The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is more of like a painting. It doesn’t change much, but every time you go back there, you’ll find something new to look at. And in the laptop world, the X1 Carbon is a masterpiece. With a thin and lightweight yet durable chassis, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is an excellent option for business users who travel a lot. But the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is not just a business notebook. And today, we are here with our ThinkPad X1 Carbon Review.
We don’t hesitate to recommend this machine to ordinary consumers who will appreciate the bright, vibrant 14-inch display, great battery life, reliable performance, and impeccable build quality of the laptop. If you can afford the hefty price, there are few or no laptops as suitable as the X1 Carbon.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon Review – Design
Slim, lightweight, durable, and attractive – the ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s compact chassis controls all the right boxes. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is virtually unchanged, and therefore as stunning as last year’s model and has a minimalist aesthetics created by clean surfaces, smooth lines, and stylish branding. Of course, you’ll still get all the iconic design elements expected of a ThinkPad, but in a modern, ultra-portable chassis of carbon fiber and magnesium. Yes, Lenovo could shorten the display edges or add some chic chrome, but it’s 2019, and the ThinkPad X1’s largely unmodified chassis is still a miracle.
The cover of the X1 Carbon features a stylish X1 logo and ThinkPad brand with the “i” illuminated in red. Open the lid, and you’ll find two loudspeaker grilles on the deck, a pinch point, curved keys, and red paint on the touchpad buttons. Interestingly, Lenovo has moved the X1 Carbon’s power button to the right for those who use the closed-covered laptop in the dock. The button is less accessible in this different location, although I understand why this change was made.
One of the few extras to this year’s model is an optional cover with a carbon fiber fabric, which is designed to highlight the laptop’s carbon materials visually. While the lid’s lozenge patterns look great, I found it pretty easy to scratch — a ring that my colleague inadvertently scraped against the lid left a permanent mark. The plain black lid has given better stain protection.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon contains a wide range of ports for such a thin laptop. On the left are Thunderbolt 3 ports (two), an Ethernet port, a Type-A USB 3.1 port, an HDMI 1.4 port, and a headphone/microphone jack. On the right, you will find another USB 3.1 Type-A port and a Kensington lock. Devices with a mobile connection have a WWAN card slot on the back. Unfortunately, Lenovo sold off the microSD card slot of the X1 Carbon, so photographers and videographers will have to buy an adapter.
Keyboard and TouchPad
Sometimes doing nothing is the best thing, as is the case with the always excellent keyboard of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The chiclet-like keys are still as clicky as ever and offer a surprising amount of key travel. They also have excellent tactile feedback, although some may find them a little too heavy. I also love how the curved keys have adapted to my fingers and how the soft-touch deck on my wrists felt when I typed this review.
My only problem with the keyboard is Lenovo’s insistence on flipping the Ctrl and Fn keys. I often found myself on the Fn key when using Windows 10 keyboard shortcuts such as Ctrl+C for copying.
Equipped with Windows 10 Precision drivers, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s 3.9 x 2.2-inch touchpad responded quickly to my swipe movements, and I immediately performed pinch-to-zoom and three-finger whip movements. My fingers also appreciate the pleasant soft-touch coating. Above the keyboard, there are three discreet buttons – a left, right, and the center button to scroll when using Lenovo’s red Trackpoint. I didn’t have any trouble using the divider rubber studs to surf the web without ever lifting my hands off the keyboard.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon Review – Display
We’ve focused on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s 1080p and 4K display options, both of which are bright and vibrant. I enjoyed the Jumanji trailer: The Next Level on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s 14-inch, 1080p display from the base. The panel was sharp enough to catch the stubble of Danny DeVito’s beard and the veins of Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson’s muscular arms. Also, the colors looked nice: The lush jungle was a lively green, Kevin Hart’s foolish red handkerchief stood out against the desert, and the saturated orange tones of an explosion broke out in the night sky.
