Review: ThinkPad X1 Carbon, best one ever

Review: ThinkPad X1 Carbon, best one ever

Summary: The ThinkPad line of laptops has long been the standard for business. The latest model is the best of the lot, by far.

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  • ThinkPad X1 Carbon laptop by Lenovo

    When you take the ThinkPad X1 Carbon out of the nondescript box, you are immediately impressed by the top casing of polymer that is reinforced with carbon fiber, coupled with the magnesium aluminum alloy on the bottom. The clean lines of the design make this an attractive laptop, not usually the first thing that comess to mind with a business laptop such as the ThinkPad.

    Sensual lines aside, you quickly realize the engineering feat required to make such a thin laptop that meets military standards for ruggedization. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is built to stand up to the most demanding business traveler, even with a profile as thin as the MacBook Air.

    Hardware specs as reviewed 

    Processor  Intel Core i5 (Haswell), 1.9GHz
    Memory  4GB
    Display  14inch, 2,560x1,440, 10-point multitouch (optional)
    OS version  Microsoft Windows 8.1
    Camera  Front: 720p
    Storage  180GB SSD
    Ports  2-USB 3.0; mini-DP; HDMI; Ethernet; Audio in/out; Dock connector
    Connectivity  Wi-fi; Bluetooth 4.0
    Battery  9 hours; 45.2 Whrs
    Dimensions  13.03" X 8.94" X 0.73"
    Weight  3.15lbs

    After spending a few minutes admiring what Lenovo has done with the X1 Carbon, the magic really happens when you open the lid. That's when you see the great ThinkPad keyboard, and the optional high-resolution touch screen.

    The X1 Carbon is a good touch laptop due to that screen, which looks gorgeous. The touch feature really comes into play when you push the display back 180 degrees and rotate to portrait orientation. Setting it down on a table this way yields a particularly good way to review documents.

    Of all the features Lenovo has crammed into the X1 Carbon, the keyboard is at the top of the list. This one is pure joy to use for this touch typist, with good key travel and tactile feedback. It is one of the best keyboards this writer has used on any computer, with a couple of notable exceptions.

    Lenovo has removed the top row of physical keys found on most keyboards, the Fn key row, and replaced it with a row of touch icons. These touch "buttons" can rotate through several sets of buttons, including the otherwise missing Fn keys, and also morph into context sensitive keys for certain apps. This sounds good in theory but touch typists have to get used to the new "keys".

    Lenovo had to make a few concessions to the physical keyboard layout that, while some may like them, they are giving this writer a hard time. The first is the removal of the Caps Lock key, replacing it with the Home and End keys. Locking caps is now done by hitting the left Shift key twice, which has an LED indicator to note when it's been done.

    As a touch typist who uses Caps Lock a lot in this world of acronyms, this is tripping me up. I hit what should be the key to lock the caps and end up sending the cursor flying across the document I'm editing. I'm sure I will get used to the change at some point, but it's giving me fits so far.

    The other change Lenovo made to the physical keyboard was to put the Backspace and Delete keys side-by-side on the (now) top row. This isn't too bad, but I am occasionally hitting the Delete key when I want to Backspace.

    These changes aren't killers, but to this writer they seem to be unnecessary. Lenovo has changed some core functionality to have the flashy row of touch keys, which don't add much over the physical keys they replace. Time will tell if it's easy to get used to this.

    Lenovo has also enabled the webcam to watch for user hand gestures to trigger certain functions in some apps. This includes the ability to advance to the next slide in PowerPoint by waving a hand in front of the laptop. I didn't spend a lot of time testing this feature, but it worked fine the few times I used it.

    In addition to the standard red trackstick on the keyboard, the X1 Carbon has a big touchpad. This works smoothly, and Lenovo has integrated physical clicking on the trackpad to yield tactile feedback for button clicks. This works as intended, and Lenovo has done a good job with this.

    The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is configurable with one of a couple different Core i5 processors, or a Core i7. The i5 on the review unit it nice and fast, and all operations of the X1 Carbon are smooth as butter. This laptop is a joy to use given the snappy performance.

