ThinkPad X1 Carbon Design

There is no mistaking the ThinkPad X1 Carbon for what it is. It is a ThinkPad. If you have never been a fan of the look of a ThinkPad, you likely will not like this one either, but for those that prefer the understated look, they will be happy to see the traditional look and feel. There is no flashy lights or bright colors available. Just matte black. The only “bling” at all is the red LED used as the dot on the “I” of ThinkPad, and it glows red when the device is on and flashes softly when it is sleeping. The rest of the device is very understated. Clearly that design philosophy has done well for the ThinkPad line, since they have built over one hundred million of them now.

The matte texture is great to hold on to, and you never feel like you are going to have it slip out of your hand. It actually has a tiny bit of metal flecks in the finish though so up close it looks really good. This same finish is everywhere on the device, and it seems fairly resistant to fingerprints, however when you do get fingerprints on it, they do not come off as easy as something with a gloss coating would.

The body of the X1 Carbon is not quite the thinnest out there, but it is close. At just 17.7 mm thick, it is the thinnest ThinkPad made. The build quality is top notch, with no creaks or gaps. That is not exactly true though, since there is one gap. The rear of the device has a gap between the display and chassis. The beveled edge on the display allows the display to open up all the way to 180° without binding on the chassis, or without the display lifting the rear of the laptop up. On the underside, there is also a beveled edge on all of the sides which are for airflow and act as a spot for the speakers.

On the left side we find the majority of the ports, with the power and docking station port at the display end, the HDMI and mini DisplayPort next, a USB 3.0 port, and the headset jack closest to the front. On the right side the ports are a lot more sparse, with just a USB 3.0 port and an Ethernet extender port. Like most Ultrabooks, the X1 Carbon is not thick enough for a full Ethernet port, so Lenovo has a handy adapter cable to do this duty. I appreciate the integrated Ethernet adapter capability, but this could have likely been easily supplanted with a third USB port. For those that need a more dedicated Ethernet solution for the office, the optional docking connectors would likely be a better option. On the back of the X1 Carbon is the slot for the optional SIM card, for those that opt for the LTE version. If you will notice, I did not mention a SD card slot on this laptop, which is something that I use quite a bit to transfer images from a camera, so the lack of it was missed on this notebook.

Opening up the device we get a look at the display, and in the unit shipped it is the 2560x1440 model with touch. I will get into the display characteristics later on, but the bezels are nicely proportioned, and the glass cover continues on almost right to the edge. Looking at the deck of the X1 Carbon we see a couple of things that are not on every device. First is the integrated fingerprint reader, which makes the process of logging in so simple that you wish all devices had one. It can also be used to authenticate at boot time, and with the advent of Windows Hello, this laptop should be well suited for Windows 10. The other noticeable change is the TrackPoint which is front and center (literally) and in bright red it can’t be missed.

So let’s talk about the TrackPoint, and the keyboard overall. Last year, Lenovo made some big changes to the keyboard and TrackPoint. They replaced the Function keys with a row of Adaptive keys, which could be changed depending on what was being used, and the TrackPoint buttons were integrated into the trackpad. Luckily for Lenovo, the lead time for notebook design is not as long as something like a car, or even a CPU. They made some pretty major changes to the keyboard and TrackPoint last year, and although I did not use one, feedback I have heard was not positive. Lenovo clearly heard that as well, so for 2015 the TrackPoint dedicated buttons are back, as is the function keys at the top. The other oddities with the 2014 keyboard have also been reversed, so the Home and End key are now in the function row rather than replacing the Caps Lock key. The Fn key is back in order to operate the various options on the function row too. The keyboard layout is very traditional again, and although I appreciate new ideas, the move back to the normal keyboard is even more appreciated.

And what a keyboard it is. ThinkPads have long been known to have great keyboards, and the X1 Carbon is no exception. All of the keys are slightly dished on top, and the amount of resistance when typing is good. Considering how thin these Ultrabooks are, it is always impressive when they can get the keyboard right. Lenovo has also sent me the ThinkPad T450s, and that is a thicker more traditional business notebook, and I would say that the keyboard on the T450s is better than the X1 Carbon, but the Carbon is still very good. I took the X1 Carbon to Microsoft’s Build conference, and it was easily up to the challenge of live blogs and pipeline posts.

The other thing I love on the ThinkPads is the TrackPoint. I have already mentioned how the physical buttons are back this year, and it works so well. For those that have not had a chance to use a TrackPoint (other companies also offer these pointing sticks too) it is a great mouse interface for a notebook. Some people prefer trackpads, but I prefer the accuracy and convenience of having the pointing device right where my hands are when typing. It also requires a lot less movement to get around the screen. Scrolling is very easy since you can just hold the center button and scroll at any speed you want.

