Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (8th Gen) review: Flagship ultraportable maintains the quality

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  • Editors' rating
    9.0 Outstanding
  • $1,199.00

Pros

  • Lightweight yet sturdily built
  • Excellent keyboard
  • Dedicated voice call keys
  • Excellent audio subsystem
  • Plenty of security features

Cons

  • Battery life doesn't match 19.5-hour claim
  • Touchpad is somewhat cramped
  • Sizeable screen bezels

Lenovo's flagship business laptop, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, has reached its 8th generation, and the latest model continues to push at the boundaries of performance and portability. It sports a 14-inch screen with up to 4K (3,840 x 2,160) resolution, up to 2TB of SSD storage, and weighs a shade over 1kg. You can spend between £1,141.66 (ex. VAT; £1,369.99 inc. VAT) and £1,716.66 (ex. VAT; £2,059.99 inc. VAT) on an off-the-shelf configuration, or you can customise. 

In the US, prices start at $1,331.40 and top out at $2,207.40.

Last year's 7th Generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon received plaudits for its capability in a light, tough chassis. The X1 Carbon is not without competitors, of course, and this year the key rival is probably Dell's refreshed XPS line.

The Dell XPS 15 I reviewed recently packs a 15.6-inch screen into a chassis measuring 344mm wide by 230mm deep by 18mm thick. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon (8th Gen) has a 14-inch screen in a chassis with a desktop footprint that's only slightly smaller (323mm x 218mm). Lenovo would do well to figure out a way to narrow its screen bezels to rival Dell's XPS. The bezels on the X1 Carbon are noticeable on the short edges (measured at 6mm), more so at the top (measured at 12mm) and even more so on the bottom (more tricky to measure accurately, but at least 20mm). Dell's InfinityEdge design increases screen height, allows for more screen in the chassis, and delivers what is, for me, the best screen usability experience I've had for a while. The bottom bezel on Lenovo's flagship laptop seems vast in comparison. 

As noted, the Dell XPS 15 is 18mm thick while the ThinkPad X1 Carbon 8th Gen is slimmer at 14.9mm. Also, the 15.6-inch XPS 15 weighs 1.8kg, while the ThinkPad X1 Carbon 8th Gen has a much more bag-friendly starting weight of 1.09kg.

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The 14-inch ThinkPad X1 Carbon (8th Gen) is Lenovo's premium business ultraportable, weighing in at just over 1kg.

Images: Lenovo

Despite its light weight, Lenovo makes no compromises on build quality. Lenovo says the X1 Carbon has passed 12 military-grade requirements, including for cold, dust and liquid ingress. Although I didn't test all of these aspects, I can say that the chassis feels robust, with just a slight amount of give in the lid.

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The black chassis with the ThinkPad X1 logo in one corner of the lid, its red light over the 'i' indicating the laptop is switched on, is very familiar. Lenovo likes consistency in its branding, and outwardly this ThinkPad X1 barely differs from its recent predecessors.

Internally too, there's much that is familiar. The keyboard is backlit, its two intensities toggled by the Fn key/space bar combo. The QWERTY keys are large, their pot-belly giving them just a little bit more of a target for the fingers than usual, and their slightly concave shaping and noticeable bounceback making for a comfortable typing experience. They have a soft-touch feel that adds to the positive action and they click quietly. The Enter key is large, and Lenovo has even managed to make the arrow keys, which often suffer on smaller keyboards, pretty sizeable by extending the keyboard area beneath them a few millimetres into the wrist rest. The Fn key row now includes a pair of keys for making calls -- handy for those of us who are spending most of the time working remotely. This all adds up to one of the most comfortable laptop keyboard experiences around.  

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The design, layout and action of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's keyboard makes for one of the best typing experiences available on a laptop.

Image: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

Lenovo's trademark TrackPoint sits in its usual home between the G, H and B keys, and there's a three-button array between the space bar and the touchpad for use with it. This means the touchpad itself is slightly less deep than usual, which does make using it a little awkward. There is an NFC touch point built into it, and a fingerprint sensor to its right.

Although it has a slightly larger chassis, the touchpad on the Dell XPS 15 is proportionately much larger than the X1 Carbon's, which feels cramped by comparison. I noted its smallish size in my review of last year's model, and arguably it's time for Lenovo to make the touchpad larger. Following the Dell XPS experience, big is beautiful when it comes to touchpads, in my opinion.

