Lenovo has successfully shrunk its standard business notebook down to what was once known as the sub-notebook category, and is now a more commonplace size as laptops benefit from the push toward miniaturisation. Its Broadwell-generation Core i5 processor maintains performance for office duties and helps preserve usable runtime of almost 7 hours from its minimal 24Wh battery. Ergonomics are good thanks to the familiar dished-key keyboard and an option for IPS display. It may fall short of competitors like the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display in terms of screen quality, price, longevity and sheer performance, but for business users that demand a trackpoint interface, smart card slot or TPM module, the ThinkPad X250 has all the right business credentials.
Most modern laptops are built around either 13- or 15in screens, with a few outliers at 17in. Then there are the ultra-ultraportables with 11in displays, but Lenovo’s ThinkPad X250 sits just between these and the 13.3in ultrabooks with its 12.5in widescreen display. See also: 20 best laptops you can buy right now
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The Lenovo X250 is a classic IBM ThinkPad form of business notebook computer, just scaled down to diminutive dimensions to create a carry-anywhere professional laptop.
It follows the trend started by the X220 in 2011, then sporting the latest Sandy Bridge generation of Intel Core i5 dual-core processor. Now in 2015 we have the X250, based on the same layout but bristling with a new Broadwell (5th generation) Intel chip.
Lenovo ThinkPad X250 review: Design and build
This is a lightweight laptop weighing just over 1.4 kg, and 21 mm thick, making it a good travel companion. It’s a traditional design in a matt charcoal finish across its plastic chassis, with square edges and corners rather any attempt at curves and streamlining.
For operating system, our sample came with Windows 7 Professional pre-installed, along with many Lenovo utilities that populate the taskbar, such as Wi-Fi manager and batter indicator. These jumbo icons are in addition to the usual Microsoft icons, making for a crowded bottom dock area.
The laptop is eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 10 Pro, should you want it.
Opening the lid reveals the much-lauded Lenovo keyboard comprising chunky shaped keys with deep travel. For many long-term Lenovo users, this remains an important feature that helps differentiate the line from so many me-too competitors. This includes a white backlight to aid low-light user although as with many other laptops we test, there is significant light bleed from around the key edges, particularly evident from the F-key line at the back of the keyboard.
Another trademark feature is the rubbery red trackpoint mouse steerer in the centre of the keyboard, and accompanying three-button array just below the space bar to enable you to type, steer and click while keeping your fingers on the keyboard at all times. These buttons are true mechanical clickers, while the more familiar trackpad below these is one of the new buttonless designs, hinged at the back and able to receive left and right clicks from the respective front corners. The multi-touch trackpad component is less precise than we prefer.
There are various options available for the display, from low-res TN with 1366×768 pixels on the entry-level model, through to 1920 x 1080 and TN, or a touchscreen edition with IPS technology. Our sample was fitted a 1366×768 IPS panel, and while we may rail against this resolution on 15in laptops, here the smaller 12.5in screen size means a decent pixel density of 125ppi, so screen graphics look relatively smooth.
Processor options run from Intel Core i3-5010U up to Core i7-5600U, with our test sample using a 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-5300U, including Turbo to 2.9GHz and Hyper Threading Technology.
Storage technology is limited to SATA Revision 3.0 only, and you can choose between a basic 500GB 5400rpm hard disk, up to 512GB SSD. For memory the ThinkPad X250 has either 4GB or 8GB and this is removable but the limit seems to be 8GB even if you find your own 16GB SO-DIMM module.
Ports and connectors are necessarily limited by scale but with more than many ultrabooks. We have two USB 3.0, Mini DisplayPort and VGA for external displays, SD card slot and a gigabit ethernet port – no need to carry dongles or adaptors for wired network connections.
There’s also a tray to accept a Micro-SIM card, enabling cellular data access over 4G LTE. And for professional applications that require a smart card for authorised access, there’s a slot on the left side.
On the underside lies a miniaturised docking port, for use with Lenovo’s proprietary desktop docking stations. Unusual now for a notebook of this size, the battery is removable after sliding two catches, a tiny 24 Wh lithium-ion pack that’s less than half the capacity of a 13in MacBook Air, for example. Larger 48- and 72Wh batteries are also listed.
