Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook Review

Aug 16, 2012
10

The Lenovo ThinkPad series is currently celebrating its 20th birthday, and today we have their new ThinkPad X1 Carbon on the chopping blocks. After all these years still producing some of the best business and casual laptops available the X1 Carbon looks to improve on its older sibling, while staying at the top of the Ultrabook lineup. Being touted as "the world's lightest 14" business-class ultra book" with a sleek body and powerful dual-core power all under 3 lbs lets take a peek.

The brand new ThinkPad X1 Carbon might not be 20 years in the making, but it almost feels that way. Cramming all the top end specs possibly available into a super lightweight laptop that fits the "Ultrabook" standard, while still being similar to last years original X1. This is certainly an evolution of last years model only better in every way. It's thinner, lighter, and faster yet still comes with a bigger display and more options. Take a peek at our unboxing video to get yourself started and acquainted, then we'll dig in.

Hardware and Chassis

At first glance there will be no doubt in your mind this is a ThinkPad. With the original simplistic and minimal design, squared off edges, and flat matte black color scheme. Other than a few needed vents for breathing and speakers this is as simple as it gets, in its most elegant form. The ThinkPad line has always been catered for professionals that don't want a loud and cluttered laptop, and this is no different. We don't have crazy lights, bright colors, or odd speakers. Everything is clean -- ThinkPad clean.

As far as hardware specs there's multiple versions available. Today we'll be looking at one of Lenovo's highest options. We'll go over the different models below but what we have here is their high-end Intel Ivy Bridge 3rd Gen Core-i7 dual-core version. All X1 Carbon's come complete with a 14-inch LED display, with a matte finish to reduce glare, 2 USB ports (right side is 3.0), display port, 3.5 mm headphone jack that doubles for the microphone, and a 3G sim slot around back for 3G connectivity. Starting at $1,249 our model will run you $1,579 -- and under the hood however is what's important.

Our X1 Carbon comes complete with the Intel Core i7-3667U 1.8 GHz dual-core Ivy Bridge processor, 4GB of DDR3 666 MHz RAM, and a 128GB SSD. Other options include a 1.7 GHz Ivy Bridge, and even a lower i5. They've even got a 256GB SSD selection for those with extra cash and need the storage. As well as 8GB RAM models for the editing heavy user. Packing all of this into something only 2.99 lbs makes this the lightest ThinkPad ever.

As far as hardware the latch-free lid is easy to close, but wasn't quite as easy to open for us. This you'll simply just get use to so we can't really complain. We also found the square charging port to be odd since most have adopted the easy to use round male pin. I actually tried inserting my USB drive into it once, but that's another story. As usual with Lenovo the ThinkPad has a very durable construction. It feels great in the hand with the soft-touch matte finish, and being lightweight also makes it a breeze to carry.

The screen is 14-inches as mentioned above, but only offers 300 nits of brightness. Using this outdoors wasn't the most ideal situation, but we've certainly seen and used worse. Overall the screen is rather impressive being 1600 x 900, although outdoors the grainy effect was more present.

Keyboard and Trackpad

Just like the X1, the Carbon has replaced the wide keys for Lenovo's version of the chicklet style, and it works wonderfully. The keys are evenly spaced, comfortable, and have good feedback and response. The slight curve makes them instantly comfortable to use, you'll just have to get used to the spacing if you've owned previous ThinkPads.

As mentioned in the video, the keys are backlit only the button the side toggles radios, not the keyboard lights. Simply press Fn and tap spacebar to scroll through the 3 brightness options. While we'd love additional brightness options 3 is better than most. So we'll take it. Then in the usual ThinkPad fashion you can use the trackpad, or enjoy the pointing stick mouse dressed up in the familiar red. I personally only use this, but the trackpad is also exceptional for those times you need it. While we'd still like the smooth surface that MacBook's offer, Lenovo did a great job with their smooth, resistance free trackpad.

Ports


As mentioned above Lenovo outfitted this Ultrabook with only two USB ports, one of which is USB 3.0, or as they call it -- Superspeed. You'd never know it but a small barely visible SS logo is near the right side USB port (see above image). The right side also contains the Kensington lock, display port, 3.5mm headphone/microphone, and the full size SD. Around to the left is the charging port, vents, and the regular USB location followed by a Bluetooth and WiFi radio toggle switch.

Performance and Sound

Now Lenovo offers multiple versions of the X1 Carbon, ours however has the Intel Core i7-3667U Processor (4M Cache, up to 3.20 GHz) running at 1.7 GHz. There is two additional i5 options for a lower price as well. Using Intel's Ivy Bridge and the integrated HD-4000 this isn't quite up to 3D and gaming performance par, but everything else was exceptional.

Running on Windows 7 64 bit Professional performance was butter smooth as always, and we ran a few Geekbench tests as we always do. After the third run there was a decent amount of heat coming out of the small vents, but the X1 Carbon stayed relatively quiet. Here's the results:

[sgbenchmark id=175 show=score]
[sgbenchmark id=175 show=system]

Obviously the SSD was extremely fast, blowing away any regular HD option available, but sadly this price range only offers the 128GB choice. Overall the results weren't chart topping but for the price, size, and specs this is a beast of a business-class machine.

Next up we wanted to talk about the speakers and sound quality. There's no fancy Beats Audio here, but that's a good thing. Whatever Lenovo did they did well. The speaker ports are located on the bottom sides near the front, and bounce off the desk giving users excellent sound quality. This machine was much louder than the recently reviewed HP ENVY 4, and sounded better in all categories too. While using this on my lap the sound gets aimed the wrong direction and wasn't as loud or crisp, but desktop usage was perfect.

Battery Life

Now the battery life can be a bit personal, based on user needs and usage, but we found decent results. With continuous usage throughout an entire evening it lasted almost 6 hours straight -- and that's with multiple video clips and web browsing. Using the rapid charge technology detailed in our video we didn't get 5 hours on a short charge, but was enough to get a job done in a bind. We've seen many Ultrabook's last well past the 7 hour mark, so we'll chalk this one up for average at best.

Wrap-Up

As far as business-class Ultrabooks the X1 Carbon doesn't have too much competition. This thing is almost as good as it gets -- if an Ultrabook is what you want. If you don't need the Ultrabook lightweight design for roughly the same price the HP Spectre 14 [see our review] is another solid option. All in all the X1 Carbon is a massive step up over the original, and beats out anything from Lenovo's past in this size range. Yes the display, battery life, and RAM options could all be better or higher, but in general this machine will be king of the office.

Add in the fact that it manages to be extremely thin, weigh less than 3 lbs, and still manages to have a 720p front camera (image sample below), and integrated HSPA+ 3G connectivity it sure is a great overall package. It might not be the cheapest around but this user friendly machine will be excellent for average users, and the business man. This portable Ultrabook should make you plenty happy, and keep you busy. Have a peek at previous reviews and all our images below, then decide if this is the Ultrabook for your business bag.


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