ThinkPad X1 Nano Review: Just Call It the “ThinkPad Air”

Rating: 6/10 ?
  • 1 - Absolute Hot Garbage
  • 2 - Sorta Lukewarm Garbage
  • 3 - Strongly Flawed Design
  • 4 - Some Pros, Lots Of Cons
  • 5 - Acceptably Imperfect
  • 6 - Good Enough to Buy On Sale
  • 7 - Great, But Not Best-In-Class
  • 8 - Fantastic, with Some Footnotes
  • 9 - Shut Up And Take My Money
  • 10 - Absolute Design Nirvana
Price: $1350-2200
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano
Michael Crider

Lenovo’s ThinkPad series of laptops is associated with utilitarian design and focused capability. It’s strange, then, to see a machine like the X1 Nano: a super-light, super-sleek laptop that has more in common with the MacBook Air than any Windows-powered notebook. That contradiction means that it has a limited appeal, but not that it’s a bad machine.

Here's What We Like

  • Amazing light weight
  • Comfy 3:2 screen
  • Full-power processor

And What We Don't

  • High price
  • Middling battery life
  • Tricky power button

With its diminutive dimensions and lack of flexibility, the ThinkPad X1 Nano is designed for the ThinkPad fan who values portability over every single other facet of laptop design. It’s packing high-powered hardware, but a lack of port choices and no touchscreen on all but the most expensive model make it feel dated, even with the latest chips and a comfy 3:2 aspect ratio. It doesn’t help that the legendary ThinkPad keyboard feels merely pretty good in this tiny frame.

The Nano makes a lot of sacrifices for its form factor, and its high price tag and middling battery life make it difficult to recommend to most buyers. But if you long for that button-down sensibility in a laptop that will disappear in your bag, it delivers.

Specs as Reviewed:

  • Display: 13-inch 2160×1350 IPS, 450 nits (non-touch)
  • CPU: Intel Core i7 11th-gen Processor, 2.2Ghz quad-core
  • RAM: 16GB LPDDR4
  • Storage: 512 GB SSD
  • Ports: USB-C Thunderbolt 4 (two), headphone jack
  • Biometrics: Fingerprint reader, IR camera
  • Connectivity: 802.11ax, Bluetooth 5.1
  • Dimensions: 0.71 x 8.6 x 12.7 inches
  • Weight: 1.99 lbs
  • MSRP: $1350-2200 ($1850 as reviewed)

Design

If you asked me to design a ThinkPad that would sell to the average Best Buy shopper, I might come up with something pretty close to the X1 Nano. Its .55-inch thickness and 13-inch screen are rather typical of mass-market premium machines: again, very much like the MacBook Air or the Surface Laptop. Its flat and mostly featureless faces are surprisingly trendy for the line.

ThinkPad X1 Nano closed
Michael Crider

That said, the most shocking thing about the Nano is exactly what it’s supposed to be. On my kitchen scale, it’s 31.9 ounces, a hair shy of two pounds. (That’s almost a pound lighter than the MacBook Air!) Other configurations with a mobile connection and touchscreen are slightly heavier. While not the lightest laptop ever, it’s a remarkable achievement for a full-power machine. Like an iPad or a paperback, I can throw the laptop into my bag for a day trip and need to double-check that I’ve actually done so.

ThinkPad X1 Nano model label, "Carbon Fiber + Magnesium Chassis"
Michael Crider

While the Nano’s tiny weight is remarkable, what surprised me is how little it actually has to sacrifice in order to achieve this. The X1 Nano uses the same carbon fiber and magnesium alloy build as the rest of the high-end X1 line, it comes with access to air-cooled processors up to 11th-gen Core i7 strength, and you can configure it with generous amounts of storage and RAM. You can’t shove a discrete graphics card into its sliver of a body, but that really would be too much to ask.

Battery Life and Charger

Despite using full-power guts, the Nano sips power like its dad is watching during an energy crisis. I was able to keep it going for eight hours on my rather intensive regimen. That’s not world-beating by any standards, but my usual mix of tons of Chrome tabs, Photoshop, and YouTube videos can kill many bigger laptops much faster. That said, it doesn’t compare to the likes of Apple’s new M1-powered machines, and less featherweight Windows machines like the Dell XPS 13 can last a good 20-30% longer.

