Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2021) First Impressions

Posted on October 16, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 10 with 31 Comments

I think it’s fair to say that the ThinkPad X1 Carbon sets the standard for business-class Ultrabooks. And if my experiences with previous generation versions of this product are any indication, the new 9th-generation version is exactly what fans of this product want and expect.

I am such a fan. And what I see here is all good news: mostly steady refinement of a nearly-perfect business-class Ultrabook, always appreciated, but with one major change that needs to be celebrated. For the first time, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon comes with a choice of 16:10 display panels instead of the less useful 16:9 displays that appeared on previous versions. And there are thin bezels all around, of course.

The display in the review unit—a 14-inch matte IPS panel with a 1920 x 1200 (Full HD+) resolution, 400 nits of brightness, and no multitouch capabilities—is particularly good, and the one I’d configure were I spending my own money. I very much prefer matte displays for productivity work, and while it’s not all bright and glossy like an OLED panel, there are other display options, including a UHD+ panel with Dolby Vision capabilities, that should collectively meet the needs of almost anyone.

The only other obvious change, at least to me, is the display hinge, which is now a single bar that extends across most of the bottom of the display now, instead of two smallish, discrete hinges.

Beyond those two upgrades, there are few surprises. The classic X1 design carries over largely unchanged, from the durable carbon fiber and magnesium-alloy chassis to the familiar ThinkPad X1 logo on the outside of the display lid, with its classic red power light in the dot over the “i.”

The port selection is still quite robust, no doubt because of the target market, so we get a nice mix of modern and legacy ports. On the left, you’ll find two Thunderbolt 4/USB-C ports, one full-sized USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 port, and a full-sized HDMI 2.0 port.

On the left, there is a Kensington lock slot, a second full-sized USB-A port, and a combination headphone/microphone jack. (And, if available, a nano-SIM card slot that’s not present in the review unit configuration.)

The classic ThinkPad keyboard, with its scalloped key and two-way pointing system, carries over intact. And while that’s mostly good news: the typing feel is fantastic, and I love the medium-sized touchpad.

But Lenovo continues to misplace the Fn (Function) key to the left of the Ctrl key. Guys, seriously.

I also like the thin power button, which sits above the right top of the keyboard and features an integrated Windows Hello fingerprint reader.

There’s no Windows Hello facial recognition capability, oddly, but you can at least cover the 720p webcam with an integrated manual shutter.

Carting the X1 around should be no problem at all: it weighs just 2.5 pounds and manages to feel even lighter. Lenovo claims a battery life of up to 16.7 hours, too, and no, that’s not for video rundown. We’ll see where it lands in real-world usage.

Inside, it’s all modern, of course, with quad-core 11th-generation Intel Core processors and Intel Iris Xe integrated graphics, up to 32 GB of LPDDRx4 RAM, and up to 1 TB of PCIe-based SSD storage. (The review unit is outfitted with a Core i7-1165G7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and 512 GB of storage.) There’s Intel Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.2 for connectivity, and you can get 4G/LTE or 5G cellular data connectivity if you wish as well.

Sound is delivered via stereo upward-firing speakers and downward-firing woofers with Dolby Atmos enhancements, and my early tests—a few bits of Star Wars: The Last Jedi and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King—were quite promising, with nice stereo separation. There are also four 360-degree far-field microphones with Dolby Voice for enhanced call capabilities.

Finally, there is no crapware on this PC at all, a most welcome change when compared to my last review, for the Samsung Galaxy Book Pro x360 15. There are only two Lenovo-branded utilities included, both useful, and a small number of utilities related to hardware features like the audio, Thunderbolt ports, and touchpad.

And there you go. I’m expecting no big surprises here, but I’m curious about the battery life, and I can’t wait to take the ThinkPad X1 on a trip.

More soon.

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Comments (31)

31 responses to “Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2021) First Impressions”

  1. jkchan83

    I am surprised that your unit does not have a Windows Hello-compatible camera. I just double-checked and my unit has both the camera and fingerprint reader. Mine has the 1145G7 processor, otherwise similarly spec'ed.

  2. thewarragulman

    I would love to be a ThinkPad user again, I loved my old ThinkPad T420 from back in the day and several other older Lenovo and IBM ThinkPads I have owned in the past, heck my first laptop was an IBM ThinkPad which I fell in love with. However recent models have seemed lackluster to me, so the last time it came to buy a laptop I went with a used 15" MacBook Pro instead which has been okay - butterfly keyboard aside.

    However, my next laptop which I'm due to buy next year (I tend to buy every four years) won't be a Mac due to the M1s not being able to run existing vmware VMs which I rely on as I need to test OSes and software for my job, I'll be going back to a PC. Now that Lenovo is offering 16:10 screens I hope I can become a ThinkPad user again, currently got my eyes set on a Dell XPS 15, however if Lenovo make a similar laptop with a display like the Dell has, I'll buy the Lenovo. WIll never again buy a 16:9 display in a laptop.

