Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Review
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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, one classy Windows 8 laptop


There are only a few Windows 8 laptops in production that we can consider to be the ‘high end’, machines with exacting build quality and specifications to match. While many PC makers are content to push out hum drum machines with middling specs and so so performance the same cannot be said for Lenovo and their ThinkPad range. Over the years their quality and reliability have become legend amongst the most demanding of laptop buyers.

The ThinkPad X1 comes in a body woven from Carbon fibre in a style similar to that of the current crop of Ultrabooks. Lenovo seems keen on finally shunting the look of their machines forwards and have recently adopted Chicklet keyboards and of course the wedge shape body design we have all come to recognize of late.  I’ll be kicking the tires on the X1 to see how well Lenovo have melded the heritage of ThinkPad with the modern styling of an Ultrabook.

Specifications Lenovo X1 Carbon

Specifications

The Lenovo X1 we have here is fairly pimped out spec-wise, coming with 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 3g Modem and an Intel Core i5 3427U CPU. It also has a fingerprint reader, 2x USB ports of which only one is USB 3.0, a mini display port and a card reader. The device is without an Ethernet jack so must rely on Wi-Fi unless you invest in a USB accessory. The X1 has a 14” matt display with a resolution of 1600x900 but this one also has some anti-glare treatment on it too.

Lenovo X1 Carbon

Design

The X1 Carbon has the design cues of many modern Ultrabooks while dispensing with the boxy and functional design of the more traditional X230 series for a sleeker looking wedge shape. The body is part made of carbon fibre and finished with the signature soft touch effect familiar to other non-Edge branded ThinkPads.

In Stretching out the overall design into a wedge shape they have been able to provide a large expanse of wrist space which has been lacking on the X series machines of the past. It is now very comfortable when typing for long periods as a result.

Lenovo X1 Carbon
Power, vents, USB and Radio Switch

The matt finish combined with the dark colours and strong construction evoke a feeling that you’re  using some form of exotic military grade computing device that shouldn’t really be in the hands of the general public. The backlit keyboard and sprinkling of tiny green lights with flashes of red accents certainly add to that effect. The dark grey expanses are only broken up across the device by the Lenovo and ThinkPad logos and some vents here and there. Otherwise it’s all black, smooth and precise.

The X1 weighs in less than my older X200 while giving me a much bigger screen display and far more superior ergonomic benefits.

Lenovo X1 Carbon
Card Reader, Headphone Jack, USB and Display Port

Construction

The machine is constructed very well indeed and has sturdy hinges on the screen which also allow the display to lie totally flat with the main body. There are a surprising number of times when you can put this odd configuration to good use, one of those is to bring the screen to head height when using on the sofa. There are of course top secret uses for such flexibility which we cannot and will not disclose here in the review.

When the lid is closed the laptop is totally solid and if you squeeze it there isn’t any give and there certainly aren’t any creaks or groans of any tell-tale cheap plastic. When the laptop is in use the lid will stay firmly in place due to those hefty hinges but as the screen has a very thin bezel there is some degree of flex in that display. Being that I am used to the X2xx series that comes a little bit of a surprise as I am well used to screens that do not flex in any meaningful way. Considering that this is clearly a move to slim down the looks of the X series this type of flexing is likely unavoidable.

Lenovo X1 Carbon
Backlit keyboard 

Keyboard

Arguably one of the key differentiators on a ThinkPad laptop compared to any other machine on the market is the quality of the keyboard. Actually it wouldn’t be out of place to throw this under the construction header as it is so key to the overall build of the machine. I have been using ThinkPad laptops for many years and have come to love their keyboards. The traditional sculpted keys on the X2xx of the past were recently replaced with the decidedly Mac flavoured Chicklet style keyboards over the last few generations.

This choice has alarmed many ThinkPad fans including myself, I had bought a ThinkPad Edge machine some years back and the Chicklet keyboard included was far from impressive. The spongy feeling and lack of feedback was a real disappointment. The ThinkPad X1 I am pleased to report seems to have finally nailed this type of keyboard and strikes a great balance in terms of looking good but giving a great typing experience too.

