framework review

This laptop was paid for with my own money for $1171 USD (not including RAM+SSD, which was $134 from Amazon). The specs are:
i7-1165G7 | 16GB DDR4-3200, dual-channel | 500GB SN550 SSD | AX210 non-vPro WiFi | 2256x1504 400 nits
Album of all pics

Reviewer Context/Bias

These are the laptops I have used extensively:

  • Sony VAIO SB self-purchased, used heavily for 5 years, then lightly for another 5 years (broken)
  • Lenovo ThinkPad T540p work-issued, used for 2 years
  • Lenovo ThinkPad T460p work-issued, used for 1 year
  • Dell Latitude 7480 work-issued, used for 3 years (still in-use)

I value laptops with repairability and longevity of both specs and build quality. I am not a habitual upgrader and use my devices for as long as they last. My use-case does not require top-of-the-line performance, but I value getting the full performance out of the spec I pay for. I prefer keyboards with long travel, trackpads with real buttons, and matte displays with taller aspect ratios. I appreciate portability and thinness while not sacrificing too much performance.

I recently purchased a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 (full review here) so most of my comparisons will be with that and the Latitude.

Buying Experience/Shipping

I pre-ordered the first day it was available (13 May) with a $100 deposit. Configured an i7 DIY edition with AX210 wifi, 5 expansion cards, and power adapter. Here is the full cost breakdown. I received a pre-shipment notification e-mail on 27 July and was charged the remainder of the cost on 29 July. Received tracking number on 31 July and it was delivered on 5 August (after a few missed delivery estimates from Fedex).

Assembly/Setup
  • Included screwdriver has a magnetized combination T5/Philips head.
  • 5 captive screws and magnetically attached keyboard deck (no clips!) make disassembly extremely easy.
  • RAM and SSD installation are straightforward. Wifi card installation is a little more difficult thanks to the tiny antenna connectors.
  • 1-click driver installation was dead simple. Very nice
Chassis
  • Very solid & lightweight. Minimal flex on the keyboard deck and palmrest areas. Overall bottom chassis quality is on-par with X1 and Lat.
  • Very similar overall footprint vs the X1, and virtually the same thickness.
  • Hinge is fairly solid with uniform resistance from 0 to 185 degrees. When the lid is <10 degrees open, there is a small but noticeable pull from the magnets underneath the palmrest.
  • Lid wobbles more than on the X1 and Lat after opening/adjusting angle. No wobble when typing or clicking. The lid flexes noticeably more than the X1 and Lat when opening from a single corner.
  • One-handed opening is possible but it suffers from the same issue as the X1--the slippery feet and light weight makes it too easy to push the entire unit away.
  • Expansion cards fit very solidly in the slots with no wiggle. Insertion is easy with a satisfying click, removal is more difficult with quite a bit of force required.
  • Raw aluminum surface hides fingerprints much better than the black-painted X1 and Lat.
Input Devices
Keyboard
  • Virtually identical in travel, tactility, and spacing with the X1. Like the X1, overall feel is noticeably worse than the 2mm-travel Lat.
  • Three backlight stages instead of two on the X1 and Lat. The backlight state is remembered after wake/boot, like the Lat and VAIO and unlike the X1.
  • shift+caps+x key combination works, unlike on the X1, which beeps an error whenever I try it.
  • Framework fn key configurable via PowerToys
  • Layout compared to X1:
    + Three media playback keys instead of three Skype keys
    + lctrl and fn are sized/ordered the way I prefer
    + prtscr on top instead of in between ralt and rctrl
    o Full-width right column (though shorter keys on X1 and Lat not a big deal for me)
    o Squished up/dn arrow keys and no dedicated home/end/pgup/pgdn keys (not a big deal for me, as I have these bound to a caps-enabled modifier layer using AutoHotKey)
    o No dedicated insert key (I mapped the Framework fn key to it via PowerToys)
    - No fn-lock LED
Trackpad
  • Glass trackpad is very smooth. Tracking and clicking are very similar to X1, though I prefer dedicated bottom buttons like on the Lat and VAIO.
  • Three-finger middle click works, unlike the X1 (on which I had to use an AutoHotKey script workaround).
  • The trackpad and its physically-clickable area are much larger than the X1's.
  • I really miss the trackpoint and associated buttons on the X1/Lat
  • Clicking on the left side of the trackpad sometimes results in a squeaking sound and extra feedback (video). I believe I am experiencing the first issue listed here. Support is extremely responsive and they'll be sending me a replacement input cover. Edit: Replacement input cover received Aug 14, issue resolved.
Webcam/Mic/Fingerprint Reader
  • Webcam picture quality is incredible, especially compared to the absolutely garbage quality on the X1. Resolution, clarity, colors, and field-of-view are worlds apart. FW sample | X1 sample
  • Similar to the X1, I get around 10-15 FPS on video captures under low light conditions. Recording outdoors results in the full 60FPS.
  • Lack of IR is actually a plus to me, as it is unreliable enough to be annoying (at least in my experience with the X1).
  • Camera switch works reliably and is a real hardware switch unlike the X1. An annoyance of the X1 implementation is that it automatically shuts off the camera in very dark conditions.
  • Mic quality is similar to the X1 according to the person I was calling on Discord.
  • Hardware mic switch is completely transparent to the OS, which is awesome and AFAIK a feature no other laptop has.
  • Fingerprint reader works 99% of the time, unlike the X1's which only works about half the time.
Display
  • Good colors, bright, and great pixel density at 13.5" 2256x1504. As a lifelong matte-screen user, this glossy screen has shown me the light (pun intended). Details are much clearer than on the matte 14" 1920x1200 X1. Reflections are more annoying but I think the tradeoff is worth it.
  • The ~200 PPI density allows me to run at 150% scaling which results in more real estate and prettier text than the 125% scaling I use on X1.
  • One worry I had was the smaller size compared to the X1. On widescreens, I put the taskbar on the side since it's a more efficient use of space. However the 3:2 aspect ratio allows me to put it on the bottom without wasting as much. This, combined with the extra pixel density, allows me to see more information both vertically and horizontally on the Framework than on the X1 with side taskbar.
  • Minimum brightness is noticeably brighter than the X1, and about the same as the Lat. The dimness on the X1 is something I'll miss for nighttime use. comparison pic
Performance/Thermals