ThinkPad X1 Nano charger
Having a tiny, featherlight laptop with a big chunky USB-C charger is a missed opportunity. Michael Crider

The Nano comes with a 65-watt charger, but doesn’t actually need it: I was able to recharge the laptop (slowly, but positively) on an 18-watt USB-C charger meant for a tablet. 18 watts isn’t actually enough to charge the thing up while it’s being used, but it’s a testament to how efficient it is on a relatively tiny battery.

It’s too bad the included charger is so chunky! The brick contrasts poorly with the convertible charger option on the XPS 13, or even a cheap equivalent 65-watt GaN charger from Aukey. This is one aspect of Lenovo’s laptop design that I wish would change post-haste. On the upside, you can easily just pick up a smaller, brick-style USB-C PD charger for better portability.

Extras and Ports

The Nano packs in most of the bells and whistles you’d expect from a high-end ThinkPad. There’s an infrared camera for Windows Hello face detection, with some extra “presence detection” built into Lenovo’s software, a manual sliding privacy shutter for peace of mind, a fingerprint reader for good measure, and at least some measure of durability and water resistance. There are surprisingly okay top-firing speakers (a rarity on thin-and-light designs) supplemented by two more bottom-firing drivers, and of course, it wouldn’t be a ThinkPad without the TrackPoint mouse alternative standing proud in the middle of the keyboard.

ThinkPad X1 Nano side ports
Get familiar with these three ports: They’re the only ones you get. Michael Crider

There are sacrifices, though. The Nano has just two USB-C ports and a headphone jack that doubles as mic-in. That’s it: For any other kind of wired connection, you’ll need to supply some kind of adapter or dongle. This is great if you’ve transitioned to a USB-C powered office, including external monitors, and a headache if you haven’t. And while the ThinkPad keyboard layout is familiar, a definite lack of travel distance on the keys moves the experience from “excellent” to merely “pretty good.”

Oh, and there’s one more surprising omission, even on our highly specced review unit: no touchscreen. The cheapest configuration that offers a touchscreen is a whopping $2200 on Lenovo’s site. That’s less of a problem for this non-convertible machine than it might be for other modern laptops, but it’s a definite ding against the design versus something like the Surface Laptop or even the Pixelbook Go.

Using the Laptop

Actually using the Nano as a portable machine is a joy. While I’m not thrilled with the shallow depth of the keyboard, I adjusted quickly, helped by the familiar intelligent layout. I found the Nano to be a monster writing machine: Its 3:2 screen is ideal for banging out documents, and the 2160×1350 resolution keeps text sharp and clear. The matte screen gets much brighter than you’d expect from such a utilitarian laptop, making outdoor work a breeze.

ThinkPad X1 Nano with bag
Michael Crider

There’s some surprising oomph to the laptop, too. While I was saddened to see that the much-lauded Intel Xe integrated graphics still aren’t up to much in terms of actual gameplay (the 8-year-old Skyrim chugged along at 20 frames per second), there wasn’t much standard work I could throw at the Nano that would force it to active its noisy fan.

With the light weight, comfy ergonomics, and great screen, I was happy to stay on the Nano for hours of writing. When I connected it to a huge 34-inch monitor with an HDMI-to-USB-C adapter, it was no less willing to keep going, tearing through dozens of Chrome tabs, Slack conversations, and the odd Photoshop document without breaking a sweat. That’s with the Core i7 and 16GB of RAM, mind you: less generous configurations might huff and puff a little more.

ThinkPad X1 Nano keyboard
The usually fantastic ThinkPad keyboard is merely okay on this super-light design. Michael Crider

There are a couple of points where the laptop is less than fantastic. While Lenovo remains king of the keyboard, even in this diminished form, its trackpads fall noticeably behind those of Microsoft, Google, and Apple. The plastic one on the Nano is okay, but it isn’t as smooth and responsive as you’ll find on other laptops in this price range. I’m also disappointed to see both of the USB-C ports on a single side (the left). For ease of use in travelling, they really should be on both sides, to enable charging in awkward airport lounges and hotel lobbies.

