Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon review

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon, Lenovo's entry for the ultraportable laptop category, was launched in 2012 as a development of the previous year's ThinkPad X1 laptop but this time sporting carbon-fibre parts in its chassis.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

It was updated last year in 2013, and again this year to form the Lenovo ThinkPad New X1 Carbon for 2014. Various configurations are available, currently starting at £1110 for a basic model that includes a 1600 x 900 TN display and the consumer version of Windows 8.1.

We were loaned the flagship configuration of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon series for review, which Lenovo has given an IPS technology touchscreen display with a very high resolution of 2560 x 1440 pixels. On its 14.0-inch screen this gives a high pixel density of 210 ppi. In order to make the screen legible, Lenovo sets up the ThinkPad with 200-percent scaling in Windows, with the usual mixed usability results.

Powering the laptop is a 1.5 GHz Intel Core i7-4550U processor, a dual-core design with Hyper Threading Technology, and Turbo up to 3.0 GHz for one core. This also takes care of the ThinkPad's graphics, using the chip's built-in Intel HD Graphics 5000 processor.

For storage, this X1 Carbon has a physically small 256 GB Samsung SSD, not mSATA but using the emerging M.2 standard. Unlike the latest MacBooks that exploit the native PCIe bus, this flash drive is still attached to a slower SATA interface.

For memory, the 2014 revision now includes 8 GB as standard on the Core i7 models (while those with Core i5 stay at 4 GB). The 8 GB quota will be plenty for most users of this class of lightweight laptop, although if you did require more, note that there's no increased memory option at time of purchase; and since Lenovo has copied Apple's trick of soldering the RAM to the motherboard, nor can you upgrade it yourself later.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon review: Laptop layout

The chassis has the same layout as the previous generation, with a front that tapers down to a thin edge. The display lid back and chassis top are made from a dark grey composite material, although it doesn't bear the usual cross-woven texture of traditional carbon-fibre panels. Meanwhile the base plate is made of a lightweight and particularly thin metal plate, possibly magnesium-aluminium alloy.

The New X1 Carbon has the same keyboard layout that will be familiar to inveterate users of Lenovo business laptops, with oversized badge-shaped and concave-topped shiny keys. Following the IBM design, it also keeps the red Trackpoint steerer embedded between G, H and B keys. But now that Lenovo has followed the idea of the buttonless trackpad, it has reconfigured the floating pad so that it can be clicked on the back edge as well as the front. This allows Trackpoint users to keep clicking, even without the addtional three buttons that would usually be sited between keyboard and touchpad.

The keyboard's action is unlike many others, with relatively long-travel keys, near-silent operation and a slightly spongey feel. Once you've used it for a while though, we can imagine the experience of typing on this keyboard could become quite moreish.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

The same cannot be said for the trackpad, which has a slightly rattley feel and sound as you operate it. It also suffers control issues when you try to press-click, as the cursor's movement is not disabled at its corners, leaving the cursor free to wander off course just as you try to click something on-screen.

Overall the lightweight chassis feels vaguely flimsy, with plenty of flex evident when you hold it by opposing corners and gently twist. There's also more ‘give' in the top plate under heavier fingered typing than we find comfortable.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon review: Ports

On the left of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon are five ports, starting near the back with the special Lenovo charging port (which resembles a rectangular USB port, but trimmed in yellow); HDMI and Mini DisplayPort for piping out video to a monitor or projector; one USB 3.0; and a 3.5 mm headset jack.

To the right is a second USB 3.0 port, and exhaust outlet for hot air extracted by the single cooling fan inside. During our use, the fan was never especially whiny, although it was plainly audible at all times, even with the laptops sat just idle on the desk.

A small proprietary port, resembling a half-height Mini DisplayPort, is to connect Lenovo's ethernet adaptor. Given the 19.3-mm thick case, a real gigabit ethernet port – the compact kind with sprung door – would have been more welcome here than the need for a dongle that will inevitable get forgotten or lost exactly when required.

Additionally to join a network, the X1 Carbon now has 11ac-capable dual-band Wi-Fi, and a two-stream (2x2 MIMO) solution at that for improved range and throughput.

Next section: Lab report