A thin winner: Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon reviewed
4.5Overall Score
Price (RRP): $1899 (starting price); Review model was $2769; Manufacturer: Lenovo

The race is on to make the thinnest computer, and Lenovo’s X1 Carbon is certainly in it to win, boasting a fifth-generation Intel Core processor, up to 256GB of solid-state storage, and a keyboard that experienced typists are sure to fall for. We may be in love.

Features

Lenovo’s long-running X series continues in the X1 Carbon 2015 edition, and while this computer isn’t made to handle every possible task you can throw its way — it won’t make games or video editing fly — it is focused more on the general worker who needs something thin and well spec’d to go.

So what’s inside this machine?

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For the 2015 model, Lenovo is relying on fifth-generation Intel Core processors, with the Core i5 5200U in the first two models, configurable to an Intel Core i7 5600U.

Up to 8GB RAM is possible here, though two variants come with 4GB standard, and you can have as much has 512GB solid-state installed, though Lenovo has options for 128GB.

Windows 8.1 Pro is installed to the X1 Carbon, but according to the company, you can downgrade and go back to Windows 7 if need be.

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Connection options on this machine match the year this computer is being released in, with 802.11a/b/g/n and 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4.0, two USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, 3.5mm headset jack, and even a 4G LTE SIM card slot out the back for using the computer on the go. Please note that the Mini DisplayPort is not a Thunderbolt port, despite Lenovo machines having had Thunderbolt in the past.

All of this sits under a 14 inch display, of which two screen resolutions are offered, with the Full HD Twisted Nematic (TN) panel found without touch, as well as a 2560×1440 WQHD display that can either include touch support or disregard it completely (configuration dependent).

Two mice can be found in every X1 Carbon, with one of the TrackPoint rubber nibs found in the centre of the keyboard, with a glass surface trackpad underneath. If you have the touchscreen variant of the X1 Carbon, the touchscreen essentially provides you with a third method of touch.

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The keyboard is also spill-resistant, with LED-backlighting behind the keys, and several function keys.

And there’s a 720p HD camera above the screen, making video conferencing possible, with a microphone also included in the body.

The review model was the top of the line model, equipped with an Intel Core i7 5500U clocked at 2.6GHz, 8GB RAM, 14 inch WQHD 2560×1440 IPS touchscreen, 256GB solid-state drive, and 4G LTE.

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Performance

If there’s one company that tends to nail the business computers, it’s Lenovo.

Taking its heritage from the IBM computers of which they came from, Lenovo’s ThinkPad range is still considered one of the better machines you can get if you’re looking for a computer that will stand the test of a busy life, and we’re very interested to see what this model can do.

For the 2015 model, Lenovo has been thinking thin, applying carbon fibre, a 180 degree hinge, and a relatively thin design to a Windows PC, resulting in a machine that feels made to survive in a thickness hitting under two centimetres when closed, or 17.72mm to be exact.

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Pick up the X1 Carbon and it’s hard not to feel the quality. How often do you find computers — or anything for that matter — that utilise carbon fibre in the construction? This computer feels like it could take a beating, though given the price, we’re not actually keen to try.

That said, Lenovo tells us this is tested to military specifications (MILSPEC), which means it can take the heat, the cold, some water, humidity, and even some drops here and there, making it better built than most computers available on shelves today.

This solid build translates to a machine that feels like its weight, with the 1.44 kilogram body not overly heavy, but also not the lightest ever. In general, Lenovo’s X1 Carbon is comfortable to carry around, but don’t expect to go one handed, because it just won’t work.

But that’s okay, because there’s no 360 degree hinge here, not like its Yoga Pro 3 brother. Instead, the hinge is only made for 180 degrees, meaning you can lie the screen completely flat, which will be useful for showing things, but more useful if the laptop is dropped, since the hinge won’t have to resort to trying to snap.

Enough of the hardware though, because there’s a machine to review.

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Switch the machine on and you’ll see the X1 Carbon spring to life, its screen lighting up and showing off its wares.

We need to say this from the get go, but this is one beautiful screen. Lenovo has provided a 14 inch panel running a fuller-than-full HD resolution of 2560×1440, and with Lenovo’s smarts and the Windows HiDPI mode, this produces very clear text, sharp details, and a quality that we don’t normally see in laptops, even in machines running the same or higher resolutions.

Credit where credit is due, because the X1 Carbon wins us on screen quality.

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It even wins when it comes to viewing angles, because the X1 Carbon offers excellent angles, boasting solid colour and no obvious washout, even at the extremes of each view point, which is something few laptops get close to. It even feels like Lenovo has applied some glare resistance to this screen, offering nowhere near the amount of reflectivity we’re used to in laptops, though still not quite reaching the matte screen seen in laptops like that of the Toshiba Portege Z20t.

This isn’t matte, not at all, but it feels like Lenovo has found a sort of middle ground between matte and reflective that does the job, though it could do with a bit more brightness because when the sun is behind, you’ll still find it a little difficult to see the screen.

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Our review model also packed in a touch panel, though not all will get this in their respective models, as it is optional.

A quick glance at the spec sheet tells us this is optional, but if it were us, it’s an option we’d insist on. It’s not enough that Windows 8 tends to be easier to use when a touch panel has been employed, but we’d also go for the touchscreen because the touchpad doesn’t appear to recognise the Windows 8 gestures properly.

The ones most people are familiar with are here — two finger scrolling, pinch, pull, that sort of thing — but the Windows 8 gestures to bring up the charm menu or the top and bottom settings menus, they don’t work particularly well.

