Lenovo ThinkPad X230 First Thoughts (pics, video)

Earlier this week Lenovo announced the ThinkPad X230, a 12.5” screen ultraportable targeted at business buyers. While the X230 won’t go on sale via Lenovo.com until June 2012 (keep an eye on this X230 product page for availablility) we were lucky enough to receive an early review sample to try out. As most of you familiar with the ThinkPad brand know, change is generally slow from one generation to the next to keep the enterprise buying folks from getting all worked up. One thing that certainly almost never changed much was the keyboard. Until now that is.  The X230 and the rest of the ThinkPad line have adopted a new keyboard styling that uses an island style key layout and drops down to six rows of keys from seven. There are a few other changes and added features, the keyboard backlighting being my personal favorite, but for the most part the X230 is just an evolution of the X220 design wise and of course has updated internal components to boost performance.

Lenovo ThinkPad X230

Video Tour

First off, there’s nothing quite like the moving image to convey look and design, so check out a quick video tour of the X230:

ThinkPad X230 Video Tour

Keyboard Comparison with X220

Let’s jump right to the part a lot of people are interested in hearing about — the keyboard.  Again, a video helps to show exactly what the visual differences are so we’ll show that first and then talk about the perceived usability differences:

ThinkPad X220 and X230 keyboard Comparison

The first concern I had was whether the spacing of the keys was the same or different enough to cause a problem getting used to the X230 keyboard.  I was also concerned that the travel distance and feel of the keys would be different.  Rest assured, despite the very different look, the keyboard is very similar in feel to previous generations and the typing differences were really only noticeable to me when I had both the X220 and X230 next to each other and I could test the difference.  Here is what I found to be different in terms of feel, at least as far as my perception goes:

  • The X230 keys seem to have a slightly lighter touch, you don’t have to push quite as hard to register a keystroke
  • The X230  key surface area is slightly larger, I don’t have calipers to measure this exactly, but you can see it’s the case.  This is partly why Lenovo is claiming the new keyboard makes typing more accurate.
  • The X230 keys felt slightly more slippery and not as textured as those on the X220

Keep in mind, those are just the perceived differences in feel.  The layout has changed from six rows to seven rows, which forces a repositioning of keys that could trip up users used to the old ThinkPad keyboard.  To name just a few:

  • The “Forward” and “Back” browser shortcut buttons above the left and right arrow keys are gone
  • PgUp and PgDn move from the top row down to above the left and right arrow keys
  • The Delete button has shrunk and moved further to the edge of the keyboard, which is almost impossible to reach without lifting the hand
  • Print Screen and Insert are both moved, the Pause button and Scroll Lock are gone
  • Home and End have been moved and are actually now more within reach of the pinky than before
  • All media key functionality using Fn + has been moved to the F1 – F12 function keys, this is a good thing and eliminates the scattered nature of media keys in previous generations

There are probably more differences in positioning, but those are the major ones.  I’ll also note that the Enter key is now black instead of blue and they’ve removed the “return arrow”.  In fact, a lot of the icons have been axed to make the look more clean, the arrows on the Shift key, Caps Lock and Tab keys are all gone.  It certainly does have the result of the keyboard looking more plain and clean.

The real test is of course whether your typing is affected by the changes.  I generally type at around 80 WPM so figured I’d do a typing test using this WPM online tool to see how I faired doing the test on the X220 and then the X230.  Look, I’m not here to make an advertorial for Lenovo but I got the exact same 76 WPM score on each notebook and was ever so slightly more accurate on the X230 where I made no mistakes.  Of course, that’s one trial run, but it’s all I had the patience for and figured it was enough to provide anecdotal evidence that most users should transition just fine.

