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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga - Review 2021


IT buyers who think the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is the pinnacle of thin-and-light business laptops will have to think again. The new ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga ($1,899) reimagines the classic executive notebook. This svelte looker is the thinnest ThinkPad yet, rising just over 0.4 inch from the corner-office desk. But based on the early look Lenovo gave us, ahead of the ThinkPad X1 Titanium’s debut at CES 2021 (we got a prerelease sample in hand), we found that its redesigned keyboard might keep it from corporate stardom. 


Any Color, as Long as It’s Titanium

Businesses like ThinkPads in part because their rugged black chassis have changed so little over the years. Lately, however, the ThinkPad line’s current owner, Lenovo, has been shaking things up. The X1 Yoga Titanium is the tech giant’s latest effort. The new laptop comes only in a light Titanium color scheme, doing away with the black finishes of the X1 Carbon and other previous ThinkPad flagships. 

It’s a Yoga, which means it has a 360-degree rotating hinge that lets you transform it into an easel, a tent, or a tablet. That’s been standard fare for some ThinkPads for a while; there’s already a ThinkPad X1 Yoga for sale, now in its fifth generation, with a sixth generation announced alongside the Titanium. Apart from being much thinner and lighter (it weighs 2.5 pounds) than the X1 Yoga and the X1 Carbon, the X1 Yoga Titanium’s unique screen sets it apart. It’s a 13.5-inch touch-enabled display with a 450-nit backlight and a 3:2 aspect ratio, which makes it taller and narrower than the 16:9 widescreen orientation on most current ThinkPads. The additional height lets you view more of a text document or web page before you need to scroll, a boon to swamped executives reviewing memos all day long. 

ThinkPad X1 laptop with wood background

The 3:2 aspect ratio is also making a comeback on other ultraportable laptops; we’ve seen a handful of such models introduced over the past year. Before the advent of widescreen video, the 3:2 aspect ratio was more common on laptops. 


Cutting-Edge Enterprise Features

The ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga has many cutting-edge business-friendly features you’d expect from a laptop that costs this much. They include user-friendly innovations like a webcam that includes both IR sensors for face recognition logins via Windows Hello and a reassuring shutter for privacy. These components necessitate a bit of extra space between the top of the screen and the edge of the laptop, which means the interior looks a bit less cutting-edge than, say, the most recent iterations of the Dell XPS 13 (whose pixels practically drip off the sides of the laptop). 

Inside the X1 Titanium Yoga, there are plenty of features that IT staffers will appreciate, including the option for brand-new 11th Generation Core processors with vPro remote management and security features. The unit Lenovo made available to try out has 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD, though buyers will be able to order configurations with double those amounts. The addition of vPro processors is often key to adoption by Fortune 500 companies and other large corporations who deploy and manage large laptop fleets. Intel says the new 11th Generation Core processors with vPro offer 20% better performance overall than the 10th Generation ones they replace.

Side view of ThinkPad X1 Titanium laptop

 

Despite all the business-friendly features the X1 Titanium Yoga does have, there are still a few key ones missing. Chief among the absent is a full-size HDMI port for physical connections to conference-room and lecture-hall A/V systems. (The chassis is far too thin for such a large port.) Instead, the only physical connections the X1 Titanium offers are two USB Type-C ports, a SIM card slot for the optional 5G/LTE modem, and a headphone jack. 

Sure, you can easily order a USB-C-to-HDMI adapter or cable, but that’s one more thing to remember before you embark on your next business trip (which, judging by the still-raging COVID-19 pandemic, might not be for a while). 


Hey, What Happened to the Keyboard?

The most controversial X1 Titanium Yoga features by far are the keyboard and the touchpad. These two traditional means of input are important to ThinkPad users, and Lenovo has radically altered them in this new laptop, starting with the touchpad. It ditches the traditional physical clicking switch, instead opting for a haptic feedback that simulates physical clicks with tiny vibrations. This technology has been around for a few years on Apple laptops, where it works quite well. But based on the brief time I spent with the X1 Titanium, Lenovo’s implementation feels more awkward. It relies on technology from a small company called Sensel, whose design integrates the haptic motor sensors, and all of the other touchpad components, into a single package. This compact design is a key reason why the X1 Titanium could be made so thin.

ThinkPad keyboard in silver color

Sensel, which debuted its next-generation prototype haptic touchpad at CES on Monday, offers a few settings in a standalone app on the X1 Titanium. They include setting the threshold for finger detection and clicking, as well as adjusting the intensity of haptic feedback or disabling it entirely. These are similar to the options that MacBooks offer, but in general I found tapping and haptic clicks to be somewhat less precise on the X1 Titanium. This is based on just a few minutes of use, however, so I may not have passed the requisite learning curve quite yet. The X1 Titanium’s keyboard is equally unusual, and potentially more controversial. It ditches the luxurious keys and travel distance that are endemic to ThinkPads in favor of a shallower, stiffer keyboard. I find this to be an unequivocal negative aspect. The keys are full-size, but they’re simply not as comfortable as the ones on the X1 Yoga or X1 Carbon, or any other ThinkPad laptop I’ve tried. 

The overall feeling is more akin to how typing feels on the XPS 13 or the previous-generation MacBook Pro and MacBook Air equipped with butterfly-style switches. It’s tapping, not typing.

Of course, we’ll have to wait to render our full verdict until we can test the keyboard and the rest of the X1 Titanium further, but it’s clear now that the new keyboard is not a definite step forward in ThinkPad design.

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