Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano review: light it up

The ThinkPad X1 Nano is thin, expensive, and good.
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If you’ve used a ThinkPad before, you probably know 90 percent of what to expect from the ThinkPad X1 Nano. All of the staples are here. It’s got the black carbon fiber chassis, the discrete buttons on top of the touchpad, the mechanical privacy shutter, the ThinkPad logo on the palm rest, and (of course) the red pointer nub in the middle of the keyboard.

But one thing is unique about the X1 Nano: it’s the lightest ThinkPad Lenovo has ever made. Starting at just 1.99 pounds, the Nano isn’t technically the lightest laptop on the market. But it’s still one of the best combinations of portability, build quality, and performance that you can buy.

Lenovo has made a few other useful tweaks as well, though they’re not tweaks you’ll necessarily notice when you’re looking at the machine. There’s not much to overthink here: it’s a smaller, lighter ThinkPad. Lenovo didn’t reinvent the wheel, but the updates it made succeed in keeping the Nano current among its rapidly innovating peers.

The keyboard is “nearly full-sized.”

Here’s what’s new with the Nano, in addition to its lightweight build. It has a 16:10 screen, a feature that a number of this year’s ThinkPads are adopting for the first time. It has a new 11th Gen Intel processor, and it’s certified through Intel’s Evo program (which is the chipmaker’s way of verifying that a laptop includes its latest features like Thunderbolt 4, Wi-Fi 6, instant wake, and fast charging). And there are a few enhanced security features, including a match-on-chip fingerprint reader and a dTPM 2.0 chip, which will mostly be notable for business users.

What looms over that verdict, of course, is the Nano’s price. Technically, it starts at $2,499 and maxes out at $3,719. The good news is that Lenovo’s products are very often heavily discounted, and the current sale prices at the time of publish range from $1,149 to $2,231.

The Nano is highly customizable. It comes with a Core i5-1130G7, a Core i5-1140G7, a Core i7-1160G7, or a Core i7-1180G7, all of which support Intel’s vPro. You can also select 8GB or 16GB of RAM, 256GB through 1TB of SSD storage, and a touchscreen or non-touch screen (both with 2160 x 1350 resolution). There’s even a Linux option. My review model (which runs Windows 10 Pro) is in the middle, with a quad-core Core i7-1160G7, 16GB of memory, 512GB of storage, and the non-touch display. Folks interested in the touchscreen should note that those models are heavier (2.14 pounds) and a bit thicker as well.

You’re paying a premium for the Nano’s weight and the extra business features. A comparable Dell XPS 13 to my test model, for example, is $1,599.99 and 2.64 pounds (over half a pound heavier than this unit).

That said, the Nano’s weight is astounding. I feel like I’m carrying nothing while I’m holding it, even one-handed. I’d easily haul it in my purse or throw it into my backpack and forget that it’s there. For a few comparisons: it’s half a pound lighter than the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9. It’s close to a pound lighter than the ThinkPad X13, as well as the latest MacBook Air. These are already laptops known for their portability, and the Nano is noticeably slimmer.

The laptop achieves this without sacrificing durability, which is often a concern with ultra-light devices. The chassis feels sturdy — there’s just a tiny bit of flex in the keyboard and screen, and I’d be very comfortable jerking it around in a briefcase. Lenovo says the Nano has been “tested against 12 military-grade certification methods,” so there’s also that.

Audio jack and two Thunderbolt 4 (Type-C) on the left side.
Power button on the right. No ports.

I’m also very happy with the 16:10 display, which is about the same height as a typical 14-inch 16:9 screen. In addition to the extra vertical space it provides, it’s sharper than a 1080p display, and it delivers a nice picture.

There’s also a Dolby Atmos speaker system, which includes two upward-firing and two downward-firing woofers. The laptop comes preloaded with Dolby Access, which is one of my favorite audio apps. You can swap between presets for Movies, Music, and other scenarios (as well as custom profiles), and the settings make an audible difference. You can also personalize the four-microphone array for different uses, including conference calls and voice recognition.

My one quip with the chassis is the keyboard. It’s a fine keyboard, and the little red nub is there if you want to use it. But the Fn and Ctrl keys are swapped from the locations where you’ll find them on other laptop keyboards — every time I meant to hit Ctrl, I hit Fn. After a week of use, I have not yet adjusted to this.

Now, I want to be very clear: I know this is the way ThinkPad keyboards have been laid out since the dawn of time. I also know you can swap the two keys in BIOS. Still, if you’re not currently a ThinkPad user, you should note that you’ll either need some time to get used to this keyboard layout or you’ll be using mislabeled keys.

This is what the webcam looks like with the shutter closed.
In case you forgot, this is a ThinkPad.

The port selection is also limited, though that’s not unique among thin devices. You get two USB-C ports and an audio jack, and they’re all on the left side.

Performance-wise, the X1 Nano did an excellent job. It’s not what you’d want to buy for demanding tasks like heavy gaming or video editing, but it kept up with my gaggles of Chrome tabs, spreadsheets, and streaming apps without a stutter. I never heard any noise out of the machine or felt noticeable heat, even when I was running fairly taxing loads.

