- Editor's Rating
- Gorgeous QHD display
- Market-leading keyboard
- Lightning quick SSD
- Lack of Ethernet and SD Card slot
- Mediocre endurance
Armed with powerful specs, beautiful visuals, and a durable design the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is one of the best business-class ultrabooks on the market.
People who say “third time’s the charm” haven’t seen the 4th generation Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1. Lenovo hasn’t reinvented the wheel with its newest 14-inch business class laptop, but they’ve made one smooth ride. It’s smaller, more powerful and houses an incredibly attractive 14-inch QHD IPS panel. The X1 Carbon condenses many of the aspects that we love about the Thinkpad series into a portable profile. Read this ThinkPad X1 Carbon review to find out why it’s a tough Ultrabook to match.
Build and Design
Lenovo has essentially taken its popular ThinkPad T460s design and shrunk it down into a more manageable frame with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2016 edition. The ultrabook sports a similar black magnesium and carbon fiber reinforced plastics. Similar to the T460s the X1 Carbon offers slight curves around the corners of the display lid and the bottom of the chassis, helping to spice up the otherwise professional simplistic aesthetic.
The reinforced black plastic feels soft and cool to the touch, making the X1 easy to grip and hold. ThinkPad lettering sits at both the top right corner of the display lid and the bottom right corner of the deck. The black plastic not only feels great to the touch but affords an impressive level of durability. According to Lenovo, the X1 Carbon has passed MIL-STD 810G durability tests, which cover extreme temperatures, shocks, vibrations, sandblasts, humidity and altitudes. In terms of real world applications that translates to a protective frame that is resistant to dirt, scratches, and impressions making the X1 an ideal companion for the road warrior.
The Lenovo X1 Carbon is another in the long line of Ultrabook laptops that have blown away our editorial staff with it’s incredibly svelte and lightweight design. At only 2.6 pounds the X1 Carbon is considerably lighter than it’s T series counterpart which weighs in at 3.2 pounds. Measuring 13.11 x 9.02 x 0.65-inches the X1 isn’t the lightest and thinnest Ultrabook on the market, Apple’s current MacBook Pro model is both thinner and lighter at only 0.52-inches thick and 2.03 pounds. However, the slightly thicker frame of the X1 does leave plenty of room for ports, something the MacBook Pro sorely lacks.
Ports and Features
A lot of manufacturers have been making the tradeoff of diminished connectivity for smaller thinner designs, that’s why the ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2016 edition is refreshing. The laptop offers a solid array of ports that should cover most users in their day to day activities. The left side features a power connector, Lenovo’s OneLink+ docking port, a mini DisplayPort connector and a USB 3.0 port. The right side of the device houses two more USB 3.0 ports (for a total of 3), an HDMI connector and a 3.5mm audio jack.
Tucked at the rear of the chassis just below the display lid is a microSD card reader. The card reader’s placement is difficult to reach and out of the way enough that if you’re not looking for it, you likely won’t find it. There’s a protective cover that you peel away to reveal the microSD card reader, which is nearly impossible to remove when the display lid is open. So if you’re looking to access the reader you’ll likely have to shut your computer to do so.
Besides the strange placement of the card reader, NBR was happy with the arrangement of ports. The obvious grievances are the lack of an Ethernet port and full-sized card reader. The Ethernet is somewhat understandable and can be easily remedied with Lenovo’s ThinkPad OneLink adapter ($60), which features a USB port, VGA video output, and RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet connector.
The X1 Carbon also features a single-touch fingerprint reader just below the arrow keys. The reader can be used with Windows 10’s authentication before logging in for added security. Setting up your biometrics is pretty easy, we only had to press down our finger a few times before we were all setup. Those that may have used older fingerprint scanners may have flashbacks to how annoying they can be. Worry not the reader is far more reliable since it’s touch activated there’s no worry that you might not be doing it correctly. In fact, the X1 never failed to recognize my fingerprint a single time. It’s fast easy and a great way to add another security measure to the machine.
Screen and Speakers
When it comes to ThinkPad laptops most people don’t normally think of amazing visuals. Typically ThinkPads offer great outdoor visibility and are practical, but the X1 Carbon’s 14-inch QHD (2560 x 1440) resolution anti-glare IPS display is a thing of pure beauty. The starting model of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2016 edition comes with an FHD (1920 x 1080) panel, but we highly recommends the upgraded version as the $70 increase in overall cost is worth the higher resolution panel.
Color accuracy and contrast are superb. Even loading up the laptop for the first time, we were taken aback by how rich the pure black Lenovo wallpaper looked. However, what really sold us was watching one of Blizzard’s newest cinematic animations for the upcoming game Overwatch. The X1 did a masterful job capturing the vibrant landscape of colors showcasing bright flowery whites and yellows along with darker deeper purples and blacks. Particle effects and character models were incredibly detailed. Even with the constant motion and fast paced movement were we able to make out the minute details like the braised cotton lining on Tracer’s leather jacket.
The one downside to the higher resolution display is that it is a bit dimmer. The FHD model registers at around 292 nits while the QHD panel sits at 257 nits. While brighter is better, the QHD surface still boasts flexible viewing angles. Colors and images hold up well past 90 degrees without any noticeable deterioration. The surface does suffer a bit more in direct lightning, though. 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 clear with an amplitude capable of filling a modest sized room with ease. 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.
