Lenovo ThinkPad X240 a Sleek Touchscreen Ultrabook Tough Enough for Business

The ThinkPad X240 is the latest X-series laptop from Lenovo. We take the touchscreen version of the 12.5-inch laptop through the paces to see how it fares as a business tool.

The ThinkPad X240 is the newest ultrabook from Lenovo designed with business users in mind. Powered by fourth-generation Intel Core processors, the 12.5-inch X240 offers traditional ThinkPad features in a modernized chassis, along with a Windows 8 friendly touchscreen.

CIO.com recently took this ultrabook through the paces to see how it fares as a business laptop. You will like the larger, button-free trackpad, though it might be confusing. You'll also appreciate the long battery life; but the lack of an HD display, though, not so much.

ThinkPad X240 Designed to Be Sleek Yet Tough

The ThinkPad X240 takes a radical departure from the rugged look and feel of prior generations of ThinkPad laptops, including the X230. Like the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, the X240 sports sleek lines all around as part of the new, simplified ThinkPad design.

Gone is the physical clasp to secure the lid when on the move. Only two battery latches and a docking station connector mar the X240's otherwise flush surface; even the speakers are hidden at the bottom of the laptop. On top, meanwhile, a new glass track pad offers twice the surface area of the X230 and adds support for multi-touch gestures.

Don't be fooled by the gentler appearance of the X240, though. It's every bit as tough as earlier iterations of ThinkPad. Reinforced glass fiber technology strengthens the chassis, which has been tested to military-grade specifications to withstand drops, vibration and extreme environments. As with other ThinkPad models, the drop-down hinges in the X240 lets users open the lid to 180 degrees.

The X240 offers the frills you expect from a business laptop, including backlit keyboard illumination and a built-in fingerprint reader. One of the two USB 3.0 ports comes with always-on capability, which is designed to charge smartphones and other USB-powered devices even when the laptop is powered down. In addition, a full-sized VGA port and Gigabit Ethernet port are positioned along the left and right edges, respectively, while a combo SD/MMC card reader offers support for the latest SDXC SD cards.

[ Review: Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 a Good, But Pricey, Business Tool ]

Under the hood, a dual-core i5-4200U processor powers the X240, complete with a maximum clock speed of 2.6GHz and integrated Intel HD4400 for graphics. Our review unit came with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD), though the base configuration offers less memory and comes with a hard disk drive. Wireless capabilities include 802.11 b/g/n, with a theoretical top speed of 300Mbps for Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.0.

ThinkPad X240 Keyboard, Security Features Built for Business

ThinkPad laptops are known for their high-quality keyboards. On that front, the X240 doesn't disappoint, as its full-sized keyboard offers excellent depth and tactile feel. The famous TrackPoint is still present if you simply can't do without it, though the dedicated mouse buttons have been removed.

However, that's because the trackpad now offers five-point multi-touch functionality and twice the area of older ThinkPad models. What's more, the entire surface of the trackpad is clickable — and, unlike many slim ultraportable laptops with stiff mouse buttons, the X240 trackpad is highly responsive.

Lenovo ThinkPad X240 Keyboard
The large touchpad and fingerprint scanner on the Lenovo ThinkPad X240 functions well even without dedicated mouse buttons.

Meanwhile, the In-Plane Switching (IPS) display delivers vivid colors that makes the screen look much better than its comparatively poor display resolution (1366 by 768). Unlike an increasing number of laptops, the Lenovo X240 comes with a matte screen that's both easy on the eye and able to hide inadvertent smudges caused by fingerprints.

Lenovo ThinkPad X240 Screen
The vibrant matte screen of the Lenovo ThinkPad X240 is pleasant on the eyes.

The entire surface of the display is a single piece of glass, with the exception of the bezel and a thin strip along the bottom that measures about a quarter of an inch. The display itself doesn't extend to the edge of the glass panel; this eliminates the possibility of dust or grime being trapped in the gap between the touchscreen and the plastic frame.

[ Related: Windows 8 Tutorial for Desktops and Touchscreens ]

From a security standpoint, the X240 offers a number of features often sacrificed in ultrabook devices. Specifically, a Kensington lock slot allows for the X240 to be physically secured, while a fingerprint reader offers a more convenient form of authentication. Importantly, the reader is positioned unobtrusively along the right side of the laptop, beside the cursor keys, putting it within easy reach yet out of the way of accidental swipes.