“Anti-fry circuitry” ensures that USB-C chargers send the correct voltage.

As mentioned earlier, the Nano has a number of new security features that are coming to 2021 ThinkPads across the line. The one I found most useful was the presence-sensing tool, which automatically locks the device when you’re not in front of it and unlocks it when you’re back. ThinkPads aren’t the only business laptops to adopt this technology, but it is convenient and worked well in my testing. You can also turn it off if it creeps you out. Elsewhere, there’s a match-on-sensor fingerprint sensor next to the touchpad (the qualifier means that fingerprint enrollment, pattern storage, and biometric matching all happens directly within the sensor). The sensor also uses AI to distinguish between real and fake fingers, in case that was a concern of yours.

The top of the Nano is a carbon fiber hybrid material, and the bottom is magnesium-aluminum.
Human Presence Detection puts the laptop in a “modern standby state” when you’re AFK.

The one feature that isn’t quite stellar here is the battery life. I averaged 6 hours and 38 minutes between charges with my daily workflow (around a dozen Chrome tabs with office stuff like emailing, Slack, Google Docs and Sheets, occasional Spotify and YouTube streaming, with brightness around 200 nits). That’s fine, and not unexpected since the Nano only has a 48Whr battery, but I often see over seven hours out of machines at this price. It means that if your workload is similar to mine, you may not make it through a full workday on a charge. The 65W charger took 43 minutes to juice the device up to 60 percent.

In the ThinkPad X1 Nano, Lenovo is playing to its strengths. You’re getting a comfortable keyboard and touchpad, a red nub, and a capable processor in a sturdy system that’s built to last. The Nano brings a new factor to the table — a chassis that’s (just) under two pounds. The target audience here is clear: business users who like the traditional ThinkPad look and feel and are willing to pay more for an ultralight machine.

The main compromises you’re making are the battery life and port selection. Neither of these is an absolute disaster for the Nano, but they mean that a chunk of users may find competing business laptops more practical. There are a number of ultraportable business laptops with superb battery life, more useful ports, and comparable weight (such as Asus’ ExpertBook B9450 and HP’s Elite Dragonfly). That said, for users who are attached to the ThinkPad brand and want the lightest of the light, the X1 Nano will deliver.

Comments

Not many ports
Unintuitive keyboard layout
Touchpad is a bit small
Battery life isn’t the best

Even if we are generous and file the battery life as "acceptable", the other "bad stuff" are major issues in my book. Can’t see how this is an 8.5 laptop.

Can’t ding this device for only having 2 ports when the MacBook Air and the 13’ MacBook Pro have the same. Especially since the M1 MBA/MBP can only support a single monitor.

The battery life is clearly result of using the smallest possible battery to get it under 2 lbs. It also helps make it thinner (small battery means less heat). Apple does the same, which is why their batteries only recently got above 1800mAH.

This reviewer consistently gives MacBooks – Air and Pro – 9.0 and 9.5. So the reviewer isn’t going to ding a company that A. uses the same design choices that the reviewer appreciates in Apple devices but B. does so while maintaining their own "Lenovo ThinkPad" design language rather than copying Apple’s.

Small touchpad? Well the touchscreen – which no MacBook has – mitigates that and it is also another result of "thin, light and small as possible". That leaves the keyboard layout as the only real gripe.

Bottom line: if you like MacBooks – and the reviewer does immensely – you have no justification for doing anything other than quibbling over this product. The reviewer is being consistent here and that is a good thing. Especially since the iOS fans who review Android phones and tablets don’t even try to be consistent.

I dont really see how you compare this to the Macbook Air. The Macbook Air is really an entry level consumer laptop and, in case you bring it up, for the most part so is the Macbook Pro 13 base model.
Also comparing these models, the X1 Nano starts at $2,499 (non-discounted) where the Macbook Pro starts at $1299. You’re not really comparing laptops of the same class and price range here.
For $1200 more I would expect the X1 Nano to have some additional functionality and maybe be faster (unfortunately for Lenovo I actually doubt that may be true)…

All of the macbook air/pro are all business level laptops. Thinkpads are always onsale each month, so not sure how one would compare value between no-sale vs fake msrp/constant sale.

Comparing it to the MacBook Air and Pro is pretty easy when you realize the MacBooks are going to spank it performance-wise. They are simply faster in every way because of the Unified Memory Architecture. Only the very fastest AMD processors can approach their performance.

And you are correct that these are the entry-level Macs. Just wait until they bring out the big guns.

No AMD chip can approach M1 performance in the same device size or price. It’s good fun comparing the M1 to powerful desktop chips, but it’s worth noting they are placed in Apple’s entry level laptops.

This reviewer didn’t do the macbook reviews…?

bruh

"The battery life is clearly result of using the smallest possible battery to get it under 2 lbs. It also helps make it thinner (small battery means less heat). Apple does the same, which is why their batteries only recently got above 1800mAH."

Of course, let’s dance around the question. What is the battery life of the Macbooks?

"Small touchpad? Well the touchscreen – which no MacBook has – mitigates that and it is also another result of "thin, light and small as possible". That leaves the keyboard layout as the only real gripe."

