Lenovo is an old hand at the business notebook game and has been producing top-class portables for years. With Apple and Dell elbowing their way to the top of the tree recently, and old rivals such as HP and Asus upping their game as well, it’s facing competition like never before.
Not that you’d know it to look at the firm’s fifth-generation ThinkPad X1. It may be Lenovo’s thinnest, most powerful laptop to date, but it still looks like a ThinkPad of old. Perhaps that’s not such a bad thing in a world that seems to value glamour before everything else.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon review: What you need to know
And Lenovo has definitely delivered some significant improvements to its flagship portable this time around, the most significant of which is a weight reduction. The 14in ThinkPad X1 Carbon sheds some serious weight off its predecessors.
It’s only 16mm slim and weighs a mere 1.13kg. The X1 is a stunner, but with a wealth of 7th-generation Intel Core processors at your disposal, it’s no slouch either. It can be configured to your liking, be it with a 14in Full HD or WQHD display, up to 16GB of RAM and there’s a bevvy of SSD storage options to choose from as well.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon review: Price and competition
With prices starting at £1,380 (inc. VAT) for the Intel Core i5, 256GB SSD model with 8GB of RAM, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon doesn’t come cheap. In fact, Dell’s similarly specified XPS 13 refresh starts at just £1,149 – that’s £231 cheaper. If you want the top-end model, complete with an Intel Core i7-7600U, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD and Windows 10 Pro, it’ll run you just shy of £2,220.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon review: Design
But what you’re getting for your money is top-end quality. In fact, this is Lenovo’s best-looking device to date, built with a carbon-fibre frame, the X1 Carbon is coated in its entirety by a lovely soft-touch, all-black rubberised coating. There’s a touch of Apple-esque minimalism here, with only the subtle ThinkPad logo adorning the right corner of the lid.
And it’s an extremely slim laptop. Its footprint is a mere 322 x 216mm, it’s 16mm thin and, thanks to its carbon fibre construction, it tips the scales at an astonishingly light 1.1kg. That trumps even the wafer-thin Acer Swift 7.
This uber-portable design makes complete sense looking at the business side of things. After all, most office workers crave a workhorse of a laptop that doesn’t sacrifice portability for performance. This is something you can carry from meeting to meeting with ease and shove in your laptop bag for off-site client visits without having to worry too much about what else you put in your bag.
And Lenovo hasn’t scrimped on ports and connectivity either. The X1 Carbon comes generously well-equipped with two Thunderbolt 3 powered USB Type-C ports, two regular USB 3.0 ports, one full-size HDMI output, a 3.5mm headset port and an Ethernet connection via the supplied adapter. There’s even a slot that does double duties for both microSD and micro-SIM cards, found underneath the rear hinge.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon review: Keyboard and touchpad
Lenovo’s chiclet-style Keyboard is outstanding. Each individual key is chunky with a slightly scooped-out top and has a much longer travel than on the Dell XPS 13.
It’s sensibly laid out, too, the one caveat being that the cursor keys are a little on the small side; and you may find yourself accidentally pressing the page up or page down keys which sit uncomfortably close to them. The keyboard backlighting isn’t overly bright, either.
Something of a Lenovo staple is the inclusion of the red trackpoint stick in the centre of the keyboard, which accompanies the traditional touchpad underneath. This gives you a touch more precision with mouse movement and it means you don’t have to move your hands away from the keyboard, but I wouldn’t want to use it all the time as it requires you to apply quite a bit of pressure to move the pointer.
Fortunately, the touchpad is pretty good. It’s reliable and accurate and the provision of actual physical buttons is a godsend, although touchpads with integrated left and right click are pretty good these days. It isn’t the largest touchpad in the world, though, and I found that my fingers crashed into the sides much more often than I’d like, especially when carrying out Windows 10’s multitouch gestures.
And before we continue, given this is a device catering for businesses rather than consumers, it’s good to see a fingerprint reader built into the wristrest, just to the left of the touchpad. This comes as standard no matter which SKU you opt for and is Microsoft-certified so all Windows Hello functionalities work without a hitch.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon review: Display
It might look more like a 13in laptop but, in fact, Lenovo has crammed in a Full HD 14in IPS screen here. It’s quite on the same level as the “InfinityEdge” screen on the Dell XPS 13 mind, but it’s a looker nonetheless. And, unlike on the Dell, it’s an anti-glare panel, which does a great job of reducing glare and softening reflections.
In terms of quality, Lenovo’s display might not blow you out of the water but it’s a display that ticks most boxes. Top brightness is a more-than-adequate 312cd/m2 (a smidge brighter than the Dell XPS 13), while sRGB colour gamut coverage hits 82%, which is on the low side. Despite this, colours are reasonably punchy and vibrant and, while it might not be best-suited to colour-critical design work, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s display will do the job for 99% of office users.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon review: Performance and battery life
As you’d expect from a business grade ultraportable, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon comes well-equipped when it comes to internals. There’s a good selection of 7th generation Intel Core i5 and i7 processors at your disposal across the range as well as either 8GB or 16GB of RAM and a range of SSD storage options from a 128GB SATA SSD to a 1TB PCIe SSD. The laptop tested for this review came equipped with a dual-core Intel Core i7-7500U processor clocked at 2.7GHz, complete with 16GB of RAM and a 256GB PCIe SSD.
And the performance speaks for itself. In our demanding 4K benchmarks, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon reached an overall score of 52, nudging slightly ahead of the identically-specified Dell XPS 13. You can see how the ThinkPad X1 Carbon stacks up against its similarly-priced competitors in the chart below.
And, crucially, the Thinkpad X1 Carbon doesn’t buckle under the pressure when it comes to longevity. It lasted 10hrs 20mins in our continuous video playback test with the screen set to our standard brightness of 170cd/m2, which is almost three hours longer than both the Dell XPS 13 and the most recent MacBook Pro on a single charge.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon review: Verdict
The display might be a touch lacklustre but otherwise this is the perfect business ultrabook. In fact, Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon ticks all the right boxes: there are plenty of configurations to pick and choose from, performance is ahead of its competitors, it has fantastic battery life and ergonomically it’s practically perfect.
There’s only one thing it isn’t so good at, and that’s keeping the price down; the Dell XPS 13 is a better value machine. Mind you, the base configuration of the X1 Carbon is still a good £100 cheaper than Apple’s 13in MacBook Pro.