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Review: Lenovo's ThinkPad X280 Echoes The Pricier X1 Carbon (Except On Battery Life)

The CRN Test Center gives high marks to the portability and performance of the laptop.

At the CRN Test Center, we wish we could tell you that Lenovo's ThinkPad X280 offers most of what the X1 Carbon provides, but at a more-affordable price point.

Unfortunately, that's not quite the case. While the sixth-generation X1 Carbon brought together incredible performance, battery life and portability, among other things, the X280 is missing a strong showing on battery life. Which is a bit odd, given that the X280 is a noticeably smaller machine with its 12.5-inch display, versus the 14-inch display of the X1 Carbon.

[Related: Review: Lenovo's Latest ThinkPad X1 Carbon May Be The Business Laptop To Beat]

In our tryout of the ThinkPad X280, we got six hours of battery life in one test and just four hours in a second test, in both cases with heavy usage (multiple browsers and applications) and the brightness set to 75 percent. (We think our approach offers a true-to-life figure for how notebooks will perform on battery life.)

Those findings compare to the nine hours of battery life we got while testing the sixth-gen X1 Carbon, the 7.5 hours we got with Dell's Latitude 7390 and the 6.75 hours we got with HP's EliteBook 830 G5. Rapid charging capabilities with the X280—which can get an 80-percent charge in just an hour—helps to compensate somewhat for the issue.

Where the ThinkPad X280 compares more favorably with the X1 Carbon is on portability: the non-touch model of the X280 weighs just 2.5 pounds, equivalent to the non-touch X1 Carbon. Our tryout model features a touchscreen, which brings the weight to 2.79 pounds. We're not sure that's a worthwhile trade-off, given how much we liked the lightness of the non-touch X1 Carbon.

The X280 is also fairly comparable with the X1 Carbon on thickness, with the laptop measuring 0.67 of an inch thick, just a bit more than the 0.62-of-an-inch X1 Carbon. And the notebook meets the well-known ThinkPad military-level durability standards with its glass-fiber reinforced plastic case (for the touch model) and carbon fiber case (for the non-touch model).

The performance on the X280 is excellent, with quick loading for applications and web pages, and no major slowdowns while multi-tasking with a large number of windows open at a time. Our model featured an eighth-gen Intel Core i5 chip (quad-core, "Kaby Lake R" series) and 8 GB of RAM, so the performance should get even better if you're willing to pay for it.

The laptop's keyboard is another highlight, with deep and comfortable keys, and the touchpad rates well on smoothness, too.

Notable security features with the ThinkPad X280 include a built-in webcam shutter (at last!) and a touch fingerprint reader. The laptop also offers a good selection of ports, with USB-C, Thunderbolt 3, two USB-A ports, HDMI and optional Micro-SIM—as well as the ability to do USB-C side docking.

The FHD (1,080p) display is fine but does seem a bit duller than other FHD screens we've been trying out lately, such as on the fifth-gen HP EliteBook 830. The display is plenty bright when set to full brightness, but trying to conserve battery life by reducing the brightness results in a screen that doesn't feel quite bright enough.

All of that being said, the X280 does come pretty close to the X1 Carbon on the overall experience. Given the choice we would probably pay the additional money for the X1 Carbon, which starts at $1,367 versus the $1,061 starting price for the X280.

Still, for those who are fans of the ThinkPad X Series but are especially budget-constrained, Lenovo's ThinkPad X280 is a solid alternative. Just make sure you don't forget your charger.

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