Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2015) Review: A Return to Form

by Reads (29,030)
Editor's Rating

Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

    • Software & Support
    • 9
    • Upgrade Capabilities
    • 8
    • Usability
    • 10
    • Design
    • 8
    • Performance
    • 9
    • Features
    • 8
    • Price/Value Rating
    • 7
    • Total Score:
    • 8.43
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Overview

  • Pros

    • Fast, reliable performance
    • Insanely light for a 14-inch device
    • Great Audio
    • Excellent visuals with crisp images and great color accuracy
  • Cons

    • Expensive
    • Display suffers in direct light due to limited brightness

Quick Take

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is the best 14-inch business laptop on the market. Offering a high-quality design, solid display, strong performance and incredible battery life the notebook delivers on all fronts, but it comes at a price.


The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon feels like a return to form. Since its inception, the X1 series has been seen as a premium 14-inch business line. The series has introduced incredibly slim form factors, industry-leading performance and high-quality designs. The previous generation however, felt like a step backwards for the company. In an attempt to innovate, Lenovo introduced new capacitive function keys and a remapped keyboard.

Innovation is an undeniable and necessary process for any tech company, but equally as important is the ability to listen to your audience. Lenovo clearly heard its fans and critics alike with the newest iteration of the X1 Carbon. The company ditched many of its latest changes and doubled down on the cornerstones that have made the X1 Carbon a premium brand. Equipped with Intel’s new Broadwell Chipset, the 2015 X1 Carbon offers strong performance, with improved battery life and an incredibly portable form factor.

Lenovo may not have reinvented the wheel this time around, but the Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon sure offers one smooth ride. 

Build and Design

The X1 Carbon's hybrid metal chassis desing is extremely lightweight.

The X1 Carbon’s hybrid metal chassis desing is extremely lightweight.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon has retained the same classic all-black design that the company has been synonymous for over the years. Of course, this design has become a classic for good reason, as the svelte display and slow moving curves along the chassis coalesce to create an enticing aesthetic. The carbon fiber display is rounded at its corners with the top edge slanting down towards the face of the device. Lenovo’s chrome lettering sits at the top right-hand side of the device while the company’s signature ThinkPad — complete with the illuminated dot on the “i” – rests along the corresponding left-hand side.

The magnesium aluminum hybrid face feels a bit firmer than the soft display cover. The metallic face also is also cool to the touch, which serves to provide a comfortable wrist rest while typing. Lenovo has kept the small finger print scanner to the right of the arrows keys, but has decided to remove the polarizing capacitive keys along the top of the device’s face, instead opting for traditional function keys. The power button has also been made slightly larger and moved above the function keys resting between the displays hinges.

The bottom of the chassis is comprised of carbon fiber similar to the display cover.

The bottom of the chassis is comprised of carbon fiber similar to the display cover.

The most notable feature of the X1 Carbon’s design is its portability. The mix of lightweight materials allows the X1 Carbon to be one of the lightest 14-inch business laptops on the market weighing in at an incredible 3.07 pounds. The device is noticeably lighter than the competing 14-inch HP EliteBook Folio 1040 at 3.4 pounds and the 13.3-inch HP Spectre x360 at 3.3 pounds. Users willing to give up a bit of computing power may want to consider an Intel Core M device, as both the smaller 12.5-inch HP EliteBook Folio 1020 and the Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro are even lighter options at 2.6 pounds respectively. However, when it comes to a full-fledged fifth generation Intel Core CPU and a 14-inch display the ThinkPad Carbon X1 is an impressive piece of engineering.

The one notable drawback to the Lenovo’s thin design is that both the chassis and display have a bit of give to them. There is also slight rippling that occurs when pressure is applied the X1 Carbon’s display cover. The Lenovo X1 Carbon isn’t built like a tank, but the high quality materials and solid design still offer a solid level of durability. According to Lenovo, the laptop passed 8 MIL-Spec tests (MIL-STD 810G) including tests under high/low temperatures, humidity, sand, and shock. It’s certainly not an ultra-durable device, but the X1 Carbon should hold up just fine under the normal wears and tears of travel.

Ports

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon ports leftLenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon ports right

Lenovo has most of their bases covered when it comes to connectivity. The lack of a third USB 3.0 port is small annoyance, but given the device’s thin profile its absence is understandable. The left side of the laptop features Lenovo’s power/OneLink connector combo, an HDMI port, a mini DisplayPort connector, and a headphone/microphone jack. The right side of the X1 houses an Ethernet extension port (which Lenovo packages with the device) and a second USB 3.0 port.

