You could line up most ThinkPad models of the past few years and the average laptop buyer might have difficulty telling the difference between them. Lenovo has the look, feel, and features of its premium business line down to a science, and it has attracted a devoted base of fans in doing so.
Over the past year, Lenovo has made several attempts to move the ThinkPad package into 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 taking direct aim at Microsoft’s Surface Pro line. As you probably figured out from its name, the X12 Detachable is a ThinkPad-branded and ThinkPad-looking 12.3-inch Windows tablet with a detachable keyboard deck.
Once you’re aware of that information, there’s not much about the X12 Detachable that will surprise you. It has many of the same strengths that its ThinkPad siblings do, including the camera shutter, the discrete clickers, the keyboard nub, and the black-and-red color scheme that ThinkPad fans will know and love. It also comes with some unique drawbacks that are inherent to its form factor — small screen, shallow keyboard, limited ports, and so on. But if you’re in the market 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 Gen processors and runs Windows 10 Pro. The base model has an MSRP of $1,819 but is currently listed at $1,091. (This is just how Lenovo does their pricing — don’t think about it too hard.) It comes with a Core i3-1110G4, 8GB of RAM (soldered), and 256GB of storage. I’m testing a more expensive Core i5 model with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, which is currently listed at $1,331.40.
The most comparable Surface Pro 7 Plus models are currently listed at $849.99 and $1,399.99 respectively. Those prices are deceptive, however, because all of the X12 Detachable models currently listed on Lenovo’s site include 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 an extra $99.99 and $97.49 to the price. That means my X12 model is actually a couple hundred bucks less expensive than the most comparable Surface Pro (which also has less storage).
The Core i5-1130G7 in my test unit offers the various amenities of the 11th Gen 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’t imagine that anyone using the X12 for standard business work with Chrome tabs, streaming, Zoom calls, and the like will encounter any performance issues. The ThinkPad’s fan was consistently running during my use, but it wasn’t loud enough to be bothersome, and the device never heated up.
This isn’t a laptop you’d want to use for any kind of heavy gaming, but the Iris Xe graphics can lend a hand with lighter creative work. I used the device to process and lightly edit a batch of photos, and while it wasn’t the snappiest experience I’ve ever had, it was workable for my amateur needs. Anyone who does professional graphic work should consider a system with a GPU, of course.
The X12’s keyboard and pen are both fine, and 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 problems and has two buttons that you can map to your taste in Lenovo’s Pen Settings software. The keys are a bit cramped and flat, as is often the case with folio keyboards, but typing was a comfortable experience overall. They’re 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 around, but that’s also par for the course with this sort of device. If the touchpad isn’t your thing, you can use the TrackPoint in the center of the keyboard.
One other part of the chassis worth calling out is the 1920 x 1280 display. 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’s much roomier than a traditional 16:9 display, providing noticeably more vertical space. The top and side bezels are chunky, which may put some people off, but that’s understandable since the device is also meant to function regularly as a tablet (and you need something to hold).
The panel itself is also quite nice. It gets decently bright, maxing out at 380 nits in my testing, which should be enough for use outdoors and in other bright settings (provided that you’re not doing 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 Plus. Videos and webpages all looked great, with bright colors and not too much glare.
The X12 has a number of modern security features, which will mostly be of interest to business customers. There’s a match-on-chip fingerprint reader, which enables all enrollment, storage, and authentication to happen within the sensor itself, as well as a dTPM 2.0 chip and Lenovo’s self-healing BIOS, which Lenovo guarantees “will recover and self-heal when corrupted 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 for privacy. I will note that the shutter is a bit small and difficult to swap back and forth, even with my tiny fingers. (There’s also no shutter for the rear-facing camera.)
One area where Lenovo is lagging behind Microsoft is upgradeability. The Surface Pro 7 Plus comes with a removable SSD that’s easy to access. The X12’s SSD is very difficult to get at, and doing so would likely void its warranty, per analysis from the experts at Tom’s Hardware. This likely will not be a deciding factor for most consumers but could 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 lasted — especially since the X1 Fold, the last ThinkPad-branded tablet I reviewed, averaged under five hours to a charge. With the screen around 200 nits of brightness, using the X12 as my daily driver for Chrome tabs, Spotify streaming, Zoom calls, and the like, I averaged around seven hours and 50 minutes to a charge. This is right around what my colleague Tom Warren got out of the Surface Pro 7 Plus, and it means you’ll get close to a full day out of the X12 if your workload is similar to mine.
I think Lenovo’s done what it set out to do with the ThinkPad X12 Detachable. The device makes a clear case for itself as a system with the performance, build quality, and business features of a ThinkPad in a uniquely portable and versatile form factor. Its areas of weakness aren’t disasters, and they’re not areas where other detachables do much better. And it comes with some unique benefits, including Lenovo’s suite of business features and the bundled keyboard and stylus.
When comparing the X12 to the Surface Pro 7 Plus, the latter factor is what really seals the deal for me. The merits of the two laptops’ respective enterprise features and upgradability benefits will likely vary between companies. But for a consumer like me, the fact that the accessories you need are bundled into the X12’s price makes it a significantly better deal than its Microsoft competitor without too many drawbacks. And if you’re a ThinkPad fan who’s been hoping for a capable detachable with all your favorite features, your wish has certainly come true.
Photography by Monica Chin / The Verge