You could list most of the ThinkPad models over the years, and the average laptop buyer can have a hard time telling the difference between the two. Lenovo has taken care of the look, feel and features of its premium business line to the last detail, attracting a dedicated fan base.
Over the past year, Lenovo has made several attempts to move the ThinkPad package to less traditional, more portable form factors, from the razor-thin X1 Nano to the pricey but groundbreaking X1 Fold. With the ThinkPad X12 Detachable, the company is once again focusing directly on Microsoft’s Surface Pro line. As you may have guessed from its name, the X12 Detachable is a ThinkPad-branded and ThinkPad-like 12.3-inch Windows tablet with a detachable keyboard cover.
Once you get to grips with that information, there isn’t much about the X12 Detachable that will surprise you. It has many of the same strengths as its ThinkPad siblings, including the camera shutter, discreet clickers, keyboard button, and black and red color scheme that ThinkPad fans will know and love. It also has some unique drawbacks inherent in the form factor: small screen, shallow keyboard, limited ports, and so on. But if you’re looking for a detachable PC with business features and strong specs, there’s no reason the X12 Detachable shouldn’t be on your list.
Buying a portable, detachable machine sometimes means compromising on specs and performance, but that’s certainly not the case here. The X12 Detachable comes with Intel’s latest 11th generation processors and runs on Windows 10 Pro. The base model has a suggested retail price of $ 1,819, but it currently stands at $ 1,091. (This is exactly how Lenovo sets their prices – don’t overthink it.) It comes with a Core i3-1110G4, 8 GB of RAM (soldered) and 256 GB of storage. I am testing a more expensive Core i5 model with 16 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage, which is currently listed at $ 1,331.40.
The most comparable Surface Pro 7 Plus models are currently listed on $ 849.99 and $ 1,399.99 respectively. Those prices are deceptive, however, as all X12 Detachable models currently listed on Lenovo’s website have a stylus and keyboard cover in the box; you have to buy them separately for the Surface Pro 7 Plus, and they add at least $ 99.99 and $ 97.49 extra to the price. That means my X12 model is actually a few hundred dollars cheaper than the most comparable Surface Pro (which also has less storage space).
The Core i5-1130G7 in my test unit offers the various features of the 11th generation line, including Intel’s powerful Xe integrated graphics and support for Thunderbolt 4 and Wi-Fi 6. Using it was a good, smooth experience: I can Don’t imagine anyone using the X12 for basic business work with Chrome tabs, streaming, Zoom calls and the like will experience performance issues. The ThinkPad’s fan was running constantly during my use, but it wasn’t loud enough to be a nuisance, and the device never got warm.
This isn’t a laptop you’d want to use for heavy gaming, but the Iris Xe graphics can lend a hand with lighter creative work. I used the device to process and slightly edit a batch of photos, and while it wasn’t the smoothest experience I’ve ever had, it was workable for my amateur needs. Anyone who does professional graphics work should of course consider a system with a GPU.
The X12’s keyboard and pen are both fine, and are among the better accessories I’ve used with detachable PCs. The stylus, which lives in a handy loop on the right side of the keyboard deck, didn’t give me any trouble and has two buttons that you can assign to your own taste in Lenovo’s Pen Settings software. The keys are a bit tight and flat, as is often the case with folio keyboards, but typing was generally a comfortable experience. They are also backlit, which you don’t see on every detachable keyboard.
The touchpad is a bit small (I often hit the clickers while scrolling) and not the smoothest, but that’s normal for these types of devices too. If the touchpad isn’t your thing, you can use the TrackPoint in the center of the keyboard.
Another part of the chassis worth noting is the 1920 x 1280 screen. Like the Surface Pro line, the X12 has a 3: 2 aspect ratio, which is my favorite aspect ratio (yes, I have a favorite) . It is much more spacious than a traditional 16: 9 screen and offers noticeably more vertical space. The top and side panels are thick, which may put some people off, but that’s understandable given that the device is also meant to function as a tablet on a regular basis (and you’ll need something to hold).
The panel itself is quite nice too. It gets fairly bright, with a maximum of 380 nits in my tests, which should be sufficient for use outdoors and in other bright environments (provided you’re not doing any creative work). It covers 73 percent of the DCI-P3 spectrum, which is on par with what we’ve seen from the Surface Pro 7 PlusVideos and web pages all looked great, with bright colors and not too much glare.
The X12 has a number of modern security functions, which will be especially interesting for business customers. There is a match-on-chip fingerprint reader, which allows all registration, storage and authentication to take place within the sensor itself, as well as a dTPM 2.0 chip and Lenovo’s self-healing BIOS, which Lenovo guarantees will recover and heal itself. when damaged or maliciously attacked. Like previous ThinkPads, the X12 also has an IR camera that supports Windows Hello facial recognition and includes a physical shutter to block it out for privacy. I will notice the shutter is a bit small and difficult to switch back and forth, even with my little fingers. (There is also no shutter for the rear camera.)
One area where Lenovo is lagging behind Microsoft is the ability to upgrade. The Surface Pro 7 Plus comes with a removable SSD that is easily accessible. The X12’s SSD is very hard to get, and doing this will likely void the warranty, according to analysis by the experts at Tom’s HardwareThis is unlikely to be a deciding factor for most consumers, but may be an important consideration for some business users.
The X12 Detachable has a fairly small 42Wh battery. So I was pleasantly surprised to see how long it took – especially since the X1 Fold, the last ThinkPad tablet I reviewed, took less than five hours on average. With a screen of about 200 nits of brightness, using the X12 as my daily driver for Chrome tabs, Spotify streaming, Zoom calls and the like, it took me an average of about seven hours and 50 minutes to charge. This is exactly what my colleague Tom Warren got from the Surface Pro 7 Plus, and it means you’ll get almost a full day out of the X12 if your workload is on par with mine.
I think Lenovo has done what it wanted to do with the ThinkPad X12 Detachable. The device stands out as a system with the performance, build quality, and business features of a ThinkPad in a uniquely portable and versatile form factor. The weaknesses aren’t disasters, and they’re not areas where other detachables are doing much better. And it has some unique perks, including Lenovo’s suite of business features and the included keyboard and stylus.
When comparing the X12 to the Surface Pro 7 Plus, the last factor is what really closes the deal for me. The merits of the respective business functions and the benefits of upgrades of the two laptops are likely to vary from company to company. But for a consumer like me, the fact that the accessories you need are bundled into the price of the X12 makes it a significantly better deal than its Microsoft competitor without too many drawbacks. And if you’re a ThinkPad fan hoping for a capable detachable device with all your favorite features, your wish has certainly come true.
Photography by Monica Chin / The Verge