ThinkPad X220 typing test: 76 Words per minute, one mistake made when I mistyped “M” instead of “N” for November (though there is such thing as Movember and it is a worthy cancer charity I might add)


ThinkPad X230 typing test: 76 Words per minute, exactly the same result as the X220 but no typing mistakes


Another new feature on the X230 is the keyboard backlight.  You can toggle between two levels of keyboard backlight brightness or use the ThinkLight positioned in the screen that shines down on the keys.  Here’s a video demoing how this looks and works:

ThinkPad X230 keyboard demo

And below is a picture of the backlight set at its strongest level:


Bottom line on the keyboard changes, the usability is still top notch and all of the essential keys such as alpha, numeric and common cursor movement keys are in the same location.  The biggest challenge with changes will be in regards to remapping your brain to find and reach the keys that moved such as Home, End and Delete.  The backlighting option is a definite improvement and recommended upgrade.

Below is a picture of the X220 and X230 keyboard side by side (X230 on the right).  Click to see a larger view.

X230 and X220 keyboard side by side

Size and Weight

While the ThinkPad X230 weighs 2.96lbs when you use the small sized 4-cell battery, Lenovo isn’t changing its marketing to call this an Ultrabook.  The thickness ranges from 0.75-inches at the front to 1.05-inches at the back due to the slope.  The 1” thickness is fat compared to the 0.68” the upcoming ThinkPad X1 Carbon will have.  That under 3lbs of weight doesn’t hold for the standard 6-cell battery either, this review unit has a weight of 3lbs 7 ounces (3.44lbs).


The ThinkPad X230 has the same 12.5” screen size and options as the previous X220.  The standard 1366 x 768 resolution screen is a TN variety panel that has 200-nit brightness and so-so viewing angles.  The screen on this review model is the premium IPS upgrade with 300-nits of brightness and wide viewing angles.  IPS is the same type of screen used in tablets such as the Apple iPad.  Below are a couple of pictures with the X220 on the left and X230 on the right, both have the IPS screen and you can see Lenovo stuck with a winning formula here.

Screens tilted back:

X230 screen tilted back

Screens tilted forward:


As you can see, color reproduction is accurate no matter how great the angle you view the screen.  Assuming Lenovo keeps the screen upgrade price $50 on the X230 when it starts selling, this is a no-brainer upgrade.

Ports Selection

The type of ports available on the X230 have changed slightly, you now get two standard USB 3.0 ports and the regular sized DisplayPort has become a mini DisplayPort.  The locations of the ports have not changed though.

On the left side you get two USB 3.0 ports, a monitor out port, mini-DisplayPort and ExpressCard 54mm expansion slot.

X230 ports on the left side

On the right side is an SD card reader, powered USB 2.0 port, microphone headphone combo port and Ethernet RJ-45 jack.

ThinkPad X230 right side ports

Other new features, more to come…

IMG_0558Also new with the X230 is the Dolby Advanced Audio software, rapid battery charge, built-in 4G LTE mobile broadband with contract free option, improved thermal cooling system and of course the new Intel Ivy Bridge chipset offering better processor and graphics performance over previous generations.  We’ll save the performance evaluation and benchmarks for the full X230 review so stop back in a couple of weeks for that and if there are any specific requests for the review or questions you have feel free to comment.

54 responses to “Lenovo ThinkPad X230 First Thoughts (pics, video)”

  1. bemymonkey says:

    Any news on the possibility of a HD+ screen?

    • I’ve sent an inquiry to my contact at Lenovo and will report back here. Looking at the specs sheet included from Lenovo that has all the options for the X230, it indicates no such thing as an HD+ screen, just a 200-nit 1366 x 768 screen and the IPS 1366 x 768 300-nit screen.

    • bemymonkey says:

      Thanks for the heads up. Looks like I’ll be buying a T520-FullHD after all 🙁

  2. John says:

    Does the fan still whine at higher RPM’s? I assume it does since the chassis wasn’t changed at all. That is one thing I hate about my x220. If you could run the WEI score, once it ramps up see if you hear it.

    • I hear it a little, but it’s not too bad or seemingly quite as loud as the X220, they’re using a new cooling system which might help. My hearing is slightly damaged though and I’m old enough to be able to detect the ultra high pitches young’uns can.

  3. Wojtek says:

    Will this LTE modem work in Europe 1800Mhz band ??