But I forgot the 1080p panel when I saw the beautiful 4K display. The 4K display is remarkably brighter, sharper, and much more vibrant than the Full-HD option. Everything looked much more saturated and lively on the 4K display, from the blue and red of a monkey’s face to the burnt orange tones in Karen Gillan’s hair, which looks brown on the FHD panel.
Unfortunately, the 4K panel is gleaming, so reflections are very striking in bright conditions. That said, you’ll be better off with the matte panel if you’re planning on using the ThinkPad X1 Carbon outdoors. According to our colorimeter, the 1080p panel on the X1 Carbon covers 109% of the sRGB color gamut, while the 4K screen reproduces 144%. That makes the 1080p screen quite less colorful than the 1080p (126%) and 4K (119%) options of the Dell XPS 13 and the 4K display of the SX14 (113%) and the 1080p screen of EliteBook x360 1040 G5 (120%). The 4K screen of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is more vibrant than those panels and the average of the premium laptop (132%).
The 1080p (336 nits) and 4K (432 nits) displays of the ThinkPad X1 both get a lot of light. The 1080p (357 nits) of the Dell XPS 13’s 1080p (357 nits) and 4K UHD displays (375 nits), along with the panels on the Vaio SX14 (428 nits) and HP EliteBook x360 1040 G5 (340 nits), are among those measurements, as is the average of the premium laptop (345 nits).
A shortcoming of the 6th Gen X1 Carbon was the fact that the small speakers of the 6th Gen X1 Carbon did not work correctly. Lenovo had a thought on this and added two top-firing speakers on the deck of the new model.
I am happy to tell you that the four speakers of the 7th Gen X1 Carbon produce loud, powerful audio. When I played the Coldplay’s “The Scientist,” Chris Martin’s voice sounded crisp clear, and the piano-driven ballad remained balanced when the drums and electric guitar arrived. Best of all, the speakers quickly filled a medium space, and my tunes were never distorted, even when I put them at the highest volume level.
But there is still room for improvement. The speakers produced only a slight kick when I listened to Swae Lee’s bass-heavy song, “Sunflower.” More disturbing were the hollow, distant vocals on this song. Luckily I could use the EQ settings in the Dolby Atmos Speaker Settings app to make the midrange more present.
Relying on Intel’s integrated UHD 620 graphics, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is not intended for gaming or GPU intensive programs. Of course, you can play some basic games on the X1 Carbon, but anything beyond that needs a discrete GPU. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon didn’t do so well on our graphical benchmark tests. With a score of 81,350, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon was cut out with a score of 81,350 by the XPS 13 (88,473), the SX14 (82,254), the EliteBook x360 1040 G5 (88,501) and the average category (90,707).
Our Dirt 3 gaming benchmark test stumped the X1 Carbon, which played the racing game at only 31 fps. It’s a frame above our 30-fps playability average, but still too little of what the Dell XPS 13 (55 fps), Vaio SX14 (33 fps) and HP EliteBook x360 1040 G5 (62 fps) have achieved, and far from being close to the premium laptop category average (64 fps).
ThinkPad X1 Carbon Review – Performance
Lenovo plans to bring the new 10th generation of Intel CPUs to the ThinkPad X1 Carbon in early 2020. Until then, the 7th Gen X1 Carbon will be powered by the Intel’s 8th Gen CPU. We had the opportunity to test two models: one with an Intel Core i5-8265U CPU and 8GB RAM, and one with an Intel Core i7-8665U with vPro and 16GB RAM.
Both the models performed well under my daily workload, but the base model started to slow down when I loaded 20 Google Chrome tabs with four 1080p YouTube videos running in the background. That inertia was explained by 92% memory usage, almost all of which was eaten by Chrome. If you are a multitasker who, like me, has trouble managing tabs, we recommend you to upgrade to 16GB RAM (our Core i7, 16GB RAM model has the same workload without hiccups).
