by Bill Snyder

Lenovo’s X220 vs. Apple’s MacBook Air: Which Is Better?

Nov 07, 20113 mins

If you're looking for a powerful, lightweight laptop that costs less than $1000, two systems standout: Apple's MacBook Air and Lenovo's X220.

The older I get, the less tolerance I have for heavy notebooks that I have to schlep to meetings and through airports. I want a lot for my money and I don’t mind spending a reasonable amount for an above average system, but I can’t afford to break the bank. So $1000 seems like an approprate cut off point for me and for the other working stiffs out there.

Along with price, the most important features in a notebook that will be my everyday productivity tool are: weight, processing power, memory, hard drive speed and capacity,  screen quality, operating system, appearance and service. Having used Windows for all of my career, it would take a bit of prompting to move to a Mac, but I thought about it quite seriously this summer when I bought my latest system, which turned out to be Lenovo’s ThinkPad X220.

If I’d been willing to take the plunge and migrate to the Mac universe, I would have given the MacBook Air serious consideration. For my money, if you’re looking for a light but powerful laptop for under $1000 the Air and the X220 are your best choices.

It’s worth noting that for $999 you’re buying the cheapest MacBook Air; if you’re willing to spend $1,599 you’ll be buying a much better machine, but we’re in a recession so let’s stick to our budget and compare.

  • Price: Looking at the base configuration of each system, Lenovo wins by $100, $899 vs. $999. Each of the following categories assumes that you’re buying a system at these prices.
  • Appearance: Advantage Apple. The MacBook air is a slim sexy machine surrounded by a cool aluminum enclosure, while the x220 is black and blah, with few style points.
  • Weight: Advantage Apple: 2.38 pounds vs. 2.9 pounds
  • Screen: Advantage Lenovo, with Apple at 11.6 inches and Lenovo at 12.5 inches. Both displays are bright and crisp. (Apple’s smaller screen is a big reason for the weight advantage.)
  • Storage: Advantage Lenovo, which offers a 320GB conventional hard drive running at a speedy 7200 rpms versus Apple’s 64GB solid-state drive, which is faster and sturdier, but way too small.
  • Processor: A wash. At first glance, you think advantage Apple since it offers Intel’s i5 CPU while Lenovo offers the i3 CPU (unless you upgrade.) However, that’s a bit deceptive because Apple is running a low-voltage part that saves on power and heat, but takes a performance hit.
  • Memory: Advantage Lenovo; 6GB versus 2GB.
  • Operating System: This one is really up to you. It’s hard to argue that Apple’s Mac OS X isn’t superior to Microsoft’s Windows 7, but abandoning Windows means enduring a learning curve and replacing key software applications, at some expense.
  • Service: Advantage Apple. Apple’s solid, though not perfect, customer service is a real plus. My few experiences with Lenovo’s support operation have not been impressive.

What’s the bottom line? It’s a close call, but the X220 is a better buy. However, if you’ve been planning to move to the Mac, the Macbook Air is a good reason to make that switch, especially if you can spend a bit more money and add more memory and hard drive capacity.