x250 on a desk
battery hump side profile

I have owned a lot of laptops over the past several years. My first laptop was a Dell Inspiron Mini 10, which I loved and just recently restored. Since that laptop I have had a few Macbooks of various sizes and generations, two Thinkpads, and a System76 Galago UltraPro. I knew I definitely preferred the laptop workflow, as opposed to a desktop, but I just never found one that I truly loved -- the laptop that was "just right."

I bought in a clearance sale from a local retailer a base-model Thinkpad T530, quickly thereafter upgrading to an SSD and 12GB RAM with some parts I cannibalized from other machines. My primary laptop at the time was a 13" Retina Macbook Pro, and I wanted a second PC laptop to have as a "play computer" for Linux. The 13" rMBP was what I considered the perfect size for a laptop; the 13" screen was just big enough to be productive, and the slim profile meant it was easy to slip in a sleeve and carry around downtown without issue.

However, I found myself gravitating back to the clearly inferior T530, despite Linux on the Desktop being generally unpleasant and the hardware being incredibly plasticky and heavy. OS X had just become so unusable for me that I couldn't be productive. I fully returned to Linux on the Desktop, and eventually sold my Macbook.

But the quest for a perfect laptop continued. I enjoyed everything about using a Thinkpad again -- the upgradability, the hardware features like ethernet and a smartcard slot, and of course the nipp--err--"TrackPoint®". My only complaint now was that it was huge. Nearing six pounds, and too large to carry comfortably in a sleeve, it was just simply too big.

After a misguided purchase of a System76 Galago UltraPro (one of the worst pieces of hardware I have ever owned; a story for another day), I saw a couple friends jump on the X250 when it launched. After a couple weeks of indecision, I caved and ordered one for myself. And thus begins the review.


I have used this machine as my primary computer for approximately five months. What has really surprised me is how few complaints I have about it. Usually after a couple weeks the honeymoon effect disipates and I begin noticing things that bug me. With every Macbook I owned that would inveitably be OS X's shortcomings as an operating system, and with every PC laptop eventually it would be because of the dreadful hardware.

But not this time.

Screen

Linux on the Desktop can be annoying when it comes to high-DPI resolutions. While 1920x1080 sounds like a great idea, it just is too small, for me at least, to run at 100% at 12.5". I went for the 1366x768 option, and I am glad I did. I find the DPI of the screen to be perfect for this physical size. The backlight is nice and even, and is plenty bright with some users reporting upwards of 392 nits.

I don't do a lot of colour-sensitive work or design, but I find the colours to be about as good as my calibrated Asus ProArt PA248Q, which is the best monitor I have to compare against. Jellybeans looks great, at any rate.

Keyboard

Although this isn't the glorious old-style IBM Thinkpad Keyboard, it is still an incredibly comfortable keyboard to type on. Since I type for the majority of every single day, a good keyboard is really one of the most important parts of a laptop. The X250's does not disappoint in the slightest. The key travel is perfect and the key spacing is spot-on.

The Insert key is shared with End via the function layer, as opposed to being a dedicated key. While this is a minor inconvenience for us who use Shift + Insert to paste, I got used to it almost immediately and now it feels perfectly natural.

Pointing

In the previous *40 series of Thinkpads, Lenovo did away with the dedicated TrackPoint click buttons, and made the trackpad itself become one giant mushy, wobbly button. I tried it in stores and on a friend's laptop and it was just awful. I was glad to see that for the *50-series they brought back a crisp trackpad and the deciated TrackPoint keys, returning the Thinkpads to the top of the pointing master race.

Since my first Thinkpad I have been a fan of the TrackPoint navigation device, and its glory lives on still.

The decently-sized trackpad is also very pleasant to use. I would say it's nearly comparable to a Macbook's. I haven't noticed any jumpiness or errors while using it, and it supports multi-finger gestures and smooth scrolling. While it is still clearly inferior to the TrackPoint, it is decent enough that I would feel completely comfortable using it in the absence of a TrackPoint.

