ThinkPad X1 Carbon Design

There is no mistaking the ThinkPad X1 Carbon for what it is. It is a ThinkPad. If you have never been a fan of the look of a ThinkPad, you likely will not like this one either, but for those that prefer the understated look, they will be happy to see the traditional look and feel. There is no flashy lights or bright colors available. Just matte black. The only “bling” at all is the red LED used as the dot on the “I” of ThinkPad, and it glows red when the device is on and flashes softly when it is sleeping. The rest of the device is very understated. Clearly that design philosophy has done well for the ThinkPad line, since they have built over one hundred million of them now.

The matte texture is great to hold on to, and you never feel like you are going to have it slip out of your hand. It actually has a tiny bit of metal flecks in the finish though so up close it looks really good. This same finish is everywhere on the device, and it seems fairly resistant to fingerprints, however when you do get fingerprints on it, they do not come off as easy as something with a gloss coating would.

The body of the X1 Carbon is not quite the thinnest out there, but it is close. At just 17.7 mm thick, it is the thinnest ThinkPad made. The build quality is top notch, with no creaks or gaps. That is not exactly true though, since there is one gap. The rear of the device has a gap between the display and chassis. The beveled edge on the display allows the display to open up all the way to 180° without binding on the chassis, or without the display lifting the rear of the laptop up. On the underside, there is also a beveled edge on all of the sides which are for airflow and act as a spot for the speakers.

On the left side we find the majority of the ports, with the power and docking station port at the display end, the HDMI and mini DisplayPort next, a USB 3.0 port, and the headset jack closest to the front. On the right side the ports are a lot more sparse, with just a USB 3.0 port and an Ethernet extender port. Like most Ultrabooks, the X1 Carbon is not thick enough for a full Ethernet port, so Lenovo has a handy adapter cable to do this duty. I appreciate the integrated Ethernet adapter capability, but this could have likely been easily supplanted with a third USB port. For those that need a more dedicated Ethernet solution for the office, the optional docking connectors would likely be a better option. On the back of the X1 Carbon is the slot for the optional SIM card, for those that opt for the LTE version. If you will notice, I did not mention a SD card slot on this laptop, which is something that I use quite a bit to transfer images from a camera, so the lack of it was missed on this notebook.

Opening up the device we get a look at the display, and in the unit shipped it is the 2560x1440 model with touch. I will get into the display characteristics later on, but the bezels are nicely proportioned, and the glass cover continues on almost right to the edge. Looking at the deck of the X1 Carbon we see a couple of things that are not on every device. First is the integrated fingerprint reader, which makes the process of logging in so simple that you wish all devices had one. It can also be used to authenticate at boot time, and with the advent of Windows Hello, this laptop should be well suited for Windows 10. The other noticeable change is the TrackPoint which is front and center (literally) and in bright red it can’t be missed.

So let’s talk about the TrackPoint, and the keyboard overall. Last year, Lenovo made some big changes to the keyboard and TrackPoint. They replaced the Function keys with a row of Adaptive keys, which could be changed depending on what was being used, and the TrackPoint buttons were integrated into the trackpad. Luckily for Lenovo, the lead time for notebook design is not as long as something like a car, or even a CPU. They made some pretty major changes to the keyboard and TrackPoint last year, and although I did not use one, feedback I have heard was not positive. Lenovo clearly heard that as well, so for 2015 the TrackPoint dedicated buttons are back, as is the function keys at the top. The other oddities with the 2014 keyboard have also been reversed, so the Home and End key are now in the function row rather than replacing the Caps Lock key. The Fn key is back in order to operate the various options on the function row too. The keyboard layout is very traditional again, and although I appreciate new ideas, the move back to the normal keyboard is even more appreciated.

And what a keyboard it is. ThinkPads have long been known to have great keyboards, and the X1 Carbon is no exception. All of the keys are slightly dished on top, and the amount of resistance when typing is good. Considering how thin these Ultrabooks are, it is always impressive when they can get the keyboard right. Lenovo has also sent me the ThinkPad T450s, and that is a thicker more traditional business notebook, and I would say that the keyboard on the T450s is better than the X1 Carbon, but the Carbon is still very good. I took the X1 Carbon to Microsoft’s Build conference, and it was easily up to the challenge of live blogs and pipeline posts.

The other thing I love on the ThinkPads is the TrackPoint. I have already mentioned how the physical buttons are back this year, and it works so well. For those that have not had a chance to use a TrackPoint (other companies also offer these pointing sticks too) it is a great mouse interface for a notebook. Some people prefer trackpads, but I prefer the accuracy and convenience of having the pointing device right where my hands are when typing. It also requires a lot less movement to get around the screen. Scrolling is very easy since you can just hold the center button and scroll at any speed you want.