    • I’m not sure, here are the exact WWAN chips that are available:
      – Gobi 4k LTE VzW/HSPA
      – Gobi 3K 14.4MBps/HSPA
      – Ericsson HSPA+ WWAN Minicard (H5321gw)

  4. Do you have to cycle forward through the Fn+Spacebar combo in order to turn the keyboard backlight off, or is there a separate way to turn it up or down? If you have to go through the full cycle of off/level1/level2/thinklight it would probably get annoying. Is there a shift or alt key modifier (like Fn+Shift+Space) to go backwards in the cycle?

    Also, I wonder if Print Screen (which replaced Menu in the layout, curious placement) functions as SysRq when you hold Fn, it’s important to me because of the Magic SysRq function in the Linux kernel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magic_SysRq_key

    • The Fn+Spacebar toggle is forward only, no reverse! You do have to cycle from dim, bright, ThinkLight then off. I’ve tried and can’t find any other way of doing it. As far as the SysRq key, I’m not sure how to test that under Windows. Holding Fn+PrtSc just does the same as Print Screen would do if pushed alone. They took that key away on the Edge series and there’s no way to register it, so I’m guessing it’s the same story here.

  5. Teamocil says:

    Not sure if you have them available but was wondering if the HyperX PnP 8GB DDR3-1866MHz SODIMM Dual Channel Kit (2 x 4GB) gives the same sort of performance boost as it did with sandy bridge graphics.

  6. bemymonkey says:

    Any chance you could run Furmark and Prime95 (Blend Torture Test) for an hour (both at the same time, so that both the GPU and CPU are running full tilt) and then post the temps? I’d love to know if Ivy Bridge produces less heat than Sandy Bridge…

  7. Jonathan says:

    I won’t miss the big Delete, Esc, PgUp/Dn–I actually like them next to the arrows. Maybe I’ll miss the back/forward browser keys. (At least there’s PrintScreen.)

    But, do you miss the dedicated menu key near the spacebar? I realize it’s a bit vestigial, but I sometimes find it useful to just click the menu key and get the equivalent of a right-click on an Excel cell or when editing filenames.

    • Never used the menu button myself, but the scroll forward and back buttons I sometimes used. My non-techy brother used them all the time once he figured out what they did on an old ThinkPad T43 I gave him. It’s interesting to see what keys people become accustomed to, and hard to predict how one seemingly small change might actually be a big deal for some.

    • manos says:

      No menu key!!!!! – are they crazy? of course it is a very important key!

  8. Tyler K says:

    Hi Andrew,

    If you are able to, could you try to see if you can get a tri-monitor config working (either with the laptop’s own display + the two outputs or some combination via a dock)


  9. jeff says:

    Any info if the X230 will have an i7-3612QM option?

    • It’s going to have a Core i7-3610QM, I don’t recall seeing the the 3612QM on the spec sheet and the X230 is now in the hands of Zaz (the person doing the full review) so I’ll ask him to read over these comments and respond next week if he can, or include the options in the full review.

    • Dan says:

      > It’s going to have a Core i7-3610QM

      Are you sure? i7-3610QM is a 45W part, and the X series has traditionally been a 35W device. According to thinkpadshop.ch, the i7 version of X230 and X230t will be a 35W i7-3520M, with no quad core option. Can you please double check? Quad core would be terrific, but the 35W i7-3612QM woud seem most likely in that case. Personally, I am skeptical that there will be any quad core option, at least for initial release.

    • Good point Dan, I didn’t have the spec sheet in front of me at the time and was basing it on (poor) recollection, looking at it now though. I have been asked by Lenovo not to reveal processors, I can say that the release for these processors in the X230 is on June 3rd and you can find all the options listed here.

      No Quad Core, you are right. Sorry about the misinformation earlier.

    • tom says:

      That’s unfortunate about no quad core. If the X230 ever gets a 3612QM option then I’d upgrade to an X230, otherwise, I’ll wait for next year’s model.

  10. yak says:

    Can you take a picture of the spec sheet and post it here? Thanks.