Key presses are registered accurately and there isn’t any sign of spongy response of weak construction. The backlight keys are also a marked improvement over the quaint little overhead light from yesteryear. There is no doubt at all that the keyboard on the X1 is a joy to use and designed to really get work done over long stretches of time. Consider me converted on that front as I now prefer this to my older style keyboard.

Lenovo X1 Carbon
Large Trackpad, buttons and Trackpoint

Trackpad and TrackPoint

I have to admit I’m not normally a fan of trackpads often finding them clumsy and awkward to use but the X1 has changed my mind. The Trackpad here is a good size and finished with a slightly matt/soft texture which added to my accuracy when moving around the screen. It also works incredibly well with the gestures in Windows 8. The winner here for me though is that the red trackpoint is still here and as ever works incredibly well being both accurate and well suited to keep your fingers near to the keyboard at all times. As with most pointing devices its actually nice to switch between devices to reduce strain related injuries so having both here is a definite win.

Lenovo X1 Carbon

Display

The machine comes with a 14” HD+ screen which has punchy levels of brightness and has good viewing angles. The display doesn’t have a super high resolution panel compared to many machines these days and tops out at ‘just’ 1600x900. But my own personal preference is not for such high density displays on Windows machines especially for desktop work. Any higher resolution would mean having to bump up the DPI scaling in Windows which never tends to work well. If this is ever properly fixed in Windows then I would welcome much higher DPI displays with open arms.

Performance

The X1 I was supplied came with Windows 7 which I quickly changed out for the rather more nimble Windows 8. After doing a clean install of the new OS, it takes this machine 20 seconds from pressing the power button to get to the start screen after I swipe my finger to login. As a comparison my aged SSD equipped X200 takes a full 45 seconds to get to the start screen in a similar fashion.

Due to the fast SSD and 8GB Ram, getting things done on the desktop is simply a breeze. The Core i5 CPU was able to chew through my usual daily tasks without breaking a sweat.  Photoshop work was a pleasure on the large screen and the machine is more than capable of being a good stand in for my workstation class desktop machine when on the move. The system feels very responsive at all times and I never feel like it’s going to run out of steam even when having multiple apps open, tons of browser tabs and my favourite twitter client open.

Lenovo X1 Carbon
Top Lenovo X200. Middle X1, Bottom ThinkPad Edge

As I have been testing this with Windows 8 installed I can report that WinRT app performance is great. The bright colourful start screen literally pops on the 14” high res display and switching between apps is extremely rapid. The new touch friendly side of Windows 8 is very swift anyway but it is worth mentioning that the X1 tackles it all with silky smooth panache.

In use I have been seeing consistent battery life of a solid 4-5 hours with normal use which it has to be said is certainly not best in class. High end Samsung laptops are able to best that by some margin but the X1 does benefit from Lenovo rapid charging. That technology can top up your supply in super quick time, 30mins and you can get at least 80% of your battery capacity back. Very handy indeed.

But wait, there is a touch version of the X1?

The Lenovo X1 Carbon has recently been updated with a touch screen to support Windows 8' new UI features. Considering how much Windows 8 wants to be touched the Carbon model with the touch screen was certainly considered but ultimately rejected. A number of factors meant it wouldn’t fit my needs; the first of those is that reaching over a fairly large laptop to touch the screen would be uncomfortable. The touch screen would also add slightly to the weight and also reduce the battery performance further. In short my Microsoft Surface will be my touch screen Windows 8 machine for the time being until I find a form factor that is truly best of all worlds.

The excellent performance of the pointing devices and gesture support work really well on the X1 and has meant I do not need to touch the screen. As this machine is to be used mainly for desktop work I would rather not have it covered in fingerprints and be in need of constant cleaning. I also do not like glossy screens for working.

Lenovo X1 Carbon

Conclusion - There can be only one

No laptop is perfect; every device is always a fine balance of features and performance. Lenovo as ever have walked the tightrope of form and function to produce an excellent device. The build quality is simply mind blowing, from the feel of the soft-touch finish layer over the carbon fibre body to the rigidity of the chassis, it all oozes class.  

The keyboard is somewhat of a revelation and has actually converted me away from the older style keys of my X200. Similar good things can be said about the typing experience and the seamless integration of gestures with the oversized track pad. The machine is both fast and remains agile no matter what I have thrown at it often feeling markedly faster than any other machine I have used in recent times.

