Earlier this year, Lenovo announced their first iteration of the ThinkPad X1 Nano, an ultra-lightweight laptop with a 16:10 screen, modern specs, and the uncompromised Thinkpad build quality and ergonomics. As a past Thinkpad aficionado myself, I’ve been looking to spend some time with this one ever since.
It took me a while to convince Lenovo to send one our way for a review, but here we are now, with a mature product in terms of hardware and software, pretty much the one you can get in stores in this second part of 2021 and onwards.
I must say it’s refreshing to get back to a proper ultrabook after testing mostly gaming and performance laptops these past few months. Especially one that’s as portable and lightweight as this X1 Nano, which weighs less than a kilo and is an absolute joy to bring along when traveling or commuting. I also appreciated the taller 16:10 matte screen, the matte black ThinkPad looks, and the nice inputs, paired with the snappy everyday performance, cool and quiet runtimes, and fair battery life.
At the same time, though, this X1 Nano is not the most powerful or even the longest-lasting ultrabook out there, relies solely on USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports for IO, and it’s an expensive product; nonetheless, if you can spend 1200-2000 USD (or your local money equivalent) on an ultraportable laptop, there are many reasons why I think this must be on your list.
Specs as reviewed – Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano
||Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano
||13 inch, 2160 x 1350 px, IPS, matte, non-touch, LEN4076 panel
touch variant also available
||Intel Tiger Lake Core i7-1160G7, 4C/8T
||Intel Iris Xe, 96 EUs
||16 GB LPDDR4x-4266 MHz (soldered)
||512 GB M.2 PCIe x4 SSD (WD PC SN530) – M.2 2242 slot
||Wireless 6 (Intel AX201), Bluetooth 5.1, optional Cat9 LTE
||2x USB-C with Thunderbolt 4, audio jack
||48 Wh, 65W charger
||293 mm or 11.53” (w) x 208 mm or 8.19” (d) x 16 mm or 0.63” (h)
||2.1 lbs (.94 kg)+ .7 lbs (.32 kg) charger and cables, EU version
||white backlit keyboard, HD IR camera, finger-sensor, up-firing stereo speakers
Design and construction
This X1 Nano looks and feels just as you’d expect from a modern ThinkPad. It’s completely matte black, with very few branding elements that are also muted, aside from the red “i” in the ThinkPad branding on the lid and arm-rest.
It’s also made out of rubberized smooth materials that feel excellent to the touch. The whole chassis doesn’t bend or creak, which is rather surprising given how lightweight this notebook is, at .94 kilos for our configuration. Very few of the other ultra-light laptops that I’ve tested in the past felt as nicely as this one.
Now, I hope the rubberized coating will age well; Lenovo have had issues with the finishing chipping around the ports and denting on the edges in the past, but I know they have mostly addressed it in recent years. There is, however, one downside of this sort of construction that you’ll just have to accept: everything smudges easily, and you’ll constantly have to wipe this clean to keep it in pristine shape.
The X1 Nano is not just lightweight; it’s also fairly compact, although not ultra-compact, as you can tell from the fact that there’s some extra space above the keyboard and fair bezels at the top and under the panel, even if that’s a 16:10 ratio, so taller than the regular 16:9 screens available on most other laptops. I sure don’t mind this slightly taller format, though. The extra space allowed room to implement cameras at the top of the screen, up-firing speakers at the top of the keyboard, and a fair-sized arm-rest that allows most potential buyers to comfortably use this on the lap.
As far as practicality goes, all the edges and corners are nicely blunted and friendly on the wrists here, the screen can be easily picked up and adjusted with a single hand and goes all the way back flat to 180-degrees, and the small rubber feet on the bottom ensure fair grip on a flat desk. Lenovo also made sure no pesky status LEDs or other lights are in the way when using this at night. There is a small status light in the power button, but pushed onto the left edge, out of the line of sight.
Speaking of, let’s touch on the IO, which is perhaps the most controversial part of this ThinkPad. The X1 Nano only offers two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4 support, both placed on the left edge, as well as an audio jack, also on the left. There’s nothing else, so you’ll have to rely on adapters for connecting peripherals.
That’s mostly because the right edge is reserved for the thermal module’s radiator and air output. I do like that the system doesn’t blow the hot air into the screen, as most of the other modern ultrabooks do, but I’m also not entirely convinced of a portless ThinkPad.
