The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano is a thin and light laptop that weighs just about 2 pounds and measures about 0.66 of an inch thick. But despite its compact size, the laptop is a productivity workhorse.
It has a 13 inch, 2160 x 1350 display with a 16:10 aspect ratio and a matte, non-glare finish, support for up to an Intel Core i7-1180G7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage, and a keyboard that largely lives up to the ThinkPad reputation.
Lenovo loaned me a ThinkPad X1 Nano to test for purposes of this review, and while it may not be the fastest laptop available with an 11th-gen Intel Core processor, it bags respectable benchmark scores and provides strong real-world performance for most basic computing tasks. I’ve been using the laptop for the past few weeks and I’ve found that it’s more than up to the task of day-to-day work and leisure activities. Despite being one of the smallest 13 inch laptops around, it also has some of the best speakers I’ve heard on a compact notebook.
It’s also hard to understate just how lightweight this laptop feels. It’s the sort of computer you can place in a backpack and forget that it’s there. You may have to double-check your bag before leaving the house to make sure you haven’t forgotten to pack it. Even the power adapter is small: it doesn’t take up much more space than a phone charger.
But the ThinkPad X1 Nano isn’t necessarily going to be the best choice for everyone. You might need to pack that charger in your bag, because battery life is underwhelming. The laptop has just three ports: a headphone jack and two Thunderbolt 4 port (the good news is those Thunderbolt ports are very versatile). And the ThinkPad X1 Nano is a fairly expensive laptop, with a starting price that’s usually higher than $1,000.
So is it worth the asking price? Let’s find out together.
|Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano|
|As reviewed||Max supported|
|Display||13 inch, 2160 x 1350 non-touch||13 inch, 2160 x 1350 touch|
|CPU||Intel Core i5-1130G7||Intel Core i7-1180G7|
|GPU||Intel Iris Xe (80eu)||Intel Iris Xe (96eu)|
|RAM||16GB LPDDR4x-4267||16GB LPDDR4x-4267|
|Storage||256GB PCe NVMe||1TB PCe NVMe|
|Ports||2 x Thunderbolt 4|
1 x 3.5mm audio
|2 x Thunderbolt 4|
1 x 3.5mm audio
Optional 5G/4G LTE
2 x upward-facing tweeters
2 x downward-facing woofers
2 x upward-facing tweeters
2 x downward-facing woofers
|Camera & mic||720p with infrared|
4 x 360-degree mics
|720p with infrared|
4 x 360-degree mics
|IR camera with Human Presence Detection|
|Battery||48 Wh||48 Wh|
|Charger||65W USB-C||65W USB-C|
|Dimensions||292.8 x 207.7mm x 16.7mm (non-touch)|
11.53″ x 8.18″ x 0.66″ (non-touch)
|292.9 x 207.8 x 17.2mm (touch)|
11.53 x 8.18″ x 0.68″ (touch)
|Weight||1.99 pounds||2.21 pounds (touch & cellular modem)|
|Materials/color||Black||Black w/carbon fiber weave on top cover (touch models only)|
Design, features, & ergonomics
Lenovo’s lightest ThinkPad is smaller than you’d expect a 13 inch notebook to be. By opting for a display with a 16:10 aspect ratio and slim borders on all sides, Lenovo managed to make a notebook that’s narrower than most thin-and-light notebooks with 16:9 screens.
That means there’s also a little less space than usual for the keyboard, and indeed Lenovo describes the ThinkPad X1 Nano has having a “nearly full-sized” keyboard. But it’s close enough to a typical ThinkPad keyboard that typing is a pleasant enough experience.
With a lack magnesium alloy body, the notebook is lightweight, but sturdy. It’s been MIL-STD-810H tested for durability, and while you may notice a little flex if you push down hard on the keyboard or lid, there’s less give than I’m used to seeing on other recent laptops.
The chassis is a bit of a fingerprint magnet, but you can clean away the oils from your fingerprint with a cloth, and the laptop has a no-nonsense, all-black design with just a ThinkPad logo on the lid and palm rest. The dot in the i is red, and on the lid there’s an LED light that makes the dot glow red when the laptop is powered on and blink when it’s in sleep mode.
Weighing less than 2 pounds, the notebook isn’t much heavier than the original iPad (1.6 pounds), and it honestly feels more like a tablet than a laptop when I carry it from room to room in my house.
