Not All ThinkPads are The Same

This article is a transcript of a video that you can watch by clicking the thumbnail below. Hence, certain statements may not make sense in this text form, and watching the video instead is recommended.


I know you think all ThinkPads are the same; and that is a black computer (which is often also thick and heavy), with that useless red thing in between the keys and also those redundant buttons attached to the trackpad. Let's have a look at some arguably interesting facts about ThinkPads that might give you at least a couple of differences to spot, and maybe more if you're the curious type.


A popular misconception about ThinkPads is that they're all boring. Other manufacturers experiment with different design aesthetics and colors, for example, how the Dell Latitude, pretends to be an Apple Computer, with each revision getting the body color closer and closer to that of the MacBook. On the other hand, ThinkPads consistently lack physical characteristics beyond the stereotypical shape, color, form, and layout.

How ThinkPads Have Changed With Time

There are major changes in ThinkPads as far back in time as I can see.

  1. ThinkPads have been getting lighter with every successive generation. The ones suited for professional workstation users may still be thicker and heavier, but an average ThinkPad isn't even remotely as bulky or monstrous as they once used to make them.
  2. With smaller and lighter designs, the obvious thing ThinkPads (just like most other brands) have lost are external ports. We do not have DVD drives anymore, but things like a full-sized ethernet port are also unavailable on most but a few models. We've lost SD-card readers, ports to connect external monitors like the DisplayPort and HDMI ports, and some even come with only a pair of USB-C ports and a headphone jack, pretty much like the entry-level Apple computers from 2016.
  3. The era of dual batteries with Lenovo Power-Bridge is long gone after 2018, but none of the models manufactured today even have user-replaceable batteries. I mean you can still replace batteries, but while in some models they're accessible behind a service panel secured with a set of screws, some require struggling with tabs that snap very easily.
  4. The things you can upgrade in your ThinkPad have also been reduced. Some models still allow upgrading the wireless modules, and many still allow upgrading RAM (with some having one module soldered out of the two). In a few models though, the only thing user-replaceable is the storage drive.
  5. We've not seen the return of the ThinkLight after 2013, though we have way better keyboard illumination with backlighting from behind the keys.
  6. Lenovo tried getting rid of the three physical buttons over the trackpad back in 2014, which is something they had to re-introduce in 2015, but the recent models have started reminding us of that time again.
  7. We may also lose the iconic TrackPoint in upcoming generations, after which I do not see how the ones who are used to it would use notebook computers branded as ThinkPads.
  8. There might be more hardware peculiarities that ThinkPads might have lost over the years, those that either I may not remember at this point, or the ones that I might not even have seen, given I haven't personally used ThinkPads older than my X61s from 2007.

Some Contrast Between My ThinkPads

Even within the relatively smaller fleet I own, the range is enormous.

Take for example the T15g Gen 2, which shows no compromise in terms of weight and size, has a full-sized keyboard, has all the ports that you'd need for pretty much anything a reasonable user would need today, and is capable of anything I'd throw at it, except for a few things like being able to draw good colors on the screen.

Take for example the W530, which is very similar to its descendant, but offers a way different keyboard, and a screen that's better too, at least in certain areas.

Take for example the X220 and the X61s, which are four years apart in age, but still appear similar in certain areas, while being very different in others, a few of them being the screen, port selection, and processing power.

Take for example the X1 Nano, that is a great balance between power and mobility, with some compromises in practicality. There are several areas where this machine is miles apart from the other ThinkPads I've owned before, and the screen here is the best I've had or seen in a ThinkPad.

I plan to show some more variety in the upcoming videos but to avoid spoilers, I won't talk about it now.

Also, if I should mention it again, most, if not all of the machines we talked about have been designed keeping different audiences in mind.

A Quick Science Lesson about the X1 Series

Before we head on to the main section of this video, how about a short science lesson on the X1 series?

By definition, the X1 series takes the idea of the X series a little further by offering machines that are objectively better designed. These machines push the limit to the extreme by offering above-average power in thin and light chassis. Does that really give you better performance? Maybe. Regardless, this series caters to a different audience that prefers form over feature.

The most popular pair of models are the X1 Carbon and the X1 Yoga, the standard 14-inch ultra-thin notebooks. The former can be configured with a touchscreen, but the latter always has one. In fact, the screen isn't a regular touchscreen, but a proper digitizer, which is why the Yogas come with a garaged stylus. Usually, the X1 Yoga runs three generations behind the X1 Carbon and there are parallels in every generation.

There's also the X1 Titanium Yoga, just to add some confusion, and at a high level, it's a more premium Yoga with a 3:2 screen and slightly better materials.