For those that prefer a trackpad, the X1 Carbon has a good one of those as well. Some of the space is taken up by the TrackPoint buttons, but it is still a reasonable size. The top of it is glass, so sliding your fingers around is no issue. It is driven by Synaptics drivers, so you have full settings on one to four finger gestures. The main one I use is the two finger scrolling and it was nice and responsive. I still prefer the TrackPoint, but for those that prefer a trackpad, they should not be disappointed.

The X1 Carbon is thin, light, and very portable. It is very much a ThinkPad, but that is not a bad thing if you like the muted design. The build quality is great, and the choice of materials should make it very durable.

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  • close - Friday, May 22, 2015 - link

    Samus, Lenovo used the IBM logo on T60 an T61 even though they weren't IBM anymore. Probably because the chassis was built in the same machines and according to the same plans and they had the shape cut out for the IBM logo. In 2007 the T61/p were being built also without the IBM logo and used a ThinkPad logo. But that was it. T61 had the last of the IBM logos in 2007.
  • Samus - Friday, May 22, 2015 - link

    I understand and agree with you. It's CasualUker that seems to think there are IBM "imprints" on the T430's. LOL.
  • close - Friday, May 22, 2015 - link

    CasualUker: the last one IBM made under their own name was the T43/T43p. T60 was already a Lenovo affair. Ok, they were probably riding on a lot of IBM knowhow, designs and everything but to be honest it was all downhill from there. I'm not saying they're the worst, they're still among the OK ones, just that the general level of quality and reliability has constantly dropped.
    I have a running T43. It's 2015 and it's still running. I had two R31 and R32 that ran until a few years ago. Also a running X200 (3 generations after lenovo took over). Had some issues but still running. After that I couldn't get a laptop to run fine for more than 3 years. And I work in a company that buys thousands of Lenovos X, T and W every year, generation after generation. Reliability is down. I have no expectations from a ThinkPad anymore.
  • sorten - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    I have to agree. Thinkpads were brilliant laptops when IBM owned the brand. I had a T20 for years. Our company started using the T440s about a year ago. I'm on my second laptop after the MB failed on the first one, and my touchscreen has stopped working. I'm going BYOD with a Surface Pro 4 as soon as it's available.
  • Daniel Egger - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    Totally agree, I've had IBM Thinkpads for many years before I move everything to Apple. A couple of years ago I made the horrible mistake to buy a Lenovo Thinkpad; unusable trackpad and trackpoint is often erratic, soft controlled radio functions sometimes can be activated and other times needed a reboot, locked down BIOS to only support Lenovo branded cards in the two mini-PCIe slots, screen easily cracks due to bogus frame and design and claims from Lenovo that a laptop is not made to be transported around -- service is horrible as well.

    Nowadays I see them for what they are: always the cheapest and as usual you get what you pay for...
  • tuxRoller - Friday, May 22, 2015 - link

    For the enterprise, their service has been pretty great.
    Very fast response times, and prompt deliveries (had to replace a keyboard and battery, but for two different lappys).
    I do wish they'd up their quality, though, b/c, as you say, aspects of their assembly leave room to be desired.
    For linux support, however, they are the only real option. Yeah, you can hack it onto a mac (lots of folks do), but you're at the mercy of mathew garrett to fix the issues at that point.
  • DukeN - Friday, May 22, 2015 - link


    Lenovo apologist here - we've bought over around a hundred or so Thinkpad units since late 2007, and have yet to retire one. There were only two that needed a repair (under warranty), and the only other issues we have had til date have been due to keys ravaged or physical damage.

    Also, LOL @ the guy citing some guy's IT business closing down because of poor Lenovo service
  • Samus - Friday, May 22, 2015 - link

    Do a quick google search into corporate fallout from Superfish before you "LOL" a lot of people irrationally overreacted costing a lot of IT departments their jobs for "putting companies in danger."

    It was utterly ridiculous, but not really surprising considering how unprofessional of an organization Lenovo is. They are a consumer company, not an enterprise company. Think Ideapad, not Thinkpad. Huge difference. The fact they created the unholy offspring Thinkpad E-series to replace the budget R-series (the E-series is Ideapad internals) then created the joke that is the X100 series that have literally no Thinkpad technologies (Thinklight, Trackpoint, TPM, magnesium...) just goes to show Lenovo is willing to sell anything at any price in any disguise.
  • carbonx1_is-the-worst - Friday, May 22, 2015 - link

    agree - worst customer service. tons of problems. tons of costs. i am switching to apple.
  • Mumrik - Saturday, May 23, 2015 - link

    My mother buys herself a new Thinkpad every year through her company. Through 4-6 years she has yet to have one last the whole year without the battery, keyboard or pointing device (last year of course) breaking down.

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