7 Stylish Superlight Laptops
Lenovo's ThinkPad x120e: A Superfast Netbook for Business
Lenovo calls its ThinkPad X120e an ultraportable-and its AMD Fusion CPU certainly endows the laptop with much more muscle than past netbooks have exhibited. But it's nowhere near as fast as the average Intel Core CPU-based ultraportable. Given the choice to characterize the X120e as an underpowered ultraportable or as a wonderful netbook, I'm going with the latter.
Lenovo has done a magnificent job of giving the keyboard a full-size feel, but the 1366-by-768-resolution, 11.6-inch display suffers compared with some other models' larger screens. Lenovo, however, is king of the keyboard, and the X120e has the best netbook keyboard ever--nothing else comes close. The feel is magnificent. The touchpad is comfortable and perfectly responsive, and the company includes a TrackPoint eraserhead cursor control.
The ThinkPad X120e comes in various configurations, starting at $399 for an E-250 Fusion CPU, 2GB of memory, and a 250GB, 5400-rpm hard drive. Our X120e test system came equipped with the slightly faster E-350 CPU, 4GB of memory, and a 300GB, 7200-rpm hard drive. Those burlier components carried the X120e to a WorldBench 6 score of 57--far higher than traditional netbooks receive, but lower than a typical, pricier ultraportable. (Our review unit would cost $650--pretty steep for a netbook.)
Video performance ranges from excellent to mediocre. With codecs that its Radeon HD 6310 graphics hardware supports, it plays 1080p video smoothly. But with codecs handled by the CPU alone, it's limited to 720p, not always smoothly. Gaming frame rates approached playable, falling just shy of 30 frames per second in Unreal Tournament at 800 by 600 at medium resolution.
The X120e carries the netbook-standard three USB 2.0 ports, and both VGA and HDMI video outputs. Its ethernet capability supports gigabit speeds, you get Bluetooth on board, and you can choose between b/g/n and a/b/g/n wireless.
A tad larger than the average netbook at 11.1 inches wide by 7.45 inches deep (add about 0.75 inch for a six-cell battery) and 1.16 inches thick, the X120e weighs 2.93 pounds (with a three-cell battery) or 3.31 pounds (with a six-cell pack). A six-cell battery powered our test unit for nearly 5.5 hours--impressively long.
Our test system came with Windows 7 Professional, but you may choose Home Premium 32-bit or 64-bit, instead. Office 2010 Starter is on board; Norton Internet Security is an option.
The X120e is not an ultraportable: Its screen is too small, and its performance too slow. But it's the best netbook going. One typing session will convince you that this model is more than worth its $450 starting price.
--Jon L. Jacobi
Lenovo ThinkPad X220: A Best-of-Breed Ultraportable
Lenovo's ThinkPad X220, which replaces the X201 model, is sure to be a hit with ThinkPad fans--and most everyone else. It is fast and light, has a great 12.5-inch display, and continues the company's enviable tradition of superb input ergonomics, offering an innovative buttonless touchpad and a long-stroke keyboard. It also provides excellent battery life--up to a whopping 23 hours with a bottom-mounted battery slice. The downside? Not much--mainly a boxy, businesslike look.
Exact prices for all of the ThinkPad X220's configurations are unavailable at this time: The starting price should be $979, going up with better CPUs, solid-state drives instead of standard hard-disk drives, and more RAM. CPUs range from an Intel Core i3 to a Core i7, the unit accepts up to 8GB of memory, and storage options start with a 160GB HDD and end with a 160GB SSD.
Our $1299 test model--with its 2.5GHz Core i5-2520M processor, 4GB of DDR3 system memory, and 7200-rpm, 320GB hard drive--turned in an outstanding WorldBench 6 score of 122. And its integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 GPU managed playable frame rates in some lighter gaming tests; 1080p movies, even the high-bit-rate variety, play smoothly.
Some of the keys, such as the extra-large <Esc> and <Del> keys above the main alphabetical keys, are a tad odd. These keys don't hinder your typing, however; they help it. The long-throw feel of the keyboard is excellent. The touchpad has a buttonless design-you press down on the left or right front edge to click. Two normal buttons sit above the touchpad, and you also get Lenovo's TrackPoint eraserhead pointing device.
The X220's battery life is outstanding. Our test machine, with its six-cell battery, ran for a cool 7 hours, 15 minutes. You can opt for a three-cell or nine-cell main battery, for less weight or a longer run time, and add a bottom-mounted $179 battery slice.
The ports and connectivity on the X220 are top-notch. The system has three USB ports, one of which is powered (for charging cell phones and the like) even when the laptop isn't turned on. With the i7 CPU, one port can optionally be USB 3.0. You'll also find an ExpressCard slot, an SD Card slot, a Wi-Fi switch, a VGA port, and a gigabit ethernet port. A dock is available with a multiformat burner, Bluetooth is on board, and the Wi-Fi is dual-band 802.11n (2.4GHz and 5GHz). Our test laptop arrived with IBM's biometric finger-swipe sensor to facilitate security.
But be wary of the many "value added" applications and unnecessary background processes. The Windows 7 Professional operating system has just about every software feature you need for a laptop, yet on our machine a quick glance at the Windows Task Manager revealed nearly 90 processes at work and almost 30 percent memory usage--without a single user application running. Trial versions of Norton Internet Security and Microsoft Office 2010 Starter come bundled.
ThinkPad users won't find anything mind-blowingly different here, but the improvements are noticeable, and all of them enhance usability. The Lenovo ThinkPad X220 is in many ways the best thing going in an ultraportable.
--Jon L. Jacobi