  3. xemmex

    I still use my old 6th Generation Carbon X1, this with Windows 10Pro and still enjoy it today! I will definitely consider this new version for its replacement this year!

  4. Evil_Overlord

    I've been using one of these for a while, and, while it's far better than my previous XPS13, it's not as good as my personal Yoga 370.

    • Mine does have a facial recognition camera.
    • My matte screen is really too dim in bright light. It's more comparable to my Yoga's ~200 nits than this review's 400.
    • I'm not a fan of the trackpad. It ceases to function or 'loses' the cursor far too often - maybe 5% of the time. This doesn't happen with the Yoga.
    • The thin fingerprint reader is far less dependable than either the Yoga's larger reader or the XPS'.

    This is a work machine, and it's ... fine. It's light and smallish, and I appreciate the 16:10 ratio (but wish it were 3:2). But it's certainly not my dream laptop.

    • ianbetteridge

      Oddly, when I ordered mine recently, not having a facial recognition camera was not an option - and I ordered the same non-touch 1920x1200 panel as Paul has.

      I'm now in week two of ownership and it's the first Windows machine I've used in *years* that has quickly become my main laptop. I always have a Windows and macOS machine, and in the past while I've used both, I've gravitated towards the Mac. Not anymore: the combination of Windows 11 and a really solid, well designed machine that delivers in every department (performance, design, price, look and feel) has really made a difference.

    • Evil_Overlord

      I should add:

      • the TrackPoint, which I otherwise avoid, always works, and I use it to 'wake up' the cursor and touchpad.
      • I couldn't care less about the swapped Ctrl and Fn keys. I'm able to adapt to whichever keyboard, despite being a touch typist.

      Lenovo has been steadily losing my interest for years. If it weren't for the keyboards, I'd have quit them years ago. Here's hoping the new screen ratio is a step back in the right direction - esp with the 3:2 Titanium X1. But the touchpad on that is even odder.

      • nine54

        Can you elaborate on why Lenovo is losing your interest? After some time with a MacBook, I'm considering a PC again for my next laptop. I'm looking at non-Lenovo brands and devices, but many seem to have some sort of glaring compromise in some area. I've just found that ThinkPads, while perhaps not the best in any one category, are just solid all the way around. It's a case of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. But, interested in others' experiences and suggestions.

        • Evil_Overlord

          I've been using Thinkpads since maybe 2007 or so; the X61, I think. I liked them primarily for their keyboards, though they had many other good features. Over time, the screen ratio shifted down to 16:9 - which is great for video and spreadsheets, but I don't do much of either, and it's terrible for text documents, which I spend most of my time with.

          Mainly, though, Lenovo's keyboards have gotten worse. They're still far better than the competition, but they're only good now, not great. My Yoga's screen is too glossy and too dim.

          Ideally, I'd like a great keyboard, a small (13"), bright (400+ nit), matte screen with narrow bezels and a 3:2 ratio. The closest I've heard of recently are the Huawei MateBook X and the HP Spectre 360 14, but I haven't tested the keyboard or screen of either. Lenovo hadn't shown any interest in changing its screen ratios until just recently, so I've been seriously thinking about an HP for my next laptop. I did test a few Dell XPS13 for a few years, and they were good on a lot of fronts (small, bright, no glare screen), but the latest had a lot of issues, and I traded it in for this X1.

          • nine54

            Thanks for the additional context. I can't say I've used enough ThinkPad keyboards to know if they've declined, but seems like you and Paul share the sentiment that they're still good, but no longer class-leading. I haven't spent much time looking at HPs, though the higher-end models have gotten positive reviews. I don't love some of their designs, like the Dragonfly, but will start paying closer attention to them.

            I'm really interested to see the PC maker "response" to the new MacBooks. Although expensive, the M1 MacBooks really are a compelling package. It used to be that to use MacOS, you'd have to somewhat compromise on internal hardware. Now, far from a liability, hardware is actually a differentiator for Apple--crazy times. I also prefer the more streamlined lineup: Apple has distilled the purchasing process into a few key decisions based on budget and screen size. While more customer choice generally is "good," there is a limit. Too much choice creates noise and puts additional overhead on the customer.

  5. JH_Radio

    I'm one that tends to keep PCs around for as long as they work, unless it slows down too much and I've had this happen only once. My dell Enspiron E-1705 still works perfictly but won't run anything past Windows 7. . Right now My lenovo is the X1 Carbon 6th Gen. The reason I got this one was that at the time it could still be gotten with Windows 7.

    The audio is not great on it, but I like how light it is and the keyboard as well.

  6. ianbetteridge

    Looking forward to the full review. I've been looking for a replacement for the various Windows machines that use, as I want to consolidate on to fewer devices, and your first impressions tipped me into ordering one of these. As I've just finished a part-time master's degree, I still get education discount which made it an absolute steal - a 32GB/1Tb/i7 machine for the price of a MacBook Air, although of course as it's a custom build it will take a while to get to me.

