Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano Review

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano Review

For information only, updated on the 24th February 2021

It’s useful to be reminded that on the ultraportable end of the market, there is a gap for the premium laptops which are both under 1kg & sub 14”. The X1 Nano handily aims to cover that market (at a premium price). It also overlaps with the target markets of the HP DragonFire, and to a lesser extent, the popular Dell XPS 13 (the latter is far more affordable).
 
Whilst ThinkPad X13 (Gen 1) & the X1 Carbon (8th Gen) have both come pretty close to the under 1kg & sub 14” market - they have had different customers in mind. Moreover, the ThinkPad X13 weighed 1.3kg (over 1kg); whereas the X1 Carbon is indeed premium, but because of its larger 14” display, still weighs in at 1.09kg (the form factor overall might feel a bit hefty for some customers). Some customers previously would have found them to be less entertainment focused (Lenovo hopes to ease this, with the X1 Nano, alongside the 2021 releases).
 
The panadamics have perhaps blurred the distinction, between work, and personal projects. Increasingly, even amongst the business users: the desire for a great user experience: better display & speakers is apparent. They’re above to pay for it, but requires for the laptop to be reliable foremost.

Our review video of the X1 Nano (11 mins):

ThinkPad X1 Nano: a XPS alternative, but from Lenovo?

Dell also appears to lack an obvious under 1kg & sub 14” go-to laptop. However, their well-known XPS 13 seems to be popular enough, for the heavier chassis to be masked. At 1.3kg, the XPS 13 (9310) is not light, but the XPS line-up has continued to raised the bar on what a great 13” laptop should be, in both the build quality, and the consumer friendly focus (think that really narrow bezel, great speakers, touch screen options, solid build, big trackpad).
 
The business audience in this market expects a reliable and manageable platform (Intel Evo is the logo to look out for in 2021, for a certified user experience). The option narrows down to the OEMs with the infrastructure to offer the premium support experience, that being Lenovo, Dell and HP. Working out a target market, and addressing it - is hardly new. A similar example of launching products for a popular segment - would be the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 1 (15.6”), looking to address a remarkably similar market to the Dell XPS 15 line-up in 2018 & HP ZBook Studio line-up. Many users really enjoy their ThinkPad X1 Extreme and P1 these days.
 
The X1 Nano appears to have kept the robust design which the ThinkPad is known for, even at a sub-1kg range. The build quality feels distinctively premium. The appeal of the X1 Nano is that it looks & performs very much like a ThinkPad, at 13” screen size. After testing the laptop, it feels very robust (read: not fragile). Where it really exceels, is in housing the impressive internals (Core i7 11th Gen, upto 16GB RAM, Xe Graphics) in such a light and thin design. It compares impressively well to the top seller 13” models, e.g. the XPS 13.  
Our experience after using it:
 
It would be an obvious comment to say that the X1 Nano is very versatile during use - it really is. Yes, there is less travelling due to COVID for the many - but even then, having something that weighs just 0.9kg, will feel significantly more usable at home, and in the office (vs say a ThinkPad T15 at 1.8kg). Usage wise, you’re probably more likely to have it with you, to work on ideas as you have them. Whereas a ThinkPad T15, might be mostly left on a desk. With a traditional rubberised feel - thankfully, the laptop did not get too cold to handle first thing in the morning (something you’ll notice on the Mac / XPS with their more metallic build).
 
Unlike the metallic Dell XPS or the HP DragonFire line which attracts passerby’s attention, the X1 Nano's lower profile (matte black) exterior blends unassumingly into the background, and disguises the price (makes it less worrying to carry around). It’s as it should; some people will prefer the higher profile design, in which case a lighter coloured X1 Titanium Yoga, with the aluminium lid, might be worth looking at.
 
