When you pick up a Lenovo ThinkPad X300, you pick up 3 pounds, 6 ounces of excellence. In every way that the MacBook Air is stylish and beautiful, the X300 is built to perform. No usability is sacrificed for visual appeal—inside this unassuming black chassis is a workhorse. It sounds like an oxymoron, but this is one sturdy 3-pound portable.
The ThinkPad held its own in most of our benchmarks and excelled in battery life as well as the Photoshop and Premiere tests. Overall, however, it was bested by Sony’s Vaio, which has double the memory and a 1.3GHz-faster CPU. The ThinkPad is the only rig in our roundup with a solid-state drive, but we didn’t see any huge performance gains as a result. Unlike the Air, which includes SSD as an option, it’s a non-negotiable feature of the X300. We’re not convinced that SSD is ready for mass consumption yet, but there’s something liberating about storing your data on a drive with no moving parts.
When it comes to usability, the X300 really shines. With the SSD drive, we don’t hesitate to pick up a still-running laptop, whether it’s to carry it down the hall for a meeting or to chuck it in our bag to go home. The full-size keyboard makes for the best typing experience in the ultraportable field. It’s not as comfortable as a real desktop keyboard, but it’s darn close. And while we think the touchpad on this notebook is too small, it’s augmented with an oversize pointing nub. If you use the two together, you get a good mix of fine and granular control. Best of all, in our real-world testing, we got nearly five hours of life on a single battery charge and just over three hours with our video playback test.
While the Vaio’s software bundle is at best an annoyance and at worst a liability, the X300’s adds value. Its nerd-friendly software lets you easily tie power profiles to your location, as determined by your network connection. This allows you to set access and battery conservation rules automatically when you change location. We also love the detailed battery diagnostics, which expose everything you’d ever want to know about your laptop’s battery, as well as the extremely fine control Lenovo gives you over every aspect of the X300’s power-management facilities.
A few significant flaws preclude the X300 from earning a Kick Ass award. The LED-backlit screen’s anti-glare coating is eminently practical, and we love the extra pixels the 1440x900 resolution gives us, but the display is a little meh. Colors appeared washed out, and we longed for more brightness. We also wish that the X300 was available with a more cost-effective traditional hard drive. We appreciate SSD as an option, but the small capacity and high price aren’t right for everyone. The X300 also lacks a few key connection options—expansion card slots, a media reader, any digital video outputs. While the integrated EVDO obviates one of the most common expansion card slots, we wish there was at least an ExpressCard/34 slot.