Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 review: a ThinkPad with a twist

ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 is a ThinkPad. It has an all-black chassis with keyboard nubs, individual mouse buttons, and scattered red dots. (If you’ve seen the previous ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2, you’ll know what you’re getting. The model is the same, the chip is different.)

But this ThinkPad has an OLED screen, a unique feature that you don’t see every day. Combined with a discrete GPU, the X1 Extreme Gen 3 breaks away from the business notebook space traditionally dominated by ThinkPads and enters the crowded marketplace of ultra-portable content creation machines. Among these competitors, the X1 Extreme has several significant drawbacks that prevent it from reaching the top of the pack. But it still contains features that made the ThinkPad overall dominant, which certainly means there is an audience.

Like other ThinkPads, the X1 Extreme can be customized for a wide range of price points. All configurations have Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q. The base model costs $2,734 (now discounted to a much more affordable $1,640) and includes a Core i5-10400H, 8GB RAM, 256GB storage, a 1920 x 1080 non-touch display, and a standard 720p HD webcam. Among the pre-built models, you can all go up to a system with a Core i9-10885H, 64GB RAM, 1TB storage, a 3840 x 2160 OLED touch screen and an IR camera. Currently listed for $2,974.40). My test configuration is in the middle. These include the Core i7-10850H, 1 TB storage, 32 GB RAM and an OLED touch screen. The MSRP is $4,111, but it is currently $2,466. Some specs depend on others, but most specs can be adjusted to your liking. For example, all models without a primary display come with an IR camera.

This model has two absolutely outstanding features. The first is the keyboard. ThinkPads generally have great keyboards, and this one is no exception. Aside from the Dell XPS 15, it’s one of my favorite keyboards I’ve used on my workstation laptop this year. Not too tall, comfortable texture and great mobility. The typing experience feels more like a mechanical keyboard than flat notebook keys. I actually avoided my personal laptop during testing to prefer the ThinkPad because how much I like typing.

At the top of the deck is a column of useful shortcuts. The new feature of the X1 Extreme is three buttons that are tailored for remote operation. F9 displays the notification center, F10 answers the call, F11 ends the call. There are also keys to cut volume and microphone, switch airplane modes, and adjust volume and brightness.

This is the port on the left side of the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Extreme Gen 3.

Ports include 2 USB 3.2 Gen 1, 2 Thunderbolt 3, 1 HDMI 2.0, 1 SD slot, 1 combo audio jack and optional Nano-SIM card slot.

One quick thing about keyboards is that the Fn and Ctrl keys change where you can find them on most keyboards. This is how the ThinkPad keyboard is positioned forever, and the keys can be remapped through BIOS or Lenovo’s utility app if desired. However, it is worth noting that if you are not a regular ThinkPad user, or if you are replacing this computer with a personal laptop, it will take some time to make adjustments or you will end up with mislabeled keys. I’ve been using the X1 Extreme for almost a week, but I’m still hitting Fn by accident.

The second notable feature is the 15.6-inch 4K OLED panel. It covers 100% of the sRGB spectrum, 100% of Adobe RGB, and 100% of P3. (Basically, I made the most of the colorimeter.) The panels are crisp, vivid, and have great contrast. Watch streaming content that supports HDR, and change different color profiles with Lenovo’s Display Optimizer.

Build quality is another strength. Like most ThinkPad siblings, the X1 Extreme is durable. The keyboard or cover is not bent, and Lenovo has been tested against “military grade 12 certification methods and 20+ procedures” for resistance to vibration, shock, extreme temperatures, humidity, and more. Laptops achieve this without sacrificing much portability. It’s 0.74 inches thick, but weighs 4 pounds, making it lighter than many competing products, including the Dell XPS 15 and MacBook Pro 16.

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Extreme Gen 3 is open with a slight tilt to the right.  The screen shows an outdoor night scene with the Lenovo logo on the right.

Lenovo says the multi-layered carbon fiber top cover “provides durability and weight benefits.”

The chassis has a nice textured black finish. The ThinkPad logo on the right palm rest and the X1 logo on the top cover add red. The cover has a unique carbon fiber weave pattern, and the look and feel is similar to the carbon fiber palm rest on the Dell XPS 15 (available only on UHD models). Lenovo says this material is lighter and more durable than aluminum and other common chassis materials. That’s also the reason for the X1 Extreme’s high price tag.

Thinkpad X1 Extreme Gen 3 tilts to the left and opens.  The screen shows a night outdoor scene with the Lenovo logo on the right.

There are dual far-field microphones that work with Cortana.

