ThinkPad X1 Carbon Review

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As far as I am concerned, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is the first of the so-called UltraBooks to give Apple a run for their money.  How was this done?  By getting the key aspects of the MacBook Air right, while improving and differentiating in a few key areas.  The X1 Carbon isn’t the perfect machine for me, but I think that it will have a very broad appeal and should sell like hotcakes.  It is the right balance of size, weight, performance, and price.  This is a very nice machine overall.

Hardware Overview
First, let’s talk about the look of the X1 Carbon:  It is a ThinkPad through-and-through.  Matte black pervades all aspects of the machine.  It features both a trackpoint and a lovely trackpad.  I’m not sure what the finish is, but it is superb and velvety.  The machine is as thin and light as a MacBook Air but is in no way trying to copy Apple’s design.  The ThinkPad X1 Carbon proves that you don’t just have to copy Apple to make a nice machine.

The system is the size of a 13″ MacBook Air.  However, because of the small bezel, Lenovo have managed to pack in a gorgeous 14″ matte 1600×900 IPS display.  I’m typing this on a Lenovo ThinkPad X200s.  In some ways I prefer it to the X1 Carbon, but the display on the Carbon is clearly superior.  Lenovo have been skimping on the display for years now, it’s great to see them coming around on this point.

 

Moving on to the overall shape and size of the X1 Carbon.  It’s thinner and wider than my X200s.  It is almost impossibly thin.  Compared to the Toshiba Z930 I reviewed last week, it is far sturdier.  That said, there is generally more flex with it than with my X200s.  The X1 Carbon is a beautiful, thin, powerful machine.  For ports, you forego the Ethernet and VGA ports.  The Carbon does retain an SD card slot to go with the two USB and one Mini DisplayPort.  As is so often the case now, there is a combined headphone/mic jack.  The ThinkPad X1 Carbon weighs in at about 3 lbs.  Lenovo claims 6 hours of battery life.  This seemed to be the case with my light testing in Ubuntu 12.04.

As far as performance goes, the X1 Carbon smokes!  My X200s with the 256GB SSD is fast, the Carbon is faster.  LibreOffice launches almost immediately.  The machine just doesn’t lag.  It’s to the point where performance almost doesn’t bear mentioning.  It’s just great.

 

The machine as tested included 4GB of RAM that is easily upgradeable by removing the bottom plate.  It also had been upgraded to a 256GB SSD.  With a three year warranty, it rang in at about $1800CDN.  This isn’t a cheap machine, but by comparison, a completely non-upgradeable 13″ MacBook Air with 256GB SSD and AppleCare is $1750 and that warranty doesn’t cover accidental drops.  Moreover, Lenovo regularly has significant discounts on their website, so I’m sure that this machine will be available as configured for under $1500 before Christmas.

The Keyboard
Next up is likely the most important aspect of the X1 Carbon for any long-time ThinkPad user:  They keyboard.  ThinkPads live and die by their keyboard.  The X1 Carbon is quite a departure from my X200s but it is a very solid ThinkPad keyboard.  It has backlit island-style keys a la newer MacBooks and almost every other laptop keyboard on the market today.  I prefer the old mechanical keys, but for island-style keyboards, it is fantastic.  I would like a little more texture on the keys, but this is a very minor point.  My only real complaint about the keyboard is the lack of a capslock light.  To be clear, I never use capslock, but I do use the light to see if the machine I’m using or connected to is working.  It’s quite likely that most people won’t care about this, but I do.

Linux Support
Linux support is top-notch.  As with the Z930, Ubuntu 12.04 installed flawlessly.  The keyboard light toggle, screen brightness, etc. all work as expected.  This is a very welcome trend with UltraBook-class machines.  The wonderful trackpad works a bit oddly in Linux.  Right-click is accomplished by two-finger clicking.

Summary
In my opinion, Lenovo have a hit in the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.  It is a small, fast computer with great battery life.  While staying distinctly ThinkPad, it manages to look as elegant as a MacBook Air.  The 14″ matte 1600×900 IPS display really sets it apart.  While I like my dock connector, light, and class ThinkPad keyboard, the market is marching on.  The trackpad on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon shows how good this can be, I’m sure the new chicklet keyboard will be just as strong as Lenovo claims.

+ Size.  About the size of a 13″ MacBook Air.  Very thin but sturdy.
+ Weight.  ~3lbs.
+ 14″ 1600×900 matte screen is just plain better than the 13″ 1440×900 MacBook Air
+ IPS display, so brilliant viewing angles and colour reproduction
+ They really did manage to fit a 14″ screen in a 13″ body.
+ Keyboard.  It’s awesome.  It’s backlit.  A true modern ThinkPad keyboard.  I still prefer the X200s keyboard, but I’m a die-hard.
+ Opens almost 180, so you can view at any angle you’d like
+ Great trackpad.  Feels lovely.

– Keyboard: No capslock light, I prefer the old-style ThinkPad keyboards
– No Ethernet or VGA ports (though adapters fix both.)
– Flimsier build than my X200s, though in no way flimsy.
– No ThinkPad light, though the backlit keys are a good substitute.

GoSaBe Blog - Oct 15, 2012 | Hardware, Linux