All in all, this ThinkPad X1 Nano is definitely one of my favorite ultrabooks of all time in terms of how it looks and feels with everyday use. The lightweight design is its major selling point, alongside the sturdy build quality and almost uncompromised ergonomics. Still, you’ll also have to accept the miniaturized Thunderbolt-only IO, which is kind of an abomination on a ThinkPad. What do you think?
Keyboard and trackpad
I’ve never been a big advocate of the keyboards that Lenovo put on their recent years ThinkPads. Still, I actually got along better than I was expecting with this implementation in the X1 Nano.
It’s the shallower type with limited stroke-depth (only 1.35 mm), as expected on a thin ultrabook such as this one, but I found the feedback and precise key response to be down my alley, especially after a couple of hours of getting accustomed to it. I haven’t tested that many of the 2021 ultrabooks lately, but based on my experience with the previous years’ top-ultrabooks, I think this is a fair typer as long as you’re accustomed to this kind of shallower keyboard.
The keyboard layout is mostly standard for a ThinkPad, with full-size and bottom-rounded keys and a smaller set of keys on the Function row and around the arrows.
Those of you with larger hands might struggle with these, but if that’s the case, perhaps a 13-inch laptop is not for you in the first place. For what is worth, both the main keys and the functions keys are smaller on this unit than on the 14-inch ThinkPad models, such as the X1 Carbon (15×15 mm for the main keys, vs. 16×16 mm on the Carbon, and 8×13 mm for the upper keys, vs. 10×13 mm on the Carbon). The stroke is also shallower here than on the X1 Carbon (1.5 mm on the 2021 model and 1.8 mm in the past).
The keys are backlit with white LEDs and two levels of brightness intensity to choose from, and there’s a physical indicator in the Caps Lock key. The only thing I’ll complain of is that I couldn’t find a way to set a time-off period for the backlight and had to manually disable it when needed by hitting the Fn + Space key.
The clickpad is rather small but fully maximizes the space on the arm-rest, and its’ glass and very nice to the touch. It worked well with taps, gestures, swipes, you name it, and integrates some excellent physical clicks.
On top of that, the Trackpoint red nipple is not missing from this ThinkPad, nor are the associated click buttons at the top of the clickpad.
Finally, you get both IR cameras and a finger-sensor on this laptop, so there is nothing to complain about in terms of biometrics.
Lenovo put a 13-inch 16:10 panel on this X1 Nano series, available in either a matte non-touch variant or a touch alternative with an anti-glare coating. Both use the same IPS panel. We got the matte option on our unit, as the latter is an upgrade and only available in a handful of regions.
This Lenovo-branded panel here is excellent for everyday use, with 450+ nits of brightness, dark blacks, and excellent contrast levels. The colors are only fair-quality, though, at 100% sRGB and ~70% DCI-P3, and we also noticed some color imbalances on the left side of the panel, but that shouldn’t matter much in your buying decisions, as I wouldn’t expect you to use this sort of a laptop for color-accurate work anyway.
Here’s what we got in our tests, with an X-Rite i1 Display Pro sensor:
- Panel HardwareID: Lenovo LEN4076 (MND007ZA1-2);
- Coverage:99.5% sRGB, 70.6% AdobeRGB, 73.1% DCI-P3;
- Measured gamma: 2.19;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 455.90 cd/m2 on power;
- Min brightness in the middle of the screen: 22.57 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 1662:1;
- White point: 6400 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.27 cd/m2;
- PWM: No.
The panel came well calibrated out of the box, and we noticed little to no light bleeding around the edges on this sample.
Hardware and performance
Our test model is a top-specced configuration of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano, with an Intel Core i7-1160G7 processor, 16 GB of LPDDR4x-4266 RAM, 512 GB of fast NVMe storage, and the Iris Xe graphics embedded into the Intel CPU.
Before we proceed, keep in mind that our review unit is a retail model running on the software available as of mid-July 2021 (BIOS N2TET64W 1.42, Lenovo Vantage 184.108.40.206). Because we’re reviewing this later, we’re dealing with finalized software, and our experience should be what you’ll also get with this unit if you decide to buy it.
Specs-wise, the ThinkPad X1 Nano series is based on the more efficient UP4 versions of the Intel Tiger Lake hardware platform, with options for 4C/8T i5 and i7 processors paired with integrated Iris Xe graphics. Our configuration gets the i7-1160G7 processor, which is designed to run at 7-15W of power, so a lower TDP than the i7-1165G7 available in most ultrabooks these days.
