Anyone who expected the 9th-generation Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon to be a minor update over its predecessors is in for a welcome surprise. There are some important updates—on both the inside and outside of this premium, business-class PC—that really elevate the experience.
The design, alas, is not among the changes: here, you’ll find the same tried and true industrial design, the same unique blend of carbon fiber and magnesium, and even the same basic dimensions and weight as before. But that’s a good thing, if you’re a fan of this iconic laptop, as I am. When it ain’t broke, you don’t fix it.
Look a bit more closely, however, and you will see one of the changes to the exterior design: the display lid hinge extends across most of the PC’s width. It looks like it’s really still two discrete and small hinges as before, but this change is also functional as Lenovo moved the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth antennas into the hinge.
As before, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is durable enough to pass 12 military-grade certification methods and over 20 procedures related to such things as vibration, mechanical shock, sand and dust, and much more.
The most welcome change to the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, in my opinion, is the return of 16:10 aspect ratio displays, a huge improvement over the 16:9 displays of previous several generations. This taller display type provides a superior environment for the productivity applications that its customers use all day, and it really puts the 9th-generation X1 over the top. Plus, it helps keep the bezels smaller.
As always, Lenovo offers multiple IPS display options, including a 400-nit Full HD+ (1920 x 1200) panel with hardware-based low blue light capabilities, a 400-nit Full HD+ (1920 x 1200) multitouch panel with low blue light, a 500-nit Full HD+ (1920 x 1200) panel with ThinkPad Privacy Guard functionality, and a 500-nit UHD+ HDR400 (3840 x 2400) panel with low blue light, Dolby Vision HDR, and 100 percent DCI-P3 color gamut capabilities.
The review unit came with the base display, which is exactly what I would have chosen, as it offers excellent quality and is battery-friendly. And as with previous X1 Carbon, models, the display can lay flat, which I also appreciate.
After the new 16:10 display choices, the other major change to the 9th-generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon comes on the inside, as this is the first of its kind to be Intel Evo certified. As a reminder, this means that the X1 should deliver responsive performance even when on battery power, at least 9 hours of real-world battery life, instant wake capabilities, and fast charging, plus provide the latest-generation Wi-Fi 6 and Thunderbolt 4 capabilities.
And on that note, the internal components do not disappoint—or surprise, really—with the X1 offering your choice of 11th-generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processors with Intel Iris Xe graphics, 8, 16, or 32 GB of LPDDRX4 RAM, and 256 GB, 512 GB, or 1 TB of PCIe SSD storage with OPAL security capabilities. The review unit shipped with an Intel Core i7-1165G7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and 512 GB of storage.
Needless to say, performance was always top-notch in the productivity applications—Microsoft Office, Teams, Google Chrome, Affinity Photo—that I always use. But I was particularly happy with the lack of fan noise and heat, even when in the Balanced power mode, thanks in part to a new ventilation duct in the rear. This is a quiet and efficient laptop.
As expected—it is an Evo PC, after all—the X1 provides modern connectivity capabilities, with Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.2, and, optionally, 4G LTE (Quectel) or 5G (Qualcomm) cellular data.
Ports and expansion
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon offers the right mix of modern and legacy ports for its audience. On the left side, you will find two Type-C ports with Thunderbolt 4 and USB 4 capabilities, one full-sized USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 port, and one HDMI 2.0 port.
And on the right, you’ll see a Kensington lock port, another full-sized USB-A 3.2 port, a nano-SIM card slot (optional, and not in the review unit), and the combination headphone/microphone port.
I have no major issues with the port selection, but as always, I’d prefer to see some Type-C ports on each side of the machine, as one is used for charging and the cable can get in the way if you use a mouse.
Audio and video
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon features improved stereo speakers that are now located on the sides of the keyboard and feature prominent speaker grills and two downward-firing woofers. The result is improved stereo sound, with better separation, and a terrific Dolby Atmos spatial audio experience that is particularly nice with movies and other video content.
The X1 also comes with 360-degree far-field microphones that work well with digital assistants but are really designed for conference calls: using the laptop’s built-in Dolby Voice capabilities, two or more participants can engage in virtual meetings using the same machine.
As for the webcam, it’s still a middling 720p unit with a fixed focus, but it does at least offer a manually operated privacy shutter. It can also be had with Windows Hello facial recognition capabilities, but the review unit didn’t include this option.
Keyboard and touchpad
Lenovo’s iconic keyboard with integrated TrackPoint moves forward unchanged, which is both good and bad.
The overall keyboard feel is very good, as always, with full-sized, backlit, scalloped, and island-style keys, and I like the unified communication keys in the top row and that the arrow keys are arranged in an inverted-T layout.
