Announced at CES this year, the ThinkPad X1 Tablet looks like another Surface clone at first glance. But it provides some truly unique functionality, including most notably a modular Ultra Connect system that lets you transform the tablet in useful ways.
Taken in its base configuration, the X1 Tablet stacks up pretty evenly against Surface Pro 4, at least if you stick to the entry-level configuration of Microsoft’s latest 2-in-1. That is, it is a business-class device powered by an Intel Core-m processor and a 3:2 12-inch IPS display running at 2160 x 1440. RAM can be configured up to 16 GB, and SSD storage up to 1 TB. Lenovo claims about 10 hours of battery, compared to 9 for Surface Pro 4.
Looked at side-by-side with the Surface Pro 4, some other similarities can be seen. Both devices are lacking in the USB 3.0 department, with one port each, though the X1 Tablet also includes a USB-C port, which is appreciated, and is also used for power. Both include miniDisplayPort for video-out, and both include a microSD card slot tucked under the kickstand.
The X1 Tablet’s kickstand works different than that of Surface Pro 4—it extends down to the meet the table, if you will, rather than pushing out from the bottom, as on the Pro 4—but it achieves the same end, with a vary degree of screen angle possibilities.
Like Surface Pro 4, the X1 Tablet is very portable. It weighs just 2.35 pounds with the keyboard cover—exactly the same as Surface Pro 4—and would fit nicely in any bag. I’d never notice its weight in a carry-on.
But then there are the differences.
The most minor of these is the keyboard cover. Yes, both devices feature a magnetically-attached keyboard cover, and yes, the ThinkPad X1 Tablet’s cover even provides two different typing angles thanks, too.
But the X1 Tablet’s keyboard is so much more delightful than the Microsoft unit, and the pointing solution—both trackpoint and a touchpad—are in a different league. And there’s even a neat slot to attach a pen loop that is much more permanent and solid than Microsoft’s glue-on version.
The ThinkPad X1 Tablet also includes an integrated fingerprint reader right on the tablet, where the Windows button used to go. This is a nice convenience, and to get something similar on Surface, you would need a Type Cover with a Fingerprint reader.
OK, those are small potatoes, I know. But where the X1 Tablet really differentiates itself is in its modularity. You can detach the bottom of the tablet and clip-on a variety of low-cost Ultra Connect modules that enhance the usefulness of this device immeasurably. I describe each of these modules in my article Lenovo Expands ThinkPad X1 Family with new Yoga, Tablet. Here, I’ll focus on the module I received with the review unit, the ThinkPad X1 Tablet Productivity Module.
As hinted at by its name, the ThinkPad X1 Tablet Productivity Module improves the productivity characteristics of this tablet in a number of ways. First, thanks to a two cell battery, it improves battery life by 50 percent to a reported 15 hours total.
That alone would justify the $150 asking price, in my opinion. But this module also provides a full-sized HDMI port, another full-sized USB 3 port, and a OneLink+ docking port so the device can do double (triple?) duty as a desktop solution too. Nice.
Also nice is that the X1 Tablet’s keyboard cover attachs and works exactly the same way when this and presumably other modules are attached: It still supports two typing positions, and it still covers the device nicely for transport. Win-win.
The ThinkPad X1 Tablet starts at $899, and for that price you’re looking at a Core m3 processor, 4 GB of RAM, and a 128 GB SATA3 SSD. Every X1 Tablet comes with a ThinkPad Pen Pro, but the X1 Tablet keyboard cover adds $140 to the price. So it’s about the same cost as the Core m3 version of the Surface Pro, which costs $899 too and has the same basic specs, but doesn’t include the Type Cover, which adds another $129.
You can of course upgrade both devices. But the X1 Tablet only provides Core m5 and m7 options, whereas you can hit heady Core i5 and i7 territory—and pricing—with the Pro 4. Based on just a cursory examination of the X1 Tablet so far, I’d stick with the ThinkPad over the Surface Pro 4. But those with more performance needs might want to pay more to get more.