The ThinkPad X1 Extreme, Lenovo made a statement to Dell and Apple: The company will not let the XPS 15 and MacBook Pro dominate the 15-inch laptop category. Last year’s first X1 Extreme did much good, with fast performance and a beautiful display in a lightweight package. But in the end, it was plagued by poor battery life. This is our Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Review. Lenovo’s second bite to the apple (pun intended) is more of the same.
With an equally attractive and portable design, fast performance, and a stunning 4K HDR display, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme 2nd-Gen is an excellent choice for content creators and business users alike. Unfortunately, the poor battery life is once again undoing this otherwise fanciful machine.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Review – Design
My first laptop came with a 15-inch display, and no matter how much I liked the laptop’s screen, that thick brick of a device was too heavy to drag around. When it was time to update, I, like so many, rode the wave of small imaginary laptops that had become popular over the past decade. Lenovo didn’t make any significant changes to the design of this sophomore. The slim, thin, and lightweight chassis of this machine remains the best presentation (alongside the X1 Carbon) of Lenovo’s iconic ThinkPad aesthetic.
You’re probably already familiar with the look. Still, we’ll go over the basics: On the lid of the X1 Extreme is a darkened ThinkPad logo illuminated by glowing red “i” opposite a stylish X1 brand. Open the lid, and you’ll find the distinctive red ThinkPad piping on the touchpad buttons and pointing stick. There’s more branding on deck and display, but it’s all discreet and doesn’t detract from the X1 Extreme’s sneaky, minimalist look.
New to this year’s model is a carbon fiber fabric on the lid of the X1 Extreme. This same pattern, first introduced on the recently launched ThinkPad X1 Carbon, resembles the X1 Extreme’s plush, carbon-fiber materials, and gives the device the same aggressive edge as those seen on carbon-fiber decals of the sports cars.
The ThinkPad X1 Extreme is a beautiful laptop, but I have some difficulty with the design. First of all, the X1 Extreme doesn’t embrace thin displays as other premium laptops have. The bottom bezel is very coarse and detracts from another streamlined design. I also wish the fingerprint sensor was more pronounced and that the power button wasn’t so recessed. Oh, and the matte black, soft-touch surfaces attract fingerprints like no other.
Business users who use the ThinkPad X1 Extreme in the office will have no problem connecting monitors, smartphones, or other peripherals at home. On the right side of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme, there are two Thunderbolt 3 ports, an RJ45 Ethernet dongle (which requires an adapter), and an HDMI 2.0 input. Go to the left side of the laptop, and you will find two USB 3.1 ports, a Kensington slot, an SD card reader, and an optional smartcard reader.
Keyboard and TouchPad
Lenovo ThinkPad keyboards are simply the best in the business. The Extreme’s gently scalloped keys embrace your fingertips, and their generous travel seems more profound than the laptop itself. It’s the combination of a robust tactile click that bounces your fingers from key to key and a plush landing when you control the keys, which makes the X1 Extreme’s keyboard so much fun to type on.
Lenovo deserves props to resist the temptation to create a new key design, as so many other brands have done. These keys are not broken; please don’t try to fix them. Under the keyboard is a 3.9 x 2.7-inches touchpad, which is smaller than other 15-inch laptops. I didn’t bother with the smaller size, because the square area has enough vertical and horizontal space to perform Windows 10 gestures, such as pinch to zoom in and swipe with three fingers to switch windows.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Review – Display
The 15.6-inch, 4K (Ultra-HD) display on our ThinkPad X1 Extreme is colorful, bright, and sharp. The anti-glare panel may not have the same image quality as the new OLED panels, but it’s a perfect choice for business users or content makers who are annoyed by reflections. The 3840 x 2160 pixel panel was so sharp that I could easily see the stitching in Harley Quinn’s hat when I paused a scene in Birds of Prey.
Vivid colors burst from the screen when the Ace Chemicals factory exploded, and a turquoise, scarlet and chalky bat burst into the air. Those saturated shakes didn’t pop as hard as on the bright OLED screen at the Razer Blade 15 Studio that my colleague was watching next door, but at least the X1 Extreme’s anti-glare screen didn’t reflect my face.
Our colorimeter measured an excellent 163% of sRGB coverage when we placed it on the ThinkPad X1 Extreme’s screen. That means the notebook screen is more saturated than the 16-inch MacBook Pro (114%) and HP Spectre x360 15 (157%). Only the XPS 15‘s 4K panel is more colorful (210%). All of these laptops, except for MacBook Pro, are at the top of the category average (122%).
The ThinkPad X1 Extreme’s screen has 384 nits and is very bright, although it was overshadowed by the XPS 15’s 4K screen (418 nits) and the MacBook Pro’s 16″ panel (429 nits). The Spectre x360 15 (247 nits) display was disappointingly weak and far below the category average (367 nits).
The four downward-speakers on the ThinkPad X1 Extreme pump out a decent sound. Although they were not quite able to fill a medium-sized laboratory, the quality of the sound produced was above average. In the midrange of The Killers’ “Run for Cover,” there was a sweet meatiness that didn’t make the up-tempo rock/alternative song sound thin. Don’t expect miracles in the lower range, but a nice bass kick gave Juice Wrld’s “Lucid Dreams” the depth it deserves.