BS. Touchscreen on a laptop doesn’t replace a touchpad. Try being productive using File Explorer with the touchscreen. Or try using Events Viewer, editing group policies, working with spreadsheets, etc.

Nice try.

Why does a small number of ports on one laptop have anything to do with a small number of ports on another laptop, especially when the recently reviewed M1 Macbook got dinged in "bad stuff" for the exact same "not enough ports" issue? You seem to be making up something to argue about for the sake of arguing.

How is "but Macbooks" a relevant response to someone bemoaning a lack of ports on this particular laptop — the one that this article is about — while making absolutely no reference at all to Macbooks?

Bottom line: if you like MacBooks – and the reviewer does immensely…

Whaaaaaaa? What on Earth are you basing this on? So far as I can tell she’s never reviewed a Macbook so it seems very weird that you’re assigning her opinions that she may or may not hold. (And wouldn’t matter if she did.)

Lastly, your "bottom line" appears to be a complete non sequitur that has absolutely no basis in either the comment it responds to or the reality of this review.

Does the Thinkpad have two Thunderbolt controllers like the M1 Macs do (one for each por)? If so the two ports are plenty for most people. When traveling you don’t need a lot of ports, when at home, in the office or in the hotel room a tiny Thunderbolt 4 hub will give you all the ports you need. That’s what I’m doing.

I don’t know and don’t care. The point wasn’t to agree or disagree with the number of ports the point was the original comment made absolutely no sense.

I don’t see how "small touchpad" is even a problem. The number one issue I have with newer MacBooks are their ridiculous touchpads. The only thing these huge things achieve is that they make it more likely that I trigger input accidentally. When I actually move the mouse cursor, I use about a square inch of actual space on that thing. Who needs this huge thing? What in the world is this for? If it worked as a digitizer, and Apple shipped a pen, that would be one thing, but it doesn’t. It’s just a huge chunk of accidental input waiting to happen.

Make the dang touchpads small again, or actually do something useful with them.

The keyboard layout is actually not a real con—all Thinkpad laptops are like this, and is fine for those who use that brand of laptops.

Only real con is the battery life. The port selection is good enough for high flying execs.

It’s also a very strange wording to the complaint. Nothing about the function key being on the left is "unintuitive". It’s just different from the other laptops they use. That has nothing to do with intuition, but simply expectations. It would be unintuitive if you had never used a keyboard before and came into this one to find the function key’s location odd (ignoring the unintuitive nature of the function key to begin with that is shared across all keyboards).

In fact, I wish all laptops had the Fn key to the left of the Ctrl key. It’s a more comfortable position for the Ctrl key, which I personally use much more often than the Fn key (and also matches the position of the keys on a Mac, for what it’s worth).

Yea, the battery life isn’t great, but I guess that’s how they got it down to this size.

is fine for those who use that brand of laptops

And it’s exactly this that’s holding Thinkpads down. The tiny trackpad to accomodate the little nub that stopped being useful as soon as they figured out how to make trackpads work, the weird keyboard layout (and that’s coming from someone that switches between UK and US layouts daily) and all the other weird holdovers from 20 years ago.

Thinkpads appeal almost entirely to people that have been using them for years, while the rest of the market looks elsewhere and it’s a shame because there are lots of good aspects – especially the keyboard (fn key aside) – that most of us will never experience.

"But the Fn and Ctrl keys are swapped from the locations where you’ll find them on other laptop keyboards "

I have a ThinkPad for work and a Lenovo laptop for personal use and going back and forth infuriates me for just this reason

sigh you know you can change this in the Bios. Its not really a big deal breaker

Unfortunately the laptop I have doesn’t have that option in the bios, not does it have the Lenovo keyboard manager

It’s about the first thing I tried to do when I got it

Can we all agree that having a Thunderbolt/USB C port on both sides of the laptop should be a requirement to better suit desk setups and wall outlets, and knock points off to products that stick them all on the same side?

No. I’ve had laptops both ways and I much prefer having the ports on one side.

So a weird keyboard (the Thinkpads in my office have this and it’s awful), terrible port selection, the usual tiny trackpad because they insist on keeping the stupid little nub thing (yeah I’m sure you love it, but it existed because trackpads back in the day were awful and we’ve since moved on) and that battery life is inexcusable!
Heck my Asus G14 – a full fledged gaming laptop with an 8 core CPU and RTX 2060 – gets double the battery life, while still being portable, quiet and light (enough). This is really not great…

Much as I love and respect the G14 – and lust after the new G15 – these are simply not comparable machines. One is all business, for exec blowhards to boast amongst themselves when they take them out of their leather bags and plonk them on the shiny boardroom table. The other is a gaming beast.

Oh for sure, different machines for different jobs and all that, just surprising that the much more power hungry machine can be that much better on battery life. I’m sure the battery is physically slightly larger, but it’s also feeding a processor that’s much more powerful.

But you’re right, this thing is for ‘corporate’ types to whip out and amaze their fellow douches business people with how thin it is and how amazing the carbon fibre is and look how flat the magnesium chassis is! Perfect for doing lines spreadsheets…

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