Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (5th Generation/2017) Review

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  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Software & Support
      • 8
      • Upgrade Capabilities
      • 5
      • Usability
      • 10
      • Design
      • 9
      • Performance
      • 7
      • Features
      • 8
      • Price/Value Rating
      • 7
      • Total Score:
      • 7.71
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Strong, lightweight design
    • Excellent IPS display
    • First-rate keyboard and touchpad/pointing stick
    • All-day battery life
    • Good port selection
  • Cons

    • Fan noise can be noticeable
    • Pricey, especially in customized configurations
    • RAM is not user-upgradeable

Now in its 5th generation, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon continues to be Lenovo’s elite Ultrabook offering. This notebook manages to fit a 14-inch screen into a sleek chassis that’s just 0.6 inches thin, and weighs only 2.5 pounds. Almost every aspect of this notebook proved to be first-rate in our testing, from its keyboard and touch pad/track point setup, to its IPS display, and even good port selection. It produced some of the best battery life we’ve seen to date, as well. Starting at $1,329, it’s certainly not an inexpensive purchase, but we can say for the money that you’re getting the very best of just about everything with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Build and Design

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon looks like you’d expect any ThinkPad to look. The all-black exterior and straight, squared-off looks are aimed a corporate business environment, but there’s nothing that says you couldn’t (or wouldn’t) want to use this sleek machine in and around the home, as well. If nothing else, we can say the ThinkPad design has withstood the test of time better than any other notebook design. Lenovo says it plans to offer a silver version of this notebook at some point, though it wasn’t yet available when we wrote this review.

The 12.7×8.5-inch chassis is around the size we would typically expect a notebook to be if it housed a 12.5-inch diagonal display. Instead, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon has a 14-inch display, thanks to its very narrow display bezel. This gives the notebook an ultra-modern look.

The ThinkPad’s 0.6-inch tall chassis ranks as one of the thinnest on the market. In every dimension, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is smaller than the competing Dell Latitude 14 7000 (7480) series that we recently reviewed. The Lenovo is also about a half-pound lighter, at only 2.5 pounds. It feels incredibly lightweight in the hand, to the point where you aren’t sure whether it’s an actual notebook computer, or just a hollowed-out display dummy unit.

The black exterior panels have a soft-touch feel, though they aren’t rubbery. Despite its thinness, the chassis of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is thin and resistant to flex. The use of layered carbon fiber and a magnesium alloy roll cage inside the chassis are partially responsible for the unit’s overall strength. The lid is especially rigid. You can open the lid one-handed, provided you do it slowly.

Getting to the internals of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon requires the removal five Phillips-head screws in the base of the chassis. The sealed battery is visible under here, as is the single cooling fan. The user-upgradeable components are limited to the M.2 slots. The M.2 Type-2280 (80mm) solid-state-drive (SSD) can be removed and replaced easily enough. (Take a look at our M.2 SSD Upgrade Guide.) The wireless card can also be replaced. One of the M.2 slots in our review unit was unpopulated; that’s where the WWAN card would go, if opted for. Note we didn’t mention the system memory as being upgradeable, because it’s not. The RAM in the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is soldered to the motherboard, and therefore not user-changeable.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Input and Output Ports

The new ThinkPad X1 Carbon is well-stocked with ports for a notebook this thin.

The left edge holds not one, but two USB Type-C ports with Thunderbolt 3. It’s convenient that the power adapter for this notebook can be connected to either port. You also have a USB Type-A 3.0 port, HDMI video-out, an an Ethernet adapter plug on the left side. Note this is real Ethernet, not merely a USB adapter. The Ethernet adapter will be included with production models. (It wasn’t in the box of our review unit.)

The right edge holds the headset jack, thermal exhaust vent, the last USB Type-A 3.0 port, and the Kensington-style locking slot.

You’ll have to look closely, but on the rear of the notebook, you can find a MicroSIM card. To remove its dust cover, you’ll need a pin or other pointy object. This is only active if you opt for the WWAN module.

Note that the Thunderbolt 3 ports are capable of powering up to dual 4K monitors. You’ll likely need to invest in a USB Type-C/Thunderbolt 3 adapter cable to make this possible, as most external displays don’t have USB Type-C connectors as of yet. Take a look at our primer on USB Type-C.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon stacks up well relative to the bulkier Dell Latitude 14 7000 (7480) series when it comes to port selection. All that’s really missing on the ThinkPad by comparison is an SD card reader and a SmartCard slot.

If you need more ports, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is compatible with Lenovo’s ThinkPad USB 3.0 docking stations. The ThinkPad USB 3.0 Ultra Dock provides six USB Type-A ports, Ethernet, and can connect up to two external monitors. It went for $169 as we were writing this review. You could theoretically hook the ThinkPad X1 Carbon into a generic USB Type-C dock, though we didn’t have any on hand to test.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Screen and Speakers

Lenovo will eventually offer a choice of two display panels on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. At the time of writing, only the base FHD/1080p display was available, which was how our review unit was equipped. Availability for a WQHD/1440p screen is slated for June 2017.