By comparison, here are the weights and dimensions for some of the smallest 13 inch laptops available from other major PC makers:
- Asus ZenBook 13 UX325 (11.98″ x 7.99″ x 0.55″ and 2.45 pounds)
- Dell XPS 13 (11.64″ x 7.82″ x 0.58″ and 2.64 pounds)
- HP Spectre x360 13 (12.08″ x 7.66″ x 0.67″ and 2.88 pounds)
- Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano (11.53″ x 8.18″ x 0.66″ and 1.99 pounds)
- Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 (12.1″ x 8.8″ x 0.57″ and 2.79 pounds)
Lenovo is hardly the first PC maker to opt for a 16:10 display as a way to squeeze in a few extra vertical pixels. But rather than stopping there, the company also added some additional horizontal pixels. So rather than a 1920 x 1200 pixel display, the ThinkPad X1 Nano has a 2160 x 1350 screen.
That means text and graphics look a little sharper. But it also means that when you first set up the laptop, Windows will suggest you set the display scaling to 150-percent so that everything is large enough to comfortably view. I adjusted the settings to 125-percent in order to fit more content on the screen, but I still found things a little cramped (and going all the way down to 100-percent made me squint, so that wasn’t really an option).
Thanks to the notebook’s matte display, you won’t see much glare when using the laptop in sunlight or when a light bulb or other light source is pointed at the screen. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that there’s no glare or that the display is sunlight readable. But it’s definitely a little easier to use in a sunlit environment than a glossy display.
And since you can push the screen back 180 degrees, you can lie the screen flat against the table if you want to have multiple people stand over the screen at once or if you want to prop it up on your lap for watching videos in bed.
Like most laptops with matte screens, the ThinkPad X1 Nano does not have edge-to-edge glass covering the screen, which means that the display is recessed a little bit from the bezel. The good news is this means that when you close the lid, the screen shouldn’t actually touch the keyboard, which probably serves to protect both. The bad news is that over time it’s possible a little dust could get caught in the place where the bezels meet the display.
Above the screen is a 720p webcam and a Windows Hello-compatible infrared camera that you can use to login to the computer using face recognition. I’ve often found this to be a little faster than using a fingerprint reader, if you’re cool with having your computer scan your face. There’s also a privacy shutter that you can slide to cover the camera when you’re not using it.
For folks that prefer a fingerprint sensor and/or a more secure solution, the Thinkpad X1 Nano also has a fingerprint reader that’s located in the palm rest to the right of the touchpad. It uses match-on-sensor technology with your biometric data stored on the fingerprint sensor chip itself.
The computer also has an array of four microphones with support for 360-degree far-field voice detection, meaning you should be able to make voice or video calls or talk to voice assistant software from across the room.
While we’re on the topic of audio, the ThinkPad X1 Nano not only has four microphones, it also has four speakers – two bottom-facing woofers and two upward-facing tweeters. This is unusual for laptops in general, and even more so for thin and light notebooks. But this laptop makes me wish it were more common.
You’re probably not going to want to replace your HiFi audio system with the laptop’s built-in speakers. But they sound surprisingly good, with deeper bass than I’m used to hearing from portable notebooks. And if you crank the volume up to 100% not only do you get louder sound from this notebook than you’d expect, but there’s very little distortion.
The speakers are Dolby Atmos certified, and the laptop comes with Dolby Access software that lets you switch EQ modes using presets for games, movies, music or voice or by setting your own presets.
That said, audio is still a little on the tinny side compared with what you’d hear with a good set of headphones or even a relatively inexpensive Bluetooth speaker. And the sound is pretty directional – music and videos sound best if you’re sitting right in front of the laptop, but walk a few feet away from the notebook and your music will start to sound like it’s coming from a cheap smartphone speaker.
All told, between the display, speakers, mic, and camera, the ThinkPad X1 Nano makes a decent machine for watching videos, joining web conferences, making voice or video calls, or listening to music while you work (I wouldn’t really recommend it as a standalone device for music aficionados, but I spent a fair amount of time streaming music from Spotify, Deezer, or YouTube while working on the laptop and it was definitely serviceable).
In terms of using it to get work done, I’ll touch on that a bit more in the performance section of this review, which will include benchmark results and notes on real-world usage and battery life.
But before we get to that, let’s take a look at the keyboard and touchpad/TrackPoint system.
The ThinkPad X1 Nano has a chiclet-style keyboard with scissor-style lift mechanism for 1.35mm of key travel, an adjustable backlight, and communication keys for answering, ending, and interacting with conference calls, among other things.