ThinkPad X1 Nano power button
This tiny convertible-style power button is very finicky. Michael Crider

There’s another standout headache in the design: the power button. It’s nestled onto the right side, pretty much the exact spot and shape where you’d expect to find a USB-C port. That’s a design decision often employed in convertible touchscreen laptops, so you can reach it from any screen position, but here it makes no sense. And it doesn’t help that the button is extremely finicky: I often had to press it multiple times in order to power up the machine.

ThinkPad X1 Nano with fingerprints
Fingerprint magnet. Michael Crider

Quibbling about aesthetics on a ThinkPad feels like a cheap shot, but the finish on this laptop is also extremely prone to fingerprints. It’s surprising given the matte black paint, but if you want to impress the board, you might want to bring a microfiber cloth for a wipe down. There’s an option for a “weave” top that shows the carbon fiber body instead of the matte finish, but I can’t speak to how it handles fingerprints.

Value

You always pay for portability in laptops. But Lenovo seems to be cutting particularly deep with the X1 Nano. According to today’s prices on Lenovo.com, our review unit with a Core i7 processor, 512GB of storage, and 16GB of RAM costs a whopping $1848. (That’s including the huge discounts—Lenovo’s MSRP sticker prices are basically meaningless.) A more spare model with a Core i5 and half the storage and memory is still fairly pricey at $1350.

This is a significant premium over competitive laptops: Microsoft will sell you a Surface Laptop 3 with those specs for $250 less, and even Apple’s M1-powered MacBook Air is $400 less with the same RAM and storage. Dell’s XPS 13, a reliable stalwart in this category, is $150 cheaper. Of course, none of those options are as light as the X1 Nano … but many will last considerably longer on a charge, too.

ThinkPad X1 Nano interior
The interior of the laptop is super-easy to access, but only the battery and SSD can be replaced. Michael Crider

Predictably, your upgrade options after purchase are limited. It’s surprisingly easy to get into the guts of the X1 Nano: just loosen five screws on the bottom. But once inside, you’ll find that only a tiny M.2 2422 drive is user-accessible (and I had a hard time getting the cover off, too). It’s great to see that the battery should be replaceable by the user, but you won’t be upgrading the RAM, and the tiny size of the storage bay means your options are limited there, too. Unlike with other ThinkPad models, you can’t save much by cheaping out online and replacing the parts yourself (see: X1 Extreme).

All things considered, $200-400 is a reasonable premium to pay for such a light laptop. But I think very few buyers will be able to justify the extra cost, to their bosses if not to themselves.

Conclusion

I loved using the ThinkPad X1 Nano as a writing machine. Its feather weight and comfy ergonomics make it unbelievably easy to bring along and bust out for a session of work. The ThinkPad keyboard, even in this ultra-thin form, is good, and I dig the 3:2 screen. If I could shove some cheap Chromebook hardware in this body, I’d be in heaven.

ThinkPad X1 Nano from the side
Michael Crider

But the X1 Nano isn’t a Chromebook: It’s a premium ultraportable Windows machine, and a ThinkPad at that. Breaking from its namesake’s tradition, the design that limits its capability with just two ports, battery life that’s only middling (amazing efficiency aside), and its value is well below its competition.

So all that said, you’ll need to desperately want that light weight in order to make the numbers work out for this purchase. Jet-setters with unlimited budgets and limited carry weight are the target market, and I think they’re the only ones who’d be happy with the X1 Nano over a more conventional ThinkPad, or a similar but heavier ultraportable from another brand.

Rating: 6/10
Price: $1350-2200

Here’s What We Like

  • Amazing light weight
  • Comfy 3:2 screen
  • Full-power processor

And What We Don't

  • High price
  • Middling battery life
  • Tricky power button

Michael Crider Michael Crider
Michael Crider has been writing about computers, phones, video games, and general nerdy things on the internet for ten years. He’s never happier than when he’s tinkering with his home-built desktop or soldering a new keyboard. Read Full Bio »

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