But Lenovo continues to inexcusably place the Fn (function) key at the lower-left corner of the keyboard, where the Ctrl key should be. Yes, you can swap the key functions. But you shouldn’t have to, and Lenovo’s other keyboards don’t even use this layout.
For this year’s model, the X1’s touchpad is 10 percent wider than before, though I’m not sure I would have even noticed had Lenovo not pointed it out. (Pardon the pun.) It remains as accurate as ever. And it still includes separate buttons for the TrackPoint, as before; I’m a big fan of the center button, which lets you scroll through documents and webpages using the TrackPoint nubbin.
Where previous generation X1s featured a small, square fingerprint reader in the right wrist rest, the 9th-generation unit instead integrates this functionality into the small and thin power button found above the right side of the keyboard. This works just as well as before, despite its size and shape, and it’s as secure as ever thanks to its Match-on-Chip technology that isolates your fingerprint data from the rest of the system. It can also sign you in more quickly, as it can handle both power-on and Windows Hello with a single press.
The X1 can also be optionally equipped with an ultra-wideband sensor that enables User Presence, a feature that detects when you step away from, and walk up to, the laptop. When available—if you add this option, you also get an IR-capable webcam—this feature will wake up the display when you approach the laptop and log you in via Windows Hello automatically. The review laptop does not include this feature, however.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is incredibly portable for a 14-inch laptop, as it weighs under 2.5 pounds. I wasn’t able to travel with it, unfortunately, but it features a larger 57 watt-hour battery that promises better battery life than previous versions. And that bore out in my real-world usage, with nearly 9 hours of battery life on average.
The X1 supports Rapid Charge capabilities and can charge to 80 percent in just 60 minutes using the bundled 65-watt USB charger. As before, Lenovo outfits the Thunderbolt ports with its own active anti-fry capabilities, which prevent poorly-designed third-party USB-C chargers from sending the wrong voltage. I feel like we’re mostly past the point where this is a serious issue, and no one will have issues with Lenovo’s charger, of course, but it’s a nice bit of peace of mind.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon first shipped with Windows 10 Home or Pro, but I upgraded it during my testing to Windows 11 when it was offered. And it can now be had with Windows 11 Home or Pro at purchase time.
It includes no crapware at all, which is always appreciated. There are just a few Lenovo utilities—Lenovo Vantage for drivers, configuring hardware features, and support, plus a Lenovo Quick Clean app that disables all input so you can clean the laptop—plus one Intel and one Realtek audio app.
The X1 also ships with a Dolby Access app that combines three previously separate apps for Dolby Atmos, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Voice into a single, more convenient location. (Only Dolby Atmos and Dolby Voice are available on the review unit.) After experimenting with different sound settings, I returned Dolby Atmos to the Dynamic option, as always, but Dolby Voice was new to me. This feature tackles some of the obvious problems of this hybrid work era by helping you configure spatial audio capture (which is useful if two or more people are using the X1’s microphones), dynamic audio leveling, noise suppression, and other related features.
I wish every laptop I reviewed was this clean.
Pricing and configurations
As a premium business-class PC, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is suitably expensive. And as a Lenovo PC, the X1 is a bit hard to pin down, price-wise, because this firm’s computers are pretty much always on sale. I’m not even sure that it’s possible to pay full list price for one of them.
On that note, the X1 starts at just over $1400 ($2336 list) for a version with a Core i5-1135G7 processor, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB of storage, the base display, and your choice of three Linux distributions. This same model with Windows starts at about $1427.
Prices increase fairly rapidly, of course. The review unit, with its Core i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB of storage, the base display, and Windows 10 Pro, runs about $1830 ($3050 list). A maxed-out X1, with the highest-end Core i7 processor, 32 GB of RAM, 1 TB of storage, the UHD+ display, IR webcam, and a 5G modem, would set you back over $2750 ($4,589) today.
You can get the ThinkPad X1 Carbon in any color as long as that color is black.
Recommendations and conclusions
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is that rarest of PCs, a near-perfect example of how to address your target market correctly in every way imaginable. And with this 9th-generation update, Lenovo somehow improves on the formula with two key additions: a great selection of 16:10 display options that should meet just about any need and the Intel Evo platform with its more efficient 11th-generation Core processors and battery life. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon isn’t just highly recommended, it’s obvious.
- Iconic design
- Superior 16:10 display options
- Intel Evo innards with Thunderbolt 4 expandability
- Modern and powerful connectivity
- Dolby capabilities for work and play
- Excellent Windows Hello fingerprint reader, optional facial recognition
- Classic ThinkPad typing and pointing experiences
- Highly portable with terrific battery life
- Clean software image with no crapware
- Fn and Ctrl keys are reversed