This is not to say that the Lenovo X1 isn’t without some caveats, it only has a single USB 3.0 port when there are only two available. The screen does have flex, it isn’t extreme but it does take away somewhat from the feeling of rock solid build quality. Lenovo have also opted to use a new type of charger which is USB shaped and is therefore incompatible with the existing chargers I have around the house for my other ThinkPad’s. Battery time is also an area where I feel it could certainly do with some improvement, five hours is rather low in this day and age.

One surprising criticism of these machines is that they are simply not available in retail outlets here in the UK. Despite the fact that you can pick up their low end machines in most retailers the ThinkPad units are still only available through re-sellers or Lenovo direct. Perhaps it is about time Lenovo opened up a showroom and sold these premium items to the general public?

Even with the few gripes here and there the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 is as close to laptop perfection as I have encountered as it ticks so many boxes for what I regard as essential. The obvious heritage of the previous generations has been expertly grafted into this Carbon fibre Ultrabook. It leads to an overall experience that should delight anyone who is lucky enough to encounter one. Quality like this doesn’t come cheap but my recommendation is to simply close your eyes and hand over the credit card.

Price for this spec laptop should hit around the £1400.00 or US $1829.00 at time of writing from Lenovo direct.

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Reader comments

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, one classy Windows 8 laptop

77 Comments

No, all-in-ones are garbage. I don't know anyone who has one, so I can't verify this, but what I've heard is that they're constructed poorly and are a nightmare to have to repair or replace parts in. They're overpriced and underpowered, compared to what an actual desktop can offer.

Not at all, I've heard that sentiment from numerous people who know more abotu computers than myself, and I'd have to say I trust the opinion of many people over just you.
 
Maybe they're not a TOTAL nightmare, but when comapred to a true desktop tower, the quality leaves a LOT to be desired. For starters, most of those all-in-ones (if not all of them) do not have a dedicated GPU, instead taking the pitiful Intel graphics. Evem when that is NOT the case, you get a low-end GPU from NVidia or AMD in the tihing. They do not allow for memory expansion like a desktop (with most all-in-ones rated for 6-8 GB of RAM max, while desktops can go to 32 GB or more; note: I know more than 8 GB is not necessary now, but I am speaking towards the longevity of a desktop over an all-in-one). The CPU in an all-in-one also lags behind what you would get from a good desktop.
 
All told, you're basically paying a form factor premium AND getting lesser hardware.

Why don't you get informed and make your own decision instead of relying and expressing the OPINION that isn't yours rather your friends.

This isn't something from friends. They are the beliefs or people from computer forums. I've read about the parts within the devices, and they are UNQUESTIONABLY inferior to what a desktop carries, despite not being cheaper in most cases.

So, how about instead of you just saying that I'm wrong, you actually give some explanation as to why. I'm sorry I don't have $1,200 to go throw at an all-in-one just to open it up and see what repairing and replacing parts is like. I know that the CPUs in those things AREN'T on-par with the desktop equivalents, and I know that the GPUs are in the same boat. I know that the thing does not allow for memory expansion on the level of a desktop (they're all quoted as being expandable to 8 GB or less). I know that the displays are not of the same quality as those you can buy separately from the rest of your computer (though such IPS displays run in the rather-high range of pricing). I know that the included peripherals (mouse and keyboard) are generic and of low quality.

That last part is because while I don't have the money to spend on one of these overpriced machines, I DO go to a school with at least one classroom full of all-in-ones. In the few weeks I've spent in that room, I can unquestionably say that the mouse and keyboard Dell gave with those things are NOT of the same quality as the Logitech mouse and Sidewinder keyboard I have, nor is that Dell keyboard even of the quality of the 2001 HP keyboard I was using until a couple of years ago.

So again, I can give a list of reasons as to why an all-in-one with inferior parts are inferior, yet all you can do is say I'm giving an opinion and that I'm wrong, without providing ANY support to your claim. I guess that's the beauty of the Internet--you get to throw out random claims, not back them up, and convince yourself that you're right.

Keith, why are you concerned about opening, expanding, and repairing AIOs?

Why isn't 8GB of ram not enough? What exactly is your application and processing need? AIOs are consumer machines, not workstations or custom builds. If I find an AIO that fits my needs, it's mine.

