Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch review: A top-notch business ultrabook

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  • Editors' rating
    9.0 Outstanding
  • $1,429.00

Pros

  • Thin and light, yet solidly built
  • Superb high-resolution 14-inch IPS screen
  • Mobile broadband support
  • Good performance and battery life

Cons

  • Only 256GB of SSD storage
  • No SD card slot
  • Only two USB ports

Lenovo's new ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch is the third generation of this premium ultrabook. Trailed by the company as "the lightest 14-inch ultrabook on the planet...and at 17.7mm thin, the thinnest ThinkPad ever", the 1.31kg X1 Carbon's QHD (2,560x1,440) display and battery life of up to 10.9 hours are standout features, alongside an impressively tough chassis design. It's a very desirable notebook indeed -- although it carries a price tag to match.

The X1 Carbon's chassis, which is made from carbon fibre, is reassuringly solid; even the thin lid section feels sturdy compared to other slimline ultrabooks, although it must be said that it's not entirely flex-free.

To prove that this is a tough notebook, Lenovo has tested it against what it calls "military-grade specification tests" for dust, vibration, heat, cold, altitude, water, humidity, solar radiation and fungus. We infer this means MIL STD 810G, and although Lenovo does not claim formal compliance, the fact of testing suggests that this notebook should cope the usual knocks and spills of everyday office and commuting life.

Still, all that noted, if you're spending well over £1,000 on a notebook, it's advisable to treat it carefully and use a protective sleeve when on the road.

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The 14-inch X1 Carbon weighs 1.31kg and is just 17.7mm thick. Image: Lenovo

As noted earlier, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is incredibly thin at just 17.7mm, with the base section measuring a mere 9mm thick at its maximum. On one level this is pleasing, but it also means there's only room for a mini-Ethernet port, so you'll have to use the supplied dongle, which provides a full-size RJ-45 connector on the end of a short cable. Having said that, many ultrabooks don't offer any wired Ethernet support at all.

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There are four preconfigured X1 Carbon variants on Lenovo's UK website -- two with a touchscreen, two without (more details below).

We were sent the top-of-the-range model, which costs a cool £1,929.99 (inc. VAT; or £1,608.32 ex. VAT) and comes with a QHD (2,560 x 1,440) multitouch IPS display. The reflective screen might not suit everyone, but that aside it's excellent. Viewing angles are great, and all those pixels crammed into 14 inches of viewing area deliver a very sharp and crisp image with enough definition to easily accommodate two application windows open side by side.

Lenovo says the display is anti-smudge. Such claims are asking to be tested, and we did find it less prone to pick up fingermarks than the average touchscreen, which should mean that less cleaning is required.

Anyone needing to use this notebook to deliver presentations to small audiences should be happy with the display, which can also be duplicated, extended or sent to an attached projector at the touch of a dedicated function key. And while sound quality is rather tinny and treble-heavy, it goes loud enough to be audible in a moderate-sized meeting room.

Lenovo hasn't been able to accommodate screen rotation beyond 180 degrees, as in the excellent Yoga 3 Pro and several other Lenovo notebooks. While it's sometimes useful to lay the screen flat on a desk, 'tent' mode operation is arguably even more valuable.

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The X1 Carbon's backlit keyboard is up to the standard expected from a ThinkPad. Image: Lenovo

The keyboard is a typically high-quality ThinkPad effort with distinctively-shaped keys that, thanks to their convex bottom edges, give a slightly larger target than square keys. The layout of the Fn key row will be familiar to users of other Lenovo notebooks, the characteristically large Enter key is a boon, and the TrackPoint sitting between the G, H and B keys gives you an alternative cursor control to the large trackpad.

The keyboard has a dual-level backlight, managed via the Fn-spacebar key combination.

The TrackPoint can be used with three buttons that sit above the trakpad. In between the left and right buttons is a scroll button that, when pressed, lets you use the TrackPoint for vertical and horizontal scrolling.

The trackpad is beautifully responsive and accommodates two-finger gestures such as pinch-to-zoom. Its own pair of buttons are embedded in its bottom segment and the pad delivers a rewarding click when pressed.

