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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Review

If you’ve ever considered a business laptop, the chances are you’ve looked at the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. Now in its fifth generation, the X1 Carbon continues to improve on an already excellent lightweight and feature packed design. They may not have the eye catching looks of some other trendy Ultrabooks, but then that’s never really been the focus of the X1 Carbon. First and foremost it is a business laptop, so durability, battery life and connectivity are given priority. We’re already fans of previous generation X1 Carbons’ so we hope for big things from this 5th generation model.

Specifications

Depending on the specific version, the X1 Carbon comes with all the key features we’ve come to expect from premium ultrabook class laptop, though for some of the higher end models, you will have to pay a premium, and some of the options are particularly expensive.

Our test unit, when configured at the Lenovo Singapore site, comes in at $2460 SGD. Bumping the unit up to a i5-7300U will cost an extra $150, which is probably worth it for the extra 400Mhz of turbo clock.

The pre configured high end model is $3330 with a i7-7600U, 1440p screen, 16Gb of RAM and a 512Gb SSD. Definitely not cheap.

Design and Build Quality

Rather than go for a trendy metal exterior, Lenovo have opted for a matte plastic shell. It’s almost retro in nature and is still quite reminiscent of 90’s IBM ThinkPads. While this may generate a frown among some of our readers who are used to their one piece metal Macbooks or Dell XPS’, in person the X1 Carbon feels almost rubbery in texture and is quite pleasant to look at, though not as blinged up as something like a HP Spectre. Of course the plastic shell keeps the weight down too, which allows the weight budget to be put to other uses, such as the battery.

The unit’s shell, with its grippy finish makes it very easy to carry around to meetings and is notable for not being a fingerprint magnet. It’s the kind of design that will be right at home in the office where a stunning design is secondary to the overall package and what’s under the hood.

The X1 Carbon can fold out to 180 degrees. Over the course of our testing, we found it to be a very comfortable design for laying on your back and watching a movie in bed. The extremely lightweight design puts no strain on your fingers while holding it upright, and the screen is at about a 45 degree angle from your body. If you are a business traveler spending a lot of time in hotel rooms, the X1 Carbon will be a good choice for media playback for this reason.

Overall the unit feels solid. There’s no noticeable twisting and due to its light weight, picking it up with a couple of fingers and thumb by the corners presents no obvious flexing.

Some Ultrabooks are forced to compromise on cooling in order to be the ‘OMG amazing thinnest ever’. While Intel’s U series processors run cool enough, under load they can still get quite warm, and can lead to throttling if pushed hard. The X1 Carbon comes with a CPU fan, somewhat of a rarity in this day and age. In reality though, it didn’t spin up very often during our testing and remained very quiet. We like the peace of mind of having a fan there should the situation demand it.

I/O Port Overview

One of the problems with modern Ultrabooks is the lack of ports. Type-C is the way of the future, but in 2017, Type-C only is a real restriction still. Thankfully, the X1 Carbon features an excellent set of I/O ports. You do get twin Type-C ports, both of which can be used to charge the unit, and both support Thunderbolt 3, but you also get a pair of USB 3.0 type-A ports. This means your current devices like external hard drives or a mouse can still be used without a dongle.

We are so glad that Lenovo has included a dedicated Ethernet port (to the right of the HDMI port). Its not a full sized port, as that would be too large for a slim chassis like this one but it connects to Ethernet via an included adapter. A business laptop really should still have the option of a wired connection. It’s still more reliable and secure than WiFi. If your experiences are anything like ours, you will know some WiFi connections are choose your swear word average, particularly in hotels. Having the option of a Ethernet connection in this case could possibly be the difference between a night of offline boredom, or lost productivity.

A full size HDMI port is still easier to use and more widely available than mini or micro HDMI. For example when using it in a conference room, or for connecting to a hotel TV. There’s also a combo headphone/microphone jack.

Keyboard and Trackpad

One of the major strengths of the X1 Carbon, and ThinkPads in general is their fantastic keyboard. This is the kind of keyboard you’ll be happy to type on all day. Some Ultrabooks have issues with their keyboard due typically inherent restrictions on key travel, but this is not an issue with the X1 Carbon. The feedback and resistance is excellent. The enter and shift keys are larger than some compromised designs. It’s nice to have back lighting too, which is nice to working in low light conditions and great for typing on those horrible red eye flights.

Track pads are one of those necessary evils. Having said that, the X1 Carbon features one of the best track pads we’ve ever used. It has a nice feel and is very accurate. It’s also got a first class clicking mechanism. While some people might overlook such a thing, the click is very quiet with a satisfying sound, yet leaves you with no doubt you’ve pressed it if you’re in a noisy environment. Its one of those small things that really add to the premium feel of the X1 Carbon.

Note the fingerprint reader located just to the right of the trackpad. Of course this is useful if you want an additional layer of protection.

Long time users of Lenovo (and previously IBM) ThinkPads will be familiar with the iconic red trackball in the middle of the keyboard. Some people really swear by this, though it is not a favorite of ours. The trackpad seems like a more natural controlling mechanism. We can just imagine the uproar from a section of the ThinkPad community if it was dropped, so we’re happy to see it still.

