Nov 22, 2013

Thoughts on the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga, X230T, and Other Tablets

A new Contender has entered the ring since the publishing of this post.

The Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga.

It has been a while since I acquired a new system, and the time is coming to get a new one.  My X230T is now an "old" system and is having some issues (such as the trackpad/touchpad/trackpoint giving random clicks) and it would be nice to get one of those thinner new tablets.  The Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga seems like the best choice to replace my X230T, but I feel that it falls short on a few attributes.  Below are some of my thoughts regarding the Yoga Pro, as well as a few thoughts on other convertible tablets.

First, even though the X230T is now old it is still better on the CPU/GPU than many of the modern tablets.  Compared to the ThinkPad Yoga the X230T's CPU/GPU is faster.

  • ThinkPad Yoga
    • Intel Core i7-4600U (Haswell)
      • 4MB Cache, 2.1 GHz clock speed, 3.3 GHz Max Turbo Freq.
      • Capable of up to 16GB, however it's usually restricted to 8GB.
    • Intel HD 4400 graphics
      • 200 MHz base, 1.1 GHz Max Graphics Dynamic Freq.
  • ThinkPad X230T
    • Intel Core i7-3520M (Ivy Bridge)
      • 4MB Cache, 2.9 GHz clock speed, 3.6 GHz Max Turbo Freq.
      • Capable of up to 32GB, however it's usually restricted to 16GB.
    • Intel HD 4000 Graphics
      • 650 MHz base, 1.25 GHz Max Graphics Dynamic Freq.

It seems that the trend of the last few years is to improve the aesthetics of the systems, which means that the size of their components must be reduced in order to fit in thinner chassis.  This aesthetic emphasis does not necessarily improve the performance of systems though, and we can see that when we compare the X230T against many modern tablets.  If users desire to use their system as a "media consumption" device then the modern tablets will work fine, but for "content creators" there is a need for powerful CPU/GPU.

I would love to blend my gaming laptop with my convertible tablet as it would allow me to utilize editing software that requires lots of power but the system would still remain mobile.  As of right now the ThinkPad Yoga would NOT be the choice to get for my desire of programming with the Leadwerks engine.  The X230T, even though more powerful than the Yoga, cannot smoothly run some of the "heavy" software (think of 3DS Max or any 3D-related software that uses high poly count).  (ThinkPad Yoga Pro users mentioning video card as a negative.)  This problem can be fixed with the addition of a discrete graphics card.

The Razer Edge Pro is one of the few modern tablets that offers a discrete GPU.

In the coming years I presume that convertible tablets will continue to improve on many aspects and the GPU will be an important one.  This presumption can be observed by gaming companies creating slate tablets, such Razer with their Edge Pro.  I would expect several "gaming" tablets to arrive in 2014 (Razer's Edge Pro begun to make buzz in January 2013, so the next version's buzz can be "guestimated" to be in early 2014).


Samsung Ativ Q (which got cancelled?? or at least delayed until 2014)

The X230T has a now mediocre 1366x768 resolution.  The ThinkPad Yoga improves on this by going up to 1920x1080.  The new resolution is certainly welcomed, however it modernly seems that 1080p is not enough.  The IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro, a consumer device that does not offer digitizer input, has a QHD+ display that gives a huge 3200x1800 resolution. This latter resolution is in a 13.3" display; the X230T and ThinkPad Yoga are in a 12.5" display.  Frankly I believe that having the higher resolution of the bigger 13.3" display is a better feature for power users.  There are many times when I feel "restricted" by the X230T and the 3200x1800 would allow for multiple windows to be compared side by side.  Of course, the higher resolution can be problematic as text can be quite small on unoptimized software.  Samsung with their ATIV Q were very close at delivering a 3200x1800 resolution with the capability of a digitizer, it's a shame the system was not released as initially planned.

Keyboard and Trackpoint

Precision Keyboard and Trackpoint of the ThinkPad Yoga.

From my experience, Lenovo tends to make the best keyboards.  One reason why I tend to dismiss convertible tablets from several companies is because of their "cheap" feeling keyboards.  My X230T's keyboard is still going and I have not had any problems with it.  I certainly appreciate Lenovo's great work on their keyboards.

Another neat feature of the Lenovo systems is the inclusion of the Trackpoint.  This "mini joystick" allows the user to keep their hands on their keyboard while manipulating the mouse cursor.  If I am to purchase a new system I would really like to have a Trackpoint.  Lenovo does not have exclusivity on this either, the Ativ Q has one and I have seen the same feature in other convertibles.

