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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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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