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ThinkPad X1 Carbon vs. MacBook Pro: Which Laptop Wins?

It's hard to find an ultraportable that hits all of the hallmarks of a good laptop. But Apple and Lenovo have been at it for years with their iconic laptops, the MacBook Pro and ThinkPad X1 Carbon, respectively.

Which one is better, though — the latest, 7th-Gen Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon ($1,463) or the 13-inch 2019 MacBook Pro ($1,499)?

Here's how these two premium laptops stack up.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (7th Gen) vs. Apple MacBook Pro (13 inch): Specs compared

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 CarbonApple MacBook Pro
Starting Price (as configured)$1,463$1,299 ($1,499)
Display14 inches, 1920 x 108013 inches, 2560 x 1600
CPUIntel Core i5-8265U8th Gen Intel Core i5 U-Series processor
RAM8GB8GB
GraphicsIntel UHD 620 GraphicsIntel Iris Plus Graphics 645
SSD256GB SSD256GB SSD
PortsTwo Thunderbolt 3, Ethernet dock connector, two USB 3.1, HDMI 1.4, headphone jack, Kensington lock slotTwo Thunderbolt 3, headphone jack
ColorsBlackSpace Gray (Silver available)
Size12.7 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches
Weight2.1 pounds3 pounds

 

Design

Both the ThinkPad X1 Carbon and MacBook Pro sport a unique, iconic aesthetic. While both designs are growing a little tired, the MacBook Pro's Space Gray aluminum body trumps the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's plain black frame.

The interiors differ in that they each have secondary inputs that the other lacks. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon sports a cute red pointing stick with a pair of discrete clickers, while the MacBook Pro has its famous Touch Bar in place of the function keys. The bezels on the two displays are pretty close in size, although the MacBook Pro's are just slightly larger on the top.

While the MacBook Pro has a smaller footprint (3 pounds, 12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches) to accommodate for its 13-inch screen, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's 14-inch screen is accompanied by a chassis that's even lighter, at 2.1 pounds, and the same height, at 12.7 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches.

MORE: Best Lenovo Laptops

A huge advantage for the ThinkPad X1 Carbon over the MacBook Pro is that it has not only a lightweight chassis, but also a Mil-Spec-tested design and a privacy-shutter webcam.

Winner: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Buy the ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Ports

This is a no-brainer. The MacBook Pro packs only two Thunderbolt 3 ports and a headphone jack, while the ThinkPad X1 Carbon sports those ports and an Ethernet dock connector, two USB 3.1 ports, an HDMI 1.4 port and a Kensington lock slot.

While the $1,799 model of the MacBook Pro packs four Thunderbolt 3 ports, it's simply not worth the upgrade just for extra ports.

Winner: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Display

It turns out that size isn't everything. The MacBook Pro's 13-inch, 2560 x 1600, glossy panel is much more vivid and vibrant than the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's 14-inch, 1920 x 1080, matte display.

According to our colorimeter, the MacBook Pro's screen nailed 163% of the sRGB color gamut, topping the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's coverage of 109%.

MORE: Best Apple Laptops

It's no surprise that the MacBook Pro also beat the ThinkPad X1 Carbon on brightness, averaging 441 nits over the Carbon's 336 nits.

Winner: Apple MacBook Pro

Buy the MacBook Pro

Keyboard and touchpad

Ironically, Lenovo and Apple's keyboards have both become iconic, but for two different reasons.

Consumers love Lenovo's ThinkPad keyboards for their deep travel and clicky keys. Meanwhile, Apple's keyboards are constantly ridiculed due to their durability issues and incredibly low travel.

When getting hands on, I sped through 71 words per minute on the 10fastfingers.com typing test with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's keyboard, which was only slightly above my 69-wpm average with the MacBook Pro.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon's keys had deep travel and were clicky and super comfortable to type on. Apple's MacBook Pro keyboard wasn't uncomfortable to type on, and it was even a little clicky, but due to the low key travel, it wasn't satisfying whatsoever.

MORE: Best and Worst Laptop Brands

The MacBook Pro's 5.3 x 3.2-inch touchpad kicks the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's 3.9 x 2.2-inch touchpad's butt in real estate. However, the MacBook Pro's Forced Touchpad felt awkward compared to the traditional clicky touchpad that the ThinkPad X1 Carbon offers.

Winner: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Performance and graphics

Both the MacBook Pro and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon come packed with 8th Generation Intel Core i5 U-series processors paired with 8GB of RAM, but performance didn't seem so neck and neck in practice.

On the Geekbench 4.1 overall-performance benchmark, the MacBook Pro nailed 17,366, sliding past the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's showing of 15,589.

The MacBook Pro transcoded a 4K video to 1080p in just 14 minutes and 42 seconds on our HandBrake benchmark; that time is over 2 minutes faster than the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's showing (16:52).

Apple's 256GB SSD clocked in a transfer rate of 1,220 megabytes per second, which is nearly triple the rate that the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's 256GB SSD achieved (424 MBps)

MORE: Laptops with the Best Overall Performance

On the Dirt 3 benchmark, the MacBook Pro's Intel Iris Plus 645 GPU and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's Intel UHD 620 GPU matched, at 31 fps.

Winner: Apple MacBook Pro

Battery life

The MacBook Pro crushed it on the Laptop Mag battery test. After it continuously surfed the web over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness, the MacBook Pro's battery lasted 10 hours and 39 minutes, leaping over the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's time of 9:30.

Winner: Apple MacBook Pro

Value and configurations

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon and the MacBook Pro can both get pretty pricey, but the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is far more configurable.

We tested the base-model ThinkPad X1 Carbon, which runs for $1,463 and comes with an Intel Core i5-8265U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a 1080p display. The base model of the 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,299 and includes a 1.4-GHz 8th Gen Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. For $1,499, you can get the MacBook Pro with a 256GB SSD, which is the model we tested.

For $1,697, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon upgrades with a Core i7-8565U CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. You can then double your storage to 512GB for another $159, or, if you're an IT manager, you might want to upgrade to the Core i7-8665U with vPro for an extra $227. Meanwhile, upgrading your MacBook Pro to a total of $1,799 will net you two more Thunderbolt 3 ports and a faster, 2.4-GHz 8th-Gen Core i5 CPU.

You can upgrade the ThinkPad X1 Carbon even further with a 4K display, a Core i7-8665U vPro CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD all for $2,562.

Winner: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Bottom line

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is the ultraportable to buy. It surpassed the Apple MacBook Pro in design, ports, keyboard and the variety of configurations available.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 CarbonApple MacBook Pro
Design (10)98
Ports (10)84
Display (15)1215
Keyboard/Touchpad (15)1510
Performance (20)1519
Battery Life (20)1719
Value (10)74
Overall (100)8379

The MacBook Pro has its perks, however, such as its gorgeous high-res display, long battery life and stellar performance.

But overall, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is the best ultraportable laptop you can get right now.

Credit: Laptop Mag

As soon as Rami Tabari sprung out of the College of Staten Island, he hit the ground running as a Staff Writer for Laptop Mag. He reviews every shape and form of a laptop as well as all sorts of cool tech. You can find him sitting at his desk surrounded by a hoarder's dream of laptops, and when he navigates his way out to civilization, you can catch him watching really bad anime or playing some kind of painfully difficult game. He’s the best at every game and he just doesn’t lose. That’s why you’ll occasionally catch his byline in Tom’s Guide, taking on the latest Souls-like challenge.