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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  • Valantar - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    An IBM design? In... 2012, if Google serves me right? After Lenovo bought IBMs whole PC division in 2005? I'd like to see some kind of corroboration, please.

    While it's true that my experience is limited, my X201 is doing fine after long years of hard usage - the only issue I ever had was an SD reader with slightly subpar performance, which Lenovo promptly replaced as soon as I reported it. Great end-user customer service. The battery even has around 80% of its capacity after all that time.

    Compared with the HP ProBook I bought for my mother around the same time, that had constant firmware/driver issues, and failed after about three years of very light usage (display failure). I've heard similar experiences from colleagues using ProBooks and EliteBooks too.

    I see a lot of 'ThinkPads suck ever since Lenovo' going around, but I can't help seeing that as a combination of bad luck (getting your first faulty unit after the ownership change) and just plain resistance to change. YMMV.
    Reply
  • Samus - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    Everyone in my IT circle avoid Lenovo equipment like the plague among all their clients. The one guy who did use Lenovo, exclusively, is in the process of closing his business and dissolving his corporation because of super fish fallout and generally unhappy customers due to poor Lenovo support. Reliability is indeed s YMMV but with hp elitebook a they come the next day to your door and rebuild the thing in front of you for 3 years. Reply
  • sandy105 - Friday, May 22, 2015 - link

    funny guy .. Reply
  • T2k - Friday, May 22, 2015 - link

    Oh PLEAHHSE. I literally don't know ANYONE with an HP laptop in my immediate circles but every AWS, Rackspace, SIGGRAPH etc conference I still see a LOT OF Thinkpads, even regular Lenovo laptops, stop spreading BS, please. Reply
  • Samus - Friday, May 22, 2015 - link

    You obviously do not realize that HP Corporate is twice as large as Lenovo's Corporate presence. HP commands around 70% of the world server market where as about 15 other companies make up the remaining 30%. Proliants literally run the world.

    As far as laptops, the US military has used Elitebooks exclusively for years...and very few healthcare sectors use Lenovo for the same reason: they're a Chinese company.

    But there is no real debating that Elitebooks are better than Thinkpads dollar for dollar. Stop thinking of Best Buy when you think of HP equipment. Best Buy sells to suckers, not enterprise. I I can't find the article right now and I'm pretty sure it was Forbes or WSJ but I read nearly half of fortune 500 companies are exclusively HP houses. It also helps HP is in the printer business so companies can keep their accounts in one place.

    Does any of this make HP better than Lenovo? No. But if you've ever actually disected an Elitebook next to a modern day Thinkpad you'd quickly realize, if you have any concept of quality, that the Elitebook was designed by brighter minds with less cut corners.

    The only reason Lenovo has overtaken HP in sales over the past two years comes down to economies of scale: Lenovo can mass produce more crap than HP can, so they are cheaper. In this economy people are buying based on price, not quality. Look how many KIA's and Chrysler's are on the road.
    Reply
  • CoolRunnings - Wednesday, May 27, 2015 - link

    Actually the army uses Dell Latitudes last I saw... I've got hundreds of Thinkpad T420 and T430 laptops in my customers hands and have had the fewest number of issues with those of any series of laptop I've used. They're not perfect by any stretch but all those griping about Lenovo having ruined the Thinkpad brand since 2006 must have forgotten the terrors of the T40-T42 series and their GPU from hell problems or the brittle plastic on the T20 series. I've worked on Thinkpads since the T20 came out and the T420-T430 series have by far been the best built in my experience. The keyboard in the T60's was better in some ways though. Now when you start talking of the T440+, yep, agreed, they tend to suck in comparison... Reply
  • T2k - Friday, May 22, 2015 - link

    Same thing here, my ~5 years old X201 is still working (sans a loose power connector and the Thinklight that usually refuses to turn on.) I would never trade it for any HP, sorry. Heck, I'd rather get a VAIO with their hybrid graphics any day than an overpriced, bloatware-ridden HP, that's for sure. Reply
  • Samus - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    Casualuker, you are an idiot. The last ibm design were the T40 and X40 series. Lenovo was allowed to use the IBM logo on the abysmal T60 series under license but the 60 series were Lenovo design and had chronic reliability problems ranging from failing cathod inverters to warped cooling fans.

    The T43 and X41 were the last good thinkpads. I still see them in use on occasion...15 years later. Some X40 series machines even have 60gb ssd's.
    Reply
  • CasualUker - Friday, May 22, 2015 - link

    @Samus, if you say so. The truly last bit of IBM imprints where the Tx30 series. If you don't believe me that's fine. Reply
  • Samus - Friday, May 22, 2015 - link

    I don't need to believe you, because you are wrong.

    http://forum.thinkpads.com/viewtopic.php?t=72128

    Lenovo hasn't had license to use the IBM logo since 2005. You are confusing the IBM logo with a Thinkpad logo or something...because there are NO IBM LOGO'S on the last decade of Lenovo Thinkpad, ThinkCentre, ThinkServer, and so on...
    Reply

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