That aside, the i7-1160G7 and i7-1165G7 are very similar at matching power and integrate the same kind of Iris Xe graphics with 96 Execution Units. Lenovo went with the 1160G7 here and not the 65G7 because of the lower sustained power limit in demanding loads. I found some materials claiming the i7-1160G7 should be PL1 40W and PL2 19W in this laptop, but our tests show more like an 11-13W PL2 sustained power in longer loads, as you’ll see down below.
The RAM is soldered on the motherboard, and the SSD slot is accessible and upgradeable.
We got 16 GB of memory on our unit, the maximum available for the X1 Nano, and a fairly fast WD SN530 512 GB SSD, which can still be replaced. However, this X1 Nano uses smaller 2242 M.2 drives that might be harder to source for an upgrade, and there’s also a warranty sticker on the back of the laptop, at least here in Europe, the kind that would suggest voided warranty if you open it up.
Lenovo should absolutely stop doing this on their ThinkPads, especially when the back panel is designed to be easily removable, as it is only held in place by five self-mounting screws.
As far as the software goes, everything can be controlled through the Lenovo Vantage app, which offers access to system updates, battery settings, etc. This is one of the better control apps in this segment, but I find it odd that for some reason, Lenovo decided to longer include power profiles in Vantage. Instead, you can switch between the standard profiles in Windows (Better Battery, Better performance, Best Performance) to juggle the power and fan settings. I don’t understand why they’d do that instead of keeping the profile in Vantage, the way they’ve been for countless years now.
Nonetheless, this laptop runs cooly and quietly on any of the profiles. I’ve kept my unit on Better Battery for daily use and only switched to Best Performance for benchmarks and gaming. The fan inside spins very quietly with daily use, but it’s never completely idle, so you can still hear it in a tranquil room. You won’t hear it in a normal environment, though.
Here’s what to expect in terms of performance and internal temperatures with browsing, word processing, or video streaming.
With that out of the way, the next part of this article focuses on this laptop’s performance in demanding loads and some benchmarks and games.
We start by testing the CPU’s performance in taxing chores by running the Cinebench R15 benchmark 15+ times in a loop, with 2-3 seconds delay between each run.
On Best Performance, the i7-1160G7 in our unit stabilizes at around 2.5 GHz and 13+W of power, with solid temperatures in the 70+ Celsius. The system allows the CPU to run at higher power for about a minute, with temps of 90+C, before it gradually clocks down and stabilizes at around 13W. Short-term intensive loads will benefit from the higher CPU power and clocks, but longer loads will have to do with the more limited performance resulting from the 13W of sustained power.
The fans spin at about 40 dB in this mode, and the laptop returns 600+ points.
Switching over to Better Performance mode doesn’t seem to impact the TDP and performance on our unit. Nor does disconnecting the laptop from the wall, which stabilizes at the same frequencies and 13W of sustained power while unplugged.
Other reviews mention that the X1 Nano stabilizes at around 18-19W of power in this Cinebench loop test, with higher sustained scores. Our unit did not perform similarly, and I can’t tell whether that’s an issue with our particular unit, or Lenovo have deiced to limit the TDP with the more recent BIOS updates that have been launched between the time those other reviews were posted, and we got to test our unit.
Here’s how a couple of other AMD and Intel ultrabooks score in this same test to put these results in perspective.
Our ThinkPad X1 Nano places towards the bottom of the chart among the ultraportables that we’ve tested, and that’s no surprise given the lower sustained TDP. Furthermore, the Intel Tiger Lake UP4 i7-1160G7 is no match for the 6C/8C Ryzen processors available these days in quite a few other ultrabooks, and if that sort of performance is crucial to you, then you should go with one of those models instead.
We then went ahead and verified our findings with the more demanding Cinebench R23 test and the gruesome Prime 95. The CPU ends up stabilizing at 11W of power in both cases, so even lower than in the Cinebench R15 loop test.
We also ran our combined CPU+GPU stress tests on this notebook, on the same Best Performance profile. 3DMark stress runs the same test 20 times in a loop and looks for performance variation and degradation over time. This unit failed the test by a huge margin, which means the combined performance greatly degrades as the heat builds up and the system drops towards the lower TDP settings of 11-13W.
Next, here are some benchmark results. We ran the entire suite of tests and benchmarks on the Best Performance profile. Here’s what we got.
