Lenovo ThinkPad X12 detachable
"The detachable ThinkPad X12 is a worthy business-oriented alternative to the Surface Pro 7."
Excellent detachable tablet design
Solid build quality
Excellent (and included) detachable keyboard
Good battery life
Better than the average ad
Mediocre productivity performance
Fully featured inking is of paramount importance
Microsoft Surface Pro has dominated the detachable tablet category since the Surface Pro 3. There was competition, but none, that could dethrone the Surface Pro as the best 2-in-1 there is. Even fewer direct competitors have been introduced in recent years.
However, Lenovo hasn't been deterred from introducing its first detachable tablet in nearly three years, the ThinkPad X12 Detachable. The company sent me a well-configured test device with an 11th generation Intel Core i5-1130G7 CPU, 16 GB RAM, a 512 GB solid-state drive and a 12.3-inch Full HD + display (1,920 x 1,280) for a retail price of 2,229 US dollars but available with an "eCoupon" for 1,337 US dollars. Other options are available, including CPUs with Intel's enterprise vPro functionality.
The price includes both the detachable keyboard and an active pen. Both are optional (and cost extra) on the slightly more expensive Surface Pro 7 when it's not on sale. Does the detachable ThinkPad X12 take advantage of its relatively low price point and ThinkPad design to pose a legitimate challenge to the clear market leader?
Lenovo applied the usual ThinkPad design formula to the detachable ThinkPad X12. First, it retains the line's most common all-black aesthetic with subtle red accents. On the front logo is the usual LED dot above the "i", and on the detachable keyboard there is the red TrackPoint knob and the red striped keys. You'll recognize this from afar as a ThinkPad, and you can't confuse it for the Surface Pro 7, which is similar in shape but has a bright silver color that looks a bit more modern.
Second, the detachable ThinkPad X12 is made from a magnesium alloy that is meant to be both lightweight and durable. Military-grade durability testing is a trademark of ThinkPad. Interestingly, the Surface Pro 7 is also made from a magnesium alloy, although it couldn't feel more different. This is thanks to the soft-touch surface of the ThinkPad, which is warmer and more inviting than the colder metal feel of the Surface Pro 7. However, both tablets exude quality and both are equally well made.
The detachable ThinkPad X12 is almost the same size as the Surface Pro 7 and is available in every dimension within a few millimeters. For example, the ThinkPad is 0.34 inches thick and weighs 1.67 pounds while the Surface Pro 7 is 0.33 inches thick and 1.7 pounds. The bezels are also about the same size – larger than modern clamshell and convertible laptops like the Dell XPS 13 and HP Specter x360 14. These dimensions apply to the tablets only – add the ThinkPad's detachable keyboard and the Type Surface Pro 7 cover is still very tight and a bit thicker.
Lenovo has also leaned generously on the design of the Surface Pro in its stand, which, just like the Microsoft tablet, extends at various angles from the center of the back of the tablet to almost flat. The mechanisms feel identical and they hold every tablet smoothly and reliably in the desired position. If you want to copy, as the detachable ThinkPad X12 shows, you can copy from the best too.
The detachable ThinkPad X12 benefits from its 11th generation Intel CPU by offering a USB-C port with Thunderbolt 4 support as well as a second USB-C 3.2 port, a 3.5 mm audio jack and a nano WWAN offers SIM slot to support the optional 4G LTE. This is comparable to the USB-C port on the Surface Pro 7 (no Thunderbolt support), the USB-A port, the Surface Connect port, and the microSD card reader. The wireless connectivity of the ThinkPad (like that of the Surface Pro 7) is based on Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0.
The Core i5-1130G7 CPU in the detachable ThinkPad X12 is a lower-performance version of the chip that operates at 4 GHz compared to 4.2 GHz in the more common Core i5-1135G7 and with a lower thermal design output (TDP) between 7 and 15 watts. Hence, it can be expected to run a little slower and cooler. The fan spun occasionally during my tests, but it was very quiet. Note that with the ThinkPad X12 Detachable, Lenovo implemented a performance mode that uses the Windows 10 slider. I've tested in both standard and performance modes and found only minor differences between the two in most of the tests.