Display and Sound

Housing a 14-inch QHD (2560 x 1440) IPS touch display, the X1 Carbon boasts crisp visuals well beyond the needs of most business users. The panel isn’t exceptionally bright at 243 nits, but the crystal clear picture and solid color accuracy provide a high-quality viewing experience. We were particularly impressed by the laptop’s ability to detail the various shades of greens and blues of the landscape when watching a live stream of League of Legends.

The panels limited brightness does make the display susceptible to heavy or direct lighting, as a noticeable glare does appear on screen along with background reflections. In normal lighting conditions the laptop offers generous viewing angles with image quality retaining well past 100 degrees on the horizontal axis.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon screen frontLenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon screen side

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon screen backwardsLenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon screen forward

In terms of control, the touchscreen works like a charm, quickly responding to each swipe and tap with perfect accuracy. The X1 Carbon’s display hinges travels a full 180 degrees, allowing the users to lay the display flat and use it almost like a tablet if desired. The hinges also offer a slight resistance to pressure, ensuring that display stays in place while using touch controls.

The boisterous speakers are located along the bottom edges of the chassis.

The boisterous speakers are located along the bottom edges of the chassis.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon houses two small speaker grills along the bottom left and right hand sides of the chassis. The X1 Carbon is surprising boisterous despite its small stature, with audio levels capable of easily filling a modest sized room making it perfect for presentations and meetings.

The speakers are accompanied by Dolby Digital Plus post-processing software package, which surprisingly helps to enrich the audio experience a great deal. Listening to an Orchestral track with the software disabled, the laptop managed to accurately depict the track without any distortions, but the sound was noticeably flatter and the sound levels were drastically lower. The software package is a notable boon for the device’s audio quality, allowing users to select from a number of selected modes (i.e. Movie or Music) or customize their own sound levels as they see fit.

Touchpad and Keyboard

The X1's keyboard boast excellent travel and feedback.

The X1’s keyboard boast excellent travel and feedback.

Lenovo has made a number of big changes to the keyboard, namely reverting the divisive adaptations the company tried to introduce in the previous generation. That’s right, long-time Lenovo users can let out a sigh of relief, as the company’s gone back to the basics. That means ditching the wacky capacitive function buttons and returning to the standard QWERTY keyboard layout.

Of course standard when it comes to Lenovo still means a step well above most of the competition. The island Chiclet style backlit keyboard offers exceptional travel for an Ultrabook, while consistent force and tactile feedback make typing on the X1 Carbon an absolute joy. The glossy plastic keys are slightly rounded at the corners and the face curves inwards, providing excellent grip and a comfortable typing surface.

Old-school fans will also be delighted to see that the Leonvo’s pointing stick remains a staple of the X1 series. To complement the pointing stick, the top of the touchpad is outfitted with a right, left and middle mouse buttons. The rest of the touchpad is devoid of buttons.

The touchpad is slightly elevated, allowing for added travel on clicks.

The touchpad is slightly elevated, allowing for added travel on clicks.

The rest of the generously sized touchpad is devoid of mouse buttons. The soft rubber pad allows for smooth frictionless travel and is slightly elevated compressing when clicked. Some users may find the design a bit odd at first, especially because the area directly below the mouse buttons will not compress and fails to read click gestures. However, after a few hours with the device, we found ourselves extremely comfortable with the layout; the added travel provides great feedback ensuring that each click is registered.

Lenovo has always been known for its top-notch mechanical design and it’s nice to the newest Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon represent a return to that legacy.

 



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2 Comments

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  1. jonashendrickx

    The brightness is only 50 nits lower on the 1440p touch model, because a anti-glare film was applied to it, which also protects against scratches.

    The non-touch model is as bright as any other display.

  2. jonashendrickx

    Edit: the touch 1440p display is about 270-nit and the non-touch 1440p display is 300-nit! It uses the same display panels as the X1 Carbon Gen 2 released last year. I owned both models, and didn’t have any issues with the slightly lower brightness on the touch panel. You will notice if you put the two models next to eachother, but it is barely noticeable in reality.

    I also agree it is expensive, but it is the only ultrabook I would consider paying so much money for. Specially if you are the travelling type or commute for work.

    What I like most about it is the microphone and camera quality. I have never seen such a good camera and microphone quality in any laptop before.