Finally, no more throttling! After a short 45W boost, the 28W PL1 is held indefinitely at an average of 80C, which utilizes the Iris Xe+DDR4 setup to its full potential in games. The fan is able to spin up much louder than the X1 to maintain this power draw and I get no framerate dips in games. Setting the Windows power slider actually adjusts PL1 in a sane way unlike the X1, which has erratic behavior in all settings. Performance is maintained unplugged as well. DDR4-3200 results in lower raw iGPU performance compared to X1 with LPDDR4x-4266, but the better thermals makes up for it, and for me, it's a tradeoff worth making for the upgradability.

AIDA64+Heaven stress test
Games

Album of above pics

Misc
  • Not having to pay for yet another Windows license was awesome. I just used the key I was using on my VAIO.
  • Being able to pick and choose the port locations is great. Left-side-only charging on the X1 is annoying.
  • 60W GaN charger is absolutely tiny at ~2x2x1 inches. Both cables are removable and the USB-C side has both straight and right-angle connectors. Makes the 65W Lenovo look old.
  • Currently having an issue with high battery drain during sleep.
  • I miss battery threshold charging on the X1 but apparently it is on the roadmap. Edit: charge limit added Dec 2021
  • Power button LED is a little bright but apparently will be adjustable. Edit: power LED adjustment added Oct 2021
  • Love the lack of stickers and branding on the keyboard deck. The evo sticker and multiple X1s are tacky in my opinion.
Verdict/Next Steps

It's a keeper. Even if you ignore the promised motherboard upgrades and long-term availability of the company, it's a very competitive offering in the ultrabook laptop market. At the very worst it's a trackpoint-less, non-throttling X1 Carbon with socketed components, swappable ports, and an amazing webcam. At best it'll be a laptop I can throw an ARM/RISC/AMD 9000/16th-gen Intel motherboard in in 5 years. I'm excited to see what future dongles come out and to tinker with the EC firmware once they release the source. Edit: source released Jan 2022

Beyond the product itself, I can't ignore the warm-and-fuzzy feeling that comes with supporting Framework and their goals. Not having to compromise on the product to do so makes it that much better. I also feel very good not supporting Lenovo after seeing the slow-but-steady decline of their ThinkPad line, shady pricing tactics, and opaque customer support over the years. Conversely, the Framework founder and employees have been extremely open and helpful in the forums with troubleshooting issues and taking feature requests. Hopefully that level of interaction continues well past the initial launch.

I just put in my return request for the X1 Carbon and will be enjoying the Framework hopefully for a long, long time.

Edit
Pub: 08 Aug 2021 00:41 UTC
Edit: 26 Jan 2022 21:10 UTC
Views: 6499