Thinkpad X220 Review

After returning my previous company’s Macbook Air, I was in the market for a laptop for doing personal stuff and software dev. The MBA is almost the perfect hardware in my mind – it’s extremely light, has a quality build, 8 hours of battery life, a really amazing TN screen, and i7 processor. With linux loaded on it, it flies. But, unfortunately, there are a couple drawbacks that led me to look elsewhere. The horrible chiclet keyboard and – the ultimate dealbreaker – the price. A fully loaded 12” MBA costs around $1800, and they don’t resell for much less.

So, I turned to my old stalwart, the venerable Thinkpad. I’ve owned Thinkpads for a while, from an x24 I used at UCLA to a few x40/x41s. My latest x41 recently died, so I wanted to find a nice upgrade with a bit more processing power and increased screen size.

Thinkpad x200s

So, the x200s seemed like the best option to me, with a WXGA+ 1440×900 screen. I got a used one off of Ebay for about $200. Being my first Lenovo, I was quite impressed out of the box – very solid build quality and great keyboard. But after turning it on, the screen quality just destroyed my impressions of the machine. After spending years with IPS and good quality TN screens, this was appalling.

IBM was infamous for using poor quality panels on its laptops. Even still, my X41 was pretty usable. But not the x200s screen. I tried using it for a few days but couldn’t use it for more than few hours before getting eye fatigue. A real shame, because it’s such a great machine otherwise.

My X220

Thinkpad x220

So after a disappointing experience with the x200s, I started looking at the later model Thinkpads – particularly the X220 with it’s IPS screen option. I sold the x200s and bought an x220 with warranty off of ebay for just under $500.

Turning on the x220 blew me away. The screen is amazing. Finally a Thinkpad with a decent screen. With the tried and true scissor switch keyboard I had the best of both worlds now. And ivy bridge is the icing on the cake.

Build quality and tech support

I’ve been using the x220 for about a month now, and there are, unfortunately, a few build quality issues with the x220 that I’ve been experiencing.

The bottom and top chassis tend to warp themselves over time This can be fixed by gently twisting the chassis to realign it, I kid you not.

The IPS screen, while much better than any other Thinkpad screen I’ve used, suffers from backlight bleeding along the bottom. This is exacerbated by the top chassis warping and applying pressure to the panel. It’s not too noticeable, but more than any Macbook I’ve used.

I also haven’t had a great experience with tech support so far.

Final impressions

Still, I’m pretty happy with my x220, and the price is hard to beat. The screen, battery life, trackpoint, and keyboard are all great. While not the perfect laptop (which I don’t think exists), it’s pretty darned close.

If I had the money, I might spring for an MBA again, but I’d have a hard time giving up the Thinkpad’s keyboard. It’s hard to overstate how nice it is compared to the chiclet keyboards on the Macbooks.

See my next post for a guide to setting up Arch Linux on the x220.

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