Battery

nearly twenty hours of battery

One of my biggest reservations with switching back to a PC laptop was battery life. With my Macbook, I was able to go for an entire workday without worrying about where my charger was. My T530 got a reasonable four or five hours, but that is still far behind the 12 to 14 hours I could pull out of my Macbook Pro. This is one of the key things that drew me to the X250 to begin with: Lenovo advertises a twenty-hour battery life.

For an extra $5, you can bump up to the six-cell, 72 watt-hour battery (the "hump" battery). This, when paired with the internal 3-cell, 23 watt-hour battery, has given me between 15 - 20 hours depending on various factors and workloads. I would say the twenty hour estimate that Lenovo gives is definitely on the high-side, but also completely attainable with some frugal radio usage and brightness settings.

I fear that whatever laptop I move to after this one will be unable to live up to the precendent set by the X250.

The Performance

I have the mid-range configuration, with a 128GB SSD, i5-5300U, and 8GB RAM. I find the i5 to be a bit slow, but it has been a long time since I last used an ultrabook-class CPU (the one good thing about the System76 Galago was the i7-4750HQ). I use the word "slow" begrudgingly, as this machine acts a desktop-replacement for me and handles nearly everything without issue. It's only when I really start hammering the system with a few VMs, Chrome, high-resolution video, etc. that it starts to lug a bit. Keeping in mind it's a laptop, my expectations for performance have been met.

The graphics horsepower is pretty useless for anything more than basic desktop composition. It's definitely powerful enough to drive a couple external displays (I've even successfully used an external 60Hz 4K display), run a fancy desktop environment, and stream high-resolution video. However even light gaming is barely passable. This is a fantastic productivity workstation, but definitely not a video or gaming machine.

Connectivity

One of the other classic Thinkpad advantages is the plethora of connections available. No single USB-C for this guy.

Gigabit ethernet on-board was a huge feature, coming from a retina Macbook Pro. I find using WiFi to usually be a disappointing or frustrating experience, so being able to get decent LAN speeds and reliable latency is nice. Ethernet isn't going anywhere any time soon.

One thing that surprised me was the VGA port. For starters, it is not actually VGA, but rather DisplayPort disguised as VGA. This means that, with a decent VGA cable, the picture is perfectly clear and totally useable. The VGA port is what allows me to use this machine as a desktop-replacement, as I can now have two external monitors connected when I have the machine on my desk at home.

The rest is fairly standard; I didn't go for a smartcard reader in mine, but now I kind of wish I did. There is also an option to include a LTE modem, which I also did not go for but wish I did.

Weight

This machine is not considerably lighter than other 12.5" laptops -- Lenovo states 2.88lbs for the base model, so add an extended battery to that and you're looking at around 3.3lbs. To put that in perspective, the Retina Macbook Pro is ~3.4lbs (but is a slightly larger machine, and is made of metal and glass).

3.3lbs is not too bad. I carry this around with me almost everywhere I go and never do I feel fatigued by it or notice its weight. After packing around a close-to-six pound machine for a while, I'll gladly take 3.3.


It has taken me several years and a lot of buying and selling, but I think I have finally found the laptop that does everything I need it to while staying wonderfully small and portable. The X250, for me, is the perfect balance. The battery life lifts a huge burden -- I can slip the machine into a sleeve and be out and about all day without even thinking about how much battery I have left. The performance is adequate to the point where I believe that this machine will stay fast enough for at least another couple years to be useful. The servicability means I can swap out a larger SSD or one of the rumoured 16GB DDR3 SODIMMs that have been floating around in the future…

The X250 is one of the best laptops I have ever used, and I highly recommend it to writers, programmers, sysadmins, or anyone who has a business or text-driven workflow. I'll be clutching onto mine for hopefully years to come -- I haven't been able to say that about any other laptop I have owned.