The base X1 Carbon scored 15,649 on the Geekbench 4 overall performance test, while the Core i7 model scored 16,545. Those results come on top of what the Dell XPS 13 (14.936, Core i7-8565U), Vaio SX14 (14.887, Core i7-8565U), and the HP EliteBook x360 1040 G5 (14.331, Core i7-8565U) scored. The premium laptop category average is 16,104.
The 256GB SSD in the basic ThinkPad X1 Carbon model has converted 4.97GB of multimedia files in 12 seconds at a speed of 424.1 megabytes per second, which is slightly slower than the 512GB SSD in the Intel Core i7 version, which did it in 10 seconds at a transfer rate of 508.9 MBps. These are not bad times, but they do fall into the average category (512.8 MBps) and what the Vaio SX14 (727 MBps) and the HP EliteBook x360 1040 G5 (727 MBps) have achieved.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon Review – Battery Life
The lifetime of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon battery depends mostly on the model you choose. The 1080p version has excellent endurance and lasts for 9 hours and 30 minutes with our battery test, where we continuously surf the web via Wi-Fi with 150 nits. That’s the best of the SX14 (4:27) and EliteBook x360 1040 G5 (8:59) but is a few hours short of the XPS 13 (12:22) with a 1080p display and Core i3 CPU. As expected, the battery life will be a huge blow when you upgrade to the 4K panel. With only 5 hours and 33 minutes of endurance, the 4K ThinkPad X1 Carbon was alone on top of the SX14 and was long before the 4K XPS 13 (7:50) and EliteBook x360 1040 G5 were switched off.
Thin laptops can heat up under heavy workloads, but the ThinkPad X1 Carbon has kept it’s cool. After playing a 1080p YouTube video for 15-minutes, the Carbon’s touchpad remained on a comfortable 80 degrees Fahrenheit while the center of the keyboard had a peak of 95 degrees. Only the bottom panel of both the 4K and 1080p models has exceeded our 95-degree comfort threshold of 95 degrees, with peaks of 100 and 101 degrees, respectively.
Price and Configuration Options
We have the basic model ThinkPad X1 Carbon, which costs $1,463 and comes with a 1080p display, a Core i5-8265U CPU, 8GB RAM, and a 256GB M.2 PCIe NVMe SSD storage. For $1,697, you’ll get a model with a Full-HD (1080p) display, an Intel’s Core i7-8565U CPU, 16GB RAM, and a 256GB SSD. From there, you can double your storage space to 512GB for another $159, or, if you are an IT manager, upgrade to the Core i7-8665U with vPro for $227.
The price jumps up when you upgrade the display to the Ultra-HD 4K option. Our review unit with a 4K display, Intel Core i7-8665U (with vPro) CPU, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD is not available, but a top-of-the-line model with the same specifications but with a 1TB SSD costs $2,562.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon Review – Conclusion
Whether you are a businessman or an ordinary user, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is an excellent choice. The latest version of Lenovo’s flagship ultraportable features a super lightweight chassis that is as durable as it is beautiful. Both the 4K and 1080p display options are bright and vibrant, and the X1 Carbon is powerful enough to let anything you throw at it work, as long as it doesn’t require discrete graphics. Battery life is also suitable as long as you choose the 1080p display instead of the short-lived 4K option.
Despite all this praise, this ThinkPad X1 Carbon probably doesn’t deserve to be bought. At least, not today. Lenovo has announced that it will bring the 10th generation Intel’s CPUs to its newest flagship ThinkPads. The new chips are expected to give a nice performance boost on top of Wi-Fi 6 and integrated Thunderbolt 3 support.
If you can’t wait until then, don’t worry – the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a decent business laptop that you can buy right now.
Lenovo's 7th Gen ThinkPad X1 Carbon's 7th ThinkPad X1 Carbon's lightweight and durable design, beautiful display, long battery life, and comprehensive security features make it the best business laptop on the market.
- Attractive, lightweight design
- Best-in-class keyboard
- Long battery life
- Bright, vivid display options
- Improved speakers
- 4K model has a short battery life
- No microSD card slot
- Top configs get pricey