Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon vs Dell XPS 13

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Impossibly thin, with a strong performance, and long lasting battery life ultrabooks are the perfect all around utility notebook. However, among the homogeneous sea of silver slabs, it can be difficult to find something that sticks out. Luckily we’re comparing two of the best mid-range ultrabooks on the market. The well-rounded Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and gorgeous Dell XPS 13.

So how do these two notebooks stack up? Read on to find out.  

Lenovo ThinkPad x1 Carbon back

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon has an eye-catching black magnesium and carbon fiber chassis.

Build and Design

When it comes to which device has the better design it’s really an embarrassment of riches. Both of these laptops offer the best designs seen to date for their respective product lines. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon features the same durable design seen from the ThinkPad T460s  in a more manageable travel-friendly form factor. The black magnesium and carbon fiber reinforced plastic chassis feels and looks great, while offering the durability needed for even the most active road warrior.

The Dell XPS 13s chassis is just as eye-catching with a silver magnesium and aluminum cover. The hard metal shell feels a bit more solid than the soft to the touch reinforced plastic coating of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The Dell XPS 13 also offers a slightly thinner profile than the X1 Carbon at 0.6-inches and 0.65-inches respectively. However, the X1 Carbon is a tad lighter at 2.6 pounds compared to 2.7-pound chassis from the Dell XPS 13.

Bottom Line: In terms of the design, you really can’t go wrong with either the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon or the Dell XPS 13. However, NBR is inclined to give the slight nod to the XPS 13 for its incredibly thin bezel. Both laptops look great, but that razor thin bezel is a thing of beauty.

Ports

Dell XPS ports left

The USB-C port on the Dell XPS 13 can be used for video inputs or as an Ethernet connector via the Dell Adapter.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon has a solid array of ports. The left side of the chassis houses Lenovo’s OneLink+ docking port, a mini DisplayPort connector and USB 3.0 port. The right side of the device features two more USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI connector and 3.5mm audio jack, while the back of the device is a microSD card reader.

The OneLink+ dock offers a solid boost to the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s connectivity for a $60 premium, which features a USB port, VGA video output, and RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet connector.

The Dell XPS 13 also has an impressive selection of ports. The left side of the XPS 13 features a USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 combo port, a USB 3.0 port, a headphone/microphone audio jack. The right side of the device offers a full-sized SD card slot, a second USB 3.0 and a Kensington lock slot. While the XPS 13 doesn’t have any video output ports, the USB 3.1 port can be used as a VGA, HDMI, and Ethernet connector via the Dell adapter.

Bottom Line: The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon offers more ports than the Dell XPS 13, but the XPS 13 offers a greater variety and helps to future-proof the device with the inclusion of USB-C. The OneLink+ dock does help to bolster the X1 Carbon’s connectivity, but the XPS 13 manages to do the same without a bulky dock. With a greater variety of ports and a more elegant solution to bolster the machine’s connectivity the Dell XPS 13 is the clear winner.

Keyboard and TouchPad

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon keyboard is one of the best keyboards on the market.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon keyboard is one of the best keyboards on the market.

The ThinkPad line is renowned for its Chiclet Island-style LED-backlit keyboard and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is no different. The glossy square keys are curved inward to comfortably grip to your fingers. Key travel is fantastic and feedback is almost instantaneous with keys quickly snapping back into place. The island also helps to protect against the accidentally spilled beverage and makes cleaning the keyboard quick and easy.

Again keeping with the traditional ThinkPad design the X1 Carbon features a  TrackPoint pointing stick just above the B key. The red braised nub is an excellent alternative to the touchpad and a favorite of a traditionalist. Above the touchpad are three mouse buttons so that sure can have full control when using the TrackPoint pointing stick. The buttons allow for deep compression and have reacted quickly when struck. The modest size touchpad is incredibly comfortable with a smooth surface that allows for easy unrestricted travel; and swipes, multi-finger gestures, and clicks all register quickly without any noticeable lag.

The Dell XPS 13 also offers a full sized Chiclet-style LED backlit keyboard. Key travel is a bit shallower than the ThinkPad X1, but the responsive feedback still makes it easy to type quickly with precision. Just below the keyboard sits a moderately sized touchpad. Saver the buttons along the top of the X1’s pad the two touchpads are quite similar. The rubber surface allows for smooth fingertip travel and the Microsoft drivers work well recording each swipe, click and gesture without fail.

Bottom Line: While the Dell XPS 13’s keyboard and touchpad are solid, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon features a market-leading keyboard. The perfect contour of the keys, excellent travel and feedback make it a pleasure to use. Not to the mention the added versatility of the TrackPoint pointing stick.

Screen and Speakers

The Dell XPS 13 QHD+ display is breath taking with it's thin bezel.