    This will be my main laptop, replacing a Surface Book 3, Surface Pro X and a MacBook Pro 16in (I'll still have a Mac mini as my main Mac) and I'm very excited by it -- I know it's just a laptop with nothing special about it, but with that spec it should last a few years.

  7. bluvg

    16:10. It's finally happening. Thank you, Lenovo!!

    • bluvg

      The next needed change: smartphone-quality webcams. A bump is acceptable on smartphones, and would be acceptable on laptops as well if the quality matches that of current smartphones.

  8. brettscoast

    The Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon is simply the most stylish business class Ultrabook in it's class. Excellent mix of ports and the typing experience is second to none, I am still using a 2019 X1 Carbon as my primary computer and I cannot fault it. Look forward to your full review to follow Paul.

  9. north of 49th

    I've had 2 generations of ThinkPad's for personal use and 3 given to me over the years by my employer for work use. I highly recommend business class PCs because I think they are built better and supported better from a driver update perspective. Yes they are more expensive, but they take abuse better and they last.

  10. bschnatt

    They lost me with the big rubber stick in the middle of what is supposed to be a device for typing characters. #fail

    • Paul Thurrott

      The TrackPoint doesn't get in the way of typing. And while I no longer use it---the touchpad works great now too---it's easily one of the most beloved features that ThinkPad buyers expect.

    • VMax

      I've used something like six ThinkPads over a period of roughly 15-20 years. I can't recall ever accidentally hitting the TrackPoint once when typing, and I type quite a bit. You don't even notice it's there until you need it, then it's conveniently placed. Every ThinkPad I've owned with a touchpad (my earlier X61t omitted it) has had it disabled almost immediately. Every time I have to use another person's machine with a touchpad, it's a comedy of misclicks due to palm rejection issues. The real #fail for typing is touchpads, in my experience.

      • DLF

        I agree wholeheartedly. There’s a reason why those of us that swear by the TrackPoint love it so much; it’s the one’s who struggle to use built-in trackpads in my experience who usually hook up a traditional PC mouse to an otherwise wire/dongle-free laptop!

    • ibmthink

      If you collide with the TrackPoint during typing, you do not know how to type correctly. Because the TrackPoint is placed between the B/G/H keys for a reason - it is exactly in the middle of the keyboard, so if you type with both hands, it is in an area where it does no interfere with typing at all.

    • bluvg

      Trackpoint is better for precision. If you need pixel-level adjustments, Trackpoint >>>> trackpad.

    • rob_segal

      Some people like it because they can precisely control the mouse pointer without taking their hands away from the home row keys. It also goes back to the days of bad or non-existent trackpads.

      • christianwilson

        The Trackpoint is one of the reasons I buy Thinkpads. It is barely higher than the keys it sits between and as you said it is awesome to be able to control the pointer on screen without moving your hands away from the home row.

        I get the Trackpoint isn’t for everyone, but I miss it on every laptop I use that isn’t a Thinkpad.

  11. Belralph

    I just moved to an X1 very similar to this one. Had an HP Envy which is a great machine but I got it with a 4k screen. With the smaller screen size and higher res it was very hard to work on anything remoted in, which is mostly what I use the laptop for. The 1920x1200 and 14 inch display helped a lot with this.

    The USB power cable is nice for me. Sounds stupid but on the HP the round power port is almost exactly the same size and mirrored position as the audio port so I never got it right on the first try.

    The FN key swap is a little annoying but I'm not a true typist with shorted fingers so moving the Ctrl button closer to X,C,V is an ok trade.

    As noted, comes very clean on the software side. I typically always do scratch installs on new devices, either they are several version behind on windows or loaded with crapware. My X1 was built in September and came with 21h1 installed so I ran it right out of the box. I ordered through my reseller I did take around 6 weeks to get.

    • rob_segal

      If I remember correctly, one of Lenovo's justification for placing the ctrl key to the right of the fn key is because it's easier for a typist to reach it than putting it to the left and the ctrl key is used more often than the fn key. Also, on a Mac keyboard, the fn key is to the left of the control key.

      • wright_is

        The problem is, the control key is "always" bottom row left, so muscle memory means that touch typists automatically puts the Fn key. The first thing I do with a new ThinkPad is switch the control and Fn keys in the BIOS.

        • Evil_Overlord

          I switched between a Dell and a ThinkPad (different layouts) several times daily for a few years. It's just not that hard to get used to the difference and type appropriately.

  12. mclark2112

    I had one of these back in 2012ish. It was great then, and looks great now. Having the "correct" aspect ratio now adds this to my list of acceptable laptops.

    We have been buying Surface devices for a while now for work (simply for the great screen). They are very nice to use, but can suffer from the normal Microsoft driver issues from time to time (although they are much better now).

  13. travisgreuel

    New job . . . after 20+ years with Lenovo products, using first HP Elitebook. Still cannot get used to ctrl being to the left of Fn. Your comment in the article made me chuckle.