Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Review: What The Future Of Laptops Should Be

The Lenovo X1 Carbon does the impossible. It makes a business laptop — a business anything — cool. Cool because it looks good, sure, but also because it works the way it's supposed to. And somehow, that's become one of the bigger compliments in tech.

What Is It

A ultrabook wearing a suit of armour, but it still manages to look better than nearly every other competitor.

Who Is It For

Ostensibly for business users, but really, the X1 Carbon is for anyone.

Why It Matters

It might not feel like it, but this is an important computer for Lenovo. It typically makes business computers — machines that are butt ugly and impractical for regular people, even though things like comfortable, reliable, sturdy and secure are things that everyone wants.

Design

The X1 Carbon is immensely beautiful laptop and incredibly goddamn ugly at the same time. The slim, wedge-shaped, carbon-coated body is trim in all the right ways. But it also has the same sharply squared-off lid and gross Thinkpad impressions familiar from other IBM or Lenovo products.

Using It

Basically every Windows laptop review today mentions how non-Apple keyboards and trackpads suck. Not this one. Everything's great. The keyboard is as good as you're going to find on a laptop — nice key travel distance, resistance, and spacing. Using the trackpad, was the first time I've ever done multitouch gestures on Windows and liked it. Three fingers to page back on the first try. Smooth gesture scrolling and zooming. None of that happens on most Windows laptops.

Like

There is a ton of stuff across the business aisle that, for whatever reason, we haven't seen in mainstream ultrabooks — really cool things like spill-proof keyboards, 3G connections, and biometric fingerprint security. And the X1's beautiful, beating-resistant body is so, so, so wonderful. Ditto the trackpad and keyboard.

The matte 1600 x 900 display is a strength, too. Not amazing — certainly nowhere near the 1080p display on the ASUS Zenbook Prime — but it's sharp, and represents colours well. It does shade a little blue, and its anti-glare surface keeps it from having great contrast.

No Like

The software, strangely. For as mighty as the firmware on the trackpad and keyboard are, the business-facing software that Lenovo loads onto the X1 is more oppressive than you'll find from other OEMs — even repeat offenders like Asus and Sony. Things like accessing security settings for the fingerprint reader, or simple account or network settings, are just muddied up in sluggish proprietary software.

Then there's the nondescript design, and the marriage of necessity to business features like the TrackPoint (the red nub in the middle of the keyboard). The nub especially feels extraneous for most users now that the trackpad actually works the way it should, but business being business, alienating a mass of outmoded users isn't going to fly.

Test Notes

  • The backlit keyboard is one of the nicer ones out there. The light never feels too bright, and the Fn+Spacebar for two levels is actually more convenient than the usual two buttons.
  • Responsiveness was never an issue, and the only time the X1 overheated was while gaming. But when it gets hot, it really burns. Just idling for 20 minutes in Diablo 3, the X1 got hotter than any ultrabook we've seen — though still not quite as bad as a MacBook.
  • Transfer speeds were really fast, even compared to other ultrabooks. Average of 5 minutes 5 seconds for 25GB in 10 files. Zoom.
  • The only complaint on the keyboard and trackpad is that the cursor will occasionally drop downward for no reason. It's pretty rare, though, and the positives far outweigh it.
  • The X1 Carbon was also our Windows 8 RTM test machine, and it performed admirably. The Windows 7 drivers, while obviously not optimised, stood up to the Windows 8 gestures.
  • The biometric fingerprint scanner seems less finicky than the original X1's — fewer non-reads unlocking it, and it didn't return any false positives for other people's hands.

Should You Buy This

Yes. This is a wonderful laptop, and not just for the business users it's supposedly made for. This is a laptop anyone can use, and maybe love. It takes all of the efficiencies and protections of business class machines and makes them, well, not insanely ugly. Rather pretty, actually. Those things always made this class easy to use — and, now, easy on the eyes.

Lenovo Carbon X1 Specs

• Processor: Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge • Display/Resolution: 14-inch HD+ Anti-Glare (1600 x 900) Wide View (300NITS) • Video Graphics: Intel HD 4000 Graphics • Memory: 4GB • Storage: 128GB SSD • Connectivity: Two USB (one always on USB 2.0 and one USB 3.0); Mini-Display port; four-in-one SD media card reader • Camera: 720p HD camera with face tracking capability • Weight: 1.36kg • Dimensions: 331mm x 226mm x 18.85mm • Extreme Use Battery Test: Three hours, 28 minutes • Price: $1999 RRP in Australia


Comments

    I can't believe the dismissive attitude towards the TrackPoint. It is the one feature that has me interested in this machine over others. No matter how good any trackpad ever gets, trackpoint will always be way, way better. Trackpads have a fatal flaw - they don't map 1:1 with the screen because if they did, they would be too inaccurate and that means you're constantly moving from one edge back to the other to get from your My Computer icon to the System Tray, for example. It is incredibly counter-intuitive and I hate them because of it. OTOH, trackpoints are incredibly responsive and can be faster than a mouse once you get into using them.

    I can believe the dismissive attitude towards the TrackPoint because it's rubbish. It was useful during the time before trackpads, however it's now long past its use by date and is about as anachronistic as the floppy drive or the trackball (gee, I wonder where the trackball went?). This article has it right, in that the TP remains to satisfy those who have gotten too use to this device and refuse to relinquish it.

      Why is a trackpad superior? I've given you very precise reasons why it is not, which you have chosen to completely ignore. Why bother posting if you can't back up your comment? I find trackpads all but unusable, they are largely a waste of space and resources. And for the record, Logitech still make trackballs and they are reasonably easy to get hold of if you want one. I know a few video editors that prefer them to a mouse.

