I’ve had this laptop now for about a month and a half. It’s quite a departure from my trusty 2009 plastic-fantastic Macbook but, for me, this feels like coming home. This isn’t really going to be a full review. I’m just going to talk about some of the things I think make this lapto work (or not, as the case may be) and ramble on a bit. If you want all the gory benchmarking details and lineups, I suggest you read elsewhere.
The Keyboard is Amazing
The keyboard is definitely my favourite feature of this laptop. It is, quite simply, the best keyboard I’ve ever used. Lenovo has departed from their usual keyboards and gone for a ‘chicklet’ style keyboard with island keys. It’s not a traditional keyboard by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s just as good. There’s a very satisfying ‘chunk’ to the keypress, and there’s more travel distance than the Mac keyboards, which makes long periods of typing more comfortable. One of my criticisms of Mac keyboards is that they aren’t all that comfortable to type on all day long if you have strong fingers because the travel distance is so small that you end up wacking the top of your laptop all day. This keyboard doesn’t suffer from that problem and it blows the Mac keyboards out of the water in terms of responsiveness
It’s also a very accurate keyboard. You know when you’ve hit a key and when you’ve missed one, and missing them doesn’t happen very often because of the slight curve given to each key which makes it very easy to feel where you are.
It sounds funny to say it, but there’s something about the sound and feel of this keyboard that just makes me want to type. Given how much typing I have to do, that’s definitely a good feature.
The reason I didn’t buy another Macbook is that I use Linux for just about everything. Web development on a Mac is generally very easy, but it’s not quite as easy as it is on a Linux machine, and getting Linux to run on Macs is somehwhat of a pain.
The X230 has, as you would expect from a ThinkPad, excellent Linux compatibility. I’ve had no problems with anything at all, so far. Everything just works. That’s definitely a first for me, even with a mainstream distro like Ubuntu.
The Ultrabook Compromise
The X230 is an ultraportable, not an ultrabook. It’s thicker than my Macbook even though the screen is slightly smaller at 12.5 inches, but it’s still small enough to go most places an ultrabook would. Being about the same size as a textbook, it fits easily into a small backpack and I can comfortably carry it along with an Android tablet in a satchel bag. It’s not thin but it is very small.
After much thought, I settled on this laptop because I couldn’t really justify the extra five hundred dollars for the X1 Carbon. It’s bigger than I would have liked, but it’s not too bad, actually. It certainly isn’t pretty by modern laptop standards, but I wouldn’t call it ugly either — utilitarian is the word that springs to mind.
Being a proper laptop means that I have a VGA port and three USB3 ports, along with a LAN port and and SD card reader. I also get the ability to upgrade the battery, hard drive and memory (a nice change from the direction Apple’s going). The extra size is a compromise I’m very willing to make given that this is, after all, a very compact laptop.
I Have Some Gripes
The keyboard may be better than the Macbook, but the touchpad most certainly is not. If it were the only pointing device on this machine, I may well have sent it back by now. It’s tiny and finicky. Fortunately, the trackpoint is excellent, and I’ve switched to using it almost all the time now. It takes practise, but once you get used to it, it’s an accurate and fast pointing method that has the added advantage of leaving your hands very near the home row.
The speakers are, well, they’re small. Enough said. Lenovo has made sure that they are crisp, however which means despite this, you can still hear dialogue properly.
The stiffness of the screen hinge and the way the lid curls around the edge of the base when shut, means that you have to use two hands to open the laptop. This isn’t a huge annoyance, but it’s there.
Attention to Detail
There are a few things about this laptop that just reek of design that’s been thought through properly.
The screen opens flat, which means not only will it not break as easily, but you can also use it while standing at a table (which is sometimes useful). The screen hinge is stiff (as I mentioned) and doesn’t feel like it will ever break or get loose.
This is one of the few laptops I’ve used which doesn’t have a fan opening on the bottom, right where you cover it with your leg when using the latop, you know, on your lap. It’s such an obvious design flaw in so many laptops, and I’m really glad it doesn’t exist here. In addition, the power cable plugs in the back which means that you can sit cross-legged without knocking it all the time (something which was made a lot worse on the Mac with its magnetic connector).
I opted for the i3 processor rather than the i5 one, and I’m glad I did. The price difference between the two allowed me to get most of the extra options I wanted without going much above $1000 (AUD). The specs on the i3 and the i5 that were on offer were almost identical anyway.
The performance is more than adequate for what I need. It’s certainly not a gaming rig (although it does play Bad Company 2 adequately), but it’s snappy. The integrated graphics are good and, being Intel, they work well under Linux without having to install extra drivers.
Battery life is good too. I opted for the four cell battery, which protrudes from the bottom slightly. This gives me about six hours of battery life, which is ample.
The Best Feature
The best feature of this laptop? It’s a ThinkPad. I feel like I’ve gone from one extreme to the other with this machine — from the chic world of the people’s Macbook, this is a step back towards obscurity and geekery, but one I’m prepared to make. The build quality is about as good as you can get from plastic, and the whole thing just oozes quiet, understated class. It’s certainly not for everyone, but there is something to be had here that almost no other laptop on the market has got. These laptops deserve the reputation they have, and I’m very happy with mine.