You may remember the original Lenovo ThinkPad X1. It was Lenovo’s first attempt at bringing a super-slim, streamlined aesthetic to its famous ThinkPad line, and it wasn’t quite a success. Despite being sleek and offering high-end features, the laptop wasn’t actually all that slim or light, its battery life was poor, its glass screen reflective, and its connectivity slightly awkward. With the X1 Carbon, Lenovo is looking to fix all that, and finally provide lovers of MacBook Air-like Ultrabooks a worthy ThinkPad entrant.
If you’re unfamiliar with the ThinkPad line, they’re basically some of the nicest-feeling and most rugged devices around. Thanks in large part to their IBM heritage, ThinkPad laptops offer the best mobile typing experience around and are stuffed with powerful features and extensive connectivity. Their soft-touch yet hard-wearing finish generally makes them a pleasure to handle and carry around, while their edgy black looks give them a great ‘Executive’ vibe.
Unlike its 13-inch X1 predecessor, the X1 Carbon is a 14inch laptop, yet it manages to be considerably slimmer and lighter, at 1.4kg. That’s no mean achievement, especially given its powerful innards of up to a Core i7 processor with 8GB of RAM, but it’s mainly thanks to a carbon-fibre chassis (hence the name) and the lack of glass. The all-new, large touchpad is a welcome improvement, but the ergonomics and extras we know and love from the ThinkPad line are all present too, including a fantastic backlit keyboard, fingerprint scanner, TPM, optional 3G, V-Pro, matt high-resolution display, TrackPoint and more.
Frankly, the Carbon makes its X1 predecessor look fat. It’s only 19mm thin at its thickest point, which compares favourably with the original X1’s 21mm and the likewise 14-inch HP Envy 14 Spectre Ultrabook, which is 20mm across without tapering. The Carbon tapers quite aggressively, however, and to very nice effect.
As with every other ThinkPad, the X1 Carbon comes in black with subtle red highlights. However – just like with the X1 - the somewhat discordant blue that was also used on older models has been left by the wayside to give this Ultrabook a more coherent design. Prominent branding aside, this Ultrabook is almost on a level with the likes of the Samsung Series 9 900X3B when it comes to looks.
But the Carbon doesn’t just look great, it feels great too. Except for its screen bezel, the laptop’s entirety is coated in a soft-touch finish that makes it a pleasure to touch and carry while providing a secure grip. As proven by many previous ThinkPads with this same finish, it’s also very durable, and doesn’t pick up scratches or marks easily.
Build quality is another area where ThinkPads have a well-deserved excellent reputation. Obviously a carbon-fibre chassis is never going to feel as solid as a unibody aluminium one, but that doesn’t necessarily make it less rugged. In fact, Lenovo claims its composite chassis is just as tough, and you only need to check out the Panasonic Toughbook CF-19 if you’re not convinced that plastic can be far more durable than metal.
Inevitably connectivity has been a little compromised due to the slimness of this ThinkPad Ultrabook, with the most notable casualty being a Gigabit Ethernet jack. Though this can of course be added using a USB adapter (and Lenovo will include one for £12), we would have liked to see one in the box.
On the left we start off with a completely redesigned, slim power port that looks a lot like a USB port. This is followed by an play-and-charge USB 2.0 port, and wireless switch. On the right there’s a full-size SDXC card slot, headphone/microphone jack, mini DisplayPort with audio and USB 3.0 port. Wireless options include Wi-Fi N, Bluetooth 4.0 and 3g/wireless broadband, the latter of which is still a rarity on laptops.
For video chatting there’s a 720p webcam with decent quality footage and dual array microphones for clear audio all housed in the screen’s bezel.