Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Review: What the Future of Laptops Should Be

By Kyle Wagner on at

The Lenovo X1 Carbon does the impossible. It makes a business laptop—a business anything—cool. Cool because it looks good, sure, but also because it works the way it's supposed to. And somehow, that's become one of the bigger compliments in tech.

 

What Is It?

An ultrabook wearing a suit of armour, but it still manages to look better than nearly every other competitor.

 

Who Is It For?

Ostensibly for business users, but really, the X1 Carbon is for anyone.

 

Why It Matters

It might not feel like it, but this is an important computer for Lenovo. It typically makes business computers—machines that are butt ugly and impractical for regular people, even though things like comfortable, reliable, sturdy and secure are things that everyone wants.

 

Design

The X1 Carbon is an immensely beautiful laptop and incredibly goddamn ugly at the same time. The slim, wedge-shaped, carbon-coated body is trim in all the right ways. But it also has the same sharply squared-off lid and gross Thinkpad impressions familiar from other IBM or Lenovo products.

 

Using It

Basically every Windows laptop review today mentions how non-Apple keyboards and trackpads suck. Not this one. Everything's great. The keyboard is as good as you're going to find on a laptop—nice key travel distance, resistance, and spacing. Using the trackpad, was the first time I've ever done multitouch gestures on Windows and liked it. Three fingers to page back on the first try. Smooth gesture scrolling and zooming. None of that happens on most Windows laptops.

 

Like

There is a tonne of stuff across the business aisle that, for whatever reason, we haven't seen in mainstream ultrabooks—really cool things like spill-proof keyboards, 3G connections, and biometric fingerprint security. And the X1's beautiful, beating-resistant body is so, so, so wonderful. Ditto the trackpad and keyboard.

The matte 1600 x 900 display is a strength, too. Not amazing—certainly nowhere near the 1080p display on the Asus Zenbook Prime—but it's sharp, and represents colours well. It does shade a little blue, and its anti-glare surface keeps it from having great contrast.

 

No Like

The software, strangely. For as mighty as the firmware on the trackpad and keyboard are, the business-facing software that Lenovo loads onto the X1 is more oppressive than you'll find from other OEMs—even repeat offenders like Asus and Sony. Things like accessing security settings for the fingerprint reader, or simple account or network settings, are just muddied up in sluggish proprietary software.

Then there's the nondescript design, and the marriage of necessity to business features like the TrackPoint (the red nub in the middle of the keyboard). The nub especially feels extraneous for most users now that the trackpad actually works the way it should, but business being business, alienating a mass of outmoded users isn't going to fly.

 

Test Notes
  • The backlit keyboard is one of the nicer ones out there. The light never feels too bright, and the Fn+Spacebar for two levels is actually more convenient than the usual two buttons.

 

  • Responsiveness was never an issue, and the only time the X1 overheated was while gaming. But when it gets hot, it really burns. Just idling for 20 minutes in Diablo 3, the X1 got hotter than any ultrabook we've seen—though still not quite as bad as a MacBook.

 

  • Transfer speeds were really fast, even compared to other ultrabooks. Average of 5 minutes 5 seconds for 25GB in 10 files. Zoom.

 

  • The only complaint on the keyboard and trackpad is that the cursor will occasionally drop downward for no reason. It's pretty rare, though, and the positives far outweigh it.

 

  • The X1 Carbon was also our Windows 8 RTM test machine, and it performed admirably. The Windows 7 drivers, while obviously not optimised, stood up to the Windows 8 gestures.

 

  • The biometric fingerprint scanner seems less finicky than the original X1's—fewer non-reads unlocking it, and it didn't return any false positives for other people's hands.

 

Should You Buy This?

Yes. This is a wonderful laptop, and not just for the business users it's supposedly made for. This is a laptop anyone can use, and maybe love. It takes all of the efficiencies and protections of business class machines and makes them, well, not insanely ugly. Rather pretty, actually. Those things always made this class easy to use—and, now, easy on the eyes.

Lenovo Carbon X1 Specs

• Processor: Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge
• Display/Resolution: 14-inch HD+ Anti-Glare (1600 x 900) Wide View (300NITS)
• Video Graphics: Intel® HD 4000 Graphics
• Memory: 4GB
• Storage: 128 GB SSD
• Connectivity: 2 USB (1 always on USB 2.0 and 1 USB 3.0); Mini-Display port; 4-in-1 SD Media Card Reader
• Camera: 720p HD Camera with face tracking capability
• Weight: 2.998 Ibs (1.36 kg)
• Dimensions: 13.03 x 8.9 x 0.74 in (331mm x 226mm x 18.85mm)
• Extreme Use Battery Test: 3 hours, 28 minutes
• Price: Expected to start around £1000
Giz Rank: 4.0 stars