Lenovo's ThinkPad line includes several models that go beyond the common perception of staid, sober business machines that the brand originally became famous for. Lenovo has experimented with various new features including 2-in-1 convertible devices, tablets, and ultra-slim laptops within the ThinkPad family, but they all still prioritise construction quality, reliability, and manageability — to a large extent, at least.
Not all experiments have been successful — the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's ill-fated “adaptive keyboard” comes to mind — but overall, Lenovo says, customers have welcomed modernisation. It helps that despite all this change, Lenovo has preserved some of the most distinctive ThinkPad features, such as the red TrackPoint in the middle of the keyboard.
The ThinkPad X-series has always been about portability, but you can't always get that without sacrificing power. Lenovo's flagship ThinkPad X1 Carbon model is slim and light but is more of a style statement than a machine built for heavy lifting. This year, Lenovo is balancing that out with the new ThinkPad X1 Extreme, a laptop that's still relatively easy to carry around but can handle demanding workloads and even some gaming.
Is this the best laptop for creative professionals on the go, or is it just an expensive toy for well-paid workers to show off? We've got a full review.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme design
The ThinkPad X1 Extreme comes in an impressively thin box, but its charger and accessories are packed separately. It isn't as thin and light as most of today's consumer ultraportables, but it feels very sturdy and well-built. The 1.8kg weight combined with the 18.7mm thickness give this laptop a sense of solidness rather than bulkiness.
The body is all metal and rectangular with only the slightest contours on the sides breaking up its boxy design. There's no real design flair other than the diagonal ThinkPad logo in one corner of the lid with a red LED dotting the letter i, and an X1 logo in the opposite corner.
The outer surface is a plain matte black and we weren't too happy with the texture. It has the feel of a rubberised coating, and these tend to not only attract a lot of smudges and stains from the natural oils on your fingertips, but also rub off after a while. We did find it hard to keep the exterior clean, which is a shame because the marks really stand out on such a minimalist design. On the plus side, this laptop won't easily slip out of your grasp when you're carrying it around.
Lift the lid and you'll find that the hinge feels smooth but also very strong. Since this is a ThinkPad, the lid can open to 180 degrees which means it won't snap if it accidentally gets knocked backwards. Uncharacteristically, though, the lid does flex and bend a little when pressure is applied, and you can see slight warping on the screen. The lid will wobble slightly on contact when you use the touchscreen, but this is unavoidable.
The borders around the screen are fairly narrow but there's thankfully enough space at the top for a front-facing camera (without the sliding camera cover we've seen on other recent ThinkPads) as well as a second infrared camera for Windows Hello face recognition.
Surrounding the keyboard and trackpad on the lower deck, we have the same rubberised texture as on the lid. There's a fingerprint reader to the right of the keyboard for additional biometric security. Interestingly, Lenovo hasn't used the width afforded by a 15-inch screen to fit in a keyboard with a numeric keyboard. You do get three buttons for the TrackPoint, right where your thumbs would rest when typing, and the trackpad itself is clickable but doesn't have physical buttons.
ThinkPad keyboards are almost universally loved, which might well be an indication of how low the bar is set across the industry. Lenovo has a layout that's common across the ThinkPad line, and it's fairly sensible but not perfect. The arrow keys aren't too badly compressed and there are individual paging keys, but the Print Screen button is for some reason on the bottom row and the Fn row is given over to multimedia and system shortcuts by default.
You also have to deal with the Fn key in the lower left corner instead of Ctrl, which is a legacy ThinkPad holdover (but the two can at least be swapped from within the laptop's BIOS). Where this keyboard does excel is typing comfort. The keys have great travel and have just the right balance of crispness and cushioning. There are only two levels of brightness for the keyboard backlight, and it isn't automatic.
In terms of durability, the ThinkPad Extreme X1 feels top-notch. The company has used reinforced carbon fibre and an aluminium alloy frame designed to channel heat as well as maintain structural rigidity. There's very little flex in the middle of the keyboard, and apart from the oddly bendable lid, we have no complaints.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme specifications and software
As with all ThinkPads in India, corporate buyers can customise their hardware when buying units in bulk, and there are limited configurations available in retail starting at Rs. 1,76,999 (including taxes) on Lenovo's official website. The base variant features a Core i5 processor, full-HD screen, and 512GB PCIe SSD. Notably, Lenovo offers this laptop with up to a Core i9 processor in other markets.
Our review unit has a six-core Hyper-Threaded 8th Gen Intel Core i7-8750H processor with a base speed of 2.2GHz and turbo speed of up to 4.1GHz, as well as vPro corporate manageability features and a separate TPM chip. There's an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti GPU with Max-Q optimisation which gives this laptop its potential for gaming and multimedia.
The screen is a 15.6-inch 4K IPS Dolby Vision HDR panel that supports pen input, though a pen isn't included. We also have 16GB of RAM and a 512GB PCIe SSD for storage, and both can be upgraded. Dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11ac and Bluetooth 5 are supported. Lenovo offers this configuration, except with a with 1TB PCIe SSD, for Rs. 3,05,891 (including taxes and offers) on its website.
The ThinkPad X1 Extreme has two USB 3.1 Gen 1 (5Gbps) Type-A ports and two Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps) ports that support DisplayPort output and can fall back to USB 3.1 Gen2 (10GBps) speed. There's an HDMI 2.0 output and 3.5mm combo audio socket, plus the power inlet and a Kensington lock port.
