Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2018) First Impressions

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2018) First Impressions

If there’s one question that I’m asked more often than any other, it’s this one: “If you could only use one laptop, and you had to buy it with your own money, which would you choose?” The answer is a bit complex, as I have a variety of PCs I really enjoy using, including Microsoft’s Surface Book and Surface Laptop and HP’s Spectre x360. But the product that always tops my short list has a longer history and legacy than those other choices. And it remains a classic.

I’m referring, of course, to the ThinkPad X1, which these days is split neatly into traditional Ultrabook and 2-in-1 designs. The former, branded as the X1 Carbon, is one of the sleekest and most impressive PCs in the market, and its looks strike an amazing balance between professional and beautiful. It is a design for the ages.

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So how do you improve on near perfection? For 2018, Lenovo has surprised me by adding a wide range of small improvements that collectively do take the new version up a notch. I noticed some of the exterior changes during a CES 2018 briefing a few months back. But some of the other changes are internal and less obvious.

So let’s start with the basics.

As with its predecessors, the 2018 Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is both professional looking and attractive, with an impressively durable carbon fiber and magnesium alloy body. It still packs a lay-flat 14-inch 16:9 display inside what is essentially a 13-inch body.

But this year, Lenovo has woken up and brought multi-touch capabilities back. (For 2017, the firm had tried to differentiate between the X1 Carbon and X1 Yoga in this way, but customers rightfully complained.)

The 2018 model still includes Lenovo’s vaunted and scalloped keyboard, with its excellent typing experience, and TrackPoint (nubbin) and precision touchpad dual-pointing capabilities, my personal favorite.

It retains the correct mix of new and old ports, featuring two full-sized USB 3.0 ports, 2 Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, full-sized HDMI for video-out, and microSD and microSIM card slots. There is a fingerprint reader, naturally—it’s an X-class machine, after all—and a 57 watt-hour battery, despite its thin frame.

The new X1 Carbon features rapid charge capabilities that let the device charge to 80 percent of capacity in 60 minutes. And it features anti-fry technologies, of course, so you don’t need to worry about third-party chargers.

Classic X1 Carbon, in other words.

But it is the differences that really set the 2018 model apart from its predecessor. In addition to the return of multi-touch capabilities in the display, the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon features the following improvements over last year.

8th generation Intel Core processors. If there has ever been a gift quite like this transition, I’ve never seen it: Intel’s 8th generation Core Kaby Lake R processors add an additional two processor cores, providing an astonishing real-world performance gain without any impact on battery life.

Design tweaks. One of the first things I noticed when I saw the new ThinkPad X1 was that the display hinges had changed from silver to black, giving the machine an even more professional look. (On silver models, the hinges are likewise color-coded correctly.) The X1 logo on the display lid has also been updated to look more modern.

Thunderbolt 3 docking. This one is hard to describe, but Lenovo has a created a new family of Thunderbolt 3 docks with mechanical connections that can adapt to the different heights of each of its machines. So the X1 Carbon features a (weird-looking) second Thunderbolt 3/USB-C connector that works with these new peripherals. Or you can just half of that port as a normal Thunderbolt 3/USB-C connector. Your choice.

ThinkShutter. Responding to customer worries that the Internet is spying on them, the X1 Carbon’s webcam, correctly located at the top of the display, now features a tiny little shutter you can manually slide over to cover it up. The microphone remains accessible with the camera covered.

Fingerprint reader. While Lenovo’s fingerprint readers have long been best-in-class, this new version features “Match-in-Sensor” capabilities that Lenovo says is more secure than previous implementations. It uses a new System-on-a-Chip (Soc) design to keep fingerprint data on-chip with no need to communicate externally.

New voice capabilities. The 2018 X1 Carbon includes new 360-degree far-field microphones for Cortana voice control that will work even when the Ultrabook is cranking out loud music or other audio. Also, it features modern Standby technology that lets you wake the PC using your voice.

I have little doubt that this one will be a joy to review. More soon.


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Conversation 10 comments

  • ibmthink

    13 March, 2018 - 10:50 am

    <p>A shame you didn't get a model with the HDR screen – which appears to be one of the best laptop screens available now.</p>

    • Paul Thurrott

      Premium Member
      13 March, 2018 - 10:57 am

      <blockquote><a href="#252667"><em>In reply to ibmthink:</em></a></blockquote><p>Yep. I get what they give me.</p>

  • RonH

    Premium Member
    13 March, 2018 - 11:54 am

    <p>Unbelievable how many reviews are out for this already. I'll wait for Paul's full review thank you very much.</p>

  • bluvg

    13 March, 2018 - 1:15 pm

    <p>I wonder if this one will work better with the new TB/USB-C docks. I'm hearing nothing but complaints from colleagues getting it to behave consistently, at least with multiple monitors. Had the same problem with the awful OneLink docks back in 2014 as well.</p><p><br></p><p>Is the fingerprint reader Windows Hello-compatible? Likewise with the camera?</p>

  • xperiencewindows

    13 March, 2018 - 1:46 pm

    <p>Once again here goes Paul with the odd-ball camera angles. This is a real head scratcher. As soon as you take your pictures with clean, symmetrical, even lines/angles, you will look a lot more professional and sophisticated.</p>

    • feedtheshark

      14 March, 2018 - 6:39 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#252789"><em>In reply to xperiencewindows:</em></a></blockquote><p><br></p><p>Don't see why it's a head scratcher, Paul's a great writer, but design and style (as befits a true nerd) have never been in his arsenal.</p>

      • xperiencewindows

        15 March, 2018 - 10:12 am

        <blockquote><a href="#253291"><em>In reply to feedtheshark:</em></a></blockquote><p>It's a head scratcher because Paul knows how great design and style should look, yet consistently chooses to put out images that clearly go against this.</p>

  • hrlngrv

    Premium Member
    13 March, 2018 - 5:27 pm

    <p>For some of us, 6 grouped navigation keys and a joystick mouse put this on the very short list. Add the great keyboards Lenovo bought from IBM, and there's almost nothing which could touch it.</p><p>GAWD! How I'd like a machine with a Surface 3:2 screen but a Lenovo keyboard with joystick.</p>

    • bluvg

      13 March, 2018 - 7:04 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#252876"><em>In reply to hrlngrv:</em></a></blockquote><p>Even 16:10 would be a nice improvement. 3:2, what a concept!! Yeah, people use these for work and maybe the occasional movie, not the other way around!</p>

  • cheetahdriver

    Premium Member
    14 March, 2018 - 12:07 am

    <p>I have really been lusting after the X1 Yoga 3rd Gen. We have a single lonely Surface Pro 3 still in the offices, but that is for a person who still needs to move more files over. I thought I had a reason to change when my personal X1 2nd Gen started bogging down while using 3 screens, or even 2. However, blowing away the Windows installation with new solved that problem completely. </p><p><br></p><p>I look forward to some performance numbers. There may be a 3rd Gen in my future yet. I can already tell you that the USB-C ports have paid for themselves already (and that the Apple 88w charger is a lovely and quicker alternative to the included Lenovo charger, which may be a weak point (although our sample size is probably too small to draw any general conclusions on)).</p>

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