The FHD display on our review unit was quite pleasant to look at. Lenovo rates it for 300 nits of brightness. We ended up using the display at 70 to 80 percent brightness in darker rooms, otherwise it was simply too bright. (That’s not a complaint, mind you – the brightness is, of course, adjustable.) The display’s anti-glare surface was helpful for reducing reflections.

We found the picture quality to be excellent. There was plenty of contrast, and the colors were vivid and lively. The IPS display panel technology allowed for wide viewing angles, as well. The FHD (1,920×1,080) resolution is about as high as we’d go on a 14-inch display; we were just comfortable using it with Windows text scaling set to 125 percent. The soon-to-be-available 1440p display will definitely require the use of scaling, we imagine set to 150 percent or greater. Just make sure your programs and apps support Windows scaling before going for the higher resolution, as you’ll otherwise be making frequent use of the Windows magnifier tool.

This ThinkPad’s two speakers are under the front of the palm rest, projecting downward. They provide just a hint of bass, and overall struggle to sound loud enough. However, they get the job done. We thought the speakers in the Dell Latitude 14 7000 (7480) series sounded louder and fuller.              

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Keyboard and Touchpad

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon has a fantastic-feeling keyboard. Each of the Chiclet-style keys has a soft but precise up-and-down motion. The keys travel a reasonable distance in the process, translating to good feedback for your fingers. The keypresses are quiet, and there’s no flex in the keyboard deck.

The layout is nicely managed for a 14-inch notebook. Dedicated Home and End keys are at the upper right. The Page up and Page down keys next to the up-arrow key take a bit of getting used to; we found ourselves accidentally hitting one of them, on occasion, when we really intended to press the up-arrow key. There’s a raised lip on the down-arrow key to help you get your bearings by feel.

Function Lock (FnLk) continues to be a feature we admire on ThinkPad keyboards like this one. The Fn + Escape key combo enables or disables FnLk. When active, indicated by the green LED in the Escape key, The F1-F12 function-row keys are primary; when inactive, the other printed functions on the F1-F12 keys are primary. The secondary keys can naturally always be accessed by using the Fn key in conjunction. We liked the fact that the F1 key had an orange LED to indicate whether the volume was muted, as did the F4 key to indicate whether the microphone was enabled.

To go along with the microphone, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon includes a 720p/30fps webcam, centered just above the display. We thought the camera had good quality, even though its resolution was on the low side.

The buttonless touch pad on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is another part that is done very well. The pad’s surface has a luxurious feel, encouraging you to use it. The clicking action, accomplished by pressing down anywhere on the pad, is quiet and direct. The presses do require more force at the top of the pad, but that was not where we pressed down most of the time. To right-click, press down at the lower right quarter of the pad. Further right of the pad, you’ll find the biometric fingerprint reader.

The UltraNav setup is completed by the presence of the red eraser-head pointing stick in the center of the keyboard. It hands-down continues to be the best one we’ve found. The tactile surface and sloped edges of the pointing stick give it a natural feel. Its trio of buttons are within each reach of your thumbs. The buttons require just the right amount of pressure, and make hardly any noise.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Performance

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon has standard specifications for a thin-and-light notebook, more commonly marketed as an Ultrabook. The latest Intel 7th generation/”Kaby Lake” processors are offered in this model, specifically the 15-watt Core i5 and Core i7 chips. Our review unit had the 2.6GHz Core i5-7300U, a step up from the standard 2.5GHz Core i5-7200U. It can dynamically increase its clockspeed to a maximum of 3.5GHz in Turbo Boost mode. The major difference with the Core i5-7300U over the Core i5-7200U is that it offers Intel vPro remote management support. Unless that feature is important to you, you’re better off saving the $100 upgrade cost and sticking with the Core i5-7200U. There is little practical performance difference between the two processors.

The sole choice for a graphics processor in the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is the integrated Intel HD 620 series. This is built directly into the Intel processor. It works well enough for tasks that don’t require demanding 3D performance; gaming and CAD work are generally out of the question. As we noted earlier, you can use up to dual 4K displays with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The integrated graphics certainly aren’t a limitation there.

It’s a mild disappointment that the system memory in this notebook isn’t user-upgradeable, being soldered to the motherboard. Lenovo offers 8GB and 16GB configurations. The latter is a sky-high $290 upgrade, and is only available once you step up to the Core i5-7300U processor or better. The 8GB of RAM in our review unit was plenty for most usage.

Storage is limited to a single drive in the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. As we wrote this, up to 1TB of storage was offered. The 256GB drive in our review unit was a fast PCI Express model with NVMe support. It was steeply priced at $340 extra over the standard 128GB SATA III drive.

Overall, the loadout of our review unit was balanced enough for most office-type workloads. It was also capable of more demanding tasks, such as light photo editing. We’d have appreciated more storage space for the money, but that is something you can upgrade down the line.