    • We’ll see if we can do that for the full review, but there’s some Intel processor information on there that Lenovo has told us we cannot mention/show until June 3rd. It’s nothing big, it’s just the processor options for the X230 actually include some unannounced Ivy Bridge family chips.

  11. Aleksey F says:

    Andrew, you wrote that full review might be expected couple of weeks later. Is X230 your main working computer meantime? Shall we wait for the next portion of subjective but very important user experience notes (that me personally appreciate a lot)?

    • Aleksey, I did the initial review and used it for 3 days and another person who is also a long time ThinkPad owner / user will be taking this X230 and using it for about 10-days and conducting the full review. The full review author will be Zaz, he’s written several other reviews on this site including one for the X220. We cannot release the full review until June 3rd per request of Lenovo, but that’s ok as it will give us time to get to know the X230

    • Aleksey F says:

      I see, thank you. I hope, Zaz will share his perception of the model with us — that’s more interesting reading than formal but boring spec-sheet reviews across Internet.

      Actually, I’m an early X220 adopter, contributor to Russian-speaking X220 Wiki and moderator of largest Russian-speaking forum thread about X220 (it’s 3rd part now, almost 11,000 total messages in those 3 parts) 🙂

    • Cool, I can’t read the iXBT forums but I do see a lot of links from that site so assume it’s a great place with a lot of traffic and great community!

  12. Wardo says:

    How about the touchpad? It looks the same size as the one on X220. Is it same? Larger?
    I thought it will be slightly larger because of removing the 7th row…

    • I just uploaded a picture of a side by side of the keyboards in the post, look in the keyboard portion, the touchpad is the same size as before.

    • Aleksey F says:

      Wardo, the new 6-row AccuType keyboard have virtually the same height as the classic 7-row keyboard due to the fact that Lenovo dissected 7th row of PrtSc, ScrLk, Pause, Insert, Home and PgUp buttons but left media buttons and power on this 7th row. And you may see it clearly on the attached image


      Andrew, with this side-by-side X220/X230 keyboard comparison, could you please tell us if you able/permitted to disassemble X230 review unit and investigate its keyboard connector and palmrest fasteners — it looks like keyboard with plamrest of X220 could easily replace their counterparts from X230. What do you think?

    • It does look that way from above you’re right. I’ll check with Lenovo if it’s ok to disassemble. It might be one of those things that we can do after the review in case any harm or adverse effects come about from prying off the keyboard.

    • Aleksey F says:

      Andrew, forgot to mention that you were already asked the same question on your review thread there on Lenovo forum

  13. Drew says:

    Hi Andrew,
    Did you receive any confirmation about the possibility of a HD+ screen, and if so, whether it will be IPS?

    • I did confirm with Lenovo there will NOT be an HD+ screen. LaptopMag reported there would be, but that was a misquote and untrue. The display options will remain the same for the X230, 1366 x 768 regular or 1366 x 768 IPS.

  14. joe says:

    I’m glad to hear that there is a quad core option. I’m surprised it’s not the 35 W TDP 3612QM but the 45 W TDP 3610QM. Hopefully, Lenovo makes sure there isn’t any premature thermal throttling going on especially when Turbo is activated. Anyway, I’m lookig forward to getting a quad core X230.

  15. Graham says:

    Does HD+ refer to a 1600×900 resolution? Because it would be a realy shame for Lenovo to not include this option on the X230 but include it on the X1 Carbon and T430u

    I realize those are both 14″ laptops, but other manufactures have higher resolution 13″ Screens like the Zenbook, or even the upcoming Ideapad Yoga…

    I guess what I really want to know is, what’s so special about the X230, when they’ve dropped the famous and legendary keyboard, and there are better speced Ivy Bridge Laptops coming for the same price.

    • Correct, HD+ is 1600 x 900 vernacular these days while “Full HD” is 1920 x 1080. And “HD” (chuckle) is 1366 x 768. Gotta love marketing.