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 3482 (Graphics – 4066, Physics – 8897, Combined – 1165);
- 3DMark 13 – Night Raid: 12532 (Graphics – 16720, CPU – 5180);
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 1474 (Graphics – 1323, CPU – 4188);
- Uniengine Superposition – 1080p Medium: 2488;
- Handbrake 1.3.3 (4K to 1080p encode): 21.75 average fps;
- PassMark10: Rating: 3589 (CPU mark: 11236, 3D Graphics Mark: 2913, Disk Mark: 16762);
- PCMark 10: 4712 (Essentials – 9323 , Productivity – 6433 , Digital Content Creation – 4733);
- GeekBench 5.0.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 1448, Multi-core: 4969;
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 857 cb, CPU Single Core 206 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 2050 cb, CPU Single Core 526 cb;
- CineBench R23 (best run): CPU 5154 cb, CPU Single Core 1392 cb;
- x265 HD Benchmark 64-bit: 78.42 s.
These aren’t bad results, especially in 3DMark and the shorter-duration loads, where the system runs at the higher power settings. However, Cinebench R23, Handbrake, or x264 bench stand proof that the performance degrades in tests that run for longer than 1 minute, once more, as the power is capped.
So the bottom point, based on my experience with this Thinkpad X1 Nano model here, I wouldn’t go with one of these for demanding loads of any kind. The system feels perfectly snappy with daily use and multitasking but is not meant for more than that. I’m fine with it, and I must also add the this can perform really well on battery-power too, on the Best Performance mode. Sure, the battery life will take a hit in this case, but at least you have the option for solid unplugged multitasking performance if you need it.
Also, keep in mind that some of the other reviews I’ve read and watched suggest superior combined performance than what we got on this unit, so you should take my findings with a grain of salt. We don’t have another sample to test, so we can’t tell whether our results are right or we’ve been dealt a somewhat limited sample. If you have one of these, I’d appreciate your feedback on our findings, so please get in touch in the comments section at the end.
With that out of the way, we also ran a couple of DX11, DX12, and Vulkan titles on the Performance profile, FHD resolution, and Low/Lowest graphics settings. Here’s what we got:
|Core i7-1160G7 + Iris Xe
||ThinkPad X1 Nano
Core i7-1160G7 11W,
|IdeaPad Flex 5,
Ryzen 7 5500U 24W
Ryzen 5 5500U 15W
Core i7-1165G7 19W
|Bioshock Infinite (DX 11, Low Preset)
||55 fps (28 fps – 1% low)
||75 fps (56 fps – 1% low)
||70 fps (52 fps – 1% low)
||70 fps (40 fps – 1% low)
|Dota 2 (DX 11, Best Looking Preset)
||44 fps (36 fps – 1% low)
||53 fps (41 fps – 1% low)
||49 fps (33 fps – 1% low)
||56 fps (44 fps – 1% low)
|Far Cry 5 (DX 11, Low Preset, no AA)
||16 fps (9 fps – 1% low)
||24 fps (21 fps – 1% low)
||23 fps (18 fps – 1% low)
||26 fps (18 fps – 1% low)
|NFS: Most Wanted (DX 11, Lowest Preset)
||43 fps (30 fps – 1% low)
||60 fps (52 fps – 1% low)
||60 fps (49 fps – 1% low)
||60 fps (46 fps – 1% low)
|Strange Brigade (Vulkan, Low Preset)
||33 fps (27 fps – 1% low)
||36 fps (31 fps – 1% low)
||36 fps (31 fps – 1% low)
||44 fps (28 fps – 1% low)
- Dota 2, NFS – recorded with MSI Afterburner in game mode;
- Bioshock, Far Cry 5, Strange Brigade – recorded with the included Benchmark utilities.
Once more, the system stabilizes at around 11-13W in games, after running at 40-25W for the first minute or so and then gradually dropping over the next 15-30 minutes, as shown in the logs.
Paired with the fact that the screen is 2160 x 1350 px in resolution, so 40% more pixels than on the standard 1920 x 1080 px screen, the X1 Nano will not be much of an ultrabook gamer. Light and older titles run fine at 30-60 fps with low settings, but don’t expect more than that or even this to be able to match the kind of performance possible with many of the other Intel or AMD ultrabooks of this generation.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers, and others
Lenovo went with a simple thermal design here, with a single fan and a single heatpipe. The design is superior to what you’ll find on most ultrabooks, though, with a longer heatpipe, a larger fan with an unobstructed intake air grill on the bottom, and the radiator placed on the right edge, blowing the hot air away from the user and not into the screen, as many of the other thin and light designs.
One thing that I find weird is that the heatpipe runs very close to the battery, and I sure hope the battery is properly insulated and this sort of design is safe to use long-term.
