Not just Windows: the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano laptop

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A pioneering tradition

It was 1992 and in the offices of the Japanese branch of Yamato of IBM it was conceived after months and months of tireless work on the first “ThinkPad”, a concept for the revolutionary era of truly portable computers. Conceived by the German designer Richard Sapper, who was inspired by the traditional and elegant lacquered Japanese lunch boxes on the go, the bento boxes, the ThinkPad was the first laptop with a modern setting, immediately after the Ps / 2 Note (the first IBM laptop with shell closure) and Apple’s PowerBook 100 (1991).

Over the decades Ibm first and then Lenovo, with renewed energy , have grown the range of ThinkPad laptops (which also includes desktop fixed computers and now tablet-convertible computers ), establishing for thirty years what is in fact the reference standard of business computer.

In recent years Lenovo, after having picked up the baton from IBM for the design and production of personal computers, has invested heavily in the research and development of a very wide range of computers that also embrace selected from the consumer market. However, if there were an ideal pyramid with the CEO at the top (or the top figure who has to travel the most, pandemic permitting), this would be reserved for the X1 Carbon series, top of the “X” range of ThinkPads (which has various other declinations for use, ergonomics, technologies and price ranges) and one of the few computers considered “practically perfect” by some American specialized magazines.

ThinkPad X1 Nano

A little less than ten years after the birth of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2011), Lenovo has decided to create a new concept of laptop, the Fold version , but also a more conventional device of very reduced dimensions, which was designed for the top management and for professionals always on the move: the X1 Nano . The specifications of this small computer immediately strike for completeness: 13-inch “borderless” screen with 16:10 form factor instead of 16: 9 as many laptops have been for a long time (MacBooks on the other hand are traditionally 16:10 and give a little more space for the vertical development of the screen). It is the lightest ThinkPad ever with a weight of 907 grams, magnesium and aluminum chassis, 4 Dolby Atmos speakers, 4 microphones for recording and modeling of sound with podcast quality, webcam with mechanical eyelid and infrared sensor for Windows, sensor fingerprint, slightly compressed but complete keyboard with the inevitable red “dot” in the center, the small joypad that has always accompanied the ThinkPad range today to complement the compact touchpad, two USB-C 4 ports with Thunderbolt 4.

We tested a particularly “bodied” version of the X1 Nano with Windows 10 Pro, at which it was very easy to add Linux too (first Ubuntu and then alternatively also EndeavourOS, a variant of Arch), but in the USA on request a version already equipped with Ubuntu with all the open source and Lenovo drivers for the various features of the machine. The characteristics of this device are, in addition to the weight of less than a kilogram, the very small dimensions: 20.8 x 29.2 x 1.68 cm. The 2160 × 1350 pixel 2K display has a brightness of 450 nits and a full sRGB gamut. Touch is also available but we tested the normal one, which is opaque and with excellent protection from the sun’s rays (the few times we have been able to use it outdoors, despite the pandemic).

The processor is an 11th generation Intel Core i7 with Intel Iris Xe graphics, on the Evo platform, which puts it in front of the competitors “thin and light” of the same class including the latest Dell Xps 13. Drive SSD from 256 Gb and 16 Gb of Ram completed the equipment together with the WiFi sector. Lenovo also pairs a 4G or 5G module on request to WiFi 6. In our device was available the 4G one with Lenovo sim that can be activated, for a total of 2,069 VAT excluded. The 5G version of the same equipment (will come later) will cost 2,549 euros excluding VAT while the WiFi-only version costs 1,849 euros excluding VAT. Also available are versions with 11th Gen Intel Core i5 and Intel Iris Xe graphics.

Autonomy ahead of everything

After configuring the sample under test with Windows 10 Pro from scratch, and after the usual onboarding of the Microsoft operating system, which requires a couple of hours of software download and password entry for the various cloud services that are now part of our digital life, some characteristics of the small and very light computer immediately emerged. Lenovo.

