Lenovo's 14-inch ThinkPad X1 Carbon has won plaudits as a superb business-grade ultrabook. Now Lenovo has gone one better and produced a Windows 8 version with a touchscreen. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch carries a premium price, but this new ultrabook looks every bit as good as its predecessor — and performs pretty well too.
Lenovo's expertise in notebook design is well established, and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch continues that tradition. Not surprisingly, this business-grade Windows 8 ultrabook looks very like its Windows 7-based non-touchscreen stablemate. In fact, it's difficult to tell the difference with the lids closed, apart from a slight thickening of the new model to accommodate the touchscreen (20.85mm versus 18.85mm, or 0.82in. v 0.74in.).
The signature dot over the "i" in the ThinkPad logo on the lid pulses red when the Carbon X1 Touch is hibernating or charging. The familiar black shell has a soft-touch finish that helps with grip when you're cradling the ultrabook in the hand. It's not scratch-resistant, though, and you may find your ultrabook looks less than pristine after a while.
Lenovo has built the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch to be a pretty rugged machine. It has a carbon-fibre roll cage and undergoes a testing regime that assures its ability to perform in a range of different conditions (high pressure, humidity, vibration, high temperature, temperature shock, low pressure, low temperature and dust). Lenovo doesn't quote any particular military standard, but this 1.55kg (3.41lb) notebook definitely feels solidly built.
The chassis tapers towards the front, and the (considerably thicker) lid section protrudes slightly over the base, making it easy to open up.
Inside, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch shows off a thin-bezel display that almost touches the side edges, and a characteristic ThinkPad keyboard section.
The touchscreen, which measures 14 inches across diagonal, is a delight: it's exceptionally bright, with a rating of 300 NITS, and has a resolution of 1,600 x 900 pixels that makes both text and images look pin-sharp. The screen's anti-glare finish is slightly more reflective than some, but shouldn't be an issue in most situations.
Viewing angles are superb in both the horizontal and vertical planes. You can lay the screen section down flat on the desk and change its orientation into all four landscape and portrait configurations. So you could conceivably show information to colleagues sitting opposite you the right way up for them, while retaining your own access to the keyboard.
Touch responsiveness is excellent, and with full 10-finger touch support you have the gamut of Windows 8 usability features at your disposal. You will, of course, need to put some work into keeping the screen clean, but it seems more resistant to finger smudges than many.
The backlit keyboard uses the usual excellent Lenovo design, with convex bottom edges to the keys that provide a little extra area to help you type more accurately. The Enter key is satisfyingly large. The keys have a fair bit of travel and we found them extremely comfortable to use, although there's a little flex in the keyboard area that heavier-handed typists may notice.
Above the keyboard are keys for volume control, microphone muting (for use with the 720p HD webcam that sits above the screen) and control panel features. The status LEDs are also here — when unlit they're invisible, so most of the time all you see is a tiny green symbol showing that wi-fi is active.
The glass touchpad is large and supports Windows 8 gestures such as sweeping in from the right of the touchpad to call up the charms bar (as you'd sweep in from the right edge of the touchscreen). It's extremely responsive. Buttons are integrated into its bottom section, and there's a trio of discrete buttons above it for use with the Trackpoint that sits between the G, H and B keys. There's a fingerprint reader on the right-hand side of the wrist rest.
Overall, in terms of both design aesthetics and user ergonomics, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch is top notch.
Lenovo offers the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch with a choice of two Intel processors: the 2.0GHz Core i7-3667U or the 1.8GHz Core i5-3427U. Our review sample had the Core i5, and even with the standard 4GB of 1,333MHz DDR3 RAM it performed admirably. The total RAM capacity is 8GB.
Our review sample had Windows 8 Professional installed, although you can also get standard Windows 8, and downgrade to Windows 7 Professional if you wish. Anyone interested in the latter option really should be looking elsewhere — perhaps at the non-touchscreen ThinkPad Carbon X1.
The ThinkPad X1 series supports SSD storage only and various options are available ranging from 120GB to 256GB. Our review sample had a 180GB SATA III SSD.
Communications are top notch, with Gigabit Ethernet (via a USB dongle), 802.11a/g/n wi-fi, Bluetooth 4.0 and in some models (including ours) 3G mobile broadband. In models with 3G support, Mobile Hotspot allows you to share the notebook's internet connection with other devices over wi-fi, effectively giving you a portable hotspot wherever you can get a cellular signal.
The X1 Carbon Touch is a little disappointing when it comes to ports and slots. There are just two USB ports, one on each side, but only one is USB 3.0. The USB 2.0 port is at least an always-on variant. Video out is via a Mini-DisplayPort connector on the back of the right edge; there's no VGA port — that's far too 'legacy' for this cutting-edge system. A small switch on the left side allows you to toggle wireless comms on and off as required.
There's an SD-compatible flash card reader on the right side, next to a headphone/microphone combo jack. The SIM card slot is tucked away behind a hinged cover on the back edge.
The unusually-shaped AC adapter is noteworthy. Its rectangular, USB-like connector is not a design we've seen before. This will irritate if you're used to keeping chargers in several locations as you'll have to buy additional units.
Performance & battery life
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch's Windows Experience Index (WEI) of 5.4 out of 9.9 is disappointing, but it's brought low by the usual component — Graphics (Desktop graphics performance). The remaining WEI component scores are more than respectable: 5.9 for Memory (RAM Memory operations per second), 6.4 for Gaming Graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance), 7.0 for Processor (Calculations per second) and 8.1 for Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate).
Generally speaking, the X1 Carbon Touch should handle mainstream business workloads just fine, delivering particularly impressive disk performance.
The 45Wh battery is not removable — this is one of those ultrabooks that sticks to that particular defining feature. There's a fan vent measuring about 11.5cm by 3.5cm on the underside of the chassis that lets heat out constantly — and the system did get rather warm after just a half hour or so of working. There's also a grille on the left edge of the chassis.
Lenovo highlights this system's "advanced thermal design" at its website, claiming that its dual vents and fan blade design deliver increased airflow and help to minimise system temperatures. If the heat escape is evidence of that, it's a good thing — despite the probability of getting warm thighs if you work with this ultrabook on your lap.
According to Lenovo, you'll get up to 8.2 hours from the battery, and its RapidCharge technology will give you 80 percent battery charge in 35 minutes. We can confirm that the battery charges quickly, which could be a real boon for office workers who suddenly find the battery low when they need to do some work while travelling. However that eight-hour-plus battery life claim might be stretching things a bit. If your activities tend to media streaming, Wi-Fi or mobile broadband use, expect nearer six hours.
Not surprisingly the X1 Carbon Touch's impressive screen renders video very well. Colours are bright and vivid, the high-resolution display means video is sharp, while the ability to lay the screen flat enhances presentation possibilities. Sound quality is adequate at best, but should cope with multimedia presentations to small groups, though, as there's enough volume and isn't too tinny.
Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch is a lovely ultrabook in many ways: it's attractive and solidly built, with an excellent touchscreen and a great keyboard. Having said that, we'd like to see a few more ports and a removable battery — and perhaps an optical drive and a high-capacity mechanical hard drive option too. Lenovo would have to to drop the "ultrabook" label because this fully-equipped wish-list model wouldn't be one of those. As it stands, our Core i5 review unit, at £1,388.82 (ex. VAT; £1,666.59 inc VAT), is too expensive for widespread deployment.