Lenovo ThinkPad X100e Ultraportable Review

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Frankly, we didn't focus much attention on the Lenovo X100e during the gauntlet of CES releases. Even Lenovo didn't help their own cause, pushing forth a bevy of new notebooks (and even a form factor that we'd never seen before), leaving the inexpensive ThinkPad X100e to fend for itself. Now that we've seen it, we can't figure out how it managed to remain undercover all this time. The design and build quality here is astounding; it's really a shrunken ThinkPad. That heralded ThinkPad build quality is all here, and all the rigidity we found in the T410 is here in the sub-$500 X100e as well.


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The chassis as a whole is very much like the T410 we reviewed earlier in the year; it's matte black all the way around, it's blocky around the edges, and it's built like a tank. We've yet to see an 11.6" machine built this well, from top to bottom. There's no debate on the most rigid ultraportable out there (Panasonic's Toughbook line notwithstanding): the X100e is as solid as a rock, and gorgeous in that plain-classic-ThinkPad sort of way.
 

     
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Along the front edge, you'll notice the speaker bar that lies just underneath, while the left edge reveals an audio in/out combo jack, two USB 2.0 ports and a heat exhaust vent. The back holds an AC input and a VGA output, while the right side has an SD card slot, a powered USB 2.0 socket and a Kensington lock slot. That's it as far as ports go; no eSATA, no FireWire, no optical drive, no ExpressCard. We'll confess that the port selection is a little thin, but again, Lenovo had to cut some corners to get a well-built ThinkPad beneath the $500 barrier.

     
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You will notice that the 6-cell battery sticks out somewhat from the rear, but it didn't bother us. We'd rather have more life and a small bulge than a 4-cell battery with substantially less capacity. After opening the rigid lid, we saw what we see on every other Classic ThinkPad: a chicklet-styled keyboard, a red trackpoint in the middle, minimal palm rest stickers and a dual-hinge design holding up the panel. The trackpad is particularly excellent; it's large for an ultraportable, and the multi-touch gesture support is a huge bonus. The tackpoint pointer doesn't do much for us, but it worked well in practice and will please those who have grown used to using one.

     
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The chicklet-styled keyboard feels like a full-size unit, and we had no problems at all adjusting to it. Typos were kept to a minimum, and aside from the Fn key being placed where the Ctrl key should be (a common complaint on ThinkPad keyboards), we couldn't find much to gripe about. We found it interesting that the Enter key wasn't blue, but that's just a minor point. There was no keyboard flex to speak of, and the key/click button travel was perfect. We can't get over how excellent the trackpad and click buttons were; other small machines could stand to learn a thing or two here.


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The 11.6" panel is the perfect size for road warriors. The 1366x768 native resolution provided plenty of screen real estate, and the anti-glare coating was a godsend. Most ultraportables and netbooks are saddled with glossy panels that throw off terrible reflections when used under lights and outdoors; not so with the X100e. Unfortunately, the viewing angles on this screen weren't the best. We had to be angled just right in order to avoid seeing color drain, and it didn't take much off-axis viewing for us to lose the image completely. The panel seemed somewhat cheap compared to the rest of the unit's excellent build quality, but considering that the LCD can recline all the way back to flat, we're confident that users can find an angle that looks great regardless of where they are (a coach airline seat, for example).


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