nano suffered from some odd issues that I attribute to power management. Most Evo PCs fire up the display as soon as you open the display lid, but the review Nano never did, and sometimes I had to resort to pressing the Power button when nothing happened. And in some cases, the Nano appeared to be booting up from a cold start (though it was almost certainly just coming out of sleep). I can’t explain this behavior, and I won’t claim that it seriously impacted the overall experience. But I feel obligated to mention it.

Software

The ThinkPad X1 Nano is delightfully devoid of crapware beyond the junk that Microsoft bundles with Windows 10 Pro. Instead, Lenovo provides just a small set of useful utilities, like Commercial Vantage (drivers, support), Dolby Access, Mirametrix Glance (for controlling a privacy feature that warns you when someone is looking over your shoulder), and a Synaptics utility for the fingerprint reader. That’s it. Can I get a Halleluiah?

Pricing and configurations

If you’re familiar with Lenovo’s various sub-brands, you won’t be surprised to discover that the ThinkPad X1 Nano, as the lightest of the high-end ThinkPads, is a bit on the expensive side. Prices start at about $1350, which I’ll call a $200 premium over a typical entry-level premium notebook PC, and can rise well into the $2000s if you load up the option sheet. As configured, with an Intel Core i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and 512 GB of solid-state storage, the ThinkPad X1 Nano will set you back about $1850. These are reasonable prices for a PC of this class.

Recommendations and conclusions

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano offers an incredibly thin and light design, epic battery life, and excellent performance with very little in the way of compromise. The keyboard, touchpad/TrackPoint, and fingerprint reader are all terrific, the webcam offers facial recognition and privacy functionality, and you can even get LTE or 5G connectivity if desired. My quibbles are minor, and never really got in the way during my usage, though I’d like to figure out why the wake-up experience was so unreliable. But with its incredible portability and reasonable pricing (for a premium PC), the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano is highly recommended.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Thin and light
  • Epic battery life
  • ThinkPad design and quality
  • Excellent keyboard and touchpad
  • Optional cellular connectivity
  • Delightfully clean software image

Cons

  • Only two USB-C ports, and they’re on the same side
  • Some curious power management issues

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Comments (18)

18 responses to “Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano Review”

  1. Avatar

    hrlngrv

    That's a lot of greasy fingerprints on the outside of that laptop in the 3rd picture. An understatement to call it displeasing. Not your best review photo.


    In the 9th picture again a clear image of the bottom-left corner of the keyboard, where only [Ctrl] and [Fn] key placement differ between laptops, and fuzzy image of the right side of the keyboard where there's much greater variation between different laptops.

    • Avatar

      angusmatheson

      You are joking right? That was the whole point of the picture “The materials feel nice to the hand, and the wedge-shaped design is classic, but it also picks up lots of skin oil.” - I’m amazed how many things are designed to look beautiful in the store, and look terrible when you take them home and use them. It’s really sad. So many companies don’t care about your experience once you have bought it.

      • Avatar

        hrlngrv

        I screwed up and didn't read carefully. However, I would have been willing to take his word rather than find the picture useful.

        • Avatar

          rfog

          Just the oposite, I prefer to see from first hand what dirty can be, as I'm myself a source of skin grease. I really hate those covers that gets dirty so fast.


          I use to say if I wash hands each hour (a thing I do), my hands will be clean ten minutes each hour.

  2. Avatar

    brettscoast

    Nice review Paul, when are we going to see 1080p webcams on these laptops it seems long overdue. These systems are becoming less reliant on USB-3/4 ports. Agreed that a USB-C port on each side would make life easier and more efficient in daily usage. It's also nice to see a sim card LTE 4\5G option as quite a few ultra-portables don't offer this connectivity.

  3. Avatar

    crunchyfrog

    Having owned and returned one of these X1 Nanos I feel compelled to comment here. The X1 Nano is a beautiful laptop and I really did not want to send it back but felt it was too buggy as a first generation device and in my case it was likely a lemon, although searching online I found numerous issues others were having.

    For me the main issues were this:

    1. Buggy WiFi and very buggy Bluetooth really made the laptop connectivity experience a problem.
    2. While battery life was average, the battery drain in standby was horrible. Close the lid on battery and the next morning it was stone dead.
    3. Chronic BSoD's caused headaches trying to get work done. Support was great but could not solve any of these issues.
  4. Avatar

    mattbg

    The power button placement is interesting. My immediate reaction is that I'd be worried about pressing it accidentally on a regular basis.


    However, using a Thinkpad T-series daily for remote work during the pandemic, which is docked to a desktop monitor keyboard, monitor, and mouse, my morning routine consists of opening the lid just to turn on the power and then closing it again. That is the only reason I ever open the lid. So, I can see why having it on the side would help in that scenario.


    However, you'd think that someone going for the "Nano" option - an implicit compromise on performance to gain better size and weight - would presumably be mobile more often than docked and would not care about docking as much as someone using a regular Thinkpad.

  5. Avatar

    ryguy

    Paul - for what its worth, I was having the same weird sleep/wake/blank screen issue with mine. Im pretty sure it is related to the security “Glance” feature. Originally I had to mess with hibernation settings to make it reliable, but they must have pushed a fix in a firmware update because I did a fresh install and the problem is now gone. Other than that its been really great, I totally agree with your review!

  6. Avatar

    curtisspendlove

    This is such an excellent idea. I really miss my 11” MacBook. But it seems very few companies are willing to toss money into a smaller laptop factor nowadays.


    I assume it’s tough to compete against tablets. But I agree that the price is pretty high. I’m not opposed to paying for premium quality though; and people rave about their Thinkpads.

  7. Avatar

    Cardch

    No touch screen? That’s crazy in such an expensive model. I know it depends on what you use your laptop for, but I could not live without touch.

  8. Avatar

    sailorjj

    Great review - and excellent picture of the greasy fingerprints. Personally it drives me nuts looking at the smudges on my Thinkpad.

    I really enjoy and appreciate your review of the laptops, and rely on them most heavily when deciding on a purchase.

    Have a good trip Paul!

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