There are Ultrabooks … and then there are Ultrabooks. Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon lands in a hallowed category within which there are few other entries. It is astonishingly light and durable, with a stunning 14-inch screen, and, in the variant I am reviewing, it features a new PCIe-based SSD that should speed performance even higher. This is a wonderful PC. The only question that remains is whether it’s perfect.
I’ve been a fan of the ThinkPad X series ever since there was an X series, but with the arrival of the first X1 Carbon back in 2012—the “pre Carbon” X1 was China-only—Lenovo really turned things up a notch. This is when the firm debuted the now-familiar and lust-worthy carbon fiber top and magnesium aluminum alloy body, the latter of which contains an internal roll cage—yes, like an automobile—to protect internal components.
Unlike the earlier ThinkPad S series machines, X1 Carbon has always featured a 14-inch screen, which provides me with exactly the right bump up from the 13-inch Ultrabook norm that I so routinely desire. It features a wonderful ThinkPad typing experience on non-flat island-style keys that are the bar by which we must rate all mobile keyboards, and an incredible TrackPoint/glass trackpad which does likewise for pointing devices. And despite its thin form and light weight, it includes a reasonable collection of expansion ports, a detail many PC makers miss.
Lenovo has only stumbled once with the ThinkPad X1, which the firm updates about once a year. The previous model featured a very strange and curiously non-customizable touch-strip in lieu of the top row of function keys, a move that alarmed some ThinkPad purists. But that’s been corrected this year, with the normal keys returned to their place of honor.
God, I already love this thing.
Granted, Lenovo kind of stacked the deck here: the review unit is about as nice as it can be, with high-end specifications that command a lofty price tag. Here’s what we’re looking at here:
Processor: This is about as good as it gets in the mobile world, an Intel Core i7-5600U running at 2.6 GHz.
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5500.
RAM. 8 GB, which is great. The bad news? It’s soldered on and is non-expandable.
Storage: 512 GB PCIe SSD. I will be examining why this is superior to the more typical SATA-type SSD in my review. Short version: PCIe is faster.
Screen: 14-inch IPS display running at 2560 x 1440 with full Windows Touch support and 10 touch points. Brightness? 270 nits. (A 1920 x 1080 ISP display is available as well.)
Weight: 3.1 pounds. Are you kidding me? It’s the lightest 14-inch Ultrabook on the market.
Form factor. The X1 Carbon is 13.03 x 8.94 x .73 inches.
Expansion: Two USB 3.0 ports (plus a power port that can double as USB), full-sized HDMI, miniDisplayPort, and Ethernet (which requires a dongle, but does not use up a USB port). There’s also a OneLink Pro Dock Connector for docking with a ThinkPad OneLink Dock Pro. What’s missing: any form of SD card slot. Were I to buy this device—and I’m seriously considering it—I would get the OneLink Dock Pro as well.
Keyboard. Folks, this is the stuff. I’ve seen some great portable PC keyboards in recent months, but the X1 Carbon’s buttery smooth backlit and spill resistant keyboard just feels right. And the poorly chosen key placements from years past have been corrected. (CAPS LOCK is back, for example, instead of the terrible HOME/END keys that were there previously. And the weird BACKSPACE/DELETE duo has been returned to the normal bigger BACKSPACE key.) Perfection.
Pointing. As before, Lenovo provides both a TrackPoint (with physical pointer buttons) and a glass trackpad with the X1 Carbon. In other words, there’s something for everyone, and thanks to the accurate TrackPoint nubbin, I’ll never need to pack a mouse again. Better still, this new-gen X1 has two physical buttons, unlike the previous version.
Biometric: The review unit ships with a wonderful fingerprint reader which makes signing in to Windows easier (and more secure) than ever. Once you use this accessory, you’ll think typing a four-digit PIN is too much work.
Camera. The X1 ships with a single, front-facing 720p web camera. (There is no rear camera, which is typical for an Ultrabook.)
OS. The new X1 ships with Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit, of course.
Battery. Lenovo claims up to 9 hours on a charge. I am very curious to see how that plays out in the real world, but I would be (very pleasantly) surprised if it were that good.
And then there is the elephant in the room.
First, the Superfish fiasco involved Lenovo’s consumer product lines, and not ThinkPad. No ThinkPad was ever sullied by Superfish.
Second, like any PC maker, Lenovo still likes to add value. And to be fair, some of the utilities it bundles on the X1 Carbon are well designed, well-intentioned, and indeed useful. Among them is the excellent Lenovo Settings app, which provides a panoramic front-end to the device’s many hardware features, such as the TrackPoint and touchpad, and a nice built-in Wi-Fi hot spot. The app is really well-done, though of course some advanced bits require jumping out to a desktop application.
Some of the bundleware is less desirable. A time-bombed Norton security product. A ridiculous and superfluous PC App Store (which is a desktop application). Various modern apps like Evernote, The Weather Channel and Nitro Pro 9, another superfluous desktop application (for reading PDF files). Most of it is innocuous, and certainly none of it is malicious. And the modern apps are easily uninstalled. But there is some cleanup to be done.
As a PC user, you get kind of resigned to this kind of stuff, but I think the problem for any thinking person is going to be choosing between the useful and desirable (Lenovo Settings) and the unwanted (anything with the word “Norton” or “McAfee” in the name). And this is time lost, unnecessarily.
Not a big deal. And certainly not a reason to look elsewhere, given the excellence of the hardware. But now you know.
More soon. I’ll be using the hell out of this thing.