For those that prefer a trackpad, the X1 Carbon has a good one of those as well. Some of the space is taken up by the TrackPoint buttons, but it is still a reasonable size. The top of it is glass, so sliding your fingers around is no issue. It is driven by Synaptics drivers, so you have full settings on one to four finger gestures. The main one I use is the two finger scrolling and it was nice and responsive. I still prefer the TrackPoint, but for those that prefer a trackpad, they should not be disappointed.

The X1 Carbon is thin, light, and very portable. It is very much a ThinkPad, but that is not a bad thing if you like the muted design. The build quality is great, and the choice of materials should make it very durable.

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  • Shan Barns - Monday, October 19, 2015 - link

    Beware the so-called extended warranty
    (tl;dr -- warranted computer, gone for over 6 weeks so far, dismissive and poor service, want replacement if they can't repair)

    I own an X1 carbon (2 years old) which over the last year has started to spike in temperature. The fan software no longer works, so I've installed TPFancontrol and Speedfan (one the first time I reformatted and reinstalled Widows, the other the second time) to manually control the fans. I updated BIOS and drivers, reinstalled Windows, etc. I did the normal blowing out of the vent and so on, but the computer would go up to 90+ degrees Celsius and crash. The wireless stopped working as well--intermittently and irrespective of location/modem/time of day.

    I sent the computer in for repair, under my 3 year warranty. The first "repair" did nothing. Within 15 minutes, the computer reached 92 degrees Celsius and crashed 3 times. I sent it back for further repair. (By the way, they didn't return it with all parts of the power cord, even though they insisted I send it, and I marked all the parts on the shipping form). Obviously there is no quality control on their so-called repairs.

    I have now been without a functioning computer for over 6 weeks. Lenovo doesn't have the correct parts and cannot find them. Parts for a popular computer that is only 2 years old. Now, as a doctoral student, it's pretty hard to write a dissertation without a computer, but as a consultant, I am losing money, since I cannot consult until I have a computer. Moreover my doctoral program is only funded for so long--every month of waiting equals a month in which I will have to pay out of pocket to be a student. Being without a computer for over 6 weeks has already cost me at least $4000.

    But when I contact Lenovo to demand they deal with this issue , they reluctantly promise to add 2 months to my warranty--that's it! An acknowledgement that I've lost 2 months of computer use, and a further tacit acknowledgement that they think it will break again. This is after the problem "escalated." Mind you, they don't actually contact you after you "escalate" even though they insist they will.

    Other computer companies will replace a defective computer under warranty if they cannot fix it. This happened with my old Asus, and with my kids' HP also. What is wrong with Lenovo's warranty? I feel that if they cannot fix a 2 year old computer, then this warranty is a fraudulent service they are selling.

    And I also feel that anyone considering buying a Lenovo should be aware of how poor their customer service is. They do not call back, though they say they will. They issue "part hold final" emails insinuating that this is the last time they will await a part, but then re-start the part ordering process. They do not know who your case has gone to when it is "escalated" and are entirely confused by their own computer system when you ask about your repair status. The "escalation" people are dismissive and condescending when you do finally get a hold of a person. They do not stand by their product.
    Reply
  • chris_of_sd - Friday, October 30, 2015 - link

    I bought this laptop last May after a thorough search. I've been using T410 at work for years, thus the bias. Also I was aware with the quality reduction when Lenovo took over.

    I chose this laptop for a few reasons
    1. Keyboard layout - meaning Enter button and navigation arrows are at the edge; and the trackpad is aligned with the space button.
    2. High resolution display available
    3. Style/ weight

    My experience with it has been quite bad actually.

    The WiFi adapter is the worst I've seen. Well, I haven't seen that many, except my old t410 and the usual mix of apple idevices. Eventually I was able to figure out some obscure setting that was disabling the wifi adapter to save power. Still is very slow to connect. With some old router the wifi was not able to identify the encryption method ( in contrast to all other devices ).

    As build there are highs and lows. My laptop has a loose screw on the bottom ...

    The display is quite annoying. I chose to have touch screen and the look I got is sort of the look that you get when you have a privacy screen on top. Not nice.

    The sound from this laptop is absolutely terrible. And this is not about the speakers, is about the sound that comes from the headphones. It makes is pretty much impossible to watch youtube.

    There are a few issues with cooling too.
    The laptop gets quite hot to hold on lap; let's say that this is expected. However, a second problem is that the air vent is on the right hand side, meaning if I place a mouse there or if I use my right hand for the touch screen I can feel the hot air. My old laptop had it on the left which was much better.
    Reply
  • mistera1 - Friday, February 12, 2016 - link

    I got a new X1 this week and was disappointed to find the Trackpoint and Keyboard Backlight not working. I called support and upgraded everything, still no go. Lenovo wanted me to send back for repair but I told them I wanted a full refund, and they said OK to that with no fuss. I have an X200 and looking for something faster and with a better display. At this point I will probably buy a used X220. Reply

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