It's nice to see a full-sized SD card slot as well. Then there's a slot for a smart card, which some corporate environments use for security. Stereo speakers on the sides fire downwards and outwards, and this laptop has a 360-degree far-field microphone array.
The only slight inconvenience is that Lenovo has gone with a proprietary external dongle for Ethernet, even though this laptop is thick enough for a standard port to fit. At least you get the dongle with the laptop.
Lenovo promises quick charging up to 80 percent in an hour using the relatively hefty 135W AC power adapter but you can also charge this laptop through the Thunderbolt 3 ports using a USB Type-C Power Delivery charger, a compatible dock, or possibly even a power bank if it can deliver at least 45W.
On the software side you get Windows 10 Pro and a few Lenovo utilities. Vantage is the standard ThinkPad suite with a few simple hardware controls, Windows Update and driver update shortcuts, warranty information, and a hardware health monitoring tool. There are separate Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, Intel Thunderbolt, and Lenovo Pen settings apps.
Glance is an intriguing tool that uses the IR camera to detect eye movement, and can do things like locking the laptop when your eyes aren't looking at the screen for a certain amount of time, and move active windows and the cursor to external displays when you move your head towards them. The red LEDs required for the IR camera to function are a bit distracting, and we can't tell how much of a toll this might take on battery life, but it is at least inventive and potentially useful.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme performance
The first thing we had to do when setting up our ThinkPad X1 Extreme was to reduce the Windows 10 scaling from the default 250 percent to a more manageable 175 percent, which still let us benefit from the big, high-resolution screen. The screen is glossy, which might not work very well in offices with overhead lighting, but we didn't struggle too much with reflections. If you'd prefer a non-glossy screen you'll have to step down to the full-HD non-touch option and the weaker Core i5 processor that Lenovo has matched it with.
Colour vibrancy was generally good in videos and with general usage, but not especially great. HDR works only when the laptop is plugged in and only when content is playing full-screen. We immediately noticed the brightness getting pumped up all the way when playing HDR videos, but Far Cry 5 could not detect the screen as HDR-capable, and we hope this will be fixed with future driver or game updates.
The stereo speakers are unfortunately a bit scratchy and sound is distorted at high volumes. We'd advise a medium volume level, but you might have to pump it up to overpower the noise of this laptop's fans. It took a while to set up the fingerprint sensor, but face recognition was no trouble at all. Both of them worked quickly and without any trouble.
Right off the bat, we found the UI very smooth and responsive. Apps and large files loaded quickly and multitasking wasn't a problem at all. We did however find that the fans inside the chassis were very audible from our natural sitting position, and they seemed to spin up when we were doing relatively minor things. The difference between the fans at idle and at full blast is very noticeable.
We ran several benchmarks and the high-end Core i7 CPU had no trouble with any of them. We got scores of 440 and 2,345 respectively in Cinebench R20's single-core and multi-core tests. PCMark's standard run gave us 4,722 points and the Extended run gave us 4,970. POVRay's render benchmark ran in exactly two minutes and the newer Corona 3D rendering test took 3 minutes, 41 seconds. Blender's official benchmark took 37 minutes to run.
As for graphics, we got 2,373 points in 3DMark's Time Spy test and 3,310 in Fire Strike Extreme. Unigine's Valley benchmark gave us an average of 40.4fps running at 1920x1080 at the Ultra quality preset. We then ran through a few game benchmarks, all at 1920x1080. Rise of the Tomb Raider's built-in benchmark gave us an average of 54.43fps at its High preset, which is quite good. Metro: Last Light delivered a score of 61.44fps using its Medium settings, and Far Cry 5 also did well with an average of 43fps at its High preset. The specifications on offer here match many mainstream or thin gaming laptops, so as these scores show, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme isn't your average business machine.
Battery life was decent, but not especially great. The intensive Battery Eater Pro test ran for 1 hour, 57 minutes which is less than we expected. With average everyday office use, involving some typing, Web surfing and video streaming, we just about got 8 hours' worth of battery life out of one full charge. This will be slightly disappointing if you're a frequent business traveller.
Lenovo has tried combining the best of all worlds with this laptop, and we're sure there are plenty of people who need a relatively portable machine that can be used for heavy creative work with a bit of entertainment on the side. Whether people who match that profile have the budget for a ThinkPad X1 Extreme will be another matter altogether.
The price of Rs. 3,05,891 (for the same configuration with a 1TB SSD) is well out of the reach of most retail buyers. It's possible that Lenovo will offer better prices for bulk orders, but we're not concerned with that. You can get gaming laptops with pretty much the same configuration, minus the 4K HDR screen, for half this price.
The 15-inch Dell XPS 9570 is available with a Core i9-8950HK CPU, 4K non-HDR screen, 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD for Rs. 2,29,852 — but it weighs slightly more at 2kg. This laptop makes even the current 15-inch MacBook Pro seem reasonably priced. Finally, you might also want to consider the fact that Intel's 9th Gen laptop Core CPUs are right around the corner and Nvidia's mid-range GeForce GTX 16-series is still rolling out.
All in all, we love the idea of the ThinkPad X1 Extreme but like most ThinkPads, it doesn't seem like great bang for the buck unless you're really in love with the ThinkPad aesthetic. If you're lucky enough to have your company footing the bill, you'll be quite happy.
For details of the latest launches and news from Samsung, Xiaomi, Realme, OnePlus, Oppo and other companies at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, visit our MWC 2024 hub.