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Lenovo ThinkPad X390 review: An all-purpose business companion

It's always a good day when a new ThinkPad arrives in the office; the range has long been a watchword in quality and reliability, and the arrival of a new model generally means that we'll be spending the next few weeks using a machine that's robust, capable and versatile. It's fair to say, then, that Lenovo's ThinkPad X390 has a lot to live up to - but if it's anything like most of its stablemates, that's unlikely to be a problem.

Lenovo ThinkPad X390 review: Design

If you're at all familiar with the ThinkPad family, you'll probably recognise the X390 on sight. The range's design hasn't really changed for years, and that's largely a good thing. It's a classic look and all the usual hallmarks are present, from the red TrackPoint in the centre of the keyboard to the illuminated dot in the 'i' of the ThinkPad logo. It's subtle, professional and understated, with a feeling of quality to the construction despite the plastic chassis. It looks good too, with a sleek matte-black finish.

Another traditional feature of the series is the access it provides to its innards, and true to form, the X390 can be disassembled with just a crosshead screwdriver. This is an invaluable feature for IT departments, as it means that basic hardware diagnostics, repairs and upgrades can be easily done on-site, without having to send the laptop back to the manufacturer for something as trivial as a failed hard drive. The memory is soldered to the motherboard though, so you can forget about upgrading or replacing that.

Size-wise, it's comparatively chunky when viewed next to svelte ultraportables like the HP Spectre Folio 13 or the Acer Swift 7, with a 17mm thickness and a slightly more reasonable starting weight of 1.22kg. It does put the extra bulk to good use though, packing in proper fan cooling and a typically generous array of ports, which we'll talk more about later.

Lenovo ThinkPad X390 review: Keyboard and trackpad

Much like the design, Lenovo hasn't changed much about how the keyboard and trackpad work, and just like the design, that's a blessing - the ThinkPad's backlit keyboard remains one of the nicest and most responsive keyboards out there. In terms of feedback, key spacing, travel depth and responsiveness, it's right up there with Microsoft's Surface Laptop and the Apple MacBook Pro for satisfying experiences.

The function keys double as useful controls for things like volume, brightness and Bluetooth, and unlike many of its peers, the X390 doesn't palm us off with half-height left and right arrow keys to make room for the page up and page down buttons. There is, unfortunately, one small but nevertheless annoying fly in the ointment, and that's the 'Fn' key.

For some absolutely baffling reason, Lenovo has swapped the position of the left-hand ctrl key and the fn key, leading to many moments of teeth-gnashing frustration when muscle memory led to us hitting the wrong key when trying to use keyboard shortcuts. We got used to it after a while, but it's an unnecessary and pointless annoyance.

The trackpad, thankfully, remains unmolested, and is still as smooth and sensitive as ever. The trademark physical mouse buttons are also back, taking their usual place between the trackpad and the keyboard, for those that prefer a more old-school layout.

Lenovo ThinkPad X390 review: Display

The X390's 13.3in screen is a 1080p IPS affair, complete with an anti-glare matte coating. It's also available as a touchscreen, but given that this isn't a convertible laptop, this is somewhat redundant. It's a technically capable panel, offering up a maximum brightness of 327cd/m2 - more than enough to cope with everyday lighting conditions - as well as an sRGB gamut coverage of 88%.

That's not quite up to the lofty heights of the MacBook Pro or Dell XPS 13, but the good news is that it's very accurate. Greens were very slightly undersaturated and reds and purples slightly undersaturated, but in general the colour accuracy was great across the board.

Lenovo ThinkPad X390 review: Specs and performance

As befits an enterprise-class notebook, the ThinkPad X390 has a highly capable specification, including an 8th-gen Intel processor and up to 32GB of RAM. More specifically, our review model was fitted with a Core i7-8565U processor and 16GB of RAM - a decidedly high-end specification that should offer some rather tasty performance.

This more or less proved to be the case, and it racked up an overall score of 83 in our benchmark tests, roughly on par with this year's HP Spectre x360 13, which is about what we'd expect from a laptop of this configuration. The ThinkPad scored slightly higher, but we'll put that down to the higher RAM allocation giving it a boost in the multi-tasking portion of the tests. The XPS 13 is edging slightly ahead of both, with an overall score of 96, but this isn't enough of a lead to make much of a noticeable difference.

Where Dell's machine does have a noticeable advantage is in battery life. While the X390 managed to last 7hrs 37mins in our battery tests, the XPS 13 went for nearly three hours longer. That's a significant boost over Levovo's machine, and although the ThinkPad's score isn't bad, that discrepancy is worth bearing in mind. On the plus side, it does have fast-charging capabilities, so you'll be able to juice back up again quickly.

Lenovo ThinkPad X390 review: Ports and features

One of the things that generally separates enterprise laptops for more consumer-oriented fare is a list of business-friendly features, and an ample port selection is chief among those. Business users need the versatility to be able to connect to a multitude of different peripherals, and the X360 supports that with a wealth of options. Not only do you get two full-sized USB 3.1 ports (one of which also offers power delivery), you also get an HDMI port, a Thunderbolt 3 port and a separate USB-C port for charging and connecting to external docks.

There's also an inbuilt smart card reader and an Ethernet port, although the latter will require a separate adapter to use. Rounding out the list is a 3.5mm port and a combined microSD card reader and SIM tray, which enables 4G LTE connectivity. There's a number of security features too, such as facial and fingerprint recognition, and a privacy slider (eye-rollingly named the ThinkShutter) to block the webcam.

Lenovo also advertises that the X390 can come with the optional PrivacyGuard feature, which drastically narrows the display's viewing angle at the touch of a button to prevent unwanted snooping. This is a nifty feature, but sadly it's not available on any of the UK models; not even as an optional upgrade. It does include Mirametrix's eye-tracking Glance software, but this is more gimmicky than genuinely useful. The three-year courier/carry-in warranty, on the other hand, is very useful indeed.

Lenovo ThinkPad X390 review: Verdict

The ThinkPad range can usually be relied on to offer up outstanding all-round business devices, and the ThinkPad X390 continues this trend. It balances capable performance with an accurate display, sturdy, attractive construction and a fantastically well-rounded buffet of ports and features.

While it doesn't lead the pack in any one particular area, it offers the best across-the-board functionality that you'll find in a business notebook, and it does it all for a rather attractive price. The biggest thing keeping it from a perfect score is the slightly underwhelming battery life, but don't let that put you off - it really is an excellent machine.

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