The ThinkPad X120e is Lenovo’s attempt to correct the design flaws in its previous business netbook, the X100e. Intended for users wanting maximum portability without having to sacrifice performance (compared to Atom-based netbooks), the X120e is also the least expensive ThinkPad model offered today, averaging around $370 retail at Amazon and Walmart thanks in part to the X130e recently going on sale. With an AMD Fusion APU, ThinkPad design, and a promise of long battery life, is the ThinkPad X120e a good choice for professionals or students who need power as well as portability?
The X120e under review comes with the following specs:
- AMD E-350 CPU (1.6GHz)
- AMD Radeon HD 6310 GPU
- 11.6” 1366*768 matte display
- 2GB DDR3 RAM
- 320GB 5400RPM hard drive
- Ports: USB2.0 (x2), Powered USB2.0 (x1), HDMI (x1), 4-in-1 memory card reader (x1), Ethernet (x1), Mic/Headphone (x1), VGA (x1), Kensington Lock
Delivery and Packaging
The X120e under review was ordered from WalMart.com during a sale event, the cost at the time was $299, the price has since gone up to $370. The X120e was well packaged and arrived in good shape. Wal Mart gave a courtesy call the day after the order to check that the laptop had been ordered by us and we weren’t the victims of fraud or what not. Apparently thieves like to get ahold of credit cards and order big ticket items such as laptops.
Build and Design
One of the first things I noticed while using the X120e for the first time was that the laptop felt heavier than I expected; compared to regular 10” netbooks that typically weigh in at or below three pounds, the Thinkpad X120e is 3.3 pounds. However, this is a tradeoff for the X120e’s better build quality over typical consumer-class netbooks. Even still, 3.3 pounds is a featherweight compared to most mainstream 15.6” laptops.
Following in the design footsteps of its bigger siblings, the ThinkPad X120e carries on the tradition of a tough, function-over-form design paradigm. Like most business laptops, the X120e feels that it could take more abuse from the user than a consumer laptop; the plastic body feels a bit different from the usual fare, feeling denser than the typical ABS plastic used in laptop construction. While testing, I found no noticeable stress points on the X120e; it felt solid as a rock. Other than that, the laptop keeps true to the K.I.S.S. principle: the X120e has all a user needs, and nothing more. All the available space is used to make the X120e user-friendly, from the 92% full-sized keyboard to the lack of media buttons and visible speakers (leaving more room for the keyboard and palm rests). Like most laptops of this caliber, the X120e combines media functions with the function keys; for example, to turn the volume up and down the user will need to press Fn + F1 (down) or F2 (up).
One negative thing about the X120e’s body is that the plastic tends to pick up a lot of the skin oils present on a user’s fingers. Where most laptops will only develop a glossy coat of skin oil on the keyboard due to the normal amount of contact there, the X120e will quickly show off those oils on any part of the laptop that a user handles, be it the keyboard, the plastic body, or the metal panel that covers the bottom of the laptop. For clean freaks, the X120e might just turn them mad with the constant wiping that is required to keep these oils off since the oil stains show easily under normal lighting conditions.
Keyboard, Trackpoint, and Touchpad
Lenovo breaks ThinkPad tradition by using an island-style keyboard on the X120e (and a few other ThinkPad’s). Even though I generally have a negative opinion on these newer styles of keyboard, Lenovo executed the design fairly well and I enjoy typing on the X120e. From taking notes in class to typing up this very review, the curved key tops were a joy to use for extended periods of time. Unlike some other island-style keyboards I’ve used, the key throw felt about the same as a traditional laptop keyboard such as the one found on the W520.
Just like in other ThinkPad’s, there are two separate options for mouse input on this 11.6” netbook. The touchpad does a good job at controlling the cursor despite its tiny size (7.5cm wide by 3.5cm deep). Like most ThinkPad’s, the X120e comes equipped with a TrackPoint, which I find to be a much better fit for a netbook of this size. Coming with its own set of left- and right-click buttons (as well as a middle-click button), the TrackPoint is more precise than using fingers to navigate the desktop, and there’s no need to reposition your fingers like you would on a touchpad, which makes the X120e useful in cramped conditions, such as an economy airline seat or a desk at a lecture.
The 11.6” display on the X120e comes with a 1366 x 768 resolution, commonly found on larger 15.6” notebooks found in brick and mortar stores. The 768p (or HD) resolution is more suited for smaller laptops like this however, since said resolution on a smaller screen means that text and imagines appear more sharp thanks to the higher pixels per inch (135ppi on the X120e compared to 100.45ppi on mainstream 15.6” laptops). In comparison, a 1920 x 1080, 15.6” display has 141 pixels per inch. However, the biggest advantage the X120e has over its competition is that it comes equipped with a matte display, which blocks most reflections coming from strong lights or the Sun, making this Thinkpad a useful tool when working outdoors.
