To make their ultrabooks thinner and lighter, manufacturers often compromise on keyboard comfort, battery life or other key features. While its three predecessors had a few of these drawbacks, the 4th-Generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon offers a no-compromise mix of portability and usability. With an extremely comfortable keyboard, a vibrant screen and over 9 hours of endurance, Lenovo's 14-inch X1 Carbon ($1,142 to start, $1,470 as tested) is the super-svelte business ultrabook to beat.
Wow, this is one light ThinkPad. At just 2.6 pounds, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon was much easier to carry around the office or lift one-handed than heavier brethren like the ThinkPad T460s (3 pounds) or T460 (3.8 pounds).
|ThinkPad X1 Carbon Size|
|Dimensions||13.11 x 9.02 x 0.65 inches|
When I was carrying the Carbon back and forth to work, I often had to open my backpack, just to see if I had forgotten it, because I felt like I wasn't carrying anything. Despite having smaller, 13-inch screens, the Dell XPS 13 (non-touch) and the MacBook Air weigh 0.1 and 0.36 pounds more.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon has the same tried-and-true, raven black aesthetic as other Lenovo business laptops, but at just 13.1 x 9 x 0.59-0.65 inches, it's quite a bit thinner than its relatives, including the 0.67 - 0.74-inch thick ThinkPad T460s.
Unlike the MacBook Air (0.11 - 0.68 inches thick) and Dell XPS 13 (0.33 - 0.6 inches), the X1 Carbon doesn't taper down to a much-thinner lip, leaving plenty of room for ports.
With a carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic lid and a super magnesium body, the Thinkpad X1 Carbon is built to withstand the rigors of frequent business travel, even in challenging environments.
According to Lenovo, it's Ultrabook has passed MIL-STD 810G durability tests for extreme temperatures, shocks, vibrations, sand blasts, humidity and altitudes. The spill-resistant keyboard can also survive a water bottle getting knocked over onto it.
Security and Manageability
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon has the key security features that corporate IT departments demand, including TPM (Trusted Platform Module) encryption and Intel vPro manageability technology (on CPUs that are Core i5-6300U or better).
The laptop also comes with a convenient, single-touch fingerprint reader you can use for Microsoft's built-in WIndows hello logins and for preboot authentication, which occurs before Windows 10 loads. Setting up the biometric login, with Windows 10's built-in software, was a breeze. I had to press down half a dozen times to enroll each finger, but then it recognized my digits flawlessly every time I touched the reader. This is a huge advantage over typical "swipe" readers that often require multiple attempts.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon's 14-inch display is available in 1920 x 1080 or 2560 x 1440 resolution, which costs just $70 more when configured on Lenovo.com. We tested models with each screen and found them extremely colorful and sharp, but the higher-res option offers superior contrast and a better overall picture.
|ThinkPad X1 Carbon Display: Test Results|
|Benchmark||Score||How it Compares|
|Brightness (1920 x 1080)||292 nits||Average|
|Brightness (2560 x 1440)||257 nits||Below Average|
|Color Gamut (1920 x 1080, sRGB)||104 percent||Strong|
|Color Gamut (2560 x 1440, sRGB)||103 percent||Strong|
|Color Accuracy (1920 x 1080, Delta e)||0.5||Strong|
|Color Accuracy (2560 x 1330, Delta e)||0.6||Strong|
When we watched a 1080p trailer for Star Wars: Rogue One, fine details like the pores in Forest Whitaker's face or the freckles on Felicity Jone's cheeks stood out while colorful objects such as orange explosions and green lights really popped, on both panels. However, images were a little sharper and noticeably warmer and more vibrant on the 2560 x 1440 screen, while the 1920 x 1080 model was quite a bit brighter but also colder.
According to our colorimeter, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's 1920 x 1080 and 2560 x 1440 display can produce 104 and 103 percent of the sRGB color gamut, respectively. That's far better than the 14-inch laptop category average (82), the MacBook Air 13-inch (66 percent), the ThinkPad T460s (66 percent) and Dell XPS (92 percent). It's also an improvement over the 3rd-generation X1 Carbon, which only reproduced 85.5 percent of the gamut.
Both X1 Carbon screens were extremely accurate with Delta-E error ratings of 0.5 and 0.6 respectively (0 is perfect). That'smuch better than the MacBook Air (4.3), category average (2.7) and XPS 13 (8.2) and about on par with the ThnkPad T460s (0.5).
The 1920 x 1080 screen is noticeably brighter, registering 292 nits (higher is better) on our light meter as compared to 257 nits for the 2560 x 1440 panel. However, both displays are above the category average of 248 nits and both had the same solid viewing angles in our tests, with colors fading only slightly at angles wider than 45 degrees to the left or right. The MacBook Air 13-inch (334) and Dell XPS 13 (318), however, were both comfortably above the 300-nit mark.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon's bottom-mounted speakers provided accurate audio output that was loud enough to fill a medium-sized living room and rich enough to dance to. When I played Chic's bass-heavy "Dance, Dance, Dance," I could hear a clear separation of sound with the synths on the left side and vocals on the right. Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" wasn't quite as rich because its high-pitched guitar and drums were just a bit tinny.