Similar to other Lenovo laptops the X1 Carbon ships with Dolby Audio software preloaded. The software package offers a number of different presets for music, games, movies and voice chatting, along with a manual graphical equalizer for those that want more control. While the ability to fine tune your settings is always welcomed, NBR found the default settings more than suitable for your everyday use.
Keyboard and Touchpad
While Lenovo has altered or improved many of the elements that are distinctly “ThinkPad”, the one feature that still perfectly encapsulates the series is the X1 Carbon’s keyboard. The classic spill-resistant Chiclet island-style keyboard makes a return. The glossy black backlit keys are curved along the edges and dip inward to help grip the user’s fingers. Key travel is fantastic and feedback is instantaneous and forceful with keys immediately snapping back into place after being struck, making for a very enjoyable typing experience.
It just wouldn’t be a Lenovo ThinkPad if the keyboard didn’t house a bright red TrackPoint pointing stick. The braised nub sits just above the B key and offers consistent smooth control. In conjunction with the TrackPoint, Lenovo offers physical mouse buttons (right, left and middle) above the keyboard. The buttons allow for deep compression making them comfortable to use with any of your fingers or thumbs while manning the TrackPoint pointer.
Just below that is a modest sized black buttonless glass touchpad. The glass surface is surprisingly soft to the touch, offering minimal friction and allowing for smooth effortless travel. Equipped with Synaptic drivers the X1 Carbon’s touchpad reacts almost immediately with each swipe, multi-finger gesture or click responding almost immediately with the desired action.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2016 edition offers excellent performance with a 3GHz Intel Core i5-6300U CPU, 8GB of DDR3 RAM, Intel HD 520 integrated graphics and an insanely fast 256GB PCIe SSD. The unit that NBR tested isn’t currently available on Lenovo’s website but was listed on Amazon for $1,500 (at the time of this review). Lenovo offers a number of upgrade options, with up to 512GB of SSD storage, up to 16GB of DDR3 and up to Intel Core i7 vPro processors.
While the X1 Carbon wasn’t built for raw processing power it is a great machine for everyday tasks. The lightning fast PCIe SSD makes doing anything near instantaneous. Loading files and programs happen almost immediately and booting up only takes a few seconds. The Intel Core i5 GPU and 8GB of RAM make short work of everyday computing tasks such as web browsing and word processing. The laptop is also well suited to more demanding tasks such as complicated spreadsheet calculations. While testing the device NBR was able to run 10 Google Chrome tabs along with 2 HD video streams and listen to Spotify in the background without any noticeable drop in performance.
The one area where the X1 looks a bit weaker is in the graphics department. The lightweight integrated Intel HD 520 graphics are perfectly fine for video viewing and lightweight media editing, but the device will struggle to play demanding games or edit 4k videos. Consumers can expect to play less demanding game titles like League of Legends or Hearthstone at lowered graphical settings, but anything more than that will be too strenuous as evident by the machines lower 3DMark benchmark scores.
Technical specifications for our Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon review unit:
- Windows 10 Pro
- 14-inch QHD (2560 x 1440) display
- Intel core i5-6300U CPU 3GHz
- Intel HD Graphics 520
- 8GB of DDR3
- 256GB PCIe SSD
- Dimensions: 13.11 x 9.02 x 0.65-inches
- Weight: 2.6 pounds
- Price as configured:$1,500
GeekBench 3 processor comparison results (higher score means better performance):
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):
PCMark8 Work (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows for work-related productivity tasks (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark 11 is a benchmark that measures overall graphics card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance tests:
To test battery life, we used Futuremark’s PowerMark benchmark in balanced mode. The test consists of a combination of automated web browsing, word processing, gaming and video playback workloads. The test is far more strenuous than typical web browsing alone, measuring the machine under a litany of scenarios to better simulate high-stress usage. With the test being far more demanding the scores are understandably lower than what you’ll experience just checking Facebook or watching Netflix.
Powermark battery life benchmark test results listed in minutes (higher scores indicate longer battery life):
While this machine isn’t running a power-intensive GPU the QHD display does take its toll on the machine’s battery life. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon review unit ran for 3 hours and 34 minutes before shutting down. With Powermark being a bit more strenuous than typical everyday use, you can expect to get upwards of 6 hours on a single charge. If you’re willing to downgrade to the FHD model you can likely add a few hours on top of that as well.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2016 edition receives our Editor’s Choice Award for taking a product we already loved and making it only better.
The QHD display is simply gorgeous. It caught our eye the first time we booted the machine up and never stopped impressing. Add it the rich detailed audio and you have a business machine that excels with media, making the X1 the ideal travel companion for the road warrior who faces the occasional spouts of downtime. The thin 2.6-pound frame feels great and is durable enough to take the wear and tear of the road. Add in the powerful specs and you have the complete package.
The only thing we can really knock the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon for is its endurance. The battery life is decent, but there are better options out there for longevity such as the Dell XPS 13.
Simply put there are few sub 3-pound laptops that can compete with the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon.
- Gorgeous QHD display
- Market-leading keyboard
- Lightning quick SSD
- Lack of Ethernet and SD Card slot
- Mediocre endurance