It's difficult to directly compare the ThinkPad X12 Detachable's performance with that of the Surface Pro 7, as we've changed some of our benchmarks since looking at Microsoft's 2-in-1 system. The Surface Pro 7 we tested used a custom version of Intel's 10th generation Ice Lake CPU, the Core i5-1035G4, making it a generation older than the Tiger Lake-based ThinkPad. We can compare Geekbench 4 results, where the Surface Pro 7 scored 4,957 in the single-core test and 17,145 in the multicore test, compared to 5,719 and 18,385 for the ThinkPad X12 Detachable, respectively. We can also look at Handbrake 1.0.7, an older version of the benchmark that we use to test the speed of a laptop encoding a 420MB video into H.265. Here the ThinkPad took a little over three minutes, compared to almost five and a half minutes for the Surface Pro 7. The ThinkPad is clearly the faster tablet, although Microsoft has released a Surface Pro 7+ for business users that is equipped with the 11th generation Intel -CPUs and should be more competitive.
The ThinkPad X12 Detachable performed roughly as expected in our current benchmarks. For most of the tests, it was only slightly slower than other comparable systems. In Geekbench 5, the ThinkPad achieved 1,352 points in the single-core test and 4,796 points in the multi-core test. With this, the Lenovo Yoga 7i with a Core i5-1135G7 could be beaten with 1,357 and 4,246 points. Another system with the faster Core i5, the Porsche Design Acer Book RS, scored 1,415 and 5,364 points. Laptops with Intel Core i7 CPUs were typically significantly faster.
The ThinkPad X12 Detachable did surprisingly well in our latest Handbrake 1.3.1 test. The test again lasted a little over three minutes. The Yoga 7i took another 20 seconds, while the Porsche Design Acer Book RS ended four seconds faster. Most Tiger Lake laptops finished the test in about three minutes, although some – like the HP Specter x360 14 and the Dell XPS 13 – required performance modes to achieve these speeds. In another video coding test, Cinebench R23, the ThinkPad did not do that well and only achieved 1,125 points in single-core mode and 3,663 points in multi-core mode. The Porsche Design Acer Book RS scored 1,380 and 4,973 points, while the HP Specter x360 14 scored 1,404 and 4,847 points in performance mode. Most of the other Tiger Lake laptops passed 1,300 and 4,400 in this test, so the ThinkPad X12 Detachable remains on the back of the package.
If you're a gamer, definitely take a pass on the ThinkPad.
In the PCMark 10 Complete test, the ThinkPad finally achieved 4,443 points in the overall test, 9,763 points in the Essentials test, 5,865 points in the productivity test and 4,157 points in the creation test. This is the slowest score we've seen on Tiger Lake laptops, and the ThinkPad was particularly lagging behind in the Creation test. The conclusion from this series of benchmarks: The detachable ThinkPad X12 is fast enough for general productivity and basic computing, but it shouldn't be asked to put too much effort into editing videos or photos.
Overall, the ThinkPad X12 Detachable is a tablet that is fast enough for productivity users and is likely to be faster than the older Surface Pro 7. It won't compete with today's fastest clamshells and convertible 2-in-1s, however. More than just a good enough productivity performance, you might want to consider a different form factor.
If you're a gamer, definitely take a pass on the ThinkPad. Even with the Intel Iris Xe graphics, Fortnite could only record 13 frames per second (fps) with 1080p and high graphics. Most Tiger Lake laptops with the same GPU achieve 30 fps or faster at the same settings.
The detachable ThinkPad X12 has a 12.3-inch IPS display that is the same size as the Surface Pro 7. However, it's a lower resolution, Full HD + (1,920 x 1,280), compared to the much higher 2,736 x 1,824 of the Surface Pro 7. This makes Microsoft's display significantly sharper, although some users won't mind the difference on such a small display.
