Update Jan. 18: At CES 2019, Lenovo unveiled a new version of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon with a carbon fiber weaved finish. We’ll have a full review of the refreshed X1 Carbon as we get closer to its June release.
The Maserati of business laptops, Lenovo’s X1 Carbon packs plenty of performance and battery life into a slim and sexy carbon-fiber chassis. Starting at $1,063, the 6th-Generation X1 Carbon retains the fantastic keyboard and colorful display of its predecessor but dramatically improves on the previous model’s performance by going from an Intel 7th Gen dual-core processor to an 8th Gen, quad-core CPU. That’s like moving from a four-cylinder to an eight-cylinder engine. Throw in some new design elements, an eye-popping HDR screen and far-field microphones, and this luxurious laptop is the best productivity system money can buy.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it — just jazz it up a little. One of the sveltest 14-inch laptops you can get, the 6th-Gen ThinkPad X1 Carbon has the same, slim dimensions (12.7 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches) and 2.5-pound weight as the laptop’s immediate predecessor. It also has the same, luxurious soft-touch lid and deck, which makes gripping and resting your wrists against the laptop a joy.
However, Lenovo has made some subtle changes to the branding. The ThinkPad logos, which appear on the deck, are both black rather than the usual silver. And there’s a classy new red-and-gray X1 logo on the lower left corner of the lid. Though our X1 Carbon review unit was the traditional ThinkPad black, the laptop is also available in a dark silver color, which does not have the same soft-touch texture.
The X1 Carbon is so light that it compares favorably even to competitors with smaller, 13-inch displays. This ThinkPad weighs 0.16 pounds less than the Dell XPS 13 9370 (2.65 pounds), 0.51 pounds less than the MacBook Pro 13-inch (3 pounds) and 0.4 pounds trimmer than the Dell Latitude 7390 (2.9 pounds). Granted, X1 Carbon’s 0.6-inch thickness makes this machine a tad chunkier than the XPS 13 (0.46 inches), but the Dell has only Thunderbolt 3 ports, while Lenovo’s laptop finds room for some full-size USB 3.0 connectors.
Durability and Security
Made from a combination of carbon fiber and magnesium, the X1 Carbon is not only light but also extremely durable. According to Lenovo, the laptop has passed a dozen MIL-STD-810G durability tests, including those for extreme temperatures, shocks and vibrations.
The laptop supports dTPM encryption and optional Intel vPro manageability. Our review config had an Intel Core i5-8250U CPU, which doesn’t support vPro, but you can get the X1 Carbon with the Core i7-8650U, which does.
The X1 Carbon comes standard with a Match-in-Sensor fingerprint reader, which performs all of its storage and analysis on the same chip, in order to avoid hackers. Prior ThinkPads would send that data to other parts of the computer, where it could be vulnerable to sophisticated attacks.
There’s an optional infrared camera that will allow you to use Windows Hello facial recognition. If you don’t get the IR camera, you’ll have the standard webcam, which comes with the ThinkShutter, a physical cover for the lens. If the ThinkShutter is closed, there’s no way that even the world’s best hacker could capture images of you.
We tested ThinkPad X1 Carbon laptops with two different screen options: the 2560 x 1440 HDR (high dynamic range) screen (nontouch) and the standard, 1920 x 1080 touch panel that comes on the base model. Both 14-inch panels were impressive, but the HDR display was one of the most vibrant we’ve seen on any laptop.
When I watched a trailer for The Incredibles 2 on the 1920 x 1080 display, colors like the red in Elastigirl’s costume and the green in some trees really popped. Fine details like the lines in Mr. Incredible’s head were sharp, and colors stayed true at up to 90 degrees to the left or right.
The colors on the HDR screen were on another level; the reds and blues were so deep and saturated that it reminded me of the best phone OLED phone screens and of the beautiful OLED screen on the Alienware 13. Just staring at the reds in the X1 Carbon’s desktop wallpaper was an engrossing feast for my eyes.
Even though the 1920 x 1080 panel is a touch screen, there’s no glossy cover glass, thanks to Lenovo’s use of in-cell touch technology. This puts the touch technology in the same layer as the LED screen. In-cell also makes the display more power efficient than a traditional touch screen.
According to our colorimeter, the HDR display can reproduce an amazing 199 percent of the sRGB color gamut while the 1080p panel offers a still-strong 129 percent. That’s well ahead of the premium-laptop category average (108 percent) and bests the prior, 5th-Gen X1 Carbon (104 percent); the XPS 13 9370 with 1080p screen (117 percent); and the MacBook Pro 13-inch (123 percent). The Dell Latitude 7390 (130 percent) and XPS 13 with 4K screen (132 percent) both scored a tad higher than the ThinkPad and its 1080p panel.
At 469 nits on our light meter, the X1 Carbon’s HDR screen blows away the category average (284 nits), the Latitude 7390 (286 nits) and the prior Carbon (274 nits). The 1080p panel also offers an above-average brightness of 293 nits. The MacBook Pro (458 nits) and Dell XPS 13 (415 nits for 4K, 372 nits for 1080p) come close to the X1 Carbon and its HDR screen.