The screen lays flat to a desk, but does not swivel any further. If you want that, there are plenty of 360-degree convertible options in the Lenovo stable. The screen in my review unit was a 14-inch IPS panel with FHD (1,920 x 1,080) resolution, 400 nits brightness and an anti-glare coating. It's nice to have a non-reflective screen, and it goes plenty bright enough for working indoors. Other options include a 4K, 500 nits glossy IPS panel with HDR400 and Dolby Vision, or an FHD anti-glare touch screen with 400 nits brightness.

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Security features include the webcam's ThinkShutter.

Image: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet  

There's a 720p webcam above the screen with IR and Lenovo's ThinkShutter, a manual slider that covers the camera lens. This isn't consistent across all the preconfigured models, so double-check if you want it.

SEE: Windows 10: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

Lenovo uses the Dolby Atmos 4-speaker system, which includes profiles for use cases including movie, music, voice and gaming, has a dynamic profiling setting that will adjust depending on what you're listening to, and allows you to save three personalised profiles. Two grilles sit on the underside of the chassis where they are in danger of being muffled, and two are above the keyboard. Sound output is impressive: I liked last year's speaker setup, and this year I found bass tones suitably bassy, spoken words clear, and general streamed video and music very acceptable. As before, fidelity does drop if you push the volume to 100%, but at 80% it's fine, and I never felt the need to go higher.

Lenovo equips the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (8th Gen) range with processors up to a 10th-generation Intel Core i7, 16GB of RAM and a choice of two batteries, with the higher-capacity one in all of the pre-configured models. Lenovo claims that this 51Wh battery delivers up to 19.5 hours of life. All models have integrated Intel UHD 620 Graphics and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax).

ThinkShield security is an optional extra and includes PrivacyGuard, which decreases the screen's angle of vision so that anyone sitting next to you would have difficulty peering at its content. It also includes PrivacyAlert -- software that works with the IR camera to issue a pop-up alert if someone is looking over your shoulder. 

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Left side (top): USB-C Thunderbolt 3 (always on); USB-C thunderbolt 3 and network extension for Ethernet dongle/dock; USB 3.1; HDMI; 3.5mm audio in/out. Right side (above): power button; USB 3.1; Kensington lock slot.

Images: Sandra Vogel / ZDNet

The power switch, on the right edge of the chassis, has a little white LED to let you know it's on, and pulses if you close the lid without powering down (just like the red dot over the ThinkPad logo's 'i' on the lid). There are two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports (one of which doubles for charging the laptop), two USB 3.1 ports, a full-size HDMI port, and a 3.5mm combo headphone/mic jack. A proprietary connector caters for an RJ-45 Ethernet dongle. Mobile LTE broadband is integrated into some models.

The preconfigured models start at £1,141.66 (ex. VAT; £1,369.99 inc. VAT). Not all options are listed below -- just the least and most expensive, and my review unit, which falls between the two at £1,399.99 (ex. VAT; £1,679.99 inc. VAT).

  • Intel Core i5-10210U, Windows 10 Home, 14.0-inch 1,920 x 1,200 anti-glare 400 nits non touch screen, Intel UHD Graphics, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD
    £1,141.66 (ex. VAT; £1,369.99 inc. VAT)
  • Intel Core i7-10510U, Windows 10 Pro, 14.0-inch 1,920 x 1,200 anti-glare 400 nits non touch screen, Intel UHD Graphics, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD
    £1,399.99 (ex. VAT; £1,679.99 inc. VAT)
  • Intel Core i7-10610U, Windows 10 Pro, 14.0-inch 1,920 x 1,200 anti-glare 400 nits non touch screen, Intel UHD Graphics, 16GB RAM, 1TB SSD
    £1,716.66 (ex. VAT; £2,059.99 inc. VAT)

As noted earlier, Lenovo claims 19.5 hours of battery life for the high-capacity 51Wh battery, which I suspect would be a bit of a stretch to achieve in everyday use. As usual, I streamed video through several normal working sessions, running a typical productivity workload involving writing into web apps and checking websites. Screen brightness was automatically set to 80%, which I found fine. 

After three hours the battery fell from 100% to 63%, on which basis many workers might achieve all-day battery life. However, that 19.5 hours seems rather hopeful. The good news is that the battery charges quickly: Lenovo says it can go from 0-80% in an hour.

