ThinkPad X1 Carbon -- Able MacBook Air competitor (review)

Lenovo spared no expense making the ThinkPad X1 Carbon a real mobile workhorse. From the 14-inch IPS display to the 256GB SSD in this review unit, the X1 Carbon is a road warrior's delight. It doesn't hurt it has the best trackpad the reviewer has ever seen on a Windows laptop.

10 X1 open in coffee shop

The ThinkPad line has a deserved good reputation with road warriors and the latest model is sure to delight that group. Lenovo fit a 14-inch high-res (1600x900) display in the chassis thin enough to compare favorably with the 13-inch MacBook Air.

Testing has shown the ThinkPad X1 Carbon to be the best Windows laptop I have used, from the thin (0.7 inch) and light (3 lbs.) profile to the high-performance Intel Core i7 processor. The processor is coupled with a 256GB SSD to make operation as speedy as any laptop in the lab. Even packing a punch the X1 Carbon has run quiet and cool.

Check out the photo gallery of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon notebook

Hardware specifications as tested:

  • Processor: Third generation Intel Core i7 (2.0 GHz)
  • Memory: 4 GB
  • Storage: 256 GB SSD
  • Display: 14-inch IPS wide angle viewing (1600x900)
  • Graphics: Intel HD 4000
  • Ports: 1-USB 2.0, 1-USB 3.0, Mini-DisplayPort, 4-in-1 multi-card slot
  • Battery: 4-cell, 45 Wh (6+ hours)
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Camera: 720p webcam
  • OS: Windows 7 64-bit
  • Dimensions: 13.03 x 8.9 x 0.74 inches, 2.998 pounds

The X1 Carbon is only 0.7 inches at its thickest with a slight wedge form tapering to the front. The 3 pound weight is possible without sacrificing durability due to the carbon fiber construction by Lenovo (thus the name). It has the typical black grippy ThinkPad covering top and bottom, and is easy (and secure) to carry in the hand.

A few things set this laptop apart from the crowd, not the least of which is the 14-inch IPS matte display which is viewable from wide angles. Lenovo used a small bezel to fit the 14-inch display in the chassis the size of normal 13-inch screens, making the X1 Carbon a no-compromise mobile computer.

The thin profile did cause Lenovo to leave out a wired Ethernet port, instead including a USB dongle in the box. As is common with thin laptops like this, there is no optical drive.

ThinkPads have a good reputation for keyboard quality, and the one on the X1 Carbon does not disappoint. The chiclet keys have a nice feel and good tactile feedback, and Lenovo has employed a unique key shape designed to minimize typing errors. In my testing this design is a success, as fast touch typing is possible without undue typing mistakes. The keyboard is backlit, with two brightness settings available.

Windows laptops have a deserved poor reputation for trackpads compared to the Apple line, but that comes to an end with the X1 Carbon. The oversized glass buttonless trackpad is better than any Windows model I have tested. It is a full multitouch solution with user configuration to make it work the way the user prefers. This trackpad is a joy to use.

Joanna Stern of ABC News asked me if the X1 Carbon trackpad is as good as the one on the MacBook Air? The answer to that is almost. It's pretty darn close as a matter of fact, which is good enough for me.

This is a ThinkPad, so those preferring the little red trackpoint will find it where it should be. There are also three large mouse buttons between the keyboard and the trackpad for those who prefer them.

The battery is not user replaceable as is common for ultrathin laptops. In my testing the 45 Wh battery in the X1 Carbon provided six hours with simple power management. The notebook has the excellent ThinkPad power managment utility installed, and it should be possible to get 7 hours with proper control of the power usage.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is available from Lenovo starting from $1,399 ($1,849 as reviewed). There are a number of options to configure the system meeting individual needs and the price required. The standard ThinkPad warranty of three years is included with purchase.

The following configurations (all with 4GB of memory) are available for the ThinkPad X1 Carbon:

  • Intel Core i5-3317U (1.7 GHz), 128GB SSD, $1,399
  • Intel Core i5-3427U (1.8 GHz), 128GB SSD, $1,499
  • Intel Core i5-3427U (1.8 GHz), 256GB SSD, $1,649
  • Intel Core i7-3667U (2.0 GHz), 256GB SSD, $1,849

Does the ThinkPad X1 Carbon compare to the MacBook Air? Yes, more than any other Windows notebook I have tested. Is it worth the price? Yes, and this reviewer wants one.

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