Like other Lenovo laptops, the X1 Carbon comes preloaded with Dolby Audio software, which has a manual graphical equalizer, along with presets for Music, Games, Movies and Voice chats.
As usual, I found that the Dynamic preset, which adjusts the output automatically, provided the richest output.
Keyboard, TrackPoint and Touchpad
With its 4th generation model, Lenovo has finally perfected the X1 Carbon's keyboard. Where previous generations of the laptop had keys that felt mushy, shallow or just plain awkward (see the 2nd gen's adaptive function row), the new keyboard provides snappy feedback that will please the most discerning touch typists.
With 1.8mm of vertical travel, the keys are much deeper than competitors like the XPS 13 (1.2mm) and MacBook Air 13-inch (1mm), which makes for a superior typing experience and less bottoming out (hitting the base at full force). Other ThinkPads such as the T460 (2.3mm) and T460s (1.9mm) have even more space, but the X1's strong tactile feel does a lot to make up the difference.
As on other ThinkPads, the X1 Carbon's spill-resistant keyboard uses gently curved keys that are easy to target without looking and offers an optional backlight, which was more than bright enough at its low or high setting.
Located between its G and H keys, the X1 Carbon's bright red TrackPoint pointing stick provides the most accurate and efficient way to navigate. Using the nub, I was able to move around the desktop, highlight text and click icons without experiencing any jumpiness or having to lift my hands off of the home row.
If you're not a fan of pointing sticks, you'll find a lot to like in the X1 Carbon's large, 3.9 x 2.2-inch buttonless glass touchpad. In our tests, the pad offered smooth, effortless pointer control with just the right amount of friction on its smooth surface. Even better, the the pad responded immediately and accurately to a variety of multi-touch gestures, including pinch-to-zoom and four finger finger swipe (to minimize windows or switch tasks).
Ports and Webcam
What good is having a super-thin laptop, if you have to carry a bag full of dongles and adapters with you? The ThinkPad X1 Carbon has almost every port you'll need, with the unfortunate exception of an Ethernet connection and a full-size SD card reader photographers need.
The left-side houses a USB 3.0 port, a mini DisplayPort, the proprietary power connector and Lenovo's OneLink+ docking port. The right side contains a 3.5mm headphone jack, full-size HDMI and two more USB 3.0 ports for a total of 3. It took me a minute to find the microSD card reader, which is inconspicuously tucked below the lid on the back side.
The 720p webcam captured decent-quality images with colors that were just a little duller than real-life and a bit of visual noise. When I shot a photo of myself sitting in my livingroom, my beige shirt looked a bit whiter than it should while the red couch appeared brownish. On the bright side, the camera was able -- although just barely -- to show my face in a mostly-dark room.
With a 3-GHz Intel Core i5-6300U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a blazing-fast, 256GB PCIe-NVME SSD, our review configuration of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon offered strong productivity and multitasking performance. Even with 14 tabs open, one of which was playing a YouTube video, I noticed no lag at all switching tasks or typing into Google Docs.
|ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Core i5 / 8GB / 256GB PCIe SSD): Performance Tests|
|Benchmark||Score||How it Compares|
|Geekbench 3||6,828||Comparable to Competitors|
|Spreadsheet Macro Test||4:14||Comparable to Competitors|
|File Transfer Test||419 MBps||Very Strong|
On Geekbench 3, a synthetic benchmark that measures processing power, the X1 Carbon scored a strong 6,828, which is comfortably above the 14-inch laptop category average (6,399). While the Core i5-6300U-powered ThinkPad T460s got a nearly identical score, the Core i5-6200U-enabled Dell XPS 13 (6,391) and Core i5-6200U-powered MacBook 13-inch (5,783) were far behind.
While the X1 Carbon is available with both regular SATA and speedy PCIe-NVME SSDs, we recommend the latter for maximum performance. The 256GB PCIe-NVME drive on our review unit took just 12 seconds to copy 4.97GB of mixed media files for a rate of 419 MBps. That's nearly three times as quick as the ThinkPad T460s and its 256GB SATA drive. Its also significantly faster than the Dell XPS 13 (231.33), and just a bit quicker than the MacBook Air (358.4), both of which have PCIe drives also.
Lenovo's laptop took just 4 minutes and 14 seconds to complete our spreadsheet macro test, which matches 20,000 names with their addresses in OpenOffice Calc. That's more than a minute faster than the category average (5:32), 20 seconds faster than the XPS 13 and about on par with the ThinkPad T460s. The MacBook Air was just 11 seconds quicker.
The X1 Carbon's integrated Intel HD 520 graphics processor is good enough for video viewing and light media editing, but don't think about gaming on it. The laptop scored a sold 67,488 on 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, a benchmark that measures graphics prowess. That's about 20 percent better than the category average (56,162) and over 30 percent ahead of the Dell XPS 13.