Forgive me, but you sound like a clueless consumer wanting to sound like you know something, but is just regurgitating aggregated uninformed opinions from other clueless consumers and so called tech bloggers...the same type who think the 128GB iPad is revolutionary.

Said construction quality dude...again your post is misinformed and shows your lack of knowledge on the topic. Expandability is another matter, but if you want that you buy a tower. Saying AIOs "are garbage" is an idiotic statement by someone who is not in touch with the PC market

I'm glad you prefaced your post with "I don't know anyone who has one". It saved me the time of deciding if your post is worth reading.

Yep, because it doesn't matter how much you know about the products via research and discussions with others if you don't personally know someone who owns the device.

I don't need to know anyone who owns an iPhone 5 to know that I want no part of that overpriced toy (though I do have a cousin who lives 12 hours away with one). I didn't need my mom to buy an iPad mini to know that I want no part of that. I don't need my grandma to buy an all-in-one (something she has considered) to know that she shouldn't go spending an extra chunk of change on the form factor and lesser hardware.

Um... Don't know how to break this to all of you, but I paid $100 less and got an i7 quad core processor, 16GB RAM, and most importantly, a Nvidia 650M GT graphics card. I do lose the SSD, for 750GB (7200rpm) and 32GB SSD. And it is an alienware. I think that it is better than Lenovo's laptop.

Solid system, but I'll take my Dell XPS 12...FHD display that rotates, machined aluminum & carbon fiber build, and it boots in about 8 to 10 seconds. Everyone has their own opinions, but I am really impressed by the XPS 12. Best laptop I have ever owned. Its nice to see Lenovo picking up their game though, as the Yoga had far too much plastic for my tastes.

Im not mad or trying to be an ass but i think changing the name of this site from windows phone central to windows 8 central would be a solid idea...

I think the site is trying to follow the entire consumer ecosystem, which isn't a bad thing given Microsoft's push to unify everything.

The XPS 12 seems like a rock solid device and I know several people picking it up. I just have a hard time getting a dell based on past experience and the overall build look and quality. Maybe I will need to consider it...

Keith...the Yoga is mainly plastic and has a Lower res screen. Plus I feel their solution to the exposed keyboard in tablet mode is quite tacky...Dell nailed it on the XPS 12. Only thing is I wish battery was more than 5 hours, but next Gen Intel Haswell should help there..

@cashcar1979
How exactly does the eventual Haswell chipset help anyone who buys a current generation device with a crappy battery life? The fact that someone else will have better battery life really is irrelevant. Additionally, while the Lenovo Yoga may be made using some plastics, 1) some sacrifices need to be made to minimize weight, and 2) it is a very well made device that feels sturdy and conveys quality. Those are things I could hardly say about any Dell product in at least half a decade. Dell has also been pushing chunky flip screen designs for several years without success and still can't get battery life. I would otherwise just say to each their own but since you seem intent on telling people what is wrong with other devices vs the amazing Dell, I feel obliged to point out there are others who have a very different opinion.

I don't disagree with either of you here. Dell has made some serious crap over the past...lifetime? However, the brief look at the XPS 12 I managed was pretty good. It's hard to gauge the quality of these products this quickly though, as a laptop SHOULD stand up for at least 2 years, and we're not that far into their life cycle to find out if that is the case.

However, I was pretty impressed with the quality of the display. I don't mean its looks, but I expected the flipping mechanism to feel weak or crappy, but it felt sturdy, yet it didn't offer a lot of resistance when you wanted to flip the screen around.

Overall, I think that the XPS MIGHT be a bit better device because of the form factor, but it's overpriced.

I'm not TOO concerned with the plastic--most laptops survive with that as it is. I'm also not that interested in the resolution difference on displays that small. I will say that they have the Yoga 13 listed at 1600x900, which is something of an unusual resolution.

However, the CPU and RAM are basically identical (the Yoga's got a 0.1 GHz higher clock). Where the Yoga wins for me is the extra USB slot (the XPS has 1 3.0, while the Yoga has 1 3.0 and 1 2.0), and the price. What the XPS brings just isn't worth an extra $200.