The first is battery life. Throughout our test, which actually took place in the red zone during a particularly acute phase of the pandemic and therefore closed in the home-office space, we went on without problems all day, working, making endless videocalls with all the services. available (Teams, Meet and Zoom, above all), listening to music and watching games. The battery holds up very well and for “normal” use it gives capital performance.

The computer turned out to be particularly quiet despite its small footprint. It does not scale in a particular way, the fan starts only if you do particularly complex operations or in gaming, and sometimes when the computer is attached to the external monitor with the lid closed.

We have in fact exploited also a “closed shell” configuration to transform the small computer into a kind of dock station, using a monitor in test by Lg (the 35-inch QuadHD UltraWide Curved LG 35WN73A model with 21: 9 screen factor). The advantage of the monitor is to have Usb-A, Hdmi and DisplayPort ports to connect to computers and peripherals of all kinds, but above all to have a USB-C port that is able to power, transmit data and pass the signal. video, dramatically reducing the use of cables and more on your desk. We worked with the computer “closed” (and the external power button, with light, which can be seen and operated even with the lid closed) is very comfortable using the keyboard and mouse connected to the USB ports of the monitor without any problem. We lacked the webcam and audio for video conferencing, but it’s the monitor’s fault. We also missed the magic of Hello Windows and the “anti-espionage” system.

The latest generation laptops are integrating, like this ThinkPad X1 Nano from Lenovo, in addition to the webcam (which in this case can be closed mechanically with a user-operated lid) also infrared sensors to recognize the owner’s face and do without the password or fingerprint. More or less like mobile phones have been doing for a few years. But next to this Windows also adds a new software module which, if it finds the right hardware (as in this X1 Nano), allows it to detect the presence of people behind the back of whoever is using the computer and block spying “from above the shoulder”. The system works very well with the latest Windows update and will be especially useful for digital nomads.

In fact, this computer is a candidate to be the best device “on the road” for when it will be possible to start traveling again, whether train or plane: it is very light and small, practically like a tablet, and disappears in the backpack. Using a series of normal applications (Word, Excel with loaded files, mail, three chats in parallel (Teams, WhatsApp Desktop and Telegram) plus a few other programs and additional services, in addition to the inevitable VSCode couple (for web development) and iA Writer Windows version (for free writing) we have exceeded ten hours of autonomy very comfortably, even reaching twelve-thirteen. Hard to say because we were most of the time at home and then why when it comes to the use of computer with such a long autonomy it becomes difficult to verify it correctly. The automatic chronometer tests do not give the idea of a real use while using the computer for fifteen hours in a row is obviously impossible: you enter and exit the break by marking the hours of active use but then there are all the approximations that other users will obviously find.

There are two evaluations to make regarding the productivity of this computer. Connected to the external monitor it becomes an excellent medium power stationary: it is not a gaming machine obviously (neither the integrated video card nor the form factor allow it, even if some satisfaction can be removed anyway) but it allows you to work without problems . We have transferred all our productivity for a few days thanks to the use of the cloud that with the WiFi 6 present in the home router and in the computer is managed without problems, and the use was without a defect. The only drawback, but we expected it, a bit of a fan with medium power tasks, because the closed computer still “breathes” worse and because the curved ultrawide monitor has almost five million pixels to address.

Things change in the natural use of the laptop. The screen is wonderful, the pixel density (therefore with 196 dpi and HiPixel mode in the “normal” resolution) combined with the anti-glare screen is practically perfect. The small size is not a problem: you can select three native resolutions (1, 1.5 and 2) to have a more or less zoomed content, or other intermediate resolutions, which however make the letters “soft” and blurry especially. Using the keyboard is more laborious. It depends on the habit and muscle memory of the writer, of course, but here Lenovo has made the biggest compromises to be able to compress the form factor of the computer to the maximum.

