“The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is an upgrade to an already excellent laptop, adding a truly lovely display into the fold.”
- Solid and attractive ThinkPad build
- Gorgeous 4K display with HDR
- Excellent keyboard and touchpad
- Solid connectivity
- Impressive sound quality
- No touch support
- Display kills battery life
I’ve always recognize the ThinkPad’s allure — its build quality, business acumen, conservative good looks — and so the line’s loyal following has never been a surprise. But this version of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon — the 7th generation — is the first one where I personally got it.
Lenovo sent me a top-end configuration with a Core i7-8665U CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB PCIe solid-state drive (SSD), and a 4K display that I liked almost as much as the AMOLED display on some other recent competing laptops. More on that display later, because it’s a winner. This configuration runs a significant $2,260. You can spend “only” $1,463 to buy a 1080p display that I’m sure is also very good, while dropping the specs a bit to a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD.
Those are premium prices, no doubt, and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon has a reputation to live up to. So, how does it do?
The most refined ThinkPad, ever
The X1 Carbon makes a great first impression, largely thanks to how it feels in hand. It’s solid, light, and aesthetically streamlined, without any extraneous lines or angles or cutouts. That’s funny coming from me, whose overall favorite laptop design remains the gem-cut HP Spectre x360 line with its complex design. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon doesn’t do anything extra to draw attention to itself — it just maintains the same black frame with a few red accents that scream “ThinkPad!” without making a sound. Actually, I’ll amend that — the version I’m reviewing with the 4K display has a carbon-fiber pattern on the lid that adds some elegance. That simple touch might be why the laptop’s appearance grabbed me from the get-go.
And the ThinkPad X1 Carbon feels solid and comfortable in hand as well, which makes for an excellent combination. It has that soft-touch surface that makes the ThinkPad line — or most of it, anyway, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga with its aluminum chassis aside — so inviting. It’s made of the usual magnesium alloy mixed with carbon-fiber that gives it a lightweight solidity. It’s MIL-STD-810g tested, as always, and while the lid does bend a little under pressure, it still exudes an impression of durability that assures you this thing will take whatever you throw at it and give you a little back. The usual spill-resistant keyboard is on also on hand.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is lightweight at 2.4 pounds — just slightly lighter than the 6th-gen version and very light for a 14-inch laptop. It’s also 0.58 inches thin, which is also a millimeter thinner than before. And that comes with some compromises — more on that later. But compared to some other business laptops, like the Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1, it’s plenty thin and light. Unlike the Dell, though, the ThinkPad doesn’t have particularly small bezels, and so it’s not as small in overall dimensions. But trust me — you won’t be straining anything when you carry this laptop around.
And you won’t sacrifice connectivity, either. On the right-hand side of the laptop, you’ll find two USB-C 3.1 ports with Thunderbolt 3 support, one sitting next to an Ethernet extension (you’ll need to buy the appropriate dongle, however), a USB-A 3.1 Gen 1 port, a full-size HDMI 1.4b port, and an audio jack. Flip the laptop around and you’ll find a second USB-A 3.1 port. An Intel Wireless-AC 9560 chip provides 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 5.0.
It looks and sounds as classy as it feels
To match the ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s gorgeous chassis is a lovely 4K UHD display. It’s not just any old IPS display, mind you. First, it’s very bright at 445 nits, which is close to the rated 500 nits. It has wider colors than the average premium laptop, sporting 81 percent of the AdobeRGB color space. The display is also 4K Dolby Vision compliant with a full 10-bit color panel and great support for HDR.
In real-life use, the display is bright and colorful, without being oversaturated. It’s great for work, though according to our colorimeter, the color accuracy isn’t quite up to snuff for photographers and video editors. You’ll want to look at some other laptops such as the OLED Dell XPS 15 or the MacBook Pro 15 for a truly color-accurate display and AdobeRGB coverage well over 90 percent.
The X1 Carbon makes a great first impression.
Watching Netflix is also a treat thanks to the Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) support that works as well as almost any laptop I’ve used. My test for HDR streaming in Windows 10 is the Netflix show Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which has a number of incredibly dark scenes that are impossible to see on most laptops. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon, at least with this display, does a remarkable job of showing all of the detail in those dark scenes. It’s no OLED display, but it gets the job done.
You’ll enjoy the audio experience as well. Lenovo completely redesigned the sound system, building in four Dolby Atmos speakers with two tweeters firing up from beneath the display and two woofers firing down. The design puts out tons of volume with minimal distortion, crisp highs, and competent mids, and there’s even some bass to add some atmosphere to action movies. You can adjust the audio using a simple utility, and while audiophiles will always prefer their favorite headphones, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s sound is good enough for playing just about anything else.