For the less versed people looking from a medium distance away, it’s hard to distinguish this machine (this might change as the model becomes more popular - but the pricing of the X1 Nano has all but rules out the new models out of the mainstream usage). It’s as if the XPS has put on a work uniform. Should you goto a cafe / or or meetings, it very much feels like work, and it won’t draw as much unwanted attention.
What’s really good:
Finally: a 13” premium (Carbon level) ThinkPad that you could buy. Until now, there has been a degree of trade-off between getting either the ThinkPad X13 and the X1 Carbon:
 
  1. Insanely thin & light, modern design at under 1kg (even with the touch screen option). Less easy to leave fingerprint marks, lid stil will see scratches unless you have a case. Great basics too: wifi 6, WWAN option, a durable case. It doesn’t seem to have any obvious glaring quality flaw for a first generation product.
  2. Decent media experience: Great speakers (better than expected, nearly Carbon X1 level quality), plus a reasonable display: give a sensible balance between resolution & the battery (no far fetched as 4K but 4k drains the battery and is less relevant for some business users; it’s also a middle ground between the normal 16:9 and the more vertical 3:2 visible in the Surface/Mac - it’s helpful but I’ve not found it to be too meaningful a difference).
  3. Better keypad than the M1 based MacBook Pro. If your expectation is for it to be comparable to a Carbon 7 or 8, it is not.
  4. Reasonable battery life: had to charge it more than the M1 MacBook Pro - but that’s in a different weight class; an Air comparison will be comparable. The battery size is that of a ThinkPad X13 - so not massively a departure from the normal expectation. Part of the limitation here is because it’s Windows still - unless you put in a bigger battery, the battery life will be predictable. Whatever you make of that.
  5. It’s still a ThinkPad, for the better. The access to the great hardware support from Lenovo, if ever needed. You’ll know that the software and the firmware will come out for quite a long time to go.
What could be improved:
 
There are surprisingly few meaningful corner short-cuts, namely: fewer ports, and the keypad & the price. A few other small observations:
 
  1. Very high price tag means that it will stay a niche (this generation at least). The price makes it harder to compare to a competitor, it’s more than the XPS 13 (which has lower retail channel pricing) & the M1 Mac has changed the valuation equation. The Core i5 model seems the compelling value version (the question is if you intend to resell, there is about a 10% difference in the price, but the resale value might hold better for the i7). This pressure will ease when the Gen 2 becomes available, and you can see this machine in the refurb/used market.
  2. The keypad is comparable to the XPS 13, but falls short of a Carbon level experience; it would be nice to have deeper travel. The smaller top row of the keypad increases inaccuracies (when you’re trying to adjust the display brightness / volume).
  3. Could do with more ports (has 2x USB-C and an audio jack only)
  4. Low internal upgradability & non-standard M.2 2242 size, means that you’ll pay more for the same storage size (capped at 2TB typically, rather than 4TB on the bigger standard M.2 format).
  5. Some 1st Gen teething imperfections: if you’re working in the dark, you can’t see if the webcam privacy cover is on or off. The rear edge of the lid which pops up the base, may be expected to be scratched over time. Base does get warm in the heavier workload (you can’t really change the laws of physics, unless you’re Apple it seems).

Watch: All our videos on the X1 Nano.

More details:

Limitation on the ports:
 

There are only 2 USB-C (Thunderbolt 4) ports, along with an audio jack. Nothing else, no card reader, no ethernet, not even a lock slot. The path to achieve this minimisation, seems to have imposed some functionality based constraint. As we’ve covered with our previous E14 G2 Review, a USB-C /hub, which can extend a USB-C port into a few ports is readily available online (a good 3rd party hub could be available for between £20-£45, giving you additional USB, ethernet, display out ports, without external power). If you plug in the USB-C charger into the laptop: then that leaves you with 1x USB-C port. So - a hub is pretty much a must.

Keyboard:

 
If you’re coming from a Dell or HP ultrabook - you’ll probably really like the keyboard. It could take a while to adjust to the Nano X1’s keypad, especially if you’re coming from a classic ThinkPad though (perhaps this is a demonstration of just how good the ThinkPad typically was). Some people might dock the laptop into the external keypad setup. I wonder, if you intend to switch to the older ThinkPad across the day frequently, whether this might make your cut (very much a sink or swim experiment). Personally, it took me a weekend to get used to the keyboard, before coming back to the office to the normal thinkPad, then you’re disoriented again.
Display:
 
The non-touch display on our unit, has a generous amount of colour, and contrast. It’s not OLED - but seems more versatile a display to use (OLED has the trade-offs in the higher power usage on lighter colours; needs more colour accuracy management; and the potential has burn-in in the longer run). Lenovo has managed to keep the slightly heavier touch-screen version, under 1kg still (unavailable to order at the time of the review).
 
