Lenovo ThinkPad X280 Review: Powerful, Business-Class Ultraportable

Lenovo ThinkPad X280: Hardware And Software Overview

The Lenovo ThinkPad X280 has the understated, classy looks and design features the line-up is known for, but we'd like to talk about a common pet peeve before we take a tour of the machine. Ideally, every notebook keyboard should feature a layout as close to a traditional desktop as possible -- space permitting, obviously. This means the left control key should be placed in the very bottom left position of the keyboard, for ease of copying, pasting, and other shortcuts. That's where the a touch-typist's finger goes to find it automatically. Few things are more annoying than trying to paste a chunk of text, hitting the function key by mistake, and ending up with a lonely "v" in the text field. In testing the ThinkPad X280 we did that on a few occasions and suffered similar errors involving the misplaced control key. Designers, please note: please keep that control key where it belongs, when possible.

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Lenovo's TrackPoint Is A Terrific Feature

Key placement pet peeve aside, using the X280 is a pleasure. The keyboard itself is well made and we dig the inclusion of multiple mouse control options.  If you've never tried a one of Lenovo's TrackPoint control sticks on a notebook, you really should. It can be used like a joystick to move the mouse cursor, with left/right/middle mouse buttons above the touchpad for your thumb to press while your index finger is on the control nub. Where it really shines, though, is during any instance of scrolling items on the display, which you do by holding down the middle button and maneuvering the stick. Most notebooks lack this feature, and some Lenovo users just ignore it, but it's there for a reason and it works well.
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The Lenovo ThinkPad X280 Is An Attractive Workhorse

Next to a standard touchpad sits an optional fingerprint reader, and it certainly behaved well in our experience. It never had trouble reading the three fingers we trained it to recognize, and it wouldn't accept unknown fingerprints from my own or other people's hands. It speeds login, you don't need to enter your password or a pin, and the OS is up in a flash. Placement of the sensor is easy to access as well.

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To The Right Of The Touchpad Sits A Convenient Fingerprint Reader

The OS on this machine boots up quickly no matter what, though, even when you boot it from an off state. The X280 booted up for us in just a few seconds with its fresh Windows install, and even after we'd dropped in a number of programs, apps, and other software over the course of this review, the boot time "swelled" to just under 5 seconds. Even with a modest 8GB of memory in our test configuration, the X280 won't leave you waiting in response to clicks and commands; it slices rapidly through loading and running everyday applications. Those applications are presented well on the machines FullHD 12.5" display too. Though there aren't any whiz-bang OLED or HDR display options, the multi-touch HD display on the X280 is plenty crisp for its size and we found viewing angles and color accuracy to be very good.

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Ports On The Left
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Ports On The Right

In terms of its design, the ThinkPad X280 retails the classic looks of previous-generation ThinkPads, without much pomp and circumstance. This isn't as pretty a notebook like Dell's XPS 13 9370. It honestly looks like a classic ThinkPad that may have been released in a previous era, but that's just fine by us. The backlit, shaped-key, chicklet-style keyboard looks and feels nice as well; the throw is deeper than lots of notebook keyboards providing better than normal tactile feedback. The touchpad is also responsive and full-featured with gesture support, and the whole thing is well built and just feels solid and strong.

On the downside, more connection ports would have been welcome. A single USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C Thunderbolt port is included, as well as one Gen 1 Type-C. Audio isn't super out of the small built in speakers, until you plug in a decent headset -- then the included Dolby Atmos engine can kick in and the sound is superior. The mic array picks up audio well and allowed for clear communication across VOIP connections. It did carry a large amount of background chatter into the conversation, however, so engage Skype from a quiet location.
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The pre-installed software on the X280 is mercifully light, and little of the standard, requisite uninstalling of shovelware is necessary. The most noteworthy app is Lenovo Vantage, which is an above-average utility similar to those that come with many notebooks intended to keep the computer healthy and up to date. Vantage includes Lenovo System Update, which looks for various software and driver revisions for the notebook. In many cases, though, rather than automatically installing what it finds, it runs the installer's executable and expects you to take it from there. Additionally, Vantage includes areas to set options such as shortcuts to power, input, and audio and video settings; a hardware diagnostic scan with both quick and custom tests, and more is also built-in.

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Lenovo Vantage System Update Automatically Updates Software, Drivers, And Even The BIOS

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Lenovo Vantage Hardware Scan Tries To Detect Issues Before They Become Catastrophic

So far so good, but now let's see how the X280 fares in our suite of benchmarks...

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