Lenovo's sleekest ThinkPad is even thinner, lighter, more powerful and more usable than before. The 2017 X1 Carbon upgrades to a 7th Generation "Kaby Lake" processor while shedding some weight and thickness. Throw in a colorful 14-inch screen, dual Thunderbolt 3 ports and over 12 hours of battery life, and you have the best superthin business Ultrabook on the market right now. However, those features don't come cheap: The ThinkPad X1 Carbon starts at $1,529 ($2,122 as reviewed).
Editor's Note (February 2018): Lenovo has recalled all ThinkPad X1 Carbons that were manufactured between January and November 2017, due to a fire hazard. However, any new X1 Carbon you buy from Lenovo.com or another authorized retailer right now will be safe.
The 2017 ThinkPad X1 Carbon, also called the 5th Generation X1 Carbon, is a bit svelter than its predecessor, slimming down from 0.65 to 0.6 inches in thickness and from 2.6 to 2.49 pounds. Unlike most prior ThinkPads, the X1 Carbon is available in both silver and black, rather than just black.
However, we strongly recommend the black model, because only with that color do you get the laptop's most impressive design feature: a luxurious new soft-touch texture. The X1 Carbon's slightly rubbery texture makes the palm rest feel like a comfy gel pad, while its lid and bottom are a joy to touch and grip.
At 12.7 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches and 2.49 pounds, the X1 Carbon has a larger footprint than 13-inch competitors but it's actually a bit lighter than the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar (11.97 x 8.36 x 0.59 inches, 2.8 pounds) and the Dell XPS 13 (11.98 x 7.88 x 0.6 inches, 2.7 pounds). The impossibly light Asus ZenBook 3 is still slimmer and lighter, at 11.65 x 7.3 x 0.47 inches and 2 pounds.
Durability and Security
With its tough carbon-fiber-and-magnesium chassis, the X1 Carbon is made to withstand some punishment. The laptop is built to pass MIL-SPEC tests for extreme temperatures, shocks, vibrations and sand blasts. It also went through Lenovo's own proprietary bump-and-drop tests.
Ready to meet the demands of the pickiest IT manager, the X1 Carbon has dTPM 2.0 encryption and vPro for remote management. It also comes with a built-in fingerprint reader that you can use to log in with Windows Hello.
The 14-inch screen on our ThinkPad X1 Carbon review model has a resolution of 1920 x 1080. It produced vibrant colors and sharp images, but it wasn't quite as bright as we would have liked. When I watched a trailer for The Fate of the Furious, the red in a race car and the yellow of a taxi really popped. Fine details, like the pores in the Rock's skin and the stubble on Jason Statham's face, were easy to make out.
According to our colorimeter, the screen can reproduce a full 104 percent of the sRGB color gamut, which is slightly above the 99-percent ultraportable-laptops category average and much better than the Dell XPS 13 (94 percent). The Asus ZenBook 3 (111 percent) has a few more colors, while the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (120 percent) is quite a bit more vibrant.
On our tests, the X1 Carbon got a mediocre 4.4 Delta-E color accuracy score (0 is perfect). That's a bit worse than the 2.32 category average, Dell XPS 13 (1.3), MacBook Pro (1.24) and ZenBook 3 (1.08).
Unfortunately, the ThinkPad's display isn't quite as luminous as those on competing machines, as it registered just 275 nits on our light meter. That's a bit lower than the category average (302 nits), the XPS 13 (302 nits) and the ZenBook 3 (309 nits), and way behind the MacBook (452 nits). Colors stayed true when I looked at the screen head-on, but began to darken significantly at viewing angles greater than 45 degrees to the left or right.
You can use the X1 Carbon to make multimedia presentations or watch videos, but don't bring it to a dance party. The laptop's front-mounted speakers offered mostly accurate audio that's loud enough to fill a medium-size room, but high tones sounded tinny. When I played the bass-heavy "Forget Me Nots," the bass and vocals were clear, but when I switched to more guitar and drum-focused songs, such as "Back in Black" and "Rock of Ages," the distortion was obvious.