Display

Lenovo offer two display options with the X1 Carbon. Our review sample comes with a 14-inch IPS LCD 1080p anti glare display. Its rated with a brightness of 300 nits and a contrast ratio of 700:1. The other option is a 1440p display.

The design looks great, with a thin bezel providing the maximum size realistically possible from a 14″ unit. 1080p is perfectly fine for this size laptop, with pixel density generally not being an issue until you move to 15.6″ units. Note that there is no touchscreen capability.

As an IPS display, of course the viewing angles are excellent, though color accuracy is not as good as you’ll see on some models. It’s not a bad screen but it is somewhat average. at least its not a cheap TN panel.

Software Overview

In contrast to some of the gaming oriented notebooks we’ve covered recently, the ThinkPad X1 carbon is basically free of excessive levels of bloatware. Wonderful!

Most of the settings come included in a single app, called.. wait for it.. Lenovo Settings.

Within this app you’ll be able to find all the key settings related to almost every feature of the laptop. including things like the camera, keyboard backlight, audio settings, screen brightness etc etc. It’s like a customized Windows control Panel specifically designed for the X1 Carbon.

One of the things we really like is the customizable location setting. Assuming you take your X1 Carbon to several locations repeatedly (Work, home, airport, hotel, coffee shop etc) you can set a custom home page, set a default printer and even set a VPN.

Performance

The i5 7200U in the X1 Carbon isn’t the fastest solution we’ve ever tested, but it is capable enough for your everyday needs.

In Geekbench 4, we get a single core score of 3556 and a multi score score of 6492. We tested a Lenovo Yoga Book with a decidedly average Atom processor earlier this year, and we’re happy to say the X1 Carbon is some three times faster in the single core test than the Yoga Book.

Graphics wise, the X1 Carbon doesn’t really shine as you would expect, though it achieved a score of 3927 in 3DMark’s Sky Diver benchmark and is capable of low resolution and low detail gaming, it really not suited for much beyond your casual Facebook type games.

Storage performance is excellent, thanks to the equipped Samsung 256Gb NVMe drive. Sequential read speeds of around 1800MB/s and write speeds of 1150 MB/s will not leave you with any storage bottleneck. Similarly, small random reads and writes are very good.

While performance is always important, when looking at an ultrabook, battery life is also critical, and this is an area where the X1 Carbon shines. In the PC Mark 8 Home Conventional battery test, the X1 Carbon comes with an outstanding 6hr 13M result. Bear in mind this is a test that continuously loops a series of tests including video performance, gaming, photo manipulation, browsing and word processing.

We did our entire test on a single charge, along with typing this review and watching the most recent episodes of Game of Thrones. After all was said and done, we did not get a warning until 12 hours of use. Outstanding! We’re quite confident you will be able to go a full work day on a full charge, and unless you are running particularly CPU intensive tasks, you will not have any problem making it through the day.

Conclusion

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon may not have the immediate first glance wow factor of some other premium level Ultrabooks, but we’re more than happy to ditch the bling if it performs, and perform the X1 Carbon does. Compact laptops continue to go from strength to strength. it’s a real pleasure to be able to work and play with a compact notebook that’s able to last all day, and perform any reasonable task you want to throw at it (outside of gaming of course).

If you’re looking for a business ultra portable, you really should be taking a hard look at the X1 Carbon. Now in its fifth generation, the X1 Carbon really does feel refined with no real niggles to talk about, with issues being ironed out and refined over the years. It offers a complete range of I/O ports that lets you use all your current devices, but still has an eye to the future with a couple of USB Type-C ports with Thunderbolt capability. Its the kind of laptop you’ll love to own. Travelers will love its lightweight design and battery life, business users will appreciate its excellent keyboard and easy integration into an office environment (Yay Ethernet port!) and students will love it too for the same reasons. Heck, unless you’re a mad gamer, everyone should love it!

As is too often the case with notebooks of all types and at all price levels, the display can be a weaker point, and that’s the case with the X1 Carbon. It’s really not bad, but we’re getting to the point where traditional LCDs are becoming somewhat average in the market. We need to see more IZGO or OLED screens on this kind of premium notebook to really wow us in 2017. For the most part the screen is good enough though. General performance is sound and color reproduction is better than some models you’ll come across.

At $2460 SGD for the spec of our test unit, it’s definitely not cheap, though for this spec, its acceptable. if you want the higher specification models, the cost steeply increases, at which point, we question whether going from something like a 512Gb SSD to a 1Tb SSD is really worth it.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon comes with a great spec, a ton of ports which can be matched with both current and future accessories, a slim and portable chassis and terrific battery life. Business users, travelers, students and anyone needing a powerful portable and long lasting notebook will be hard pressed to find a better machine. Yes its expensive, but if you want a top class ultra portable computer, you won’t do better than the Lenovo X1 Carbon.

We have an external Thunderbolt 3.0 graphics card on hand that we’ll be putting through its paces. Very interesting indeed! Stay tuned.

Pros:

Terrific battery life

Lightweight and compact design

Ethernet port

Full complement of ports

Excellent keyboard

No excessive bloatware

 

Cons

Pricey

Screen could be better

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