        Er, remove the "and guess what?" part. I derailed my train of thought and lost what I was going to say. Curse of multi-tasking.

      maybe for the consumers looking at facebook all day. However lots of coders and people that work with computers a lot love it (me included), because you never have to move your hands far from the home keys, you can go from typing to selecting in a fraction of a second(and once you get used to it you can be quite quick like aiming on console controllers).

        I believe the trackpad is superior because it more closely mimics the use of a mouse than the pointing stick does. Sure you have to to lift your finger off it as it doesn't map 1:1 to the screen, but you do the same thing with your mouse anyway. The trackpad is as close as you're going to get to an inbuilt mouse. It's not great but it does the job, and guess what? There are

        The trackpoint is more similar to a analog stick on a controller, or a joystick. If such a thing was better than a mouse, we'd all be using these to guide our cursors around the GUI. But we don't, we use mouses (mice?).

        And for the record, yes Logitech still make trackballs. You know what else is being made? Floppy disks. When was the last time you walked into somebody's house (who wasn't a video editor) and found either one of those?

        In any case, this Thinkpad is basically targeting it's key demographic, namely people like you so if including the trackpoint caters for your taste then they've hit their target audience, doesn't matter what I think.

          I don't agree at all, I can move my mouse from one corner of the screen to the opposite one in a single, fluid motion with my mouse or a single action with a trackpoint but to do the same thing with the trackpad requires me to perform three separate swipes. Sure, the physical action is more like a mouse but the convenience is nowhere near the same. It's like a mouse would be if you restricted it's movement to a 2cm square.

            trackpad only takes 3 swipes if you set it that way, and if you're complaining about something you can change with a sliding bar you're an idiot.

      What? If I have to use anything other than a trackball, I scream. They are just so much better and more ergonomic. And I have only been using them 2-3 years...

        We could go on but this isn't going to get us anywhere. You're not going to convince me that the trackpoint better than the trackpad and vice versa. Lets just agree to disagree. So long as I don't force you to use a trackpad and you don't make me use a trackpoint, we're good.

          Actually, all you convince me of is that you haven't spent any time getting used to a TrackPoint and probably dismissed it on the basis of trying it out in a shop. I've spent far more time with Trackpads but I still can't see anything they do better - multi-touch gestures are uncomfortable/awkward, tracking requires much more effort and they are no more accurate. You certainly would't think a trackpad was more mouse-like than a trackpoint if you had used both for any length of time.

    I am one of those weird guys who use both! Pad is great for main movement, but if I need to do something a bit more fiddly, I move to the point, it is far more precise.

      I can't use a trackpad for anything more than quick access to one thing. If I have to open an application to do something or if I want to move files around, I'll always connect a mouse. But I can get things done with a trackpoint if I have to, although I will still use a mouse if it is practical.

    Trackpoint FTW! I even bought a usb lenovo keyboard just for its trackpoint.

      Ooh, I didn't know such a beast existed. I might have to check 'em out.

    No question the TrackPoint is the superior productivity method for users with a semblance of coordination. The ergonomic advantages in terms of reduced hand movement speaks for itself. It would a scientific study no-brainer.
    And like Davo I also recommend using external lenovo keyboards to ensure the same input experience (keyboard layout, spacing and feel, and Trackpoint instead of mouse), regardless of computing device.

    I do wish Lenovo would spend as much attention on the output devices (screen/speakers) as they do input devices (Keyboard/TrackPoint). Maybe one day?

    I was thinking "yeah, yeah, yeah ... $1250 WTF!? Oh, US$1250 -_-".

    Would love to see the benchmark results of this running StarCraft 2. D3 I'm not fussed with, but if it can handle SC2 well at native res, on medium settings then this goes straight to third place just behind the XPS One 27 and the Lenovo Yoga for my next machine.

    This is a brand new Ultrabook? 4GB of ram and 128GB of HDD space, for what will probably be around $1500 AUD?!
    This is why I bought a Macbook Air: i7, 8GB, 256GB, $1750. Bullet proof design, good tech support, great trackpad (sensitivity turned up: 1.5 inch of finger movement = cursor moving from one side of the screen to the other) and a reasonably lean OS with decent battery time.
    I can't believe the Mac is the cost-effective solution!

    Has anyone seen the prices for these in AU on Static Ice? $2.4k-$3.5k?!

    I'll stick to my Sony Z. Also carbon fibre, but more powerful and much, much better looking.

    sony z - enjoy your subpar speakers, trackpad and keyboard

    trackpoint is better than mouse or any other pointing device ever invented. i never use anything else. having said that, for those who don't appreciate the efficiency of trackpoint and want to waste time with trackpads etc, good for you. just leave the trackpoint alone, it's for the serious laptop users.

    I think trackpoint continue to exist for a good practical reason - they serve keyboard-workers well. For people who use trackpoint, they don't really have to move their hands away from starting position to move the cursor around. Sure, there are people who can type while using their thumb to use the trackpad, but one's thumb is never as agile as index finger. On top of that, from my experience in the past, I observeed a lot of people having trouble with trackpoint because they tried to use it with their middle finger or ring finger, which compromise the intended ergonomic (i.e. touch typing position with start position F, J.) I don't quite agree with the analogy between trackpoint and joystick that was mentioned above. While the mechanical designs share similar principle, trackpoint is not a 'joystick-alike' and the user experience and productivity is nowhere similar.
    As for trackpoint vs trackpad, my vote goes to trackpoint. Unless I have no other input options (i.e. mouse, trackpoint or external trackball), or otherwise when every time I get a new notebook, the first thing to do is always disabling trackpad because they tend to move my cursor around when my hand got a little too close to it while typing - that annoys the hell out of me.

    why the *ping* $1999 ??

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