Just in a few years the Chinese company Lenovo has consistently outgrown the worldwide PC market in unit shipments and gained market share across all geographies, products and customer segments, making it the fastest growing of the four major PC vendors. This manufacturer may not be considered tech royalty, but it’s definitely a blue blood. Having acquired IBM’s PC operations in 2003, Lenovo is now growing rapidly and winning market share in all parts of the world including Europe and the West.
A leader simply can’t afford to be behind other manufacturers in terms of modern concepts development, particularly the concept of an ultraportable notebook, or ultrabook, first introduced by Apple. So, the Lenovo’s refreshed version of the Thinkpad X1 laptop that comes in a carbon-fiber chassis has become one of the lightest and thinnest portable mobile PCs in its category, and is power-packed with innovation and inspiration to do business.
This 14-inch ultrabook features the cutting-edge technological solutions as to miniaturization and energy consumption techniques without performance compromise. Let’s look at the machine in greater detail.
Look and Feel
The new 14-inch Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is now much thinner than the original one, and has the cleanest design ever seen and a strikingly minimalist appearance with the front tapering to a sharper edge. All vents and gills are kept to a minimum. The matte-black chassis including the latch-free lid and internal roll cage is made of carbon fiber which delivers premium build quality and durability.
With the lid closed the X1 ultrabook measures just 0.71 inches at its thickest point (at the rear). It’s particularly remarkable that Intel’s official Ultrabook height (or thickness) requirements are that Ultrabooks with 13-inch (!) displays cannot exceed 0.71 inches in height.
So, featuring a 14-inch display, our reviewed ThinkPad fits into the footprint of an ultraportable 13-incher, which means this laptop is one of the thinnest ones on the market. Despite its feather-light weight (three pounds) and skinny silhouette, that carbon-fiber body never feels flimsy; moreover, the keyboard tray is extremely rigid (even for so-called “heavy-fingered” typists).
It’s also worth mentioning, that the Lenovo’s X1 machine is able to successfully pass various MIL-SPEC tests (thanks to its carbon-fiber case), proving it will survive humidity, drops, low/high temperatures, sand, altitude, mechanical shocks etc. conditions. X1 also excels with its hinge allowing the screen to tilt back until the ultrabook is completely flat.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The ThinkPad X1’s keyboard features an island-style arrangement with textured finger-friendly keys. With the goal to maintain comfort, accuracy, and tactile feedback in a keyboard design, Lenovo provided ample space between the keys and added a slightly convex curve at their bottom. Overall, the whole layout is really comfortable and responsive.
The keyboard is backlit, and there are two backlighting levels which can be fixed manually by holding the Fn key and pressing the space bar. So, the typing in dark and dimly-lit environments can also be comfortable and easy. The top of the keyboard is now home to the audio control buttons and the volume rocker. The black configurable ThinkVantage button sits next.
Lenovo has generously increased the surface area of the X1’s touchpad – it’s now 37 percent larger than that in the older X1 version. The touchpad’s glass surface makes it completely smooth and incredibly accurate, letting fingers slide without any resistance. Scrolling and various multi-touch gestures are well-handled and responsive here, so the user will not find any trouble with two-finger scrolling and telling the difference between left- and right-clicks, as well as four-finger application switching and pinch-zooming.
Display and Sound
The 14-inch ThinkPad X1 Carbon features a matte panel, ditching the glossy Gorilla Glass. With this updated version, Lenovo has wisely upped the resolution to 1,600×900 pixels in order to take advantage of the larger screen (its resolution is even higher than the 1,440×900 one of the 13.3-inch MacBook Air).
The X1’s brightness level is rated at 300 nits. In reality, the machine registers 290 lux, which is brighter than the MacBook Air’s 268 lux mark and the ultraportable average of 226. Viewing angles are adequate, but not perfect. Color shifting is more obvious from vertical line-of-sights than horizontal, however, that shouldn’t be a significant issue thanks to that fold-flat hinge which allows keeping the display perfectly aligned.
The most impressive improvement in terms of display quality lies in its contrast. Dark scenes and images appear now much more clearly with less grain and grays, scenes look sharp and detailed while colors are vibrant.
The bottom-mounted speakers provide tolerable audio quality for a thin business laptop, and are surprisingly loud to fill a small room. However, this is while placed on a harder surface. When setting the machine on anything soft (e.g. a pillow, the user’s lap etc.), the sound gets a bit muffled. But that’s usual with ultraportable laptops. The manufacturer included Dolby Home Theater v4 audio technology (tuned stereo speakers, headphone output and audio processing software) to enhance the user’s multimedia experience.