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Thankfully on this variant, you have the touchscreen, but we wonder what the touch-less varieties are like with a touchpad that doesn’t recognise Windows 8 gestures easily.

Performance is also strong, hardly a surprise given the fifth-generation Intel Core i7 processor found inside our review model, though we were particularly impressed by the lack of noise the system generated as we used it.

Yes, this appears to be one of the fan-less models, because we weren’t able to pick up on any sound as we benched the hardware, letting it run processing and disk tests, with no obvious sound being emitted from the machine.

Across most productivity applications, we found no real issues, which you’d expect from an Ultrabook of this class. We could load apps, multi-task, switch into browsers and load several web pages, and the X1 Carbon didn’t skip a beat, keeping pace with what we were doing regardless of if we were using the touchscreen or keyboard to get around.

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That’s one positive that we have to talk about: the keyboard.

This keyboard is Lenovo doing what Lenovo does best. We’ve seen good keyboards from the company before, and this one ranks up there as one of the best, with the right amoung of travel, a soft and barely noticeable clicking sound, and a general feeling that makes typing on the X1 Carbon a pleasure and a joy.

We spend a lot of time road testing the keyboards we get, and this is one of the nicest we’ve felt in a while, improving on what we saw in the Yoga Pro 3, and even returning the right shift key to its actual place, with a long key that sits above a slimmer set of arrow keys.

Our only quibble with the keyboard is the “Fn” function key, which sits in the bottom left corner and tends to get in the way when you’re trying to hit Ctrl on the left side, with you accidentally hitting function instead. It won’t generally do anything, but it does make Ctrl+C (copy) and Ctrl+V (paste) a little less reliable.

You should get over it quickly — we did — and get back to typing on this otherwise excellent keyboard.

Seriously, this keyboard is enough to make us consider grabbing the X1 Carbon as our main portable machine. It’s that good.

One strange thing with the keyboard is the right shift key's printing of the word "Shift" isn't actually aligned properly. It's like an inside joke to what shift does. Or a mistake. Or both.

One strange thing with the keyboard is the right shift key’s printing of the word “Shift” isn’t actually aligned properly. It’s like an inside joke to what shift does. Or a mistake. Or both.

The inclusion of two mice alongside the touchscreen also helps, though we suspect people without the touchscreen will find both more help than those with it.

At least you get both, and those who prefer the rubber pointing stick will be at ease, especially since it appears on far fewer computers than it once did.

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Battery life is also pretty solid. Lenovo suggests as much as 10 hours are possible from this laptop, but we found closer to 8 in our tests, which isn’t bad altogether, with several periods of standby used throughout this.

That’s not too shabby at all, especially when you can still only get 5 to 6 hours from other computers out there, many of which sit in the same Ultrabook category that the Lenovo X1 Carbon competes in.

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And hey, there’s even a fingerprint reader which works quite well with Windows 8 to take your fingerprint and let you unlock your computer without having to type in any passwords.

In a public location, the fingerprint reader could make things a little easier, since you shouldn’t have to worry about typing in that long precious string of characters to get on with your work.

For the most part, it works very well, and we had more successes with using it than we had misses, which is a positive.

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There are some things missing from the package, such as a 360 degree hinge, a feature the Yoga Pro 3 received, but yet is missing from the design of the X1 Carbon. This means you won’t be able to flip the screen all the way around and turn this laptop into a tablet at a moment’s notice. Shame, shame, we suspect some customers would have liked that as an option.

There’s also no Near-Field Communication (NFC), even though there is Bluetooth and a finger-print sensor. We guess Lenovo went for the details it was sure people would use, compared to the ones that only really matter if you’re on a phone. No NFC is no real big worry, but if it is a must have, you won’t be getting your fill on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

No SD card slot is another surprise, because a machine as well built and designed as this thing should probably have a way of getting files off cameras or smartphones, but there is neither an SD card nor the much smaller microSD slot here.

Oh, and there’s one other thing worth mentioning, because you’ll notice it, often, just like we did: fingerprints.

Fingerprints on the lid are fairly visible.

Fingerprints on the lid are fairly visible.

Handle the computer and you’ll see them, with the top lid showcasing your fingerprint for the world to see in a way you won’t expect a matte black paint job to reveal, which we’ll admit surprised us.

Unlike previous matte black ThinkPads that seemed to disguise fingerprints quite well, this one shows them on the surface, so make sure to wipe down that laptop on a regular basis.

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Conclusion

We were hoping our first Ultrabook of 2015 would be a good one, and what we were delivered wasn’t just something good, but something great.

It’s hard not to be impressed by what’s on offer, and Lenovo has left very little out of the package. Sure, there’s no SD card slot, an omission we’re surprised by, and the screen could be bright, plus there’s no NFC either, though that one isn’t likely to get anyone caring.

If you can live without worrying about those things and are happy to pay the price, Lenovo’s X1 Carbon is one of the better Ultrabooks we’ve seen, and a great way to start the year off.

A thin winner: Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon reviewed
Price (RRP): $1899 (starting price); Review model was $2769; Manufacturer: Lenovo
Built very well, so much that it's military spec (MILSPEC); Excellent screen that isn't overly glossy (and yet isn't totally matte); Great battery life; Superb keyboard; Two types of mouse offered, with the TrackPoint pointing stick in the middle of the keyboard and the regular trackpad down below at the base of the keyboard, both of which compliment the touchscreen (technically a third mouse); Optional built-in 4G LTE modem;
While it doesn't look like it should be, the X1 Carbon is a fingerprint magnet; Touchpad needs better gesture support; Screen could be a little brighter; No SD card slot;
Overall
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