The Dolby Audio software, which is built into Lenovo's Settings app, lets you choose from Music, Movie and Voice profiles. Changing the profiles didn't do much for the audio, but disabling Dolby altogether made the output sound hollow.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon's backlit keyboard is a touch typist's dream.
The keys have 1.5 millimeters of travel, which is much deeper than those of its direct competitors, such as the MacBook Pro 13-inch, the ZenBook 3 and the XPS 13. Though other ThinkPads typically have closer to 2 mm of travel, the Carbon compensates with a very strong 65 grams of actuation force (60 grams is typical) required to depress the keys, giving the keys excellent feedback. Best of all, the soft-touch deck makes typing extremely comfortable as it gently supports your wrists.
Because of the X1 Carbon's great key feel, I typed 108 words per minute with an error rate of just 1.6 percent on the 10fastfingers.com typing test. That score matches my all-time best.
In typical ThinkPad style, the X1 Carbon features both a TrackPoint pointing stick and a buttonless touchpad for navigation. I prefer and strongly recommend the TrackPoint, because it allows you to perform the most precise movements without ever lifting your hands off the home row.
However, if you don't like the little red nub, you can use the 4 x 2.2-inch touchpad, which also provides a great experience. Made to follow the Microsoft Precision Touchpad program, the X1's pad handles common Windows 10 gestures, such as three-finger swipe to switch tasks and four-finger tap to launch the notification center, with ease.
Unlike some other superlight laptops that don't have room for USB 3 connectors, the X1 Carbon makes room for both dual Thunderbolt 3 ports and most of the legacy ports that users need (see our ports guide for more info). The right side of the laptop houses a 3.5mm headphone jack, a Kensington lock slot and a USB 3.0 port that can charge your gadgets even when the system is off. The left side holds a second USB 3 port, a full-size HDMI port, two Thunderbolt 3 connectors and a micro-Ethernet port, which requires you to use a dongle that comes with the laptop.
The X1 Carbon charges via either of its Thunderbolt 3 connectors, and comes with a USB Type-C power adapter rather than one with a proprietary Lenovo jack. Because USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3, which share the same port, are industry-wide standards, you can attach the laptop to an entire ecosystem of chargers and docks. With the right docking station or monitor, you can charge the laptop, output to multiple monitors and connect to high-speed peripherals over a single cable.
You can use third-party chargers with confidence, because Lenovo's "anti-fry" technology prevents the ports from accepting the wrong voltage. The company also says that the X1 Carbon rapid charge to 80 percent capacity in 60 minutes.
Performance and Graphics
With its speedy Intel 7th Generation Core i7-7600U CPU, 16GB of RAM and 512GB PCIe SSD, our review configuration of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon offers plenty of pop. Whether I was running several tabs in Chrome, watching an offline video, writing a document or using formulas in a spreadsheet, performance was smooth.
On Geekbench 4, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance, the X1 Carbon scored a strong 8,571, easily besting the ultraportable laptop category average (7,158). It also trumped the Core i5-7200U-powered Dell XPS 13, the 6th Gen Core i5-powered 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro and the Core i7-7500U-enabled Asus Zenbook 3, all of which scored under 7,700.
The X1 Carbon's processing power was particularly evident when we ran our spreadsheet macro test, in which we match 20,000 names to their addresses in OpenOffice Calc. Lenovo's laptop took just 3 minutes and 22 seconds to complete the task -- about half the category average (5:59) and well ahead of the MacBook Pro. The Dell XPS 13 and the Asus ZenBook 3 were just a tad slower.
The laptop's 512GB NVME PCIe SSD took 21 seconds to complete our file-transfer test, in which we copy 4.97GB of mixed media files. That's a rate of 242 MBps, which is comfortably ahead of the category average (184 MBps), but slower than its competitors. The XPS 13 was nearly 100 MBps faster, and the MacBook Pro and ZenBook 3 were more than twice as fast.
