Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Review

Lenovo’s X1 Carbon packs loads of performance and battery life into a slim and sexy carbon-fiber chassis. Starting at $1,519, the 6th-Generation X1 Carbon retains the fantastic keyboard and colorful display of its predecessor but dramatically improves on the previous model’s performance by going from an Intel 7th Gen dual-core processor to an 8th Gen, quad-core CPU. That’s like moving from a four-cylinder to an eight-cylinder engine. Throw in some new design elements, an eye-popping HDR screen, and far-field microphones. This luxurious laptop is the best productivity system money can buy.

Specs

CPU Core i5-8250U
Operating System Windows 10 Pro
RAM 16GB
RAM Upgradable to 16GB
Hard Drive Size 512GB

Design

If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it — just jazz it up a little. One of the thinnest 14-inch laptops you can get, the 6th-Gen ThinkPad X1 Carbon holds the same, compact dimensions (12.7 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches) and 2.5-pound density as the laptop’s fast predecessor. It also has the same, luxurious soft-touch cover and deck.which makes gripping and resting your wrists against the laptop a delight.


However, Lenovo has made some definite changes to the branding. The ThinkPad logos, which arrive on the deck, are both black rather than the typical silver. And there’s a classy new red-and-gray X1 logo on the lower left corner of the lid. Though our X1 Carbon review unit was the standard ThinkPad black, the laptop is also handy in a dark silver color, which doesn’t possess the similar soft-touch texture.


The X1 Carbon is so sheer that it compares favorably even to competitors with smaller, 13-inch displays. ThinkPad mentioned above weighs 0.16 pounds less than the Dell XPS 13 9370 (2.65 pounds), 0.51 pounds lighter than the MacBook Pro 13-inch (3 pounds) and 0.4 pounds deceiver than the Dell Latitude 7390 (2.9 pounds). Granted, X1 Carbon’s 0.6-inch density makes this machine a tad chunkier than the XPS 13 (0.46 inches). However, the Dell has only Thunderbolt 3 ports, while Lenovo’s laptop gets a room for some full-size USB 3.0 connectors.

Durability and Security

Made from a blend of carbon fiber and magnesium, the X1 Carbon is not only light but also extremely durable. According to Lenovo, the laptop has passed a dozen MIL-STD-810Gdurability tests, including those for extreme temperatures, shocks, and vibrations.

The laptop supports TPM encryption and optional Intel vPro manageability. Our review config had an Intel Core i5-8250U CPU, which doesn’t help vPro, but you can get the X1 Carbon with the Core i7-8650U, which does.


The X1 Carbon comes standard with a Match-in-Sensor fingerprint reader, which performs all of its storage and analysis on the same chip, to avoid hackers. Prior ThinkPads would send that data to other parts of the computer, where it could be vulnerable to sophisticated attacks.

There’s an optional infrared camera that will allow you to use Windows Hello facial recognition. If you don’t get the IR camera, you’ll have the standard webcam, which comes with the ThinkShutter, a solid cover for the lens. If the ThinkShutter is closed, there are no means that despite the world’s best hacker could catch images of you.

Display

We tested ThinkPad X1 Carbon laptops with two different screen options: the 2560 x 1440 HDR (high dynamic range) screen and the standard, 1920 x 1080 touch panel that comes with the base design. Both 14-inch panels were impressive, but the HDR display was one of the most quaking we’ve seen on any laptop.


When I viewed a trailer for The Incredibles 2 on the 1920 x 1080 display, colors like the red in Elastigirl’s costume and the green in some trees popped. Subtle details like the lines in Mr. Incredible’s head were sharp, and colors stayed accurate at up to 90 degrees to specific left or right.

The glow on the HDR screen was on another level; the reds and blues were so thick and saturated that it reminded me of the best phone OLED phone screens and the beautiful OLED screen on the Alienware 13. Just looking at the reds in the X1 Carbon’s desktop wallpaper was an exciting feast for my eyes.


Though that 1920 x 1080 panel is a touchscreen, there’s no glossy cover glass, thanks to Lenovo’s use of in-cell touch technology. That puts the touch technology in the same layer as the LED screen. In-cell also makes the display more power efficient than a traditional touchscreen.

At 469 nits on our light measure, the X1 Carbon’s HDR screen leaves away from the category average (284 nits), the Latitude 7390 (286 nits) and the prior Carbon (274 nits). The 1080p panel also offers an above-average brightness of 293 nits. The MacBook Pro (458 nits) and Dell XPS 13 (415 nits for 4K, 372 nits for 1080p) come close to the X1 Carbon and its HDR screen.

