Upgrading to a modern ThinkPad — How does the experience feel like?

Original is better?

​Having been a ThinkPad fan for years and rocking a X220, I recently upgrade my machine for a newer X240. Don’t get me wrong, the classic X220 still works flawlessly. However, after years of using, the HD screen has been getting worse quickly. Besides, the fan is also louder than ever and I can absolutely feel the heat in the side as well as under the machine even when performing some light tasks. Therefore, I decided to give a shot on a newer model. My budget does not allow me to go for the newest model due to premium price range of ThinkPad line. As a result, I ultimately picked a X240 and have been using it for around a month now. In this blog, I would love to tell you my experience of this switch as a loyal ThinkPad fan.

Many ThinkPad things were removed

​This upgrade is quite a shift in terms of usability experience for me. If you are aware, X220 is the latest X-series model which still keeps the most “ThinkPad” features: 7-row keyboard, ThinkLight, originally designed TrackPoint with dedicated buttons as well as a very module design which allows users to easily upgrade internal parts. Many say that after this model, Lenovo decided to chase for modern ultrabook design and trade-off ThinkPad original value. Looking at the X240, I partly understand why ThinkPad users show great disappointment for this change. The new Chicklet keyboard has replaced the long-key-travel one which was considered as one-of-a-kind in any laptops. The TrackPoint is still there but it is designed to be a tiny bit floppier, which calls for time for getting used to. And there is no dedicated TrackPoint button! 3 original buttons are actually merged into a one-line click button. Besides, ThinkLight has been replaced for a modern back-lit system bellow keyboard. Internally, the RAM & hard drive slots are also put inside the back cover. There is weirdly 1 RAM slot that supports maximize 8GB (Come on Lenovo!). In a quick glance, a matte-black ThinkPad still proves to be a reliable, durable machine as usual. However, things had really changed a lot.

​Module design & build quality

​In the X240, Lenovo still keeps a modular design that gives user great access to internal parts of the machine even though it is more difficult compared to old models. Those newer machines require users to completely take off the back cover in order to access to RAM, hard drive and other internal parts. One thing you might concern about in the X240 is the only-8GB-supported RAM slot. If you are the one who normally deal with a tons of programs and browser tabs, you should perhaps consider switching to newer models that support 16GB and above capacity.

​Regardless of what have changed, the build quality of ThinkPad is always remaining excellent. I can definitely confirm this in the X240, not only through commercial ads showing off how the machine goes through military resistance tests. Thanks to new keyboard and Trackpad layout, the front look of the X240 is significantly more consistent and modern while still remaining the well-known durability.

The “new but old” keyboard

​Even though key travel of the new Chicklet keyboard is relatively shortened compared to the original one, typing experience is still excellent. After only a few hours of using, I surprisingly got familiar with it much faster than I thought. My typing speed is fast with very few mistakes. Due to big-size keys as well as generous distances between keys, it is as comfortable as typing in the legendary 7-row keyboard.

Though, it is absolutely less functional

Firstly, there is no dedicated mute & volume adjustment buttons so you need to use Fn key to invoke it. Next, in the original keyboard, users can quickly pause, skip or forward tracks by combining Fn & arrow keys. You sadly could not do it anymore. Moreover, 2 dedicated Back/Forward buttons just above the arrow keys are replaced with Page Up/Down that I barely use. Now, let’s say if I am surfing the web then want to go back to the previous page, I need to use TrackPoint or Trackpad to interact on-screen, which before only requires to press a button.

Bigger palm rest & more functional Trackpad

Folks with big hands could actually find this X240 more comfortable to type due to a larger palm rest. Besides, as the TrackPoint buttons are removed, users are given a bigger Trackpad which is smoother and nicer to use. Though it is not as up-to-date as recent machines to run Windows precision drivers, X240’s Trackpad still supports multi-touch gestures. Therefore, I personally end up using Trackpad more than I thought because I actually disabled it in my old X220.

The “average” new TrackPoint & awful buttons

If you’re like me who prefers TrackPoint than Trackpad, especially when typing, I could not describe how you would miss the old one. Using the new TrackPoint is absolutely less comfortable due to its floppier position. After some times, I somehow got used to. However, it has never been as satisfying as moving around with the original one. Even worse than that, as the dedicated buttons are removed, I have been making countless mistakes while clicking & scrolling. I accidentally right-click instead of middle-click for many times, which is really a painful experience I hardly made before on the dedicated button system.

Great display for business users

The display of the X240 is absolutely much better than the old one. Its 400-nit Full HD screen with anti-glare IPS panel could definitely get jobs done well. I normally use it at around 75% and full brightness is only necessary in much brighter ambiance. Thanks to an anti-glare display, the X240 offers superb quality in multiple viewing angels — the feature you could not find in glasses-display machines. However, keep in mind that the Full HD is optional as it is still shipped with HD (1366x768) which is far less sharp. The outer design of the display was also altered to be fully flat as there is no curve in the top-edge of the screen like before. This also blows a more modern feel for the machine. Nonetheless, if you are a graphics designer, for instance, whose daily tasks involve photos editing and need ultra color accuracy, you would perhaps prefer other high-end options like the Macs or Surfaces. But as ThinkPad line is entirely focused on this segment, this screen definitely meets the needs of business folks.

Performance

My X240 was originally shipped with a Toshiba 500GB HDD, which is absolutely slower than the Intel 160GB SSD I rock in the old X220. During the very first days of the switch, I can’t help this performance drop but quickly upgrade to a similar SSD in the older X220. In my daily uses mostly include coding, some works with Ms Office and Browsers, 4GB RAM & a HDD is definitely not enough. Therefore, if you really care about performance, I highly recommend upgrading to 8GB RAM & a SSD (2.5’ for the size). After this upgrade, the machine runs quickly and smoothly.

Personal verdict

Pros

  • Portable & light-weight 12.5-inch size
  • Modern look
  • High-quality screen
  • Modular design; Internal components can be easily upgraded
  • Great new Chiclet keyboard
  • Legendary ThinkPad built quality, reliability and consistency

Cons

  • Poor TrackPoint-buttons system
  • Less functional keyboard compared to original 7-row one
  • Average-quality webcam

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