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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.
On the right side is an SD card reader, powered USB 2.0 port, microphone headphone combo port and Ethernet RJ-45 jack.
Other new features, more to come…
Also 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.