With its internal 4-cell battery, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon has enough juice to get you through a standard workday, provided that you get it with the 1920 x 1080 display. With the 1080p screen, Lenovo's laptop lasted for 9 hours and 6 minutes on the Laptop Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits of brightness. However, with the more power-hungry, 2560 x 1440 panel, the X1 Carbon's battery life dropped to 7 hours and 57 minutes, which is about on par with 14-inch laptop category average (7:53) and only half an hour longer than the ThinkPad T460s (7:21) with touch screen we tested.
Competitors like the Dell XPS 13 non-touch (11:54) and MacBook Air 13-inch (14:00) had even longer endurance. Shoppers who are trying to choose between ThinkPads should know that there are two heavier models with replaceable batteries: the ThinkPad T460 (non-S) lasted a full 13 hours and 12 minutes with its extended battery on-board, but tips the scales at 4.2 pounds.The ThinkPad X260, which has a 12.5-inch display, endured for a full 17 hours and 14 minutes, but weighs 3.6 pounds with the high-capacity battery it needs to last that long.
|ThinkPad X1 Carbon (1920 x 1080)||9:06|
|ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2560 x 1440)||7:57|
According to Lenovo, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is able to "RapidCharge" up to 80 percent capacity in 60 minutes and 100 percent capacity in two and a half hours. To preserve battery health over the long haul, the laptop will not charge if you plug it in when it is already at 95 percent (or higher) capacity. However, we found this feature to be a bit of a hassle when we were trying to set up our battery test; we had to drain the laptop down before we could charge it the whole way. Owners who unplug the laptop for a few minutes and then want to top it off for later use may be a little frustrated.
If you purchase the X1 Carbon directly from Lenovo.com, you can configure the system to order, choosing from a Core i5 / i7 CPU, a 1920 x 1080 or 2560 x 1440 screen and an SSD -- regular SATA or speedy PCIe NVME type -- with up to 1TB of storage. Only, if you get the top configuration with a Core i7 CPU, you can configure it with 16GB of RAM. Though previous generations of the X1 Carbon had optional touch screens, the company doesn't currently offer a touch option, which is probably for the best, considering the negative effect on battery life.
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The base $1,142.10 configuration of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon comes with an Intel Core i5-6200U CPU, a 1920 x 1080 screen, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. Our $1,470 review configuration came with an Intel Core i5-6300U CPU (an $80 upgrade), a 1920 x 1080 screen, Windows 10 Pro, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB PCIe-NVME SSD (a $255 upgrade). The same laptop with the 2560 x 1440 display costs just $63 more.
|ThinkPad X1 Carbon Cost By Configuration|
|Config||Screen||CPU||RAM / Storage||Price|
|Base||1920 x 1080||Core i5||8GB / 128GB||$1142|
|Recommend||1920 x 1080||Core i5||8GB / 256GB PCIe||$1371|
|Splurge||2560 x 1440||Core i7||16GB / 512GB||$1857|
According to Lenovo's instruction manual, you can upgrade the Laptop's M.2 SSD after purchase, but the RAM is soldered onto the motherboard. If battery life matters most to you, we recommend configuring the laptop with the 1920 x 1080 display, because of the one-hour difference in battery life.
Software and Warranty
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon comes with a couple of helpful first-party utilities, the Dolby Audio app mentioned above and a minimum of bloatware. Lenovo Settings gives you fine control over the webcam, battery, Wi-Fi, audio output and display.
Lenovo Companion performs hardware and software scans of the computer, while keeping software up-to-date. Like most Windows 10 PCs, Lenovo's laptop comes with Candy Crush Soda saga and Flipboard in the Start menu. There's also a shortcut to the Photoshop Elements page in the Windows store.
Lenovo backs the ThinkPad X1 Carbon with a standard, one-year depot warranty with free shipping both ways on products you have to send in for service. By spending between $19 and $649, you can extend the warranty up to five years or add on-site service and accidental damage protection. Lenovo scored 81.75 out of 100 on our most recent tech support showdown, with solid web and social resources but mediocre phone-based help.
What X1 Carbon Owners Say
Though the 4th-generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon hasn't been on the market for long, Lenovo.com already has several customer reviews. Many of the owners praise the laptop's light weight, strong performance and comfortable keyboard.
However, a few complain about the battery life, claiming that it lasts them 6 hours or less. While we don't know which screen these users have, it is quite possible that they would get shorter battery life than we see on our test, if they're pumping the brightness all the way up and conducting a lot of CPU-intensive tasks.
A couple of people complained about receiving defective products, with failing fans or PCI bus errors, but we didn't encounter these problems on the two units we tested.
For Lenovo, the fourth time's the charm. The 4th-generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon gets the business ultrabook formula right with a keyboard, screen and battery life that live up to their promise, wrapped up in a durable, 2.6-pound package. If you're looking for longer endurance and don't mind a consumer-focused laptop with a lesser keyboard, consider the Dell XPS 13 and, if you require a ThinkPad with more juice, consider the much-heavier ThinkPad T460 or smaller-screened X260.
However, if you want a sub 3-pound laptop that's powerful enough for serious productivity work and usable enough to make you more efficient, look no further than the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.