There are a few iconic Windows laptops in the wild these days, and the Lenovo X1 Carbon sits near the top of that list. Built for professionals who want a sleek, thin, but high performing PC on-the-go Lenovo has been tweaking and refining the design for years.
The new 6th generation X1 Carbon is – thankfully – the best version yet. It's not just because it has a potent Intel 8th generation processor, but smaller changes around the trackpad and bigger ones around the display make all the difference.
X1 Carbon 6th gen what's new
Lenovo has kept the overall design of the X1 Carbon like last year's model, but there are a few notable modifications:
- New powerful and efficient 8th generation Intel processors.
- New ThinkShutter camera privacy.
- Fingerprint reader with "Match-in-Sensor" architecture.
- In-Cell Touch.
- New 360° far-field microphones and Cortana.
- Modern Standby with Wake on voice.
- Side Mechanical Docking.
- New X1 Branding.
That processor change is substantial too. Users can configure the X1 Carbon with up to a Core i7-8650U with burst speeds up to 4.2GHz and Intel vPro support. That's the same processor found in the new Surface Book 2. That's interesting because most Ultrabooks opt for the i7-8550U, which is clocked a little lower.
The other biggest change is the display. Lenovo gives the usual abundant choice to users all with a 14-inch display at 16:9 aspect:
- FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS anti-glare, 300 nits.
- FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS anti-glare multi-touch, 300 nits.
- WQHD (2560 x 1440) IPS anti-glare, 300 nits.
- HDR WQHD (2560 x 1440) IPS glossy with Dolby Vision, 500 nits.
Options are welcomed, and each of these displays has pros and cons to them including pricing variations. It's that last option with Dolby Vision that is the real unique choice, and it's gorgeous.
Lenovo also lets users configure the X1 Carbon with up to 1TB of SSD storage. In our review unit, the drive is the brand-new Samsung PM981, which is an outstanding performer.
|Category||Lenovo X1 Carbon 6th gen|
1920 x 1080 or 2560 x 1440
Touch or non-touch
Anti-glare or glossy
Dolby Vision HDR (optional)
|Processor||Up to 8th Gen Intel Core i7 8650U with vPro|
|Graphics||Intel UHD 620|
|RAM||8GB or 16GB DDR3 2133MHZ|
|Storage||Up to 1TB PCIe-NVME SSD OPAL2.0|
|Ports||2 x USB 3.1 Gen 1 (one Always On)|
2 x USB 3.1 Gen 2 Type-C / Intel Thunderbolt 3 (Power Delivery, DisplayPort, Data transfer)
4-in-1 MicroSD card reader
Ethernet Extension Connector
|Connectivity||Intel Dual-Band Wireless AC (2 x 2) 8265 + Bluetooth 4.1|
Integrated Global Mobile Broadband LTE-A (optional)
|Audio||Dual speakers (bottom edge), noise-cancelling dual-array mic|
|Battery||57Wh, up to 15-hour battery life|
|Dimensions||323.5 mm x 217.1 mm x 15.95 mm / 12.73 x 8.54 x 0.62 inches|
|Weight||2.49 lbs (1.13 kg)|
|Colors||Black or silver|
The ThinkShutter is merely a sliding door that covers the front-facing web camera. It's great for privacy, apparently, but feels uninspired – it's a sliding door that clicks. I think Lenovo offered this for those who work in specific environments, but it is also a small bone to those who can't get the infrared (IR) camera option for Windows Hello facial recognition. In other words, you get one or the other, but not both.
This theme of choices with tradeoffs is a frustrating one with the X1 Carbon.
X1 Carbon – The good
There's a lot to like about the new X1 Carbon.
If you opt for the Dolby Vision HDR WQHD (2560 x 1440) display, you will drop a reasonable extra $180 for the privilege, but it is so worth it. The Dolby Vision display is 100 percent sRGB and AdobeRGB color accurate, which is something I have not seen before in a laptop. Even the NTSC rating for color accuracy is 99 percent.
There are only three significant downsides to the HDR display: you cannot get it and the IR camera, just the regular, subpar webcam. It is also glossy with no anti-glare option. And finally, it is non-touch. Those are by no means deal breakers, but those options are available for the other display types at full HD and WQHD. Tough choice.
Surprisingly, a hit on battery life is not a drawback of that Dolby Vision screen – unless, of course, you run it at full brightness (500 nits). But for normal usage? This display looks like an OLED, but performs like an LED – it's remarkable.
I'm also glad to report Lenovo has finally and wholly switched to Microsoft Precision drivers with no Synaptics software (unlike last year's model). The trackpad here is outstanding especially the soft click.