Lenovo calls this keyboard “nearly full-sized,” and for the most part the keys are normal sized, as is the spacing between them. But compared with, say, a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 8, there are a few small differences. The Ctrl, Alt, and Print Screen buttons to the right of the space bar are a little narrow, for example, in order to make room for each of those keys. The good news is the laptop does have all of those keys.
For the most part, typing is a comfortable experience. The arrow keys and Page Up and Down keys are a little small, but it didn’t take me too long to get used to their placement.
I do have a tougher time remembering that the Home and End keys are in the top right section of the keyboard as part of the row of Fn keys, simply because I’m used to having them closer to the arrow keys. But this isn’t unique to the ThinkPad X1 Nano – I have a Dell Vostro 15 notebook that also has Home and End keys in the top row.
Since I’ve been using an HP Spectre x360 13T thin and light laptop for the past few years, here are a few images showing that not only is Lenovo’s laptop 0.8 pounds lighter, but it’s also narrower and has a slightly smaller keyboard and touchpad:
Lenovo also continues to buck a trend when it comes to Fn key and left Ctrl key placement. While just about every other major Windows PC maker puts the Ctrl key in the bottom left corner and a Fn key just to the right of that, Lenovo’s ThinkPad layout is reversed, with the Fn key on the outside. If you’re used to Lenovo laptops, this may not be a problem. If you’re not (and especially if you frequently switch between a ThinkPad and non-ThinkPad computers), it can take some getting used to.
Fortunately Lenovo lets you switch what those keys do in the BIOS/UEFI settings. So you can set the computer to treat the Fn key as Ctrl and the Ctrl key as Fn. Then you just need to get used to not looking at the keyboard and second-guessing yourself before hitting one.
Like the rest of the laptop, the keycaps are black, but they feature white lettering and the keyboard is backlit, with white light that can shine through the labels and around the sides of the keyboard to make typing easier in poorly lit environments.
The backlight has three different settings: off, low, and high. You can toggle between settings by pressing the Fn + Space Bar keys until you hit the option you want. Outdoors or in a brightly lit room, you can barely tell when the lights are on, even at full-blast. But in a dark setting, the backlight can really help.
I have noticed that the ThinkPad X1 Nano doesn’t seem to remember my last-used backlight settings after waking from sleep. The keyboard illumination defaults to off every time, but it’s easy enough to enable even if you cannot easily see the keys since the Fn and Space keys are easy enough to find by fumbling your way across the keyboard. There’s also possibly a setting that I haven’t found, which may help avoid this issue.
The laptop features a touchpad with a glass surface and support for multi-touch gestures. You can easily slide your finger or fingers across the touch surface and tap with one or more fingers to perform various actions. If you prefer to press on the left and right sides to register left and right clicks, you can also push down rather than tapping.
But like most ThinkPads, the X1 Nano also has a TrackPoint system consisting of a little pressure-sensitive nub in the center of the keyboard, left and right keys below the Space Bar (and above the touchpad), and a center button between them.
You can use this system to move a mouse cursor without lifting your hands from the keyboard. Just push the red nub in any direction to move the cursor. The harder you press the faster it moves, making it possible to zip the cursor across the screen without the multiple swipes it can sometimes take with a touchpad or mouse.
Move the cursor while holding the center button and it acts as a scroll wheel. And the left and right buttons are positioned in a way that makes them easy to reach with your thumbs while the rest of your fingers are resting on the center row of alphanumeric keys.
My first laptop was a 90s-era IBM ThinkPad with a grayscale display that I took with me to college. I loved the TrackPoint system back then, but I haven’t spent much time using pointing sticks since then. So there’s a bit of a learning curve, but I can definitely see the appeal and have found myself wondering if long term use might help resolve some wrist and arm pain that I’ve incurred from years of working long days at a computer screen.
For now, I find myself frequently switching between using TrackPoint, touchpad, and Bluetooth mouse when using the ThinkPad X1 Nano, and it’s nice to have all three options – particularly on a notebook that does not have a touchscreen display (there’s optional support for one on this laptop, but the configuration I’ve tested for this review does not have one).
When it comes to ports, the ThinkPad X1 Nano doesn’t have many. But the good news is that the ones it does have a versatile.
On the left side of the laptop, there’s a 3.5mm audio jack and two Thunderbolt 4/USB Type-C ports. That’s it.
You can plug the laptop’s 65W USB-C power adapter into either of those ports to charge the laptop and Lenovo’s claim that you can get an 80-percent charge in about an hour seems pretty accurate.