It’s important to note that to take full advantage of the HDR panel, you want videos and software that specifically support Dolby Vision HDRNetflixAmazon Prime Video, and Vudu all hold some movies and shows that will stream in Dolby Vision, but at the moment, Windows 10 doesn’t raise the standard (an update is coming this spring). However, even without Dolby Vision support, the HDR display is one of the best we’ve seen.

Audio

If you think to listen to music on the X1 Carbon, plug in some headphones or pair it with any Bluetooth speakers. When I played AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” the audio was loud sufficient to fill my dining room. The instruments were so tinny and distorted that I couldn’t bear to hear to the whole thing. By default, the Dolby audio software automatically adjusts itself based on what app you’re working. You can also manually choose a sound profile for voice, music, gaming or other situations.

Keyboard, Touchpad and Pointing Stick

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon offers the kind of world-class keyboard we’ve come to expect from Lenovo’s business laptops. With a thick, 1.8 millimeters of travel and a healthy 2 grams of required actuation force, the keys offer excellent tactile feedback and never caused me to bottom out during testing. The soft-touch deck also made my wrists feel good while I was typing.


Because of the keyboard’s high comfort and responsiveness, I achieved a rate of 109 words per minute by a 3.5 percent error rate on the Ten Fast Fingers typing test. That’s one of the most significant scores I’ve gotten and above my typical 95- to the 105-wpm range.

As among other ThinkPads, the X1 Carbon offers a red TrackPoint that sits within the G and H keys. Using this pointing stick to navigate is also efficient and precise than practicing any touchpad. Because it allows you to move about without lifting your hands off of the home row. Given a choice, I will always use the TrackPoint preferably of the touchpad, but not everyone feels satisfactory pushing a nub.

The 3.9 x 2.2″  buttonless touchpad remained very accurate throughout our testing and didn’t exhibit any jumpiness or stickiness. It also responded smoothly and rapidly to multitouch gestures before-mentioned as pinch-to-zoom and three-finger swipe.

Performance

Implemented with a quad-core, Core i5-8250U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB NVMe PCIe SSD, our first review configuration of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon marketed everything we threw at it. Whether we were crunching large spreadsheets, compressing videos or just surfing the web, the laptop was always quick and responsive. We also tested a model with a too-faster Core i7-8550U processor, which performed a slight bit better.

Tests notebook graphics performance.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (2017, TB)

Dell XPS 13 9370 (2018)

Category Average (as of 02/28/18)

Core i7-8550U
1177
Core i5-8250U
1166
Not Tested
 Core i7-8550U
1174
993.78
3DMark Fire Strike
3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited
Color Accuracy
Color Gamut
Dirt 3: Complete Edition
Display Brightness (Nits)
Geekbench 3
Geekbench 4
Hard Drive Speed
Jetstream

With the Core i5 CPU, Lenovo’s laptop scored a firm 13,173 on Geekbench 4, a synthetic test that includes overall performance. The unit with the Core i7 surpassed that, applying in a score of 13,686. Both marks easily beat the premium-laptop level average (9,460), the Core i5-7267U-powered MacBook Pro 13-inch’s score (9,213). Moreover the Core i5-7200U-powered 5th Gen X1 Carbon’s showing (8,571). The XPS 13 with Core i5-8250U CPU got a comparable score (13,254) to the X1 Carbon with Core i5. The Core i7-8650U-enabled Dell Latitude 7390 (13,990) did a little better than both Lenovo models.

If you’re operating on large spreadsheets with plenty of calculations, the X1 Carbon will manage them with aplomb. The laptop needed just 1 minute and 11 seconds to match 65,000 names with their locations in Excel 2016 with its Core i5 processor and 1 minutes and 4 seconds with Core i7 on board. Both are a bit faster than the category average (1:49) and within a few seconds of times from the XPS 13 (1:08) and Latitude 7390 (1:07).

Graphics

You don’t buy a business laptop with integrated graphics and expect to play intense games, but the X1 Carbon’s Intel UHD 620 GPU is good enough for low-end titles. When we fired up racing game Dirt 3, Lenovo’s laptop returned a steady frame rate of 64 fps, easily above the category average (56 fps) and numbers from the MacBook Pro (41 fps) and Latitude 7390 (56 fps). Last year’s 5th Gen X1 Carbon led a barely playable rate of 28 fps.

On 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, an artificial benchmark that measures graphics prowess, the X1 Carbon got 80,588 with its Core i5 chip and 88,143 with Core i7, which are somewhat above the class average (79,051) and the XPS 13’s showing (77,584).