To save space for the keyboard, Lenovo cleverly opted to move the speakers to the bottom of the laptop. Lenovo uses the Conexant 20582 SmartAudio HD to power this netbook’s speakers and like a lot of laptop speakers, the sound outputted from it won’t impress a lot of people. While not tinny, the speakers are pretty limited in the range of sounds they can produce (bass is nearly non-existent on the X120e) and the volume. It should be apparent that the X120e is not a media powerhouse; however, the speakers work perfectly fine for the netbook’s intended audience of travelers and students. Like most laptops, the sound issue can be easily fixed by plugging a pair of good earphones or headphones.
Unlike many consumer-class laptops and netbooks, the X120e comes with very little bloatware. The only trial software is a copy of Norton Internet Security. Otherwise, this laptop comes with a fairly clean install of Windows, relative to other netbooks on the market. In addition to the usual Windows programs, the X120e also ships with a copy of Office 2010 Starter (Word and Excel) as well as several Lenovo tools, the most useful of which (in my opinion) is the Power Manger. Lenovo’s Power Manager offers more customization of the laptop’s power profiles compared to the default Windows power manager; some options found in Power Manager are the ability to control power to ports such as USB and PCIe (within the laptop), finer control over the system fan, and control over CPU and hard drive power usage.
Lenovo’s Thinkpad X120e has more than enough power to go around when used for the usual, daily tasks of most users. Internet surfing is a pleasure on the small display, HD video playback on YouTube is smooth and buffer-free, and flash games are no problem. While it does take a moment or two to open up applications (e.g., Microsoft Word Starter 2010 takes around eight seconds to load a new document), application performance itself feels subjectively snappy. For a student’s daily tasks, the X120e performs just as well as my over-powered W520 workstation laptop. AMD offers a great performance gain over other netbooks equipped with Intel’s Atom processors, bringing the E-350 on par with lower-end mainstream laptops.
Battery Life and Portability
Equipped with a six-cell battery rated for 51Whr, the Thinkpad X120e is capable of lasting six hours and fifty minutes on a single charge with the Maximum Battery Life profile in Power Manager, and display brightness set at 5 out of 15. Even with the reduced CPU performance that comes with this power setting, I noticed no difference in qualitative performance, and only a marginal difference in the readability of the display (though the latter mainly depends on the light conditions the laptop is used under).
The 11.6” netbook is tiny compared to the standard 15.6” laptops most people own. While the photo comparisons between the X120e and my W520 seem like the four inch difference is minimal, these photos do no justice to how small this system really feels. While the diagonal screen size is only a few inches, the X120e is half the weight of typical 15.6” systems; while carrying it to and from class in my bookbag, I could not tell that the X120e was even there and it actually scared me at times, forcing me to check my bookbag every now and then to be sure it was inside. Every pound matters for frequent travelers and the reduced weight of the X120e is a welcome change from mainstream laptops.
Like most other Thinkpad laptops, the X120e makes it easy for a user to tinker around in the internals of the machine. After safely discharging all power (unplug AC and battery, hold down the power button for about ten seconds) and protecting against ESD, turn the laptop upside-down. Lenovo has hidden all of the user-replaceable parts under one panel, which unlike the rest of the laptop is made of metal. Three screws affix the panel to the laptop. Removing the screws and panel reveals an organized, clean layout of the laptop’s guts. At the top left of the picture (located under the power button) is the laptop’s performance bottleneck, a Hitachi Travelstar Z5K320 mechanical drive (HTS543232A7A384). In the middle near the speakers rests the wireless card, a Realtek RTL8188CE (1×1). To the right of that is a single DIMM of Hynix RAM. To the left of the Realtek card and below the hard drive is an empty WWAN slot, so users have the ability to connect to a cellular network. However, unlike some newer laptops, the X120 will not support mSATA solid state drives due to it being electrically incompatible.
Overall, I like what Lenovo has done with the Thinkpad X120e. Like other business laptops, it feels better built than the typical small laptops sold in stores and it values a simple but functional design over flashiness. While I personally don’t care for island-style keyboards that are slowly replacing the traditional layout, the curved keys on the X120e were comfortable to type on after quickly adjusting to them. It’s lightweight, sturdy, powerful enough, and has a long battery life: all excellent traits for what amounts to a business-class netbook. It was a good laptop when it first came out, but it will surely be a great student laptop now that its successor (the Thinkpad X130e) has recently been released and price-drops starts rolling in to get rid of remaining X120e inventory. At the current price of $368 (Walmart.com), the Lenovo Thinkpad X120e is a machine that offers better bang-for-your-buck over similarly-priced Atom-based netbooks. However, it would be nice if the X120e had a longer battery life or an option to attach a slice battery.
- Comfortable keyboard
- Clean, simple design
- Better performance than most netbooks
- Somewhat heavy for a netbook
- Slow hard drive option
- Difficult to keep clean