    Lenovo rates the battery life at 9 hours, and this seems to be accurate so far with this Core i5 processor. Battery life would likely come down with the faster i7. The battery is sealed, so there is no packing a second battery in the bag and swapping it on long days away from a power outlet.

    Lenovo OneLink Dock Pro
    Lenovo OneLink Dock Pro for the ThinkPad (Image: Lenovo)

    There is a proprietary dock available as an option ($180) for the X1 Carbon that adds a number of ports. This dock connects to the laptop through the power port. It enables easily using the X1 Carbon as a full desktop system, by connecting the single dock cable. The dock was not reviewed.

    The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is not cheap, the review unit as configured is about $1,500. It's a thing of beauty and the best ThinkPad yet, so if I needed a new laptop and had a sufficient budget, this would be the model I'd pick up. It is available from major retailers online and from Lenovo starting at $1,259.

    I like this laptop so much I am considering moving so Lenovo can't find me when it's time to send this ThinkPad X1 Carbon back.

    Pros:

    *Durable

    *Thin and light

    *High-resolution touch screen (optional)

    *Keyboard

    Cons:

    *Keyboard design

    Reviewer's rating: 9.5 out of 10 (this would have been the reviewer's first perfect 10 rating if not for the keyboard design choices noted in the review)

    Continue to a photo tour of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon by hitting Next at the top of the page.

    See also:

    ThinkPad Yoga: Serious work laptop, decent work tablet (hands on)

    Hands on with the ThinkPad X240: Two batteries are better than one

  • Side profile

    The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is thin and light (about 3lbs) for a 14-inch laptop.

Topics: Mobility, Laptops, Lenovo, Reviews

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17 comments
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  • Tablets all remain fancy toys; better to get a good phone and slim computer

    We trialed tablets (and Windows Phone) over a year ago. Maybe useful for sales or real estate, but just ended up being an added cost and employees still preferred laptops for real work. We went back to BlackBerry, choice Q10 or Z30 now, axed the poor quality Windows Phone, stopped buying new tablets, and everyone is much happier with majority of messaging and all email on BlackBerry 10, and rare presentation, research etc with new Windows 8 laptops, which we still don't like (BlackBerry much faster boot up obviously) but Mac just so darn expensive and not real business option. Everyone may criticize BlackBerry for boring products - I say functional - I just wish BlackBerry made a laptop, so I wasn't reliant on Windows for anything!
    HenselM
    • Tried the same

      We ditched the tablets and kept the Windows phones.
      hayneiii
    • tablets?

      Why the comment about tablets? This is a laptop.
      boomchuck1
      • I think...

        its the touch screen and flexibility to "tilt" the screen 180 deg.

        The X1 Carbon is a good touch laptop due to that screen, which looks gorgeous. The touch feature really comes into play when you push the display back 180 degrees and rotate to portrait orientation. Setting it down on a table this way yields a particularly good way to review documents.
        barnesie
    • Just wait

      When the M1Fuse is out, you can use your Z10 as a laptop.
      bb_apptix
  • Totally agree

    I like my tablet, its a nice thing, but I don't need it, the way I need my smartphone and laptop.
    roblightbody
  • People are still making proprietary docks...?

    A third-party USB3.0 dock will likely provide all of that additional functionality, be more flexible, and cost less too.

    The funky keyboard with the missing CAPS lock key would have been a deal-breaker for me. Looks like a nice piece of kit otherwise though!
    Brian Steele (2014)
    • Thin Sucks

      While I admit a 3-inch thick laptop is a Bad Idea, I suggest that ultra-thin isn't such a good idea either. When a device gets so anorexic you need a docking station to hold the "fat connectors" it's time to say: Enough Already.