The ThinkPad X1 Extreme is not made for gaming, but the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 Max-Q graphics chip of this machine with 4GB VRAM is a significant upgrade from an integrated card. On our 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme landed with a 175,005, just under the XPS 15 (177,158). Both scores correspond to the average of the premium laptop (99,248).
On our real-world gaming test, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme zoomed through Dirt 3 at 170 frames per second. That’s twice as smooth as the XPS 15 (80 fps, GTX 1650) and exceeds the Spectre x360 15 (61 fps) and the average of the premium laptop (58 fps). The results of our Hitman benchmark were not so good, but the ThinkPad X1 Extreme still did well, with a speed of 47 fps. The Spectre x360 15 (46 fps) performed roughly the same, but neither laptop reached the category average (63 fps).
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Review – Performance
I threw everything I could at the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, but the Intel Core i7-9850H CPU with 32GB of RAM in this beastly machine didn’t break a single sweat. I didn’t notice any delay when I loaded 15 Google Chrome web pages, four of which played 4K videos in the background. Even when I was streaming a Carabao Cup match between Aston Villa and Leicester City, the X1 Extreme was so insensitive to the workload that the fans didn’t even start.
The ThinkPad X1 Extreme did an excellent job on our benchmarks, crushing file transfer, computer and graphics tests. This second-generation model scored 23,533 points in the Geekbench 4.3 overall performance test, just below the levels of XPS 15 (28,882) and MacBook Pro (31,178), both configured with Core i9-9980HK processors. Last year’s Spectre x360 15 (21,889; Core i7-8750H) couldn’t keep up, although it beat the category average (21,889).
Content creators should take note of our video transcoding test, where a laptop is tasked with converting a 4K video to a 1080p resolution. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme completed that task in 10 minutes and 19 seconds, cutting out the Spectre x360 15 (10:45). The fast-paced XPS 15 (8:00) and MacBook Pro (8:00) show how much more power a Core i9 CPU radiates over the Core i7 chip.
Finally, we have a Windows PC with a hard drive that rivals the speed of a MacBook Pro. The 1TB M.2 2280 PCIe, NVMe Opal2 SSD in the ThinkPad X1 Extreme, duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 2.5 seconds for a blazing 2,035.7 megabyte per second. Competitive laptops that come close to or above the premium laptop average (1,023.4 MBps) – including the Spectre x360 15 (565.5 MBps, 1TB SSD), MacBook Pro (2TB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD; 1,017.9 MBps) and XPS 15 (1TB PCIe SSD, 508 MBps) – will not come close to Lenovo.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Review – Battery Life
Something had to ruin the party. The ThinkPad X1 Extreme lasted at least 5 hours and 28 minutes on our battery test, continuously surfing the web over Wi-Fi at 150 nits. We expect short runtimes from gaming laptops and workstations, not laptops made for creators and business users. In comparison, the XPS 15 with a 4K display lasted 8 hours and 48 minutes, slightly longer than the 4K Spectre x360 (8:09). If the MacBook Pro (10:55) had lasted 1 minute longer, then it would have doubled the run time of ThinkPad X1 Extreme.
Inadequate cooling was one of the few complaints we had with the first-generation ThinkPad X1 Extreme. Fortunately, the new model did much better in our heat test, with a temperature of 99 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s still above our 95 degrees comfort threshold, but nowhere near the 123 degrees that the Gen 1 version passed the same test (playing a 15-minute, 1080p video). The touchpad of the 2nd Gen ThinkPad X1 Extreme (82 degrees) and the center of the machine’s keyboard (92 degrees), two places where you often rest your hands, were just warm to the touch.
Price and Configuration Options
With a starting price of $1,721, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme is one of Lenovo’s most expensive laptops. For that price, you get a 1080p, anti-glare display along with with an Intel Core i5-9300H CPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 GPU graphics. Upgrading to a 1080p configuration with a Core i7-9850H CPU, 32GB RAM, a 1TB SSD, and a GTX 1650 GPU brings the price up to $2,659. Our $3,066 review unit is equipped with the same specifications but boasts a 4K HDR display.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme Review – Conclusion
The ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2 is one step away from the best 15-inch laptop on the market. Again, the fault lies in reduced battery life compared to other 4K rivals. If a long runtime is crucial to you, you can choose a 1080p panel, but you will miss the beautiful 4K HDR display option. Apart from the disappointing battery life, the ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen is almost a perfect laptop for content creators and business users. The sleek design looks great, and it’s surprisingly durable yet portable.
Performance is also impressive thanks to a Core i7 CPU and GTX 1650 Max-Q graphics. You can even equip the X1 Extreme with 64GB of RAM, even though the storage space is up to 1TB. We recommend Dell’s XPS 15 over the ThinkPad X1 Extreme because it has a longer battery life and a lower price. You should also consider the Spectre x360 15, although we would wait for the redesigned model with 9th Gen processors.
Apple’s 16-inch MacBook Pro is another good option when you’re not on a budget; it has long battery life and epic performance, but it’s significantly heavier than the X1 Extreme and has a less colorful display.
All in all, the 2nd generation ThinkPad X1 Extreme is an excellent laptop with one notable flaw that many customers find hard to overlook.
Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Extreme Gen 2 is an excellent alternative to the MacBook Pro, but it has one major drawback.
- Attractive, lightweight chassis
- Gorgeous 4K HDR anti-glare display
- World-class keyboard
- Blistering performance
- Poor battery life (on 4K model)
- Storage limited to 1TB