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.

Introduction System Performance
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  • digiguy - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    These are ULV CPUs, they will never close the cap with desktops CPUs, even from a couple of generations ago (provided we are speaking of the same line, that is i7). My 3rd gen quad core laptop CPU is much more powerful than this and even my 2nd gen dual core i7 ultrabook is almost on par with this thanks to a higher (35W) TDP. Having said that a comparison with quad core mobile CPUs would be interesting to see the difference with the best ULVs. Reply
  • nerd1 - Friday, May 22, 2015 - link

    If you don't utilize more than 3 cores (few application does) they are actually comparable. Reply
  • Valantar - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    Great review! It's good to see how this ultra high end ultrabook is evolving alongside others, even if it still has some of the same issues as before.

    Now, could you, beg, borrow or steal a similarly specced X250 from Lenovo for comparison? It's an interesting parallell between the two, with the X1 Carbon having a larger screen, m.2 storage and slimmer build, while the X250 is more upgradeable (SODIMM RAM! up to 16GB!), has an intriguing battery solution (both an internal 23.2WHr and a replaceable 23.2-72WHr one, for a total 46-95WHr(!) capacity) and is of course slightly cheaper. I'd love to see an Anandtech review of the follow-up to my beloved X201.
    Reply
  • vision33r - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    Imo, Lenovo killed Thinkpads today because of shoddy quality and poor software. To allow even malware to their factory software and driver builds tells you they are not thinking about quality.

    Dells and HP corporate level hardware is better today than Lenovo. Because the BIOS and software provided by HP and Dell are simpler and more stable. There are too many issues with Lenovo firmware and BIOS today. Out of 150 that we received, probably 7-8 will have stability problem using a Windows 8.1 Gold image that we deploy tells you something.
    Reply
  • Hulk - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    I bought a Lenovo t450s a few months ago and have been very happy with it.

    And yes it was loaded with tons of crap. I just wiped it and started over. Now it's nice and clean.
    Reply
  • BMNify - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    Lenovo thinkpad desktop and laptops and other enterprise machines were never loaded with adware, it was a consumer line problem which was rectified. The fact that you have to resort to blatant 100% lies completely invalidates your rant against Lenovo. Reply
  • chizow - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    We've had a few X1 Carbons come through, and while it is a solid piece of hardware, just be ready for UEFI and various other issues due to the lack of built-in network adapter if you are using/deploying it in an enterprise environment. Had to work through a few issues with our PXE server and UEFI boot as well, but nothing too bad.

    Overall Lenovo have been solid for us, lots of X230/X240 in our environment, the only major complaint I have is the amount of overlay/proprietary bloat Lenovo has to use basic functions like WiFi, BT, projectors.

    Personally, I vastly prefer Dell Latitude series, especially the latest E7250 and E7250. Amazing keyboards, I've always preferred Dell's keyboards even compared to MacBook chiclets, but now you get the same Dell feel with full chiclet keys.
    Reply
  • GeorgeH - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    ? All X1s have both wired and wireless network adapters. Reply
  • wintermute000 - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    I hate it how my T440 has a bloody ultrabook CPU (and still hasn't got anywhere near macbook type battery life). VMs grind it to a halt.

    I would trade a bit of weight for more battery / a real CPU any time, the company offered an X1 or a T440 and I picked the latter thinking I'd get a real CPU but nope, same ultrabook form over function rubbish
    Reply
  • mdvision - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    I am both an HP and Lenovo authorized business partner. I have to agree with some other posters that the HP Elitebook line has been superior in build, design and warranty response. My personal device of choice for the last couple of years has been the HP Folio 9480m ultrabook. Battery time is decent....not spectacular but more importantly is user replaceable and there is an optional secondary slice battery option that while adding a bit of thickness and weight provides REAL all day run time. RAM is conventional SODIMM's and serviceable / upgradable as well.

    My current model has an I7 4600U ULV CPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, 1600x1200 matte display. The display resolution is fine on a 14" display and scales well using Win8.1 Pro. Performance does not lack (gaming excepted of course). I change my demo unit out every quarter or so and keep replacing with the same unit. This is a great device. Warranty response on HP Elitebook products have been nothing but exemplary on the very few units I've had to do warranty claims. RMA turn around times are very fast as in days not weeks. Technical support personnel have been knowledgeable and professional.

    Field serviceable batteries, RAM, HD's are important enough that any minimal weight savings are more than offset rather than having the thinnest / lightest device that requires factory servicing for routine maintenance / repair.

    I also have these deployed with the optional docking station which have performed flawlessly using external displays, peripherals and charging. Smart Buy configurations are competitively priced and offer good value. Highly recommended.

    I've previously considered the X1 Carbon but the above design features always sway me back to the HP.
    Reply

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