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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  • Brett Howse - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    No I don't think so :) But if you do need to be able to run one over, you could get one of these
  • fokka - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    i agree with most things here. 4gb of RAM isn't acceptable in an ultrabook of the thinkpad brand in 2015 and neither is a TN panel. at least the days of 900p displays are over now and i prefer the 1440p display with rgb stripe to 1800p panels using some kind of pentile matrix.

    still, for a "professional"-grade ultrabook, which might also be used outside the office, the display is much too dim. under 300nits is a bad showing imho and with ever more efficient displays and LEDs, i would like to see more models approaching the 400nits-mark, instead of struggling to get 300.

    i'm also wary of the 128gb starting config, if you ask me there should only be options from 256gb-1tb, but i guess you got to meet the lower price points somehow as well.

    i'm glad lenovo came to their minds in regard to the function keys and the track pad buttons, but while they improved battery life, it still is mediocre at best. i think 50wh in a 14-inch form factor that is neither especially thin, nor has remarkably thin bezels is simply too little. 60wh would be much nicer, offering 20% more runtime, and looking how dell stuffs 52wh inside the "miniscule" xps13, 60wh should be manageable on the x1.

    regarding I/O the options could be better too. two usb3 ports is the bare minimum i would expect from a thinkpad and opting for a dedicated ethernet extender port doesn't seem like the greatest idea, if you could reach the same goal with another usb port plus ethernet adapter. using usb type-c would be even better for that and you could use it for the docking port as well.

    in the end it is a nice and fast machine, that's not cheap when configured properly, that is a big step up from the last iteration (but how could it not be?), but with some mediocre scores when it comes to display and runtime.
    for the money one can spend on a higher end x1 i would at least like to see those two main flaws sorted out, otherwise it is a quite nice machine.
  • meacupla - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    Lenovo always lags behind others when it comes to panels offered.
    It's like they are purposefully obtuse about upgrading product lines to newer hardware, or are trying to make more money by skimping on their top tier products.

    I really don't know of any other 'reputable' company that does this with their high end products.
  • edzieba - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    The dock you have pictured is the regular OneLink dock. The OneLink Pro dock has a DVI port in place of the HDMI, adds an extra DisplayPort output, and adds a pair of USB3 ports on the rear.
  • Brett Howse - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    Fixed sorry about that!
  • Essence_of_War - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    RAM is soldered down, but is the SSD soldered to the logic board also, or is that potentially end-user replaceable?
  • Kristian Vättö - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    The SSD is replaceable, that's how I got early access to the Samsung SM951 in the laptop ;-)
  • Essence_of_War - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    Good to know that drive failures can be addressed in-the-field!
  • Michael Bay - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    I think Lenovo and bad display panels now are more or less synonymous, in notebooks at least.
    With prices as high as they are, would it kill them to put in something different from usual tn horrorshow for once?
  • der - Thursday, May 21, 2015 - link

    Thank you Brett. Brett is love, Brett is life.

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