As noted, the Lenovo X240 comes with full-sized VGA and Gigabit Ethernet ports. Anyone who has forgotten to bring an external dongle for an important meeting can attest to the importance of full-sized ports. Lenovo has also chosen to incorporate a Mini DisplayPort into the X240; when used with an appropriate adapter, this supports DVI or HDMI devices. Finally, the X240 offers various customizations, such as the option for an internal smartcard reader and mobile adapter for WAN Internet access.

With Optional Battery Upgrade, ThinkPad X240 Will Outlast You

The energy efficient, fourth-generation Intel ultra-mobile processor lets the laptop deliver close to full-day computing with the default 3-cell (23.2 Wh) battery. Set the screen to 75 percent brightness, and stick to Web browsing and office productivity tasks, and you'll get up to 7 hours of runtime. Swap out the three-cell battery with a 6-cell (72 Wh) battery and you should see battery life jump to 17 hours or more. You'll need to rest long before a X240 equipped with the six-cell battery runs out of juice.

The X240 also comes with Lenovo Power Bridge technology; this uses an internal, non-removable battery so you don't have to power down a laptop when swapping a drained external battery for a fresh one. To alleviate concerns about the non-removable battery exhausting its lifespan of rechargeable cycles, the external battery is always depleted (to about 5 percent) before the internal one is even used. Plugging the laptop into a wall socket charges both batteries in tandem.

At 3.2 pounds (1.45kg) with the 3-cell battery, and 3.6 pounds (1.63kg) with the 6-cell one, the X240 won't win any contest for being the lightest laptop around. But it's worth it for a full day of use without a recharge. In fact, frequent travelers or other workers who don't always have access to a power socket may want to forego the 3-cell battery and just purchase two 6-cell external batteries instead, as they deliver significantly more battery life without much additional bulk.

Lenovo ThinkPad X240 Batteries
The Lenovo ThinkPad X240's extra-capacity battery is about twice the size of the standard battery, but it adds substantially more battery life.

Sleek ThinkPad x240 Design Comes at a Price

One consequence of the new Thinkpad X240 design is the inability for the IT department to perform in-house upgrades to core components such as memory and storage through easy-to-access panels on the bottom of the laptop. Rather than banking on an upgrade further down the line, it makes sense to acquire the requisite amount of memory and storage from the get-go.

[ More: 3 Powerful Laptops Built for Serious Business ]

Moreover, in its eagerness to support both touchpad and TrackPoint pointing stick, Lenovo may have inadvertently made using the trackpad less intuitive. Clicking on the right-hand corner of the track pad has the same effect as clicking the right mouse button. This confusing state of affair exists because the former was meant to simulate the physical mouse button for TrackPoint users, while the latter was meant to do the same for trackpad users. This could have been made clearer by supporting only one configuration by default.

Lenovo ThinkPad X240 Mouse Configuration
The two-finger, right-click feature on the Lenovo ThinkPad X240 may not be intuitive for users due to the inability to disable the virtual right-click area.

In addition, the SSD-equipped review unit that we tested — with extended battery — is priced at $1,555. That may be too much for smaller businesses to justify. It was also a pity that Lenovo doesn't offer a ThinkPad X240 with full HD resolution at the moment, though that option should be available soon.

Finally, while the screen is largely immune to smudges, the new cover paint seem to pick up grease and fingerprints fairly easily.

Lenovo ThinkPad X240 Bottom Line

There's much to like about the Lenovo ThinkPad X240. Despite its modernized design, it feels just as robust and durable as previous generations of ThinkPad laptops. Serious business users and power users alike will greatly appreciate the excellent battery life and many business-centric features. Indeed, the fact that these all fit into the form factor of a 12.5-inch laptop effectively make the ThinkPad X240 one of the best compact business laptop to own.

Paul Mah is a freelance writer and blogger who lives in Singapore. He has worked in various capacities within the IT industry and enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones and networking devices. You can reach Paul at paul@mah.sg and follow him on Twitter at @paulmah.

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