Moving away from the traditional 16:9 display aspect ratio, Nano’s 16:10 ratio is the new normal (offers slightly more generous vertical real estate, which helps if you're looking at a longer document). This 16:10 aspect ratio is the same as the Apple MacBook - although not quite as vertically focused as the 3:2 ratio, which is frequently featured on Microsoft's Surface line-up.
 
The everyday difference, of the 16:10 - is noticeable at 100 DPI setting. However, it might be less noticeable, once you’ve increased the DPI to either 125 or 150 (to see the font more clearly, it’s a smaller screen after all). A more radical 3:2 ratio, would have made more difference (look at X1 Titanium Yoga, if you’d like 3:2 on a ThinkPad).
Price:
 
There is no denying that this laptop is towards the higher end of the price range. To many, it will be a better value product than the X1 Fold (and offer more compelling performance too). The non-touch version which we’ve reviewed costs about £2,009.99. At the time of writing, the recovery for the global pandemics is well underway - although it might be a while before travelling is mainstream again. A lighter and thinner laptop, could help with productivity even if you don’t travel as much. If you’re considering this, then it’s likely that you’ve thought about the benefits vs the cost (the right tools to do the job could be very powerful).
 
Certainly, with the laptops from the top brands: HP/Dell/Lenovo, if you are open minded about waiting 18-24 month - you’ll be able to find great used / refurb models, for less then. Whereas the older Dell XPS 9300 and the X1 Carbon 6-7th generations, benefits from an active refurb market in many countries, this is not yet true for the X1 Nano Gen 1 (which is the first of its range). There will be a lag, before the refurb models become available, even then, the price difference won’t be too significant for a while (for a while e.g. 6-12 month).
Performance:
Intel Evo guarantees a good level of minimum experience, in terms of the battery and the design. Yes - you can plug in eGPU, but this isn’t for the workstation users. Expect the performance to be in line with a decent 2021 ultraportable laptop (in the single core). The multi-core performance will lag behind the heavier laptops which are using the AMD Ryzen (however, these are rare to see in the ultra-premium range).
 
Upgradeability:
The ThinkPad X1 Nano has the storage as the singular upgradability area. Many of the 2021 ThinkPads have moved onto the smaller M.2 2242 storage format. Whereas the regular M.2 cards seem to have 4TB availability on offer, only upto 512/1TB single sided M.2 currently appears to be available on the X1 Nano’s smaller slot. The M.2 2242 SSD is also more expensive than the normal 2TB M.2 SSD.
 
Surprisingly: the RAM is capped at 16GB, which is on the smaller side. Would have been useful to have seen a 32GB option. Perhaps in the X1 Nano Gen 2.
Cooling:
What’s surprising about the X1 Nano, is how reasonably quiet it seems. It’s not quite eerily quiet as the M1 MacBooks - but seems definitely an improvement. The right edge of the laptop, near the charging port heats up slightly when plugged in, likewise for the vent near the right edge. Overall - the heat seems to be handled reasonably well. See our video to get a sense of the heat distribution.
 
The quad speakers setup:
There is the stereo speakers setup (2W x2 woofers and 1W x2 tweeters). Dolby Atmos app gives some customisation possibilities. It seems to offer a decent output volume. The marketing spec is somewhat similar to the X1 Carbon 7th / 8th Gen - in reality, the X1 Carbon 7 seems to offer a fuller bass, and a slightly wider soundstage (due to a larger chassis). The X1 Nano’s mid frequency / vocal comes across as more natural; its sound signature, as a result, is slightly more natural. However, due to the less present bass - it could also be a bit more fatiguing to listen to. Some parts of the Nano’s higher frequency output seems to crackle more easily than the X1 Carbon (very marginal).
 
Battery and the charging speed:
On a 65W supplied charger, the laptop typically takes around 90-120mins to fully charge. Because it could be charged via USB-C, it’s easier to have a portable USB-C charger, as a back-up.
 
