CES: Hands-on with Lenovo's ThinkPad X120e


Photo: Heather Beschizza

Lenovo's ThinkPad x120e succeeds the x100e, its entry in the 11" super-netbook category that took off last year. I just played with it a little and am quite impressed, especially given its $399 price tag. But what I really want is to get my paws on a better-specced model.

See, I own an x100. It's a perfectly good machine, and I got it because standard netbooks just don't cut it. But I never really felt it deserved the ThinkPad imprimatur, and the love just wasn't there. Anyone familiar with superior models in the line is liable to be tempted but it, then vaguely disappointed. Though pitched as an upgrade on netbooks, which it rather succeeds in being (along with similar 11" models from Asus, Acer and so on) it's still a pale shadow of great subnotes like Lenovo's own ThinkPad x200.

The new one felt responsive to use and solid to the touch, and if you just want a decent netbook, the new price makes the x120 attractive, especially if you're into that ThinkPad look 'n' feel. Stephen Miller, Lenovo's man at the CES Unveiled, said that the new model's big advantage is in its new AMD graphics chipset.

"You get the battery life and cool temperatures of integrated graphics with the performance of a discrete CPU," he said. "That's been the problem in this family of PCs: the graphics."

He's talking about HD YouTubes just not working that great, among other things, and it's true that this is a common complaint of netbooks that use Intel's Atom CPUs and the last-gen AMD chips used in the x100.

But where I'm thinking it'll really shine is with the SSD option, newly offered with the fresh model. It's expensive and hard to explain why its advantages — fast-booting apps and a general feeling of snappiness — are worth paying double for. But with the AMD Fusion CPU and plenty of RAM, that could make for a Windows "netbook" that gives the 11" MacBook Air a real run for its money at a cheaper price. Watch for a full review ASAP.