Overall build quality is good and while we’ve seen long-running laptops with the same matt finish become shiny on wear points with extended use, it looks like a portable that will survive daily use.
Lenovo ThinkPad X250 review: Performance
The line up of dual-core Broadwell processor, 8GB of memory and 256GB SSD makes a spritely notebook quick enough for many business applications.
The PCMark 8 rated this ThinkPad X250 with 2511 points in the Home Conventional test, rising to 2973 with the benefit of OpenCL acceleration in the graphics processor. In the Work test unit is scored 3142 points which rose significantly to 4336 points with graphics acceleration.
Geekbench 3 returned good scores in line with the chipset, 2771 points single-core and 5632 points multi-core. Cinebench 15 awarded the ThinkPad 269 points, or 115 points for a single processor core. The OpenGL graphics test here averaged 25 fps with the benefit of the relatively capable Intel HD Graphics 5500.
We also ran a few gaming benchmarks to get an idea of its graphics prowess. It could average 26 frames per second (fps) playing Batman: Arkham City at native screen resolution and Medium detail, or around 29fps by dropping resolution to 1280×720 pixels with Low detail.
Tomb Raider (2013) ran a little smoother, at low settings anyway, averaging 38fps at the latter resolution with Low detail.
We found the display to be of high quality, easily viewable from any angle thanks to the IPS technology, and since the screen lid can be folded right back this could prove even more beneficial when several people are clustered around to view the screen.
Display brightness was found to be controlled by the budget system of pulse-width modulation (PWM), which quickly switches the LED backlight on and off in order to dim from full brightness. Lenovo appears to be using a high-frequency rate here which is likely to be less perceptible and fatiguing than that used in other laptops.
In our test the panel had a good contrast ratio, if a little lower than usual for IPS, at around 550:1. Colour accuracy was satisfactory for this 6-bit panel, with an average Delta E of 1.94. Colour gamut was rather limited though at 70 percent coverage of sRGB and 52 percent Adobe RGB. The matt anti-glare finish makes viewing a relaxed experience, with little evidence of grain or sparkle that the coating can sometimes introduce.
Our sample had a Toshiba SATA solid-state drive which performed right on spec, showing sequential reads at around 505MB/s and reads at 456MB/s. The input/output operations per second result for 4kB random reads was in the premium range at 97,000 IOPS.
Despite the tiny battery the ThinkPad X250 with its new Broadwell processor proved reasonably long-lived, lasting for nearly 7 hours (6hr 50min) in our standard video rundown test.
We did notice some glitches and long pauses in video playback though, which might be a symptom of the restrictive energy-saving cutbacks introduced by Lenovo’s custom Energy Saver power plan.
This is the default setup for this model, and to restore better performance it may be necessary to switch this power plan to Window’s own Balanced, for example, with a potential reduction in battery life.
Lenovo ThinkPad X250: Specs
- 12.5-inch (1366 x 768) 125 ppi AH-IPS matt anti-glare (LG LP125WH2-SPT1) display
- 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-5300U (2.9GHz Turbo) 2C,4T
- Intel HD Graphics 5500
- 8GB (1x 8GB) 1600MHz DDR3 RAM
- 256GB SATA Revision 3.0 SSD (Toshiba THNSFJ256GCSU)
- gigabit ethernet
- 802.11ac 2×2 (Intel Wireless-AC 7265)
- Bluetooth 4.0
- Sierra Wireless EM7345 4G LTE
- 2x USB 3.0
- Mini DisplayPort, VGA D-Sub
- fingerprint reader
- SD card, smart card reader
- stereo speakers
- 0.9 Mp webcam
- dual array mics
- 3.5 mm headset jack
- UK tiled, backlight keyboard with TrackPoint steerer
- buttonless multi-touch trackpad, 87 x 54 mm
- 24 Wh lithium-ion battery, removable
- 45W mains charger with USB-style connector
- 305 x 208 x 21.0 mm