X1 Extreme tries to bring workstation-notebook-like hardware into a premium chassis, and the X1 Nano sits at the exact opposite end of the spectrum by being the most X1 of the entire X1 lineup, which is the thinnest and lightest of all.

Finally, there are the X1 Tablet and X1 Fold, which form two peculiar members of the X1 family.

Now that we know a little about the X1 family, let's move on to the main part where we compare two machines from the X1 family just a generation apart and see how different they are.

X1 Yoga Gen 3 versus X1 Yoga Gen 4

It's believed that all ThinkPads are the same, let alone two ThinkPads of the same series, even more so two of the same exact model just a year apart. It turns out, that isn't true, and though some generations only update a couple of characteristics in a newer machine, there are years where there's a major redesign. This is exactly what we'll see today with this X1 Yoga Gen 3 from 2018 and this X1 Yoga Gen 4 from 2019.

Before we proceed further, let me confess that these two units are still running Windows. You won't find this with my machines, and these two are here only for some lessons, and I plan to find new homes for them as soon as I'm done with these experiments. Not setting these up according to my preferences would save me a lot of time and prevent me from getting attached to them and ending up adding them to my fleet. I know it's hard, but I hope I can keep it this way.

We'll start with some configuration-specific differences that widely depend on how these machines were configured during purchase by their first owner. You can more or less configure either with that of the configuration of the other machine, but the two major things different between these specific examples we have with us today are that while this Gen 3 has a higher-resolution screen than the Gen 4, the RAM on the Gen 3 is only 8GBs, unlike the 16GBs on the Gen 4. Again, this is merely due to the decision made by the first owner.

Then, there are hundreds of things similar between the two, some of which are the keyboard layout, the amazingly smooth and precise glass trackpad which is arguably slightly better than an Apple MacBook, major design elements like the red TrackPoint and the three buttons above the trackpad, and the CPU generation which is Intel Core i5 8th Gen.

So, what are the positive changes in the Gen 4 as compared to the Gen 3?

  • The most obvious that we've been ignoring all this while is the color and the material. The newer device now has sharp edges instead of curved edges.
  • The weight and size have also been reduced. X1 Yogas in each generation have always been slightly bigger and heavier than the X1 Carbons from the same year, but in Gen 4, the difference between the Carbon and the Yoga is pretty small.
  • 2019's Yoga has the same narrow bezel as the X1 Carbon Gen 7, while the X1 Yoga Gen 3 had screen bezels thicker than the X1 Carbon Gen 6. All this used to be mostly due to the difference in screen technology.
  • Oh yes, and now there are two additional speakers with these pair right above the keyboard, making a set of four speakers. These two are tweeters that do not produce much sound but add to the quality of the output.

So if you think that all the changes between Gen 3 and Gen 4 were positive, you'd be wrong.

  • The most important for most people considering a purchase is obviously the price, which is always higher for the later generation.
  • As with most ThinkPads starting in 2019, the key travel is also drastically different between the two, such that the typing experience is different now. However, for some reason, though I've personally experienced the difference between the X1 Carbon Gen 5 and Gen 7, that between the X1 Yoga Gen 3 and Gen 4 seems to be not that significant.
  • That's not the only thing we lost in the keyboard there, but the X1 Yoga Gen 4 also doesn't have the retracting keys that used to sink into the chassis when the device was either closed or the keyboard turned around behind the screen in tablet mode.

Certain changes cannot be categorized as positive or negative:

  • All ports have been moved around, that even includes the air vents.
  • The mini ethernet port has been moved right next to one of the two mini-USB ports on the left
  • The positions of the garaged stylus and the fingerprint reader have also been moved.
  • Even the camera shutter has been reversed for some reason.

X1 and Beyond

So we've seen how there are major changes between the X1 Yoga Gen 3 and X1 Yoga Gen 4 on the outside while the internals largely remained the same. If we were to go one generation back though, the chassis was identical, but with a major change in the internals, which is something that happened between all ThinkPad models while moving from 7th gen Intel Core processors to 8th Gen. So while the X1 Yoga Gen 2 could only be configured with a dual-core processor, the Gen 3 had quad-core processors. This might sound small, but it brought in a significant boost in performance to the same exact machine.

If we were to look in the other direction, which is the newer models, they've been getting significant updates to the camera in terms of the housing sticking out of the lid to host larger camera sensors and some coming with an optional haptic trackpad along with the traditional ThinkPad trackpads with three additional buttons.


So yes, not all ThinkPads are the same.


That's all that I have for this video. Thanks for watching it till the end, may the maker watch over you, see you in the next video! And yes, "Free Palestine!".