Users who need a lot more graphics might wish to purchase an external GPU and connect it to one of the X1 Carbon’s three ports.

Ports

For a laptop this light, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon has an active port selection, including two USB USB Type-A ports, a full-size HDMI connector, two Thunderbolt 3 ports and a microSD slot.


The right sidelines one Type-A port, a 3.5-millimeter audio jack and a Kensington lock slot. The left side includes the HDMI port, one USB Type-A port also two Thunderbolt 3 connectors.


One of the Thunderbolt 3 ports is part of Lenovo’s side-docking connector, along with an exclusive port that goes next to that connector. Beginning with the 2018 models, ThinkPads will use a distinct set of side docks, rather than having their docking ports built into the bottom, something the prior X1 Carbons never had. The laptop charges via either of the Thunderbolt 3 ports, using the included USB Type-C power adapter.

Camera

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s 720p webcam takes bright but average images. When I shot a photo of me, the blue and gray on my shirt were perfect. My facial features occurred a little blurry. If you don’t hold the discretionary IR camera, you can slide the ThinkShutter over the lens for an added layer of security against hacking.


Sliding the shutter not only includes the image sensor but also damages it in software. So, when I ignited up the camera app. it revealed the camera as disabled rather than just representing a black image.

Battery Life

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon will get you through a workday and then surprising. The 1080p version of Lenovo’s laptop lasted an intense 11 hours and 1 minute on the Laptop Mag Battery Test 2.0, which includes continuous surfing over Wi-Fi. The model we tested with a 4K, HDR screen stayed for a still-strong 10 hours and 28 minutes. Both times are more than 2 hours greater than the category average (8:23). The time of the Dell XPS 13 with the 4K layout. The Dell Latitude 7390 remained 10 hours and 23 min. Also, the XPS 13 with 1080p screen did an even-longer 11 hours and 59 minutes.

MORE: Laptops with the Longest Battery Life

The X1 Carbon further supports fast charging. Lenovo claims that the device can go from 0 to 80 percent in just 60 minutes with its AC adapter. In our experiments, the laptop hit 68 percent after an hour and 80 percent after another 12 minutes. It went to 99 percent in an hour and 58 minutes.

Software and Warranty

Lenovo puts only one piece of first-party software on the X1 Carbon. The Lenovo Vantage app gives you excellent control over settings for the audio, camera, system thermals, keyboard, and pointing devices. It also checks for and downloads updates. There’s also the typical collection of Microsoft-loaded bloatware that we find on every Win 10 laptop, including Candy Crush Soda Saga, Bubble Witch Saga, and Autodesk Sketchbook.

Lenovo backs the X1 Carbon with a standard, one-year warranty on parts and labor. See how the organization fared on Best and Worst Brands ratings plus Tech Support Showdown.

Far-Field Microphone

If you want to request Cortana or Alexa you can do so from across the room. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s built-in far-field receivers promise to pick up your voice from as far as 13 feet away.

In our noisy office, I held between 13 and 14 feet away from the laptop, said, “Hey, Cortana,” and questioned about the weather. I had to raise my speech a bit, but it went. The laptop also caught me when I was standing a few feet back its open lid.

Configurations

Shortly, you’ll be able to configure the ThinkPad X1 Carbon to order, choosing from among several CPUs, SSDs, screens and RAM amounts. At the moment, though, there are just three configurations available. The base model, which we used for this review, is $1,519 and comes with a Core i5-8250U CPU, a 1080p touchscreen, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.

The $2,269 model has a Core i7-8650U CPU, a 2560 x 1440 touchscreen, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and the IR camera for facial recognition. The $2,579 model has the big-end, 2560 x 1440 Dolby Vision HDR screen; a 1TB SSD; a Core i7-860U CPU; 16GB of RAM; and the regular webcam.

Because it has the lowest-resolution screen, the base model we examined will undoubtedly have longer battery life than the other configurations. However, if you want the best image quality and performance, you’ll need to step up.

Bottom Line

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon remains the ultimate business Ultrabook. Thanks to its gorgeous design, excellent typing experience, long battery life and epic screen. If you’re looking for even more duration, your budget is tighter, and you don’t need the same level of durability and protection that the Carbon provides, study the Dell XPS 13. It starts at just $999, offers an optional 4K screen and lasts 2 hours longer on a charge.

If you don’t mind bearing an extra pound. So, look into Lenovo’s ThinkPad T480, which starts at $1,359 and allows a large, extended battery. However, if you need the best business clamshell that cash can buy, look no more than the X1 Carbon.

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