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Image: Lenovo

Conclusions

Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon continues to evolve, and remains an excellent ultraportable laptop for business users. The keyboard is a pleasure to use, there's a good range of screen options, sound quality is up there with the best laptops, and mobile professionals will appreciate the range of security features on offer.

The only question marks surround the screen bezels and the touchpad: Lenovo needs to consider how it might shrink the former and grow the latter.

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Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Embedded Security Trusted Platform Module (TPM 2.0) Security Chip
Operating System Windows 10 Pro 64-bit Edition - English
Processor / Chipset
CPU Intel Core i5 (10th Gen) 10210U / 1.6 GHz
Max Turbo Speed 4.2 GHz
Number of Cores Quad-Core
Cache 6 MB
64-bit Computing Yes
Features integrated memory controller
Cache Memory
Installed Size 6 MB
RAM
Memory Speed 2133 MHz
Configuration Features provided memory is soldered
Technology LPDDR3 SDRAM
Installed Size 8 GB
Rated Memory Speed 2133 MHz
Memory
Technology LPDDR3 SDRAM
Speed 2133 MHz
Display
LCD Backlight Technology LED backlight
Resolution 1920 x 1080 (Full HD)
Widescreen Display Yes
Image Aspect Ratio 16:9
Monitor Features 72% color gamut, anti-glare
Type LED
TFT Technology IPS
Diagonal Size (metric) 35.6 cm
Display Resolution Abbreviation Full HD
Audio & Video
Graphics Processor Intel UHD Graphics
Sound Four speakers, quad array microphone
Hard Drive
Type SSD
SSD Form Factor M.2 2280
Manufacturer Toshiba
Capacity 256 GB
Hard Drive Features TCG Opal Encryption
Input
Type TrackPoint, UltraNav, keyboard
Features buttonless touchpad, multi-touch touchpad, spill-resistant
Communications
Wireless Protocol Bluetooth 5.0
Wireless Controller Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX 201
Features Gigabit Ethernet via optional Ethernet (RJ-45) adapter, dual stream (2x2)
Optical Storage
Drive Type no optical drive
Type none
Processor
CPU Type Core i5
Manufacturer Intel
Clock Speed 1.6 GHz
Battery
Capacity 51 Wh
Cells 4-cell
Technology lithium ion
Run Time (Up To) 19.5 hour(s)
AC Adapter
Input AC 120/230 V (50/60 Hz)
Output 65 Watt
Connections & Expansion
Interfaces USB 3.2 Gen 1
USB 3.2 Gen 1 (Always On)
2 x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 (supports Thunderbolt 3, DisplayPort Alt Mode) (Power Delivery)
HDMI
Headphone/microphone combo jack
Lenovo Ethernet extension connector
Dock
Header
Brand Lenovo
Localization English
Country Kits United States
Packaged Quantity 1
Networking
Data Link Protocol Bluetooth 5.0, IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11ac, IEEE 802.11ax, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
Miscellaneous
Case Material carbon fiber, magnesium alloy
Security Trusted Platform Module (TPM 2.0) Security Chip, fingerprint reader
Features MIL-STD-810G tested, RapidCharge, administrator password, hard drive password, power-on password
Compliant Standards RoHS
Included Accessories USB-C power adapter
Theft/Intrusion Protection security lock slot (cable lock sold separately)
Security Slot Type Kensington mini security slot
Monitor
Diagonal Size 14 in
Image Brightness 400 cd/m2
System
Notebook Type Ultrabook
Platform Windows
Hard Drive Capacity 256 GB
Dockable Yes
Embedded Security Trusted Platform Module (TPM 2.0) Security Chip
Security Devices fingerprint reader
Dimensions & Weight
Width 12.7 in
Depth 8.5 in
Height 0.6 in
Audio Output
Compliant Standards Dolby Atmos, High Definition Audio
Manufacturer Warranty
Type 1 year warranty
Environmental Standards
EPEAT Level EPEAT Gold
ENERGY STAR Certified Yes
Physical Characteristics
Weight 2.4 lbs
Operating System / Software
OS Provided: Type Windows 10 Pro 64-bit Edition
Video Output
Graphics Processor Series Intel UHD Graphics
Input Device
Backlight Yes
Interfaces
USB-C Ports Qty 2
USB-C Features USB Power Delivery
Comment Always On, Power Delivery
Service & Support
Type 1 year warranty
Service & Support Details
Type limited warranty
Location pick-up and return
Full Contract Period 1 year

Where To Buy

Where To Buy

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (8th Gen)

Part Number: 20U9001NUS