I also had no problem using a 45W USB-C power adapter for my HP Spectre laptop with the ThinkPad X1 Nano (it charged more slowly, obviously, but it did charge). I was even able to plug in a portable power bank capable of delivering 45W output over USB-C, which could be handy if you want to extend your run time in settings where you may not be able to stop and plug the laptop into a wall jack.
With support for 40 Gbps data transfer speeds, you can also use either USB-C port to connect an external display, storage device, or other peripherals including external graphics card docking stations. But you may need to buy adapters, hubs, or docking stations if you plan to use accessories that don’t connect via USB-C and/or want to connect more than two USB devices at a time (or more than one device while using the other port for charging).
There are no ports at all on the right side of the notebook, just a power button and an exhaust vent.
The ThinkPad X1 Nano has an air intake vent on the bottom and a fan inside the chassis, allowing the notebook to draw air in through the bottom, circulate it over the CPU and blow out hot air through the side.
The fan is audible, but not particularly loud when it’s running. I rarely noticed it at all, but under heavy load it may kick into high gear for a bit in order to keep the system from overheating.
One of the reasons Lenovo was able to make a thin, lightweight, and reasonably quiet laptop was that rather than opt for a 15-28 watt Intel Tiger Lake-U series processor, the company uses a 7-15 watt chip that would probably have been called Tiger Lake-Y if Intel hadn’t shaken things up a bit with its 11th-gen processor lineup.
In terms of real-world performance, I’ve noticed that the laptop’s Intel Core i5-1130G7 processor can actually use up to 40 watts for short bursts of time when the power adapter is plugged in and the Windows performance settings are set to “best.” But for the most part this is an energy-efficient cousin to Intel’s Core i5-1135G7 chip. They’re both 10nm chips with 4 CPU cores, 8 threads, and Intel Iris Xe graphics, but the version Lenovo tapped for this laptop has slightly lower peak CPU and GPU speeds, bus speeds, and memory support.
That said, when it comes to real-world performance, you can barely notice the difference. I had no problem using the ThinkPad X1 Nano as a work laptop for researching and writing articles for Liliputing and doing some light image editing while streaming music and/or watching videos. It handles multitasking with ease, has no problems with video playback, and basically feels like a full-fledged computer rather than a low-power system with a crippled processor.
In terms of benchmark performance, it does score a little lower than a system with a Core i5-1135G7 or Core i7-1165G7 processor in some CPU, graphics, and all-around performance tests including GeekBench, Passmark, and 3DMark. But it actually comes out ahead of some other systems I’ve tested in certain tests including PCMark and Cinebench.
The picture is a little more complex when you compare the ThinkPad X1 Nano with an Acer Swift 3, a sub-$700 thin and light laptop with an AMD Ryzen 7 4700U 8-core/8-thread processor. The Acer laptop tends to score higher in some multi-core CPU performance benchmarks like Cinebench R23 and GeekBench 5. But it trails in graphics and single-core CPU performance.
It’s also interesting to compare the ThinkPad X1 Nano with one of the only other computers with a Core i5-1130G7 chip I’ve tested, the One Netbook One Mix 4 Yoga. That laptop weighs just 1.6 pounds, but it’s an even smaller device with a 10 inch display and a 38.5 Wh battery.
Those constraints lead to lower battery life and, apparently, lower benchmark scores.
The One Mix 4 only lasted for about 6 hours and 20 minutes during a 1080p YouTube video streaming test. Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Nano ran for 8 hours and 10 minutes before the battery ran out with the screen brightness level set to 60%.
Both laptops struggled to deliver more than 4 hours of battery life when I used them for work though, which involves heavy multitasking with dozens of browser tabs open at a time in Google Chrome, light image editing with applications including Irfanview and GIMP, and music streaming in the background (because what’s the point in writing without music?).
That’s an underwhelming result for a laptop where portability is a key selling point. Part of the appeal of a 2 pound laptop is that you can take it anywhere. Some of that appeal goes away if you also need to pack an external battery pack that weighs a pound or two in order to put in a full workday’s worth of usage.
But the YouTube test results are a little more encouraging for folks who may be less demanding on their laptops than me. At the very least, it suggests you should be able to hop on an airplane in New York, watch movies on the laptop as you fly across the country and still have some battery life left when you disembark in Los Angeles.
For what it’s worth, the laptop is an Intel Evo certified device which means that Lenovo managed to convince Intel that the ThinkPad X1 Nano is capable of exceeding 9 hours of battery life in “real world” usage. But from my testing, you’d probably need to stick with some very specific, undemanding tasks to meet that goal.