One note about the build: The lid and chassis aren’t the worst fingerprint magnets I’ve ever seen, but I picked them up. The keyboard deck was pretty blurry after a few days of use.

Finally, the X1 Extreme offers some useful features for teleconferencing. You can optimize the dual microphones for various settings of Lenovo Vantage software (including voice recognition, standalone calls and conference calls). They had no problem hearing my voice. The stereo speakers are great and you can hear percussion and bass, but give you distortion-free audio, no exception. You can create custom equalizer profiles from the preloaded Dolby Access software, and you can even switch presets for scenarios like voice, music, movies and games.

The infrared webcam is also amazing. Although a bit rough, the colors were fairly accurate and gave a decent picture even in dark environments. It has a physical privacy shutter that is easy to click back and forth. You can log in to the X1 Extreme using Windows Hello facial recognition and the sensor fingerprint reader on the side of the keyboard deck. It was quick to set up and generally had no problems recognizing me.

All of these are similar to the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2. There are few noticeable changes. Gen 3 upgrades are on the inside. It has a 6-core 10th generation Intel processor and an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q, while previous models have a 9th generation Intel processor and a GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q.

The Core i7-10850H isn’t the most monstrous processor, especially when compared to AMD’s latest H-series chips. But it does bring the business-specific benefits of the Intel vPro platform, and it handled a lot of spreadsheets, emails, Slacking, and other common office tasks well.

Similarly, the GTX 1650 Ti Max-Q is a mid-range graphics card. It’s not something you want to use for serious gaming or high-throughput professional video editing. However, it can definitely be helpful for amateur producers and other artists.

My test model scored 386 on PugetBench for Premiere Pro and tested my proficiency in working with real Premiere Pro. It’s not a shameful score among the best competitors, but it’s not great either. The system is below the score seen on a Dell XPS 15 with the same GPU and a 6-core MacBook Pro with an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M. And, of course, it loses to maker computers with more powerful Nvidia chips, such as the cheaper Gigabyte Aero 15 with the RTX 3060.

If you’re going to be working on intense content, get ready to hear your fans’ voices. It was heard quite often when I was running around in Chrome too. On the plus side, the bottom of the laptop, keyboard, touchpad, palm rest and hinges all kept cool.

Thinkpad X1 Extreme Gen 3's keyboard and touchpad viewed from above.

Lenovo says the ThinkPad can charge up to 80% in 60 minutes with the “Rapid Charge” feature.

Another compromise we make here is battery life. It only took an average of 4 hours and 59 minutes in the battery test. I used a ThinkPad for continuous office multitasking in the battery saver profile, and the screen brightness was about 200 nits. I ran the trial version without using Chrome to see if it makes a difference. It wasn’t. It seems that this result is actually a bit high. Tom’s hardware In the synthetic streaming benchmark, it was reduced by another 2 hours and 19 minutes.

It’s not surprising that machines with 4K screens and discrete GPUs don’t last all day. However, I got more juice from the Gigabyte Aero 15, which has both an OLED display and a heavier graphics card. If you don’t need a high-resolution screen that many people don’t want, the Dell XPS 15 (which still offers a great display) lasted an hour longer in my workflow and my colleague Dieter Bohn was able to use up to eight. Hours on MacBook Pro. Those who are interested in the X1 Extreme and don’t want to connect it all the time should consider the FHD (1080p) model.

The Thinkpad X1 Extreme Gen 3 opens on an outdoor rock slab.  You will see an outdoor night view with the Lenovo logo on the right side of the screen.

It is a ThinkPad.

Ultimately, the decision between the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 3 and other 15-inch thin and light workstations can be summed up as follows: Want a ThinkPad?

This means that the X1 Extreme shares many of the strengths and weaknesses of Windows systems like the XPS 15. Both have dazzling displays, decent chips, solid builds, tough fans, and mediocre battery life. Both have best-in-class keyboards and touchpads with average webcams and speakers.

However, ThinkPad and XPS are still very different systems. If you’ve used either of the two lineups before, you probably know which one you prefer. They have a different look and different feel. The ThinkPad is slightly lighter and thicker with more ports and larger bezels. The XPS is a bit more powerful, but the ThinkPad has additional business features.

The XPS is a more accessible model for most consumers due to its low price. In particular, the X1 Extreme’s weak chip and poor battery life make it a hard pill to swallow at such a high price. However, the market for X1 Extreme still exists. If you’re willing to sacrifice a little power, a little money, and a little battery life for your ThinkPad’s unique strengths, you’ll probably fall into that market.

Monica Chin / The Verge’s photo

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