    • ZaZ says:

      I don’t see the X230 as a huge upgrade over the X220 in the way that the X200 was over the X61. The main new things will be the Ivy Bridge CPU, USB 3 and the keyboard, but in my opinion without having seen it, as an ultraportable it still makes a compelling case. You get a machine that’s durable, can have two drives and has a gorgeous screen. We’ll see about the keyboard.

      As for the HD+, I know there’s a small and vocal minority that wants this, but large institutional buyers that really drive the thinking behind the design, for the most part don’t. They care most about cost and compatibility. Until that changes, you’re probably going to get HD. You can of choose another notebook, but that will have it’s own set of compromises. Getting an Asus, like the one you mentioned, means no upgrades, SSD only, you can’t swap the battery and it’s probably not as durable.

      Personally, I don’t really see the HD+ really offering much. It’s about three lines on a typical internet page. I’d rather get a good screen. Plus, the 147 pixel density would be quite high, higher than a 15″ 1080 LCD. I know some do like it, but I think between 120 and 130 is good for most people.

    • Graham says:

      I know several users who are still using their X61 Tablets because of they purchased the higher resolution screen option (1400×1050)

      Have you seen a 13″ Notebook with a 1600×900 display you get a ton more desktop space for windows. and It’s far easier to put two documents side by side on this. 1366×768 is simply the wide screen version of 1024×768, both resolutions are simply too small for high productivity users.

      What really irks me about this, is that Lenovo clearly could make it an option, look at the upcoming X1 Carbon or Idepad Yoga, both of which have 1600 x 900 diplays.

      I’ll make the Wish list simple for an IVY Bridge Laptop:

      1) 1600 x 900 Display
      2) Trackpoint Mouse (So a Thinkpad )
      3) Ethernet Port ( I use it about twice a month of job sites, and love gigabit ethernet for moving large files on networks)

      4) 2.5″ Drive bay (Swap in my own SSD)
      5) Weighs under 3.5 lbs.

      I’ll live with the new Keyboard, if they give me a better display. If it wasn’t for the lack of Ethernet port and swapable HD I’d probably be fine with the X1 Carbon.

  16. Eli B says:

    Hmm. Looks cool but no real reason to upgrade from the X220 as yet. Thanks for the keyboard comparison and impressions – they were very helpful! Can’t wait for the full review.

  17. ZaZ says:

    @Aleksey – I suspect you’ll be able to swap the keyboards physically, but the problem is the keys are mapped in the BIOS. Since they layout has changed, that will present a new quandary, even if you can exchange them. Unless you can modify the BIOS, I’d say it’s a no-go.

  18. David says:

    Hi Andrew:

    Can you please confirm if the x230 has an msata II or msata III expansion slot?

  19. finnish_stallion says:

    Can you tell anything about battery life before June 3rd?
    Mainly interested in it vs. the X220.

    As a photographer, this “HD” resolution is way too small to be comfortable at any level.
    1600×900 would be better, but still too little, especially when doing 1:1 edits in Lightroom/Darktables.

    My short wishlist for X2?0:
    IPS screen with 2732*1536 resolution and a battery that still lasts a whole working day 🙂

    • Quoted battery life is around 9 hours for the six cell, however I did one battery run down test and it only got 4.5 hours. Something seems not right there so if Zaz corroborates the same we’ll need to contact Lenovo and see if it’s a bad battery or something else is up.

  20. Jim says:


    Does this have a mSata slot for an SSD so you run a dual SSD/HDD combo. Is this the same for the T430/T530?

    Thanks and great job

  21. Nic says:

    The above links didn’t work directly for some reason, but they are now posted on Lenovo’s website.

    • Odd, not sure why the links redirect to a Lenovo landing page, I can see the pages you refer to on the site though. Thanks for the heads up. Starting weight of 3.7lbs is kind of a bummer.

  22. Nic says:

    yw, and I was not sure about the screen resolutions. I don’t know what they mean, but they’ll list it when it goes on sale.

  23. qfan says:

    Does it have RapidCharge? Is it rapid as Lenovo claims?

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