When it comes to graphics performance, the ThinkPad X1 Nano is clearly not a laptop designed for gaming. But it does offer respectable scores in 3DMark, indicating that it should be capable of handling older and/or less demanding games as well as 4K video playback and some professional tasks involving things like video rendering or transcoding and 3D-accelerated graphics tasks.
One other factor that may play a role in performance is the laptop’s storage. The computer has a PCIe NVMe SSD, but it’s not exactly the fastest one I’ve tested, with a fairly decent CrystalDiskMark sequential read score of 2468 MB/s, but a less impressive sequential write score of 966 MB/s.
Can I upgrade the hardware?
The SSD is user replaceable. The memory is not.
It’s refreshingly easy to open up the laptop and get a peek at its insides. There are only five screws holding the bottom cover in place, and once you loosen them, the bottom panel nearly jumps off the notebook.
You also don’t have to fully remove the screws – they’ll stay in their holes as you lift the cover, making it hard to accidentally lose one.
But once you’re inside, you’ll see that there are limited upgrade options.
The RAM is soldered to the motherboard, the battery could theoretically be replaced, but it’s clearly not designed to be hot swapped. And the SSD is hidden beneath a copper heat shield.
If you lift that heat shield (which was tightly screwed into place in my demo unit, so I decided to leave it on), you can remove and replace the M.2 2242 SSD.
So you may be able to upgrade to a higher capacity or faster storage devices. But you’ll also need to use another machine to clone your drive and/or reinstall Windows or another operating system.
Can you run Linux?
While the ThinkPad X1 Nano ships with Windows 10, it seems to offer a pretty good out-of-the-box experience with Ubuntu 20.04 LTS and will likely play well with other Linux distributions as well.
You can get to the ThinkPad’s BIOS/UEFI settings by pressing F1 during startup, which is how you can adjust a number of system settings (including swapping the behavior of the Ctrl and Fn keys). But if you hit F12 during startup instead, you’ll see a boot device selection screen.
So I was able to load Ubuntu onto a USB flash drive and plug it into one of the laptop’s USB-C ports using a USB-A to USB-C adapter, press F12 at startup and get Ubuntu up and running within seconds.
I did not install the operating system to local storage, so I haven’t teste things like battery life or sleep. But I was able to confirm that the speakers, headphones, WiFi, and camera all worked. So did the touchpad and Lenovo’s TrackPoint system. And keyboard shortcuts for adjusting volume, screen brightness, and keyboard backlight levels all behaved as expected.
Considering that Lenovo offers Ubuntu or Fedora as operating system options for some ThinkPad laptop models, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that this model also seems to be well supported by Ubuntu. But given that it’s one of only a handful of laptops I’ve seen to feature this particular Intel Tiger Lake processor, it’s nice to be able to confirm that Ubuntu at least runs well when booting from a liveUSB.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano is an extraordinarily lightweight laptop that offers good performance, a decent keyboard, and a 16:10 display that has a few more pixels than you typically find in a laptop this small. It also has better speaks than you’d expect from a 2 pound laptop (or even one that weighs twice as much). And it’s a business-class computer with features like dedicated communication keys on the keyboard, biometric security, and optional support for a cellular modem.
Unfortunately the laptop also has a fairly small battery that doesn’t last as long on a full charge as I’d normally want from a thin and light laptop. It has a limited selection of ports. And it has an 11th-gen Intel Core processor that’s a little more energy-efficient than the ones typically used in larger notebooks, but which is also a little less powerful. For many day-to-day tasks it’s hard to tell the difference, but more demanding applications may not run quite as fast.
That’s a little disappointing for a laptop that sells for over $1,000. But if battery life isn’t your top priority, there’s a lot to like about the ThinkPad X1 Nano. It certainly has a bigger screen and keyboard and better performance than the One Mix Yoga 4, which is the only other laptop I’ve used with a Core i5-1130G7 chip (it’s not very commonly used yet), despite selling for a similar price.
Lenovo also offers more configuration options than One Netbook – the ThinkPad X1 Nano is available with up to a Core i7-1180G7 chip, up to 1TB of storage, and optional support for a 4G LTE or 5G modem.
Thank you to Lenovo for lending Liliputing the ThinkPad X1 Nano demo unit we tested for this review. The ThinkPad X1 Nano is available for purchase from Lenovo, with prices starting at around $1,050 as of late June, 2021.