I think both are fine machines, I just don't know that the flippable screen (though probably my favorite hybrid mechanism, and I agree the Yoga's a little on the tacky side with the flip-back keyboard, but who's really looking at that?) is worth the price premium of $200. If the XPS 12 was the same price as the Yoga and the Surface Pro, I'd put it #1, but not for an extra $200. You'd have to decide that money is no object and that you REALLY want that screen-flipping feature to get me to suggest it to someone.

I actually just showed the XPS 12 and the Surface Pro to my grandma Friday night, and I showed her the Yoga a month or two ago. However, she's really considering the Surface RT (her husband offered to buy it that night, but she said no...I was sad), as she doesn't need the x86 legacy software, most likely. I told her I'd personally pick the Yoga because it's more functional as a laptop as the similarly-priced Surface Pro, and the XPS just doesn't fit the price point for me.

Again, I agree that the XPS 12 has the design portion perfect, or close to it. I just can't justify the added price for it.

I picked up a top off the line XPS 12 with i7 Proc, 8GB, 256GB for about $1700. Cheaper than the X1 has touch higher resolution screen and screen flips to use as tablet. Heavy for a tablet obviously but nice to have the option. From clicking restart you're rebooted and logged in at your desktop in about 10 seconds. Excellent build quality also.

I was looking at the Lenovo Yoga 13 two days ago. I was mighty impressed with the quality and feel of the laptop and it has the perfect size, my Acer Iconia 510 feels too small. Sadly Lenovo have skimped on the screen, very slow panel, tiles get all blurry when scrolling the startscreen.
I just dont get why they skimp on such a thing when the rest of the latop is built like a winner. Stupid.

I am about to refresh my work laptop and I am debating between this, the Surface Pro and the Samsung Series 9. Ahh! This review just made it more difficult!

The Series 9 is most certainly contender - quite stunning laptops. The Surface Pro is a nice bit of kit too! I'll be reviewing the Lenovo ThinkPadII later down the line.

Series 5 with touchscreen ($850) at BB is also a good contender..thin and light. I like the Surface Pro but I would only consider one if MS throws in a type KB for free.

Ms sale now!  Spend 600? get a $100 coupon.  So buy surface pro bare.  Get coupon and buy keyboard for 20 or 30.

I did price it on the US website, but as jjmurphy pointed out there are e-coupons and offers from time to time. I think the US generally has lower prices on the ThinkPads but I may be wrong.

Those still seem hum dum spec. Is there no i7 machine with a 1080 display, 512 SSD and a discreet graphics card? And for that price, I feel like I am shopping for an apple product. Pay too much and get too little.

Hah, same here. My macbook pro is 7 years old anyways. But, don't have that much money to throw at a laptop right now :(

I'm more happy with my Lenovo Y580 that I just bought. Even though it's not made of carbon, it's one hell of machine for the price range. i7-3610, 8GB RAM, GTX660M 2GB, 15.6" FHD screen and Blu-Ray ROM, awww yeah.

Gaming mostly, and it cost me MYR3,000. But I saw it costing around 850USD-1000USD on the Lenovo site, based on which spec you're going to take.

Every reference to "matt" should be "matte" ... and the correct port name is "Mini DisplayPort port" even though it seems redundant (you don't say "my computer has a USB").

Now that Windows 8 is out, I think I'd be hard-pressed to buy a non-touch screen PC. The only reason I can think of would be to save money, which this computer wouldn't really do. I've also grown accustomed to 1920x1080, so I'd probably go with the XPS 12 over this.

I'd take a Vizio Ultrabook over that ugly ass Lenovo any day. They really need to get past the 20 year old IBM look.

If you dont like the IBM look then Thinkpads will never be for you. The Vizio looks nice, where can I get one here in the UK?

The 128GB Surface Pro is similarly specced, albeit CPU & ram capacity, for much less in price. And the Pro is much, much cooler looking.

Totally different device but yes the Pro looks awesome and while some have complained about the price I think it is very reasonable cost wise. I do hear that its a little noisey though but I cannot wait to try one out. :) 

I really don't get the noise complaints about the Surface Pro. After owning one for just over a week, I can't say I have noticed the fan at all. I think the supposed fan noise issue is nothing more than another example of a bunch of haters who don't want to believe stodgy old Microsoft could actually create something with a respectable amount of cool.