Overall, the audio performance is more than good for a basic video conference or webcast and also works fine for watching movies, especially while travelling.
Ports and Connectivity; Webcam
In order to make the X1 Carbon so thin, Lenovo had to reduce a few ports. Now the machine lacks a dedicated wired Ethernet port, instead offering integrated 3G cellular broadband (the SIM card slot is hidden behind a rubber door on the back edge of the X1 Carbon), which is quite annoying for some business users.
The notebook is equipped with Kensington Security Slot, a USB 3.0 port, Mini DisplayPort for video out, a 3.5mm headphone jack, an SD card reader, a USB 2.0 port, and the ThinkPad’s patented wireless switch, which instantly kills all transmitters and receivers in the machine to extend the battery life.
X1 Carbon’s 1.3-megapixel webcam provides incredibly sharp, bright images even in low-light conditions. When taking pictures (even in dark area), the features remain bright and well-defined. The bundled Lenovo Web conferencing software allows the user to exert fine control over the dual-array microphones and to configure them for single or multiple voices and enabling keyboard noise suppression.
Ivy Bridge chips are the only option for the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon ultrabook. There are three possible versions available: Intel Core i5-3317U CPU clocked at 1.7 GHz, Intel Core i5-3427U CPU clocked at 1.8 GHz or Intel Core i7-3667U CPU clocked at 2.0 GHz (all of them are 22 nm ULV processors).
Our review unit has the mid-range specification and comes powered by a 1.8GHz Core i5-3427U CPU with 3MB of L3 cache, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD and integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU. Featuring such specs, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon has all the power the user needs for performing computing tasks without any compromise.
On PCMark07, a benchmark that measures overall performance, the X1 Carbon scores 5,297, well above the 2,854 ultraportable average (it also beats the 13-inch MacBook Air and the ZenBook Prime UX31A). Compared to the previous generation X1 machine, the updated version’s PCMark Vantage scores about 50 percent higher thanks to Intel’s latest chips offering a huge boost over their 2011 predecessors.
The X1’s speedy 128GB SSD boots into Windows 7 in about 30 seconds, 12 seconds faster than the category average (though slower than the ZenBook Prime or Fujitsu LifeBook U772). It wakes from sleep in 2-3 seconds, which is typical for ultrabooks. This great performance is enhanced with Lenovo’s RapidResume and RapidConnect technologies.
In the File Transfer Test, the X1 Carbon copies 5GB of mixed-media files with the rate of 84.8 MBps, which is about 50 percent faster than the 56 MBps category average. When matching 20,000 names with their addresses in the Spreadsheet Macro Test, the ultrabook under discussion takes 5 minutes and 37 seconds, which is significantly faster than the 8:08 category average (but it’s slower than ThinkPad X230 or ASUS ZenBook Prime).
With its integrated Intel HD 4000 graphics, the X1 Carbon can handle HD video and casual games. However, its performance is not outstanding. On 3DMark11 (a synthetic graphics benchmark), Lenovo’s ultrabook scores 517 and that’s below the 750 category average and the MacBook Air’s 624.
In terms of battery life, the manufacturer claims up to six and a half hours of longevity for the X1 Carbon with its built-in battery. In the standard battery life test which consists of looping a movie with the brightness level set to 70 percent, Wi-Fi enabled, and Windows 7 set to the “balanced” power profile, the X1 delivered over five hours. Thanks to the Lenovo’s RapidCharge technology on X1 Carbon, about 70 percent of battery life can be added in just 30 minutes of charging, though a full charge will take another hour.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon comes with the standard package of Lenovo’s utilities: Enhanced Backup and Restore software, Lenovo Power Manager, Lenovo Web Conferencing application (allows the user to setup the dual-array microphones and the webcam), Lenovo Fingerprint software (for power-on authentication and cold boot with just one swipe), SimpleTap application (gives a finger-friendly grid of launching apps).
The built-in Lenovo’s Mobile Access utility allows for contract-free 3G and Mobile Hotspot to share internet connectivity with other devices. There’s also a link to a free trial of Microsoft Office.
In USA users can buy the reviewed configuration of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon at the best price of $1,310. However, there are more buying choices with the best price starting at $1,200. Upgrading to 256GB in solid-state storage will add $200 more. The entry-level model with a modest 1.7GHz Core i5-3317U CPU goes for sale at about $1,270. The most advanced X1 model configured with 2 GHz Core i7-3667U CPU retails with the price points starting at $1.750.