With its integrated Intel HD Graphics 620 GPU, the X1 Carbon is powerful enough to let you play movies or do some light video editing, but we wouldn't recommend gaming on it. The laptop scored a solid 68,062 on 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, a synthetic test that measures graphics prowess. That number topped the category average (53,656) and the Core i5-enabled XPS 13, and came close to the ZenBook 3's score.
When we tried to play Dirt 3, a fairly lightweight racing game, the X1 Carbon managed only 28 frames per second, which is below our 30-fps playability threshold and the 33-fps category average. Both the MacBook Pro and the ZenBook 3 comfortably exceeded this minimum.
If you spend a day with the X1 Carbon, you can leave your power cord at home. The laptop lasted an exceptional 12 hours and 21 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 100 nits of screen brightness. In this case, that meant setting the system's brightness to 65 percent.
The X1 Carbon's time trounces the category average (8:12), the ZenBook 3 (7:05) and the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar (8:48). The Dell XPS 13 lasted an even-longer 13 hours and 49 minutes. Perhaps because Lenovo increased the battery capacity from 52 to 57 watt-hours, the 2017 X1 Carbon outlasted the 2016 unit (9:06) by more than 3 hours.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon stayed mostly cool throughout our testing. After we streamed a video for 15 minutes, the touchpad measured a cool 84 degrees Fahrenheit, while the middle of the keyboard registered 93 degrees. The bottom surface reached a warm 99 degrees. We consider temperatures above 95 degrees uncomfortable and those above 100 degrees really uncomfortable.
Like most built-in laptop webcams, the X1 Carbon's 720p sensor captured acceptable, but unimpressive, images.
When I took a picture under the fluorescent lights of my office during the day, colors such as the dark-blue and gray stripes in my shirt were fairly accurate. However, fine details, like the hairs in my beard and the surface of my skin, were splotchy and grainy. In my home at night, with warmer overhead lighting, the picture was even grainier and a bit whitewashed.
The Windows 10-powered ThinkPad X1 Carbon comes with a handful of useful utilities and a few pieces of bloatware. Lenovo Settings, as its name suggests, provides fine control over the audio, touchpad, wireless connection, display and other key settings. Lenovo Companion checks your system's health and downloads software updates as needed. Lenovo System Update also downloads Lenovo app and driver updates. Lenovo Account Portal lets you sign up for a Lenovo support account.
The laptop also comes with some unnecessary preloads, including Candy Crush Soda Saga, a seven-day trial for Sling and free-to-play game Royal Revolt 2. There are also tiles that open the Windows Store screens for Asphalt 8 and Age of Empires: Castle Siege.
Lenovo backs the ThinkPad X1 Carbon with a three-year depot warranty standard, which covers shipping both ways when you need to send your laptop in for repair. For an additional fee, you can upgrade to a four- or five-year warranty, get on-site service or add accidental-damage protection. See how Lenovo fared on our Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brand Rankings.
When Lenovo announced the X1 Carbon at CES 2017, the company said the laptop's starting price would be $1,349. However, at publication time, the only model Lenovo.com was selling cost $1,899, and the least-expensive config available at a third-party retailer was priced at $1,529. Lenovo told us it plans to add the ability to configure the X1 Carbon to order in the near future and that this option would allow customers to create lower-cost systems.
Available currently at CDW, the $1,529 model comes with a Core i5-7200U CPU, 1080p screen, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Lenovo's $1,899 model comes with a Core i7-7600U CPU, 1920 x 1080 screen, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Our $2,122 review configuration is nearly identical to the $1,899 unit but doubles the RAM to 16GB and storage to 512GB.
None of the X1 Carbon configurations available today have the 2560 x 1440 display panel, but that option should be available soon. You cannot get the silver model at this time, either.
From its epic battery life and snappy keyboard to its luxurious, soft-touch chassis and strong performance, there are a lot of things to love about the 2017 edition of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.
If you don't want a business laptop and just want a great lightweight notebook at a more affordable price, consider the Dell XPS 13, which lasts even longer on a charge but weighs more and has a less-impressive keyboard. However, if you want the ultimate combination of business portability and usability, look no further than the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.
Photo credits: Jeremy Lips/Laptop Mag