The Dell XPS 13 QHD+ display is breath taking with it’s thin bezel.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon houses a 14-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) resolution IPS display. Lenovo also offers a QHD (2560 x 1440) resolution anti-glare IPS panel for a $70 premium. The picture is clear and colors are vibrant and sharp. NBR was particularly impressed at how well the panel captured the vibrant landscape of colors showcasing bright flowery whites and yellows along with darker deeper purples and blacks in a trailer for Overwatch.

The one noticeable downside is that the brightness is a bit dimmer at only 257 nits. Viewing angles are still decent despite the limited brightness, but the screen does have a slight aversion to light. Heavy or direct lighting produces a noticeable sheen with the screen becoming reflective and colors washing out. In most situations this isn’t an issue, but the X1 Carbon might be a bit difficult to use outdoors during a sunny day or directly under strong overhead lighting.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon houses a pair of bottom-mounted speakers. The audio is crisp and boisterous. Listening to various recordings of Duo Sonidos we loved how powerful the violin sounded ringing sharp and clear on the higher notes, piercing the textured backtrack of the accompanied classical guitar.  

The Dell XPS features a 13.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080) resolution IPS display and offers an optional QHD+ (3200 x 1800) IPS touch panel at a $350 premium. As we’ve previously noted the “Infinity Edge” displays offer paper thin bezel that provides an attractive aesthetic. The higher-end display is a bit more expensive than Lenovo’s QHD option, but it also a higher resolution and considerably brighter at 318 nits.

The X1 Carbon's QHD display is excellent, but the dimmer screen does suffer under direct light.

The X1 Carbon’s QHD display is excellent, but the dimmer screen does suffer under direct light.

The QHD+ IPS display provides excellent color accuracy and saturation, though we did notice the contrast was noticeably lower than the FHD model. The biggest boon that the Dell XPS 13 has over the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is the brighter surface. The bright panel affords incredibly flexible viewing angle and holds up well under heavy lighting.

While the XPS 13 has one of the most impressive displays we’ve seen from an ultrabook,but the speakers are far less flattening. Sounds are muffled and the audio quality is mediocre even in the best of settings.

Bottom Line: When it comes to the display the Dell XPS 13 has a slight edge over the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, with a higher resolution and thin bezel. Of course, the Dell XPS 13 is a bit more expensive than the X1. However, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon offers “the complete package”. The display is still fantastic (save for the limited brightness) and the sound quality is superb.

Performance and Battery Life

 

Lenovo ThinkPad

X1 Carbon

Dell XPS 13

OS

Windows 10 Pro

Windows 10 Home

Processor

Intel Core i5-6300U 3GHz      

Intel Core i5-6200U 2.3GHz

GPU

Intel HD Graphics 520

Intel HD Graphics 520

RAM

8GB of DDR3

8GB of DDR3

Memory

256GB PCLe SSD

256GB NVMe SSD

Connectivity         

802.11b/g/n

802.11ac

Price

$1,500

$1,500

 

Dell XPS 13 backThe Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and Dell XPS 13 both offer mid-range spec loadout that are nearly identical for $1,500. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon does have a slightly stronger processor, which is why it’s able to beat out the Dell XPS 13 across most of the benchmarks. It’s a nice little boost to performance, but it shouldn’t mean all that much in real life day to day performance. While neither laptop’s specs are considered market leading, they both offer strong performance perfect for multitasking, productivity, and leisure.

If you’re looking for more competitive specs, both laptops scale up to an Intel Core i7 CPU and 512GB SSDs. However, NBR believes the best bang for your buck on both units lie at the mid-range price point.

Armed with energy efficient sixth generation Intel Core CPUs both the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and Dell XPS 13 offer strong battery life. The Dell XPS 13 has a slightly larger battery than the Lenovo X1 Carbon at 56Wh and 50Wh respectively. The larger capacity results in 9 extra minutes of battery life for a total of 3 hours and 43 minutes.

PCMark8 Home (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows for general activities from web browsing and video streaming to typing documents and playing games (higher scores mean better performance):

pm8 h

PCMark8 Work (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows for work-related productivity tasks (higher scores mean better performance):

pm8 w

3DMark 11 is a benchmark that measures overall graphics card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):

3dm 11

CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance tests (X1 Carbon Left, Dell XPS 13 Right):

Lenovo-Thinkpad-X1-Carbon-cdm-300x273xps132016cdm-300x272

Powermark battery life test results (higher scores mean better battery life):

powermark

Bottom Line: The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon edges out the Dell XPS 13 when it comes to performance and offers slightly more for the $1,500 price tag. While the Dell XPS 13 isn’t quite as powerful as the X1 Carbon it does offer slightly longer battery life, thanks to the larger capacity battery.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon or Dell XPS 13?

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

The short answer is both.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and Dell XPS 13 are both fantastic mid-range laptops, that excel in different areas. The Dell XPS 13 is incredibly attractive, with impossibly thin bezels, a gorgeous 13.3-inch QHD+ display and a longer lasting battery. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, on the other hand, boasts stronger performance for the price, market-leading keyboard, and high-quality audio. Either is a great choice, depending on what you’re looking for.

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