This thermal module is a good match for this power-limited implementation of the Tiger Lake UP4 platform, as the CPU runs at temperatures of sub-50 degrees C with daily use and around 70 degrees C with demanding loads once the power stabilizes. The fan also keeps quiet, at under 40 dB at head-level on the noisiest profile, and is barely audible with daily use.
The laptop also feels comfortable to the touch, with the keyboard deck reaching temperatures in the low to mid-30s with daily use and low-40s in the hottest part with more demanding loads. Overall, the X1 Nano runs cooler and quieter than most of the other ultrabooks out there.
*Daily Use – streaming Netflix in EDGE for 30 minutes, Better Battery Mode, fans at 0-32 dB
*Gaming – Best Performance mode – playing Far Cry 5 for 30 minutes, fans at 39-40 dB
For connectivity, there’s the latest-gen WiFi 6 2×2 and Bluetooth 5.1 through an Intel AX201 module on this laptop, as well as optional LTE connectivity. Our sample performed well with our setup, and the signal and performance remained strong at 30-feet, with obstacles in between.
Audio is handled by a set of quad speakers, two of them firing through those grills placed above the keyboard, and two more placed on the bottom-front lip. ThinkPad speakers have been notoriously bad over the years, but these on the X1 Nano are punchy, at almost 85 dB at head-level, and fairly good quality for ultrathin laptop speakers. Don’t expect much in terms of bass, but the mids and highs are OK, and watching a movie or listening to casual music on this Nano is going to be a fine experience.
The HD camera placed at the top of the screen is just as poor as ever. The quality is muddy and washed out. As pros, though, there’s a physical shutter that can block the camera and an IR receiver with Hello support.
There’s a 48 Wh battery inside the ThinkPad X1 Nano, which is smaller than you’ll find on most other ultrabooks these days. The efficient hardware helps, though, and while the 16:10 display takes its small toll, this laptop delivers solid runtimes on a charge.
Here’s what we got on our review unit, with the screen’s brightness set at around 120 nits (~60 brightness).
- 7 W (~7-8 h of use) – text editing in Google Drive, Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 5.2 W (~8-9 h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 4 W (~11-12 h of use) – Netflix fullscreen in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 8 W (~5-6 h of use) – browsing in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 60%, Wi-Fi ON.
Our model came with a compact 65W charger that plugs in via USB-C. It’s a dual-piece design with a compact brick and long cables, and a full battery charge takes about 2 hours. However, 80% of the battery fills up in about one hour and 50% in less than 40 minutes.
Price and availability
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano is available in stores worldwide in multiple versions, both from Lenovo’s local websites and the other known venues.
This tested configuration with the Intel Core i7-1160G7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB SSD, and the matte screen goes for around 1700 USD in the US, 1900 GBP in the UK, and 1900 EUR in Germany at the time of this article. Pricey!
Follow this link for updated prices and configurations in your region.
Adding in the touch-display available in some regions, the LTE module, vPRo enabled CPU options, or extra storage all come as extras.
However, more affordable models are also available. I’d argue that the Core i5-1130G7 CPU with 16 GB RAM and 512 GB SSD configuration is the better value here, given the lower sustained TDP of this system. The i5 models start at around 1200 USD/EUR/GBP with less RAM and storage space, and that’s without the occasional coupons that Lenovo runs from time to time.
After spending the last few weeks with it daily, I feel that this ThinkPad X1 Nano is one of the better ultralight ultrabooks out there. It just feels so nice to grab along to work or school and doesn’t significantly compromise on the ThinkPad design, construction, and ergonomics in being this lightweight.
Aside from the format, the 16:10 matte display with a punchy panel, the inputs, the speakers, and the overall balance of performance, thermals, noise levels, and battery life with daily use all add up to the solid overall experience.
At the same time, though, this is not as powerful in sustained loads as some of the other ThinkPad models, such as the X13 or the T14s or the X1 Carbon, gets a shallower and more cramped keyboard and relies solely on USB-C ports. It’s also more expensive than those other options once you spec it up.
Furthermore, there are also the other non-Lenovo alternatives to consider out there. For example, in the premium ultralight segment, the HP Elite Dragonfly or the Asus ExpertBook B9 are tough contenders, while if you’re OK with slightly heavier products, the Dell XPS 13 or the Apple MacBook Air are also hard to match in their niches and price segments.
All these being said, the X1 Nano is not for everyone and does skimp on some aspects here and there compared to the competition, but if you’re willing to pay the price that Lenovo asks for it and you’re ready to favor the lightweight construction over the top-performance or better IO, I feel that this must be on your shortlist.
That pretty much wraps up my time with the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, so get in touch down below.
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