It’s a ThinkPad, so you know the keyboard is good
ThinkPad keyboards are among the best around, and that’s been true for quite some time now. They’re not my favorites — that accolade goes to the keyboards HP uses on its Spectre laptops — but they’re right up there with my personal bests. They have sculpted keys that are incredibly comfortable, a fairly standard layout (except for reversing the Fn and Ctrl keys, which is a bother), and they have deep, snappy mechanisms that offer an almost unparalleled level of precision. If you’re a fast typist, you’ll almost universally love them.
The 7th-gen ThinkPad X1 Carbon does take a small step back in this regard, though. One of the compromises I hinted at earlier due to the thinner chassis is that the keyboard is slightly shallower this time around. It still has more travel than many keyboards in thin-and-light laptops, but it’s not quite as deep and satisfying as the keyboard on previous generations. It’s unlikely to hold you back, but if you’re looking for the best ThinkPad keyboard around, this one isn’t it.
As usual, there are two ways to control the cursor. The iconic ThinkPad TrackPoint nubbin is right there in the middle of the keyboard, along with two buttons at the top of the touchpad. That takes away some space from the touchpad itself, but it’s no great loss. The touchpad is large enough and as a Microsoft Precision laptop has reliable and precise support for the full gamut of Windows 10 multitouch gestures. The configured display doesn’t support touch, though, which is a disappointment.
Windows 10 Hello support is provided by both a match-on-sensor fingerprint reader that’s been enhanced for the 7th-gen with hardware acceleration for faster login and extra security features to make it harder to spoof. There’s also an infrared camera for facial recognition, and it’s good that the fingerprint reader is available because if you use the ThinkShutter privacy slider then you’ll lose the ability to login with just your face.
It’s not the fastest laptop, though
My review unit was equipped with an Intel 8th-gen quad-core Core i7-8665U CPU, which is the fastest of that generation’s U-series CPUs and offers the business-friendly vPro capability that can tie into enterprise management solutions. I was expecting the ThinkPad X1 Carbon to be a quick performer, but according to our benchmarks, the laptop was instead a bit slower than average. Geekbench 4, in particular, has it well behind the pack, scoring up to 25 percent less than, e.g., the Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1 with the same chip.
Then, when I ran our Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB clip to H.265, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon once again fell behind the pack. It took 284 seconds to complete the test, compared to the Dell that took just 258 seconds. Note that the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a very quiet laptop, and its chassis doesn’t get too warm, which might help explain why performance is a bit throttled.
I won’t spend any time discussing gaming performance. Suffice it to say that with this laptop’s Intel UHD 620 integrated graphics, you’ll want to limit your gaming to casual Steam titles only.
Don’t misunderstand me — this laptop was more than fast enough to serve as my primary portable device during my testing, and most people will be perfectly happy with its performance over the long term. There’s even a refresh coming up with 10th-gen Intel CPUs that should help speed things up as well.
Where’d my battery go?
Finally, we get to battery life. Another of the compromises from making the 7th-gen ThinkPad X1 Carbon a tiny bit thinner was apparently its battery capacity — this version has 51 watt-hours versus the previous version’s 57 watt-hours. Toss in that lovely (and power-hungry) 4K display, and all I can say is: This isn’t an all-day laptop.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon managed only around six and a half hours on our web browsing battery test.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon managed only around six and a half hours on our web browsing test and seven and a half hours running our local test video — and the 4K display is clearly the culprit here. That doesn’t bode well for being able to spend an entire working day without a charger, and it’s behind many other recent laptops. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon line has never been a battery life champion, and so if longevity matters to you then you’ll want to be sure to pick a different display to squeeze out as many minutes as possible.
As I said at the beginning of this review, this is the first ThinkPad that I’d buy with my own money. It has some stiff competition for sure — I still love HP’s Spectre lineup, and Lenovo’s 2nd-gen ThinkPad X1 Extreme is looking pretty hot with its OLED display — but I do get why some people will put this laptop on their shortlist. It’s well-built, feels great in hand, and evokes a ton of confidence that it’ll be ready to go to work whenever you are.
Is there a better alternative?
There are a host of business-class laptops to choose from, and while the ThinkPad might be the most iconic, it’s not necessarily the best. If you want a 2-in-1 with spectacular battery life and a solid build of its own, then the Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1 is a compelling option at just about the same price point. Lenovo’s own ThinkPad X1 Extreme is another option, with better performance and some spectacular 15.6-inch display options. You could also go the consumer route and choose a laptop like the Dell XPS 13 if you don’t need a full 14 inches.
How long will it last?
I’ve talked enough about the ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s build quality to make this one obvious: It’ll last for as long as you need it to, and then a few years longer. This is a business-class laptop and so we’d expect better than the included one-year warranty, but Lenovo has plenty of business-oriented support upgrades available.
Should you buy it?
Yes. The only caveat is to be careful with your display selection if battery life is important to you.