Are you guys Windows Phone Central or Windows Central? Start rethinking the name of the site to cover all the news related to the Windows Ecosystem.

After using Windows 8 with a touch screen laptop (Lenovo Yoga), I couldn't go back to a regular laptop.  The user experience is night and day.  Windows 8 is clunky and awkward on a standard laptop, yet far more fluid and functional with the touch screen.  For me, personally, the added weight of the touch screen is a small price to pay for a better overall user experience.

Any mainstream laptop that challenges Apple for high pricing is 1) not going to be found in many retail outlets, and 2) destined to be consigned to the list of "cool" devices no one buys.  Even Apple is cutting prices on its computers,  Nothing described merits that high of a price point. BTW, you really might want to work on that description of the way the hinged screen lays/moves. Whatever you are trying to convey seems pretty well lost. The description sounds like it works (and lays) like the screen on any laptop other than those clumsy and silly looking flip screen Dells.

You know... I've had two convertible laptops since 2006. Each one before the iPad. They were great. Power, dedicated gpu, digital stylus, keyboard, fingerprint reader. My oldest one even had a DVD drive built in, IR remote, two 3.5mm out jacks, dedicated volume buttons, an expansion port and the external pcie thing.

The iPad destroyed the tablet market. Everything from there on was without keyboards, without digital stylus, without USB for a while...and all ARM based.

I hoped windows 8 would reclaim the greatness of convertibles or at least add touch to standard laptops... But no. I hope soon this will change, but all touch things are considered "portable" devices for some reason and therefore ALL of them have the Intel HD 4000. Yeah, no.

I just bought a nice powerful laptop and I intend to try and find one of those self install touch screen kits.

 

Many newer ultrabooks are reducing number of USB ports to only 2, removing optical disc drives and in some cases, even no ethernet/LAN port like this one. This is ridiculous. 3 USB ports is not even enough to me. If i use a USB hub the amount of power distributed to each port will be reduced.

 

Is THINNESS so important to the extent to affecting user-friendliness and the omission of basic features? Is the number of pussies who thinks 2kgs is too heavy increasing? Most of my family members have their own laptops, and my home dont even have desktop PCs. Many laptops nowadays, laptops, not just ultrabooks, are removing or reducing this kind of features just to maintain slimness to the extent of affecting the ventilation. High graphics gaming can pose a problem with heat.  

The general market wants that thinness and low weight for portability. If you want something loaded with USB ports, build a desktop. I've got 6 USB ports in the case I have, plus the 6 or so USB ports in the back on the motherboard. Heck, most general laptops only had 2 or 3 USB ports before this, so I'm not sure what your complaint is there.

Seriously, if you're even MENTIONING high-level gaming, a laptop isn't the answer.

I have the X1 Carbon Touch. it is a bit thicker than the non-touch because of the digitizer, but having a TrackPoint, touch pad, and touch screen is really nice. Also, it still weights a tiny bit less than my X220 with its 6-cell battery.

I'm in the market but a touch screen and detachable keyboard are musts. Though it does seem to be a fine laptop if that is all you want.

1829.00....ill keep my Asus G75, Sure its bigger and crap battery but for 1250 can't beat a well spec laptop...my .02

While I am glad Lenovo is producing Windows 8 computers, I find my friend's Lenovo experience quite troubling. He bought one of their Windows 7 laptops last summer. He upgraded it to Windows 8. Lenovo's still has not provided usable drivers, and the last couple rounds of updates have been little more than a change in file timestamps. Owning a Lenovo machine myself, I am so disappointed in them.

I chuckle every time I read similar accolades for XP. Anyone else remember the huge backlash against Microsoft when XP was first released? Don't get me wrong, I loved XP. And just like XP, Vista sucked until it got its service packs. Windows 7 was effectively Vista Service Pack 3. Now we start the cycle again with Windows 8...

I have the X1 Carbon Touch, just about fully blinged out, and got it for around 1500. The review stated one of the downsides of the touch model would be the glossy screen, but it actually comes with an anti-gloss/glare film over the screen (which is imperceptible unless you actually look for it) that eliminates glare. So glare isn't a problem at all, and therefore neither are fingerprints or smudges.