A No-compromise Ultraportable Laptop Computer

By Gerry Blackwell | Posted June 23, 2011

Working at Home

More small business owners -- tired of lugging a full-size 15- or 17-inch notebook on business trips -- are opting instead for ultraportable notebook computers such as Lenovo’s new ThinkPad X220.

The X220, which comes with Microsoft Windows 7 Professional, offers a range of the latest generation Intel dual-core processors, from Core i3 to Core i7, which makes performance is comparable with full-size laptops.

Battery life – over eight hours with the standard issue 6-cell battery has been reported – is best in class.

Prices start at $920 for models with a Core i3 processor and $1,020 for systems with an i5 processor. The pricing goes up to well over $2,000 on ThinkPad X220 notebook PC with premium components.

Designed mainly for corporate users, the X220 comes with nifty security and diagnostic features that will appeal to IT types, but the X220 is equally appropriate for small business road warriors.

A Small and Light Notebook PC

The upsides to an ultraportable are obvious. They’re smaller and lighter -- usually less than 4 pounds and, in the case of the X220, as little as 3 pounds. They’re easier to pack, easier to fit on an airline seatback tray or on crowded boardroom table. They're also much easier to carry and cause less shoulder and neck strain.

A tiny computer also doesn’t place quite as much of a barrier between you and others when you pull it out in a meeting.

There are downsides, of course, but fewer than once was the case with ultraportables, and fewer with this product than any we’ve looked at before.

High-definition Display

Ultraportable notebook displays are, by necessity, smaller than full-sized laptops, and the X220’s HD-capable screen (1,366 x 768 pixels) measures just 12.5 inches diagonally. It’s not as easy to have multiple windows open and visible on the screen at the same time as with a larger screen, documents may not be as legible and watching videos isn’t quite as comfortable.

But that undersize screen makes the notebook PC's diminutive overall dimensions -- 12.0 x 8.13 x 0.75-1.36 inches possible -- which in turn helps make the X220 as light as it is.

As with any laptop, you can always plug in a larger monitor when you’re in the office. The X220 includes a VGA monitor port for an analog connection, but also has a DisplayPort plug.

Lenovo ThinkPad X220; notebook PC
Lenovo packs lots of power into the ThinkPad X220, a lightweight, ultraportable notebook computer.
(Click for larger image)
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DisplayPort is a fairly new all-digital audio-video connector. With an appropriate cable and adapter (less than $10) you can plug the laptop into a high-definition television set and send it audio and video or, with a different adapter cable, attach the computer to the digital connection available on most modern monitors. 

Solid Laptop Design and Construction

The X220’s lightness, it should be noted, does not come at the expense of flimsiness, as is the case with some lower-priced ultraportables.

While this product does not have the much-admired alloy chassis found in premium-priced laptops, it does feel very solidly constructed. The hinges between the display screen and CPU, in particular, seem heavier duty and better designed than on most laptops.

We also like the improved magnetic clasp on the X220, and the way the top surface of the lid extends down over the front edge of the bottom part of the laptop.

That rounded front edge makes resting your palm more comfortable than on most laptops, and the overhang may also make it more difficult for dust to get in to the keyboard and screen when the laptop is closed.

Best-in-class Input Tools

Ultraportable laptops too often provide cramped keyboards -- a problem especially for big-fingered touch typists, and the cursor controls are often poorly designed. The X220 offers the best that we’ve seen in both areas.

The keyboard, while necessarily smaller than those on a 15- or 17-inch laptops, is very comfortable for this big-fingered touch typist. In particular, the Enter and Shift keys are a good size. Some smaller keyboards save space by shrinking these keys and/or offsetting them slightly from their normal position, making it easy to miss them when typing quickly.

The keys also have a nice positive response and the travel, the distance you need to push a key to enter a character reliably, while different from desktop keyboards, feels right.

The cursor controls -- with slight reservations -- are also very well designed.

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