For a 12.5-inch machine, the ThinkPad X240 is an impressive mobile workhorse, but not for its internals. No, this ultrabook's specs are easily outclassed by its competitors. What's more compelling here is the amount of hardware features and connectivity options Lenovo managed to fit into this frame.
With its hot-swappable batteries, SIM card support, Ethernet and multiple display output options, the X240 offers more connectivity than some competing 13 and 14-inch options. However, its touch panel and external batteries make for quite a dense machine, which in turn makes its small size less appealing. With that in mind, it's clear that this business laptop was designed to fill a very specific niche.
Again, the breadth of connectivity and hardware features available on the X240, for its diminutive frame, cannot be overstated. You'll be hard pressed to find many other 12.5-inch laptops that offer as many methods for interacting with other devices. A lack of connectivity has always been counted against smaller laptops, but Lenovo has officially bucked the trend.
The ability to swap batteries on the fly to keep going on those long monthly or even weekly cross-country commutes will prove indisposable for a number of users. But more importantly, the X240's battery life is practically unlimited. At the very least, the only limitation is the amount of batteries you're willing to buy and carry.
Despite its vast amount of external connections and features, this laptop has trouble competing on spec sheets. For what the X240 configuration that I received is worth, you could buy a faster, lighter machine with a sharper, larger screen and more premium build. (Or you could score one with just as many hardware features, more screen real estate and a dedicated GPU.)
The typing experience that the X240 offers is simply not on par with Lenovo's other laptops. I've come to count on Lenovo machines to offer one of the best keyboards around, but this notebook's keys just don't pack the same punch. They felt squishy under my fingers, making me realize how badly I take a snappy keyboard for granted. While writing this review, I had to switch over to my main machine halfway through. That doesn't bode well for a machine designed to last as long as the amount of batteries you have.
A 12.5-inch screen might be fine for most mobile users, but a panel that small better mean a laptop that's feather light. The X240 might be small, but the combination of a touch control and 6-cell external battery brings this laptop to 3.6 pounds. At that point, does it matter how small the frame is when the system is that dense? If you want features like external batteries in a more mobile form factor, this is the price you pay.
For me, that price is too steep when competitors like the MacBook Air offer all-day endurance in a larger, lighter frame. The ThinkPad X240 is inarguably an impressive display of what's possible in mobile computing today. You'll find few, if any, other laptops that offer this many hardware features at 12.5 inches.
But what good are those features if the product struggles to compete elsewhere? For one, the typing experience on a laptop is paramount, because you're ultimately stuck with what you get. In this regard, the X240 fails to live up to Lenovo's legacy, at least with the unit I've been typing on for the past week.
When it comes down to dollars and cents for silicon, this ThinkPad's competitors offer better internals inside larger frames for less, plain and simple. That leaves the X240 with its vast feature set as its only weapon, one that isn't hard to best at 14 or even 13 inches. The ThinkPad X240 is a fine showing of engineering prowess, but is easily outstripped in terms of premium feel and power for that price.