No significant changes to the keyboard either, which is fine since the X1 Carbon easily has one of the best keyboards on the market. Sure, there is the usual complaint about how Lenovo switches the Ctrl and Fn keys, but this is a small annoyance.
Battery life is also excellent. The full HD option will net you around two extra hours over the WQHD model for about ten hours versus eight. While I've always enjoyed the X1 Carbon battery life was never its strength. That changes this year as the new 8th generation Intel processor lets this laptop finally hit "all day" usage. It's not the highest on the market, but it doesn't feel like such a compromise this time. The USB-C fast charge is also excellent.
The new design changes, including that refined logo and deep, jet-black design are magnificent. Still, it does pick up hand oil quickly so if that is a concern you should opt for the silver color option.
For performance, it is fun to use a 14-inch Ultrabook of this caliber and get the same CPU performance as the new Surface Book 2. That i7-8650U is an outstanding performer achieving 5,025 for Geekbench single-core and 14,178 for multi-core scores. That single-core score beats Surface Book 2, which is impressive.
The Samsung PM981 SSD, meanwhile, gets the highest performance rating yet with 3,270 MB/s for read and 2,395 MB/s for write speeds, which is incredible. When combined with that i7 processor the X1 Carbon will plow through any Microsoft Excel document or browse the web with ease.
I also really liked Lenovo's new Vantage app in the Microsoft Store. It handles many unique configuration options for the Carbon's hardware and keeps the BIOS and firmware all up to date. It's a breath of fresh air from the old Lenovo system apps.
There's also the excellent port selection with full Thunderbolt 3, two Type-C, two Type-A, and an HDMI port.
X1 Carbon – The bad
There are a few minor quibbles with the new X1 Carbon. Ideally, getting a model with that Dolby Vision HDR display and Windows Hello for facial recognition would be an option. Sure, there is an including fingerprint reader on the keyboard deck, but it's awful to use.
While the HDR display is jaw-dropping the audio on the X1 Carbon is still subpar, which is weird. I get using the X1 Carbon for watching movies on a flight, but why make crappy downward firing speakers to mar the experience?
Another issue is availability. Lenovo famously onramps configuration options at a slow pace - so, while they advertise many configuration options, just as many are not-yet-available. Do you want the silver X1 Carbon with Dolby Vision HDR display? Sorry, can't do that. Want that built-in LTE Advanced 4G modem? You'll have to wait until May to order it. Do you want Windows Hello facial recognition? It's only with specific display configurations.
While I get there are limitations in engineering some of that is annoying. I'm unsure if I'll be able to order the X1 Carbon in silver with Dolby Vision HDR and an LTE modem. Plus, even if I can, I still have to live with that lousy fingerprint reader.
Finally, for graphics, there is only the Intel UHD 620 with no discrete GPU. Those built-in graphics still yield 22,525 on Geekbench's OpenCL test, but it would have been fun to have a new GeForce MX150 option to double that score too.
Lenovo X1 Carbon 6th generation is a winner
Despite a few drawbacks I'm in love with the X1 Carbon 6th generation. It finally gets good battery life to match that ridiculous lightweight and thin design. It's also a powerhouse with fantastic CPU and SSD configurations. And Lenovo is finally using a pure Microsoft Precision driver experience. Bravo.
I'd also be remiss to mention the X1 Carbon when fully spec'd out is profoundly expensive. With HDR, 1TB and a Core i7 processor, you hit the $2,500+ range. Luckily, Lenovo lets you configure down to a more reasonable $1,400 for a Core i5 and full HD version (and the full HD display is very good too).
- The HDR display is 100 percent color accurate and dazzling.
- Excellent battery life.
- Outstanding typing and trackpad experience.
- The refreshed design is muted and professional.
- Very good performance.
- Odd configuration options and limitations.
- Terrible fingerprint reader.
- Speakers are subpar.
While I would personally prefer a 3:2 display aspect I get that this is for business types, so I'll swallow my pride there. Give me this laptop in silver, with HDR, and a 4G LTE modem? This laptop could very well be the best productive PC on the market. But seriously, Lenovo, work on the audio speakers and use a better fingerprint reader. You do that, and this is a perfect laptop.
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Daniel Rubino is the Editor-in-chief of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft since 2007 when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, laptops, next-gen computing, and for some reason, watches. Before all this tech stuff, he worked on a Ph.D. in linguistics, watched people sleep (for medical purposes!), and ran the projectors at movie theaters because it was fun.