Webcam Quality:
The quality of the webcam appears to be passable, however, it does not have a LED light, so if you’re based in the darker settings, the 720p webcam appears to have more noise.
Competition:
 
In addition to the ThinkPad X1 Nano - the X1 Titanium Yoga is arguably the other standout ThinkPad in 2021, which is the first to introduce the 3:2 onto a recent ThinkPad body - it more directly tries to target the Microsoft Surface Laptop range. The X1 Nano will be seen as the goto premium ultraportable option & will co-exists with the X1 Carbon 9 / X1 Yoga 6th Gen. The increased divergence between the designs of the X1 Nano vs Titanium Yoga might help them each to address their target markets better. X1 Nano focused on the ultra-portable market better, and the Carbon 9 continues the success of the previous X1 Carbon models.
 
In 2020 - despite the success of the AMD Ryzen series line-up, they’ve remained visibly absent from the top tier business ultraportable laptops (e.g. X1 Carbon, HP Spectre, Dell Latitude 94x0 line-up). The major OEMs thus far, have appeared to be less rushed to roll the AMD version out, partially perhaps that because it might unbalance their competing Intel powered offerings & partially because these chassis (e.g. X1 Carbon, Nano) are built in partnership with Intel - and runs on their Intel Evo platforms (to bifurcate away would surely require a different AMD chassis design).
 
Before the November 2020 launch of the Apple Silicone M1 - the ultraportable marketplace would surely have been simpler: think about the HP DragonFly, the XPS, or this as the main options (AMD weren’t in these systems). It’s true that the M1 product & Lenovo’s own X13 (AMD) have complexified the buying decision somewhat of the higher end Intel products. We would expect that many core ThinkPad userset will not be often easily swayed by Apple's offerings, due to a more locked down ecosystem (in terms of being able to run the other OS/apps/Linux as easily); were they more budget conscious - then the X13 (AMD) or X13 (Intel) would have been good alternatives.
In summary:
 
Many popular products offer compellingly more features or new ways to do something, without changing the price side of the consideration. This is a challenging tightrope for the X1 Nano Gen 1 to navigate, partly because the price that it demands is very premium.
 
In the pre-COVID era: had you frequented the airport, being able to shave that 200-400g - over a Carbon or a XPS, it would have been such a relief, e.g. being able to carry more in the baggage (perhaps even a marginal quality of life improvement). The X1 Nano appears to have had less than perfect timing - to launch during the middle of a global pandemic - where physical mobility & travel is limited by external factors. This is compounded by many companies being more lean on the non-essential purchases to preserve the run-away, as the focus on the recovery at the tail-end of 2021.
 
Yes, the X1 Nano tries to go even thinner & lighter than the X1 Carbon (which usually deserves some premium), but some direct comparison won’t be unavoidable. It’s both taking features away (e.g. USB-type-A) and has a much smaller keypad (it feels like it’s taking away from you) - yet for all the bar raising side of the thinner design, it’s hard to not walk away with the impression that a 16:10 aspect ratio, is one of the few tangible benefit (over say an older X1 Carbon 7 / 8). The Lenovo insiders perspective might be that this is a decent new addition, in a popular form factor (to address the XPS 13 market).
Conclusion - ask yourself, do you need it?
 
The standard response for any luxury goods is that you might not necessarily need it (e.g. more affordable alternatives exist / the functional imperative isn’t proportional to the cost), but your desire for it drives the purchase. The ThinkPad X1 Nano might partially fit in this characterisation. If so - you’ll know what to do.
 
Keep in mind that the depreciation on the I.T equipment will not stop or slow down during the pandemic, the worthwhile question to ask, 1) would it be likely to improve my work - sometimes having the right tool makes all the difference. 2) how do I articulate the benefit of the X1 Nano (vs an alternative e.g. XPS). Once you’ve the clear rationale - it’s easier to decide either proceed or wait.

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Note from CruiseTech: the content here is aimed to be facts focused, for information only. We're a small UK based laptop refurb company & are keen for there to be better information (on the more recent products) & hope to compile more of these. If you do decide to buy it new from Lenovo website, we would really appreciate it, if you might consider using our affiliate links.

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Where can I buy the ThinkPad X1 Nano?
 
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