ThinkPads were born bringing high the legacy of mechanical keyboards of IBM desktop computers (the legendary Model M) and added dozens of keys with special functions at the beginning. Over time the keyboard has evolved, Lenovo has accelerated its simplification (also to bring it into line with those of the rest of the world) keeping only the space for the small central joystick, the red “nipple” which is the trademark of this type. of computers. However, we have now entered a phase of strong compression and reduction in pitch. In fact, to lower the thickness of the keyboard Lenovo has changed the stroke of the ThinkPad keyboard from 1.8mm to 1.5mm. With the X1 Nano it goes to 1.35mm and the difference can be heard quite clearly.

In addition, some “secondary” keys are reduced: the function keys are thinner (eight millimeters compared to ten of a normal X1 Carbon) and the letter keys also change to 15 × 15 mm compared to the 16 × 16 of the X1 Carbon. The keys on the right, with the accented ones for Italian, are even compressed to 12mm.

Alongside Windows we tested two Linux distributions in dual boot. It was an experiment that we knew we could do with this computer because in the US Lenovo sells it with Ubuntu as an alternative to Microsoft’s operating system. This means that there are drivers for the various components and that there is no need to fear that the WiFi or the trackpad will not work (as happens on many other computers that use components that have not been “liberated” from the open source world or from the manufacturer).

The evolution of Linux in recent years has been very remarkable and almost all activities can be carried out, starting from installation, by a user who knows how to use only the graphical tools and does not want to use terminal with command line. It is very easy.

First download the disk image of the distribution you want to try (we did first with Ubuntu based on Debian and then with EndeavourOS based on Arch and considered “easy” like Ubuntu), installs on an 8 GB or more USB stick using open source software such as Balena Etcher Available for Windows, macOS and Linux, and then restart the computer by selecting the boot from the internal device (the USB key) via the Bios. The instructions are very easy and once the installation is finished the two systems coexist, just choose which one to start with at startup. It is also possible to delete the Windows part but it is obviously not necessary.

Without going into detail, the small ThinkPad X1 Nano proved to be 95% compatible with Linux. Obviously, there is no Windows Hello to log in with the webcam and we have not found the right driver for the fingerprint reader (but we have not really searched for it), on the other hand the small trackpad works very well and so does all the hardware that it is very light and simplified. It leaves only a little ‘to be desired autonomy, which is significantly reduced compared to the use of Windows. Here, however, we would enter into a series of more complex adjustments and configurations. The experiment of being able to install, functionally configure and work with a Linux system on a Lenovo flagship computer went perfectly and we can say without embarrassment that the operation is perfectly within the reach of a user with very medium skills. You don’t need to be geeks.

Lenovo’s small computer is very convincing. It occupies a well-defined segment of powerful and expensive ultralight, which serves professionals always on the move who do not want (too many) compromises in the use of their main computer, which must always be with them and who do not want it to be a tablet.

We liked the flexibility, generous battery life and power to spare of the small Intel Core Duo i7 processor. This computer goes up against the Dell XPS, HP Elite Dragonfly, Fujitsu LifeBook and Lenovo ThinkPad X13 itself, as well as the MacBook Air M1, scoring points with everyone in one sector or another. The main drawback is the very compressed and “lowered” keyboard but it is an almost forced choice: to have such portability you need to squeeze and compress everything you can and Lenovo from another point of view was all too good at “keeping” a substantially complete keyboard in such a narrow and crushed space.

A small note, however, comes from the choice of materials. This X1 Nano is an all black computer. Starting from the ultra-mini package and the USB-C power supply, which is also very compact. It is a computer that wants to be stylish but the choice of the “very black” material has a flaw: it attracts fingerprints and dirt like a magnet. At first it seemed like a minor issue, but over the weeks of testing, keeping the computer clean and not making it look greasy and fingerprinted has become almost an obsession. In the end he won, there is no way to keep it shiny, because it is precisely the material that attracts fingerprints and dirt both on the outer shell and inside on the palm rest under the keyboard and the rest. Not a problem, but after a while it risks becoming one for a computer that is, for the rest, a five-star product.

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