Our Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017) review unit has the following technical specifications:

  • 14-inch FHD display (1,920×1,080 resolution, IPS panel, anti-glare surface, non-touch, 300 nits brightness)
  • Windows 10 Pro Signature Edition 64-bit
  • Intel Core i5-7300U dual-core processor w/ Intel vPro (2.6GHz, up to 3.5GHz Turbo Boost, 3MB cache, 15-watt TDP)
  • Intel HD 620 integrated graphics
  • 8GB LPDDR3-1866 dual-channel RAM (soldered/non-upgradeable)
  • 256GB SSD (SAMSUNG MZVLW256HEHP)
  • Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265 wireless LAN
  • Bluetooth 4.2
  • Built-in 720p webcam
  • 3-cell 57Wh battery (sealed)
  • Dimensions: 12.7 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches
  • Weight: 2.51 pounds
  • 1-year limited international warranty
  • Starting price: $1,329
  • Price as configured: $1,799

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Benchmarks

wPrime processor comparison results (listed in seconds – lower scores mean better performance):

PCMark8 Home (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for general activities from web browsing and video streaming to typing documents and playing games (higher scores mean better performance):

PCMark8 Work (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for work-related productivity tasks (higher scores mean better performance):

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

CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Heat and Noise

The one fan in the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is on its right side. The fan stayed off for most of our usage, but spooled up in short order when we started running our benchmarking software. The fan has noticeable motor noise, and is actually one of our complaints about the notebook. If you work in a quiet environment with minimal background noise, you’re likely to notice the fan whenever it comes on, regardless of its speed. It tends to start rather abruptly, as well. In the presence of background noise, however, the fan is relatively easy to ignore.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s chassis remained mostly cool to the touch. It did slightly warm up as we were running our benchmarks, with the heat concentrated in the center and on the right side of the notebook, but not to a degree that broached on uncomfortable.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Battery Life

We use our Powermark benchmark for battery life testing. This demanding benchmark churns out runtimes that are significantly lower than you are likely to see without doing something equally demanding as the benchmark. Powermark runs an automated set of tests, including simulated web browsing, videoconferencing, video playback, office productivity, and gaming workloads. We run the test at approximately 50 percent display brightness.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon ran for seven hours, 16 minutes, which is an exceptional amount of time in this test. We clocked the Dell Latitude 14 7000 (7480) at just five hours, 27 minutes, which is not in the same league. The ThinkPad’s time also beats that of the HP Spectre x360, previously one of the longest-lasting notebooks we had tested. In real-world usage, provided you’re not running tasks that are excessively demanding, you can expect up to 30 percent longer runtime than this.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Power Adapter

The power adapter that was included with our ThinkPad X1 Carbon was a 65-watt model, though we saw Lenovo offering a 45-watt adapter as an accessory. We suppose the less-powerful adapter would take longer to charge the notebook. We think Lenovo’s claim that the ThinkPad X1 Carbon can charge its battery from zero to 80 percent capacity in under an hour was probably done with the 65-watt adapter.

The 65-watt adapter is about the same size and shape of a normal ThinkPad power adapter. The one for the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is slightly interesting in that it has a USB Type-C connector. Gone is the proprietary rectangular USB-like connector that Lenovo used to have for its ThinkPad line.

The adapter weighs 10 ounces (0.6 pounds). The cable that goes from the adapter to the two-prong wall plug is 37 inches; the cable from the adapter to the notebook is 68 inches; and the adapter itself measures 4.3×1.8×1.1 (LWH). Doing that math, that gives you a maximum range of a little over nine feet from an outlet. That’s about the norm for a notebook power adapter.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Final Thoughts

We knew the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon was winning material from the moment we started using it. Just about every aspect of this notebook is on point, and then some. It takes the hallmark features we expect from a ThinkPad, such as its excellent keyboard, touch pad, and pointing stick, and packs them inside a strong chassis just 0.6 inches thin. In addition, at a mere 2.5 pounds, this is one of the lightest notebooks you can buy.

It’s common for thin notebooks to sacrifice battery life, but the ThinkPad X1 Carbon turned that trend upside down. It produced some of the best battery life we’ve seen from any notebook, going for nearly eight hours in our demanding run-down test. It could go for well longer than that with a lighter workload.

Our complaints are few and far between. The ThinkPad’s single cooling fan can be noticed while it’s running, but even so, we found it ignorable, provided there was background noise. We also dislike the fact the system memory isn’t upgradeable, a feature we look for in business-class notebooks. You’re stuck with however much RAM is inside this notebook.

You’ll certainly pay the price for owning a notebook like this. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon starts at $1,329, with our middle-shelf review unit commanding $1,799. We configured a competing Dell Latitude 14 7000 (7480) for $1,569 with the same tier of specifications, and it also included a 3-year warranty, as opposed to the one-year on our Lenovo. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon has its advantages, including a slimmer and lighter design, and considerably longer battery life.

But the high price doesn’t take away from the fact the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is an outstanding choice for a thin-and-light notebook that works well just about everywhere, whether you’re at home or in the office.

Pros:

  • Strong, lightweight design
  • Excellent IPS display
  • First-rate keyboard and touchpad/pointing stick
  • All-day battery life
  • Good port selection

Cons:

  • Fan noise can be noticeable
  • Pricey, especially in customized configurations
  • RAM is not user-upgradeable



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