      From what I've seen on devkits, the thickest [talllest?] connector tends to be Ethernet, closely followed by full-size DVI.
      alan_r_cam
  • docking station

    We have several of those USB 3.0 docks. Only drawback is that it won't charge the laptop. That is where a proprietary dock is superior.
    boomchuck1
    • i5

      i5 seems to be a bit underpowered for a business laptop. surprised to find that wasn't a negative for this laptop.
      skire
      • RE: i5

        I would think the vast majority of business would work just fine on an i5. Rather think the i7 would be overkill for the vast majority of business applications. Don't forget this Lenovo is using a SSD rather than a conventional HDD and data access is generally more important than pure processing power in typical business applications.
        The Heretic
      • i5

        Please elaborate?
        Whilst the $1200 price tag might warrant an i7 and 8GB ram, what do you think the average business user can't accomplish with an i5 chip?
        Boothy_p
  • Comparison to previous model andpros/cons on that for those considering

    I have the predecessor in its i7 edition (Type 3460-AQG) and have had it for more than half a year.

    Good to see that CTRL now again is outmost bottom left. I still have not gotten quite used to it being second to the left on my model and the X200 before that.
    The move of keys on the new model looks like introducing issues, but hard to tell unless it has been tried.

    Same poor dock design it seems. No power through dock and plug in cables and the dock wont stand but lies down and slides around on desk. That was a downer but you'll learn to live with it.

    The touchpad on mine in its default setting and after many attempts of configuration is not close to that of macs and some other windows machines. I cannot pinpoint what it is, but have turned it off because the red trackpoint does a great job. However it keeps turning itself on after updates.

    Funny though that the trackpoint on current model and previous model some times moves by itself and I find my self appliying pressure to keep it in one spot - let go and mouse moves by it selv for a second. I hope this has been fixed - other users report it too.

    Worst issue on mine (not on X200) is that the (touch)screen touches the keyboard just enough to pick up grease from the keys. So even when I quite haven't found use of the touchscreen capability and therefore do not touch the screen, then it still is greased from touching my keys. If you use the tuchscreen its probably wasn't an issue as you would be cleaning it often, but I do hope a bit more distance is introduced on the new model.

    Is the SIM card slot still getting pushed by opening the screen or is it just mine? The screen when opening often pushed the lid of the sim card slot. Not a big deal but I worry it will eventually fall off.

    I am missing VGA as one always has to bring it when moving around the office for meeting (and RJ45 for the first time yesterday). At the office we have found an HP Folio with nearly the same slim factor but with VGA and decided for that to be the standard requirement.

    On my I7 and after adjusting battery settings the battery on this pre-aswell model has been near great. Better than expected but wrong settings or alowing software to run wild really can drain it fast. So after getting used to how it works it is quiet impressive.

    Other than those ups and downs the X1 Carbon is a very fine machine and none seem to be perfect. I did get it with touch to validate that but wish no I could remove the very slightly thicker screen as I assume thats what makes the grease on the keys touch the screen.
    olunddahl
  • Too Much for Too Little

    Thinkpad Laptops are Nice. But they all come with a paltry 4GB of RAM and small Hard Drives. Unacceptable for a $1200 Laptop. Even Dell which is also overpriced gives more RAM. The TrackPoint and aesthetics are nice but not worth the cost.
    bissettbd
  • Kill CapsLock - Great idea

    I hate CapsLock - in fact it is one of the first things I remove on a new computer. I use Sharp Keys to change it into an extra LeftShift key so that I don't accidentally turn it on. If I need acronyms I use the Shift key, or press Shift F3 twice at the end of the word. Great idea Lenovo!
    jonc2011
  • Some points James missed...

    The BIG news with this new version is that you can get the high res IPS screen withOUT the touchscreen. Which means a nice matte display without all the touch BS and I presume this also prevents the screen making contact with the keys issue, but can't be sure. It just looks all around better without the touch screen in my opinion.

    However, I am disappointed that Lenovo went to the unified trackpads on the X1 series, and really all of their laptops beginning in 2013. No one that I know of has yet matched Apple on the unified trackpad and so it just becomes an annoying mess.
    Playdrv4me
  • The one thing I hate

    The one thing I hate would be physical button less touchpads. Not having physical buttons makes everything a nightmare for me personally.
    Pollo Pazzo