Bezel Buttons/Controls

Wacom Companion.

It seems that many modern tablets follow a trend to not having hardware controls on the bezel.  The modern sleek "tablet/apple" look requires the lack of buttons, however this is a mistake.  In my opinion bezel buttons can be useful and should be included, but should be positioned correctly.  The ThinkPad Yoga has a Windows button, in comparison the X230T has 3 buttons (one which can be configured for tasks [1], [2]). Even previous systems, like ThinkPad X60T, had even more possibilities due to their bezel controls. Today, one of the best examples of bezel controls can be observed on Wacom's USB and display tablets--and even more recently in their Win 8 Wacom Companion.  For the power user these side buttons can be very useful as they allow rapid content creation as well as "freeing" the display from having too many cluttering toolbars.  The one problem with the Wacom Companion is the CPU (a now undesired "old" Ivy Bridge Intel Core i7-3517u)

The inclusion of a digitizer is essential for those who will sketch, plan, do math, and other precise functions that can only be achieved through the pen.  From my experience Wacom trumps N-Trig on line quality and responsiveness, and that is why often I will disregard non-Wacom systems.  A new technology can be found in several Samsung systems, which goes by the name of S-pen-- it resembles Wacom but it's not as good.  And even further there is now a Sony Vaio Active pen (N-trig 2 based).  Now back to line quality, my X230T has 256 levels of pressure and that is ok for things like math.  However, the line quality of 256 is unacceptable to artists that often need smoother results.  (Comparison of 256 vs 512 Wacom systems)  The trend on digitizer pressure, as observed in the MS Surface Pro 2 and the Asus ViVoTab, is to have at least 1024 pressure levels.  For those that need more there are systems such as the Wacom Companion that have 2048.

Fujitsu Lifebook Digitizer.

But having a digitizer is simply not enough for content producers.  Most modern digitizers offer a single side button that end up causing limitations (should you assign that single button to erase, right click, left click, or other?).  A two button digitizer in the other hand, such as the Fujitsu Lifebook Digitizer, has the option of two assignable buttons.  Like the controls on the bezel, the second button can be programmed to perform useful actions; on my X230T I use one button for selecting/right clicking and the other for erasing.  As a side point, the eraser on the digitizers is a silly concept as it forces the user to be less efficient by using a "big eraser" area--it makes more sense to use the precise tip in combination with a side button to erase.  (More info on the digitizer)

In the last few years tablets have gotten thinner and better, however there is still room for improvement.  The ThinkPad Yoga and many of the new systems are promising and in some aspects are better than the X230T, but for the power user the CPU/GPU of the X230T is still better than what the thinner tablets have to offer.  I do not intend on getting the ThinkPad Yoga or any of the other tablets unless my X230T catches up on fire and dies.  Or at least not until something better comes around.

List of Convertible/Slate/Hybrid Tablets:


  1. Samsung SPen is just a relabeled wacom pen. These pens can be utilized on any wacom enabled screen, and any wacom pen will work just as good on any Samsung dual screen.

  2. The Fujitsu T904 will be coming out too, probably in Q1 2014. Nice 13.3" IGZO display with decent resolution (2560x1440) and of course a Wacom digitizer, which I believe Fujitsu has typically implemented very well. However, no dedicated GPU, which some users might desire/require, and the Fujitsu spec sheet indicates that the unit supports only up to 8 GB RAM, which is a step backwards from the T902 (up to 16 GB). I agree with you that the increasing emphasis on "aesthetics" and portability is leading to some compromises that result in suboptimal functionality on many of these devices. BTW thanks for your posts. They're always intelligent and informative.

    1. I knew there was one missing; thanks for bringing up the T904.

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  4. Let me bump up this post.

    It seems, that even in 2014, x230t looks good still. And much better than others in some cases.
    Thinkpad Yoga as well as Dell XPS 12 both have unexpandable RAM. In addition Dell does not have a digitizer as far as I know.
    Now, I even consider buying one of x230t from ebay. The price seems pretty decent compared to others.
    However, what makes me concerned about this purchase is battery life, especially on Windows 8. So I have a question for you.
    Jesse, have you had a chance to install Windows 8 on x230t? Was it good enough? How much of 'mobility' (in hours) you can get with x230t?

    Thanks in advance,

    1. I have not updated to Win 8. As of right now I have everything I need in Win 7. However, my unit is quite old now and is having some issues (which you can see on the "Lenovo ThinkPad X230 Tablet" label.) Mobility hours varies, the newer the battery the longer the system will go. I think my current battery run-time is about 3 hours.