According to my colorimeter, the ThinkPad X12 Detachable can hold its own against the display of the Surface Pro 7 (except for the resolution). It has a brightness of 364 nits compared to the 377 nits of the Surface Pro 7 and a contrast ratio of 940: 1 compared to 1140: 1 on the Surface Pro 7. (We'd like to see this metric at 1000: 1 or more, but that ThinkPad is close enough.) The ThinkPad X12 Detachable has 97% sRGB and 72% Adobe RGB (roughly average for premium laptops), a wider gamut than the Surface Pro 7 (roughly average for premium laptops) compared to 93% and 70%, respectively. The ThinkPad's display is far more accurate with a DeltaE of 1.59 (less than 1.0 is considered excellent) compared to the dim 3.51 of the Surface Pro 7.
When compared to some other laptops, the ThinkPad's display is competitive. The Dell XPS 13 Full HD display is way ahead with 458 nits of brightness, a contrast ratio of 1350: 1, 98% and 75% color gamut and a color accuracy of 1.35 – but this is the exception. The Lenovo Yoga 9i 14, for example, lagged behind with 341 nits, 95% and 71% color gamut and a color accuracy of 3.74 in most measurements. Only the contrast ratio of 1060: 1 was higher. The OLED display of the HP Specter x350 14 blows all of these laptops out of the water in every metric except brightness (374 nits), with 100% and 96% color bars, a contrast ratio of 374,200: 1 and a color accuracy of 0.69.
The ThinkPad X12 Detachable may not have the same resolution as the Surface Pro 7, but it does have wider and more accurate colors and almost the same contrast. It's better than the premium laptop average overall, and on my daily test, I found it to be a comfortable display. And I didn't really miss the additional resolution of the Surface Pro 7.
The front loading dual speakers were overwhelming. They're very small in volume, and while highs and mids were okay, some laptops didn't even have the touch of base. You want headphones or external speakers to binge Netflix or listen to your favorite music.
Keyboard and touchpad
As mentioned earlier, Lenovo included the detachable keyboard. It's smaller than the typical ThinkPad keyboard, of course, but it offers the same sculpted keys, inverted Fn and Ctrl keys (a bummer, but they can be toggled in Settings), and a superior ThinkPad mechanism. There's a lot of wiggle room, though less than the larger ThinkPad keyboards, and I actually prefer the button switches – they're lighter than full-size ThinkPad keyboards, much like the keyboard on the ThinkPad X1 Nano, which I really liked. This makes the keyboard sharper and more precise, and while it doesn't match the HP Specter keyboards or the Magic keyboard on the latest MacBooks, it's available in seconds. And I like it better than the optional $ 130 cover on the Surface Pro 7.
Perhaps just as impressive, although the Lenovo keyboard connects to the tablet area via pogo pins like the Type Cover and is at a similar angle, it is much more solid than what Microsoft is offering. There is far less sag when typing on the keyboard of the ThinkPad X12 Detachable, which gives it a more solid feel than the Type Cover. It's not much different from typing on a “normal” laptop keyboard, except of course with the same difficulty as on the Surface Pro 7 when the combination is used on a lap.
The keyboard also includes the TrackPoint nubbin in the center, a ThinkPad staple that works well for those who still use it. The TrackPoint buttons take up space from the touchpad as usual, making the latter smaller than it could be. Thanks to the support for Microsoft Precision touchpads and a comfortable wiping surface, the touchpad works well with the multi-touch gestures of Windows 10 and corresponds to the Microsoft Type Cover touchpad. In fact, it's as good as clamshell and convertible laptops like the Dell XPS 13 and HP Specter x360 13, albeit smaller.
Lenovo also includes an Active Pen with the detachable ThinkPad X12, a $ 100 add-on to the Surface Pro 7. The pen offers 4,096 levels of pressure sensitivity, the same as the Surface Pen. You'll need to upgrade to Lenovo Precision for $ 59, however, pen for tilt detection and magnetic attachment to the tablet (also compatible with the Surface Pen). I found the inking smooth and effective, although my (bad) drawings weren't as sharp on the lower resolution of the display as they were on the higher resolution display on the Surface Pro 7.