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The X1 Carbon's ports are: power, OneLink, HDMI, Mini-DisplayPort, USB 3.0 (powered) and audio in/out (top); USB 3.0 and mini-Ethernet (bottom). Image: Lenovo

As this is a slimline ultrabook, it's not brimming with ports and connectors. We've already noted the mini-Ethernet port that requires a (supplied) dongle to deliver a standard sized RJ-45 connector. This sits on the right edge alongside a USB 3.0 port. There's a further USB 3.0 port on the left edge, along with a Mini-DisplayPort, a full-size HDMI port and a headphone/microphone combo jack.

The power connector is also on this edge and, behind a rubber cover, there's a OneLink connector for Lenovo's range of docks, which you can use to add additional connectivity. Unfortunately, there's no slot for a flash drive.

Some X1 Carbon models, including our top-of-the-range review unit, also offer a Micro-SIM card tray on the back edge, giving mobile professionals the best possible opportunities for on-the-road internet connectivity. The mobile broadband module in our review unit was a Sierra Wireless EM7345 4G LTE unit. A 3G Ericsson N5321 module is also available.

As noted earlier, there are four models of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon available off the page in the UK, all of which be customised. The key specifications of the four models are:

  • Intel Core i5-5200U 2.70GHz, Windows 8.1, 14-inch 1,920 x 1,080 display, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD £1,199.99 (inc. VAT)
  • Intel Core i5-5200U 2.70GHz, Windows 8.1, 14-inch 2,560 x 1,440 multi-touch display, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD £1,509.99 (inc. VAT)
  • Intel Core i7-5500U Processor 3.00GHz, Windows 8.1 Pro, 14-inch 2,560 x 1,440 display, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD £1,799.99 (inc. VAT)
  • Intel Core i7-5500U Processor 3.00GHz, Windows 8.1 Pro, 14-inch 2,560 x 1,440 multi-touch display, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD £1,929.99 (inc. VAT)

All models use Intel's CPU-integrated HD Graphics 5500 GPU and support 802.11ac wi-fi and Bluetooth 4.0. The 256GB SSDs in the two more expensive models are PCIe drives, which are faster than the Serial ATA 128GB SSDs in the two less expensive models.

Performance & battery life

Under Windows 8.1, Microsoft's built-in Windows Experience Index (WEI) benchmark delivers scores for the various subsystems ranging from 1.0 to 9.9:

Processor 7.5
Memory (RAM) 7.9
Graphics 5.9
Gaming graphics 5.7
Primary hard disk 8.1

The integrated Intel HD Graphics 5500 GPU is clearly the weakest link, but the other subsystems -- particularly the 256GB PCIe SSD -- score well.

Maxon's demanding Cinebench R15 benchmark puts the X1 Carbon's CPU and GPU performance into perspective:

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Image: ZDNet

As is usual with ultrabooks, the X1 Carbon's 50Wh battery is not removable. Lenovo rates battery life at up to 10.9 hours across all four models. During the review period we found that a typical mix of mostly document editing and web browsing, plus some multimedia usage, left some juice to spare from a full charge. Power consumption measurements suggest that battery life for the top-end touchscreen model will range between around 10 and 2 hours depending on the workload mix and screen brightness setting.

Those who deplete the battery and need power at short notice will find the X1 Carbon's RapidCharge feature very handy. According to Lenovo, this delivers 80 percent charge in just under an hour.

Conclusion

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is thin, light and eminently portable, while also being sturdily built and providing a display that's big enough to do serious work on. That's quite an achievement.

There are some drawbacks, including a paucity of USB ports, no flash card support, plus a maximum of 256GB of storage. And, of course, the price is very much at the premium end of the scale.

Still, this iteration of the X1 Carbon is a significant step forward from last year's model, and sets a high standard for the competition to aim at.

Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Embedded Security Trusted Platform Module (TPM 1.2) Security Chip
Preinstalled OS Windows 7
Processor / Chipset
CPU Intel Core i5 (5th Gen) 5200U / 2.2 GHz
Max Turbo Speed 2.7 GHz
Number of Cores Dual-Core
Cache 3 MB
64-bit Computing Yes
Features Hyper-Threading Technology, Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0, integrated memory controller
Cache Memory
Installed Size 3 MB
Memory
Max Supported Size 4 GB
Technology DDR3L SDRAM
Speed 1600 MHz / PC3L-12800 - 1600 MHz
Storage
Interface Serial ATA-600
RAM
Memory Speed 1600 MHz
Memory Specification Compliance PC3L-12800
Configuration Features provided memory is soldered
Technology DDR3L SDRAM
Installed Size 4 GB
Rated Memory Speed 1600 MHz
Display
LCD Backlight Technology LED backlight
Resolution 1920 x 1080 (Full HD)
Widescreen Display Yes
Image Aspect Ratio 16:9
Monitor Features anti-glare
Type LED
Diagonal Size (metric) 35.5 cm
Display Resolution Abbreviation Full HD
Audio & Video
Graphics Processor Intel HD Graphics 5500
Integrated Webcam Yes
Sound Stereo speakers, dual array microphone
Audio Codec Realtek ALC3232
Hard Drive
Type SSD
Capacity 180 GB
Hard Drive Features TCG Opal Encryption 2
Input
Type TrackPoint, UltraNav, keyboard
Features buttonless touchpad, multi-touch touchpad, spill-resistant
Communications
Wireless Protocol 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0
Wireless Controller Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265 - M.2 Card
Wired Protocol Gigabit Ethernet
Wireless Broadband (WWAN)
Generation WWAN upgradable
Processor
CPU Type Core i5
Processor Number i5-5200U
Generation 5
Manufacturer Intel
Clock Speed 2.2 GHz
Optical Storage
Drive Type no optical drive
Battery
Capacity 50 Wh
Cells 8-cell
Technology lithium polymer
Run Time (Up To) 10.9 hour(s)
AC Adapter
Input AC 120/230 V (50/60 Hz)
Output 65 Watt
Connections & Expansion
Interfaces 2 x USB 3.0
Mini DisplayPort
HDMI
Headphone/microphone combo jack
LAN (on supplied cable)
OneLink connector
Lenovo Ethernet extension connector
Header
Brand Lenovo
Product Line Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
Model 20BS
Localization English
Packaged Quantity 1
Compatibility PC
Networking
Data Link Protocol Bluetooth 4.0, Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, Gigabit Ethernet, IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11ac, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
Interface (Bus) Type M.2 Card
Wireless NIC Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 7265
System
Notebook Type Ultrabook
Platform Windows
Hard Drive Capacity 180 GB
Dockable Yes
Embedded Security Trusted Platform Module (TPM 1.2) Security Chip
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Miscellaneous
Case Material carbon fiber reinforced plastic, glass-fiber reinforced plastic, magnesium-aluminum alloy
Security Trusted Platform Module (TPM 1.2) Security Chip, fingerprint reader
Features 1 USB 3.0 (Always On), RapidCharge, administrator password, hard drive password, power-on password, reset switch
Compliant Standards RoHS
Included Accessories power adapter
Manufacturer Selling Program TopSeller
Theft/Intrusion Protection security lock slot (cable lock sold separately)
Security Slot Type Kensington security slot
Monitor
Diagonal Size 14 in
Dimensions & Weight
Width 13 in
Depth 8.9 in
Height 0.7 in
Audio Output
Compliant Standards High Definition Audio
Manufacturer Warranty
Type 3 years warranty
Environmental Standards
ENERGY STAR Certified Yes
Physical Characteristics
Weight 3 lbs
Operating System / Software
OS Provided: Type Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit Edition
Type Adobe Reader, EverNote, Lenovo Solution Center, Maxthon Cloud Browser, Norton Internet Security (30 days subscription), PC Device Stage, SHAREit, Skype, ThinkVantage Product Recovery, ThinkVantage Rescue and Recovery, ThinkVantage System Update
Preinstalled OS Windows 7
Video Output
Graphics Processor Intel HD Graphics 5500
Graphics Processor Series Intel HD Graphics
Notebook Camera
Integrated Webcam Yes
Input Device
Backlight Yes
OS Provided
Preinstalled OS Microsoft Windows 7 Professional 64-bit Edition
Service & Support
Type 3 years warranty
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty
Location pick-up and return
Full Contract Period 1 year, 3 years

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