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
Mark Coppock / Digital Trends
Finally, Windows 10 Hello support is provided by both an infrared camera for facial recognition and a fingerprint scanner on the keyboard deck. I found both methods to be quick and reliable for logging into Windows 10 without a password. Lenovo has integrated the physical ThinkShutter switch to block the webcam for privacy reasons.
Lenovo has a battery capacity of 42 watt hours in the small frame of the ThinkPad X12 Detachable. That's a reasonable amount of battery for the tablet – the Surface Pro 7 has a 45-watt-hour battery, but it also has a higher-resolution display. I was expecting decent battery life given the lower performance CPU.
For the most part, the ThinkPad X12 Detachable was shipped. For example, in our web browser test, the ThinkPad lasted about eight hours, which is about 30 minutes less than the Surface Pro 7. The Dell XPS 13 with a Full HD display (1920×1080) also lasted about 30 minutes longer than the HP Specter x360 14 with its OLED display lasted exactly one hour less. That's not a great result, but it's not terrible either. In our video test, which ran through a Full HD Avengers trailer, the ThinkPad X12 Detachable lasted almost 11 hours, compared to the Surface Pro 7, which was shut down about three hours earlier. The XPS 13 ran about an hour longer and the Specter x360 14 about an hour less.
The detachable ThinkPad X12 should last most of the day depending on the workload.
I also ran the PCMark 10 gaming battery test to see how fair the tablet is when it comes to CPU and GPU stress, and it did about 2.75 hours. We didn't test the Surface Pro 7 in PCMark 10, but the XPS 13 lasted about 70 minutes longer and the Specter x360 14 lasted just as long as the ThinkPad. To test the longevity of productivity, I used the battery test for PCMark 10 applications, where the detachable ThinkPad X12 lasted just over 10 hours, which is a respectable result. The XPS 13 lasted about 10.75 hours and the Specter x360 14 failed after just over nine hours.
The detachable ThinkPad X12 should last most of the day depending on your workload – which we could say for many of the laptops we have recently tested outside of slot machines. Overall, I would rate the tablet's battery life as good, but not great.
The ThinkPad X12 Detachable is a viable competitor to the Surface Pro 7 and outperforms it in several key areas. It offers better performance, a more detachable keyboard, and a higher quality display, even at a lower resolution. It could be said that the detachable ThinkPad X12 is better than the Surface Pro 7, and it might require the Surface Pro 7+ to keep the line at the top.
When looking for a 2-in-1 detachable tablet, you have a tough decision ahead of you. However, don't let the Surface Pro 7's dominance in the past fool you into looking beyond the detachable ThinkPad X12.
Are there alternatives?
The Surface Pro 7 is obviously the clear alternative. As mentioned throughout the review, the ThinkPad X12 Detachable offers several advantages over the Microsoft tablet, including price. The Surface Pro 7 costs $ 1,400 (not on sale) for a Core i5, 16GB of RAM, and just a 256GB SSD. t include the $ 100 Surface Pen or $ 130 Cover. That makes the ThinkPad a few hundred dollars cheaper.
If you haven't opted for the detachable tablet format but still want a 2-in-1 format, the HP Specter x360 14 is a good choice. It's priced around the same and has a spectacular 4K, 13.5-inch OLED display option. It's a bigger and heavier device and doesn't do nearly as well for coloring. However, if that's not your primary application, the HP is a good choice.
If you aren't into 2-in-1 features, the Dell XPS 13 is an obvious choice. It's the best laptop out there, and it has a chassis that is almost as small but offers better performance and a much better display.
Of course, I should mention that the iPad Pro is an increasingly serious competitor to Windows 10 tablets. If you haven't decided on Windows 10 or its legacy apps, the iPad Pro is a viable option.
How long it will take?
The detachable ThinkPad X12 is durable and equipped with the latest components. It should give you years of service, but unfortunately only the first year is covered by a warranty. However, Lenovo has several expanded service offerings to consider.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The detachable ThinkPad X12 is a good 2-in-1 device with which the Surface Pro 7 gets its money's worth.