It’s important to note that in order to take full advantage of the HDR panel, you need videos and software that specifically support Dolby Vision HDR. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Vudu all have some movies and shows that will stream in Dolby Vision, but at the moment, Windows 10 doesn’t support the standard (an update is coming this spring). However, even without Dolby Vision support, the HDR display is one of the best we’ve seen.
In addition to the two panels we tested, Lenovo also offers a 2560 x 1440, non-HDR, nontouch display that tops out at 300 nits.
If you plan to listen to music on the X1 Carbon, plug in some headphones or pair it with some Bluetooth speakers. When I played AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” the audio was loud enough to fill my dining room, but the instruments were so tinny and distorted that I couldn’t bear to listen to the whole thing. By default, the Dolby audio software automatically adjusts itself based on what app you’re using, but you can also manually select a sound profile for voice, music, gaming or other scenarios.
Keyboard, Touchpad and Pointing Stick
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon offers the kind of world-class keyboard we’ve come to expect from Lenovo’s business laptops. With a deep, 1.8 millimeters of travel and a strong 2 grams of required actuation force, the keys offer excellent tactile feedback and never caused me to bottom out during testing. The soft-touch deck also made my wrists feel really good while I was typing.
Because of the keyboard’s great comfort and responsiveness, I achieved a rate of 109 words per minute with a 3.5 percent error rate on the Ten Fast Fingers typing test. That’s one of the highest scores I’ve gotten and above my typical 95- to 105-wpm range.
As with other ThinkPads, the X1 Carbon offers a red TrackPoint that sits between the G and H keys. Using this pointing stick to navigate is more efficient and precise than using any touchpad, because it allows you to move around without lifting your hands off of the home row. Given the choice, I will always use the TrackPoint instead of the touchpad, but not everyone feels comfortable pushing a nub.
The 3.9 x 2.2-inch buttonless touchpad was extremely accurate throughout our testing and didn’t exhibit any jumpiness or stickiness. It also responded smoothly and immediately to multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom and three-finger swipe.
Equipped with a quad-core, Core i5-8250U CPU, 8GB of RAM and a 512GB NVMe PCIe SSD, our first review configuration of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon handled everything we threw at it. Whether we were crunching large spreadsheets, compressing videos or just surfing the web, the laptop was always speedy and responsive. We also tested a model with an even-faster Core i7-8550U processor, which performed a little bit better.
With the Core i5 CPU, Lenovo’s laptop scored a strong 13,173 on Geekbench 4, a synthetic test that measures overall performance. The unit with the Core i7 bested that, turning in a score of 13,686. Both marks handily beat the premium-laptop category average (9,460), the Core i5-7267U-powered MacBook Pro 13-inch’s score (9,213) and the Core i5-7200U-powered 5th Gen X1 Carbon’s showing (8,571). The XPS 13 with Core i5-8250U CPU got a similar score (13,254) to the X1 Carbon with Core i5, while the Core i7-8650U-enabled Dell Latitude 7390 (13,990) did a little better than both Lenovo models.
It took the Core i5-powered X1 Carbon just 19 minutes to transcode a 4K video to 1080p resolution using the HandBrake app. That’s 3 minutes quicker than the category average (22:11), but a bit slower than times for the Core i5-powered XPS 13 (18:17) and the Latitude 7390 (17:00).
If you’re working on large spreadsheets with plenty of calculations, the X1 Carbon will handle them with aplomb. The laptop took just 1 minute and 11 seconds to match 65,000 names with their addresses in Excel 2016 with its Core i5 processor and 1 minutes and 4 second with Core i7 on board. Both are a bit quicker than the category average (1:49) and within a few seconds of times from the XPS 13 (1:08) and Latitude 7390 (1:07).
MORE: Which Laptop CPU is Right for You?
The X1 Carbon’s 512GB NVMe PCIe SSD is blazing fast. It copied 4.97GB of files at a rate of 565.4 megabytes per second, more than double the category average (266.4 MBps) and the Latitude 7390’s mark of 318 MBps. However, the XPS 13 was in the same ballpark (508 MBps), and the MacBook Pro (727 MBps) was even quicker.
You don’t buy a business laptop with integrated graphics and expect to play intense games, but the X1 Carbon’s Intel UHD 620 GPU is good enough for low-end titles. When we fired up racing game Dirt 3, Lenovo’s laptop returned a strong frame rate of 64 fps, comfortably above the category average (56 fps) and scores from the MacBook Pro (41 fps) and Latitude 7390 (56 fps). Last year’s 5th Gen X1 Carbon managed a barely playable rate of 28 fps.
On 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited, a synthetic benchmark that measures graphics prowess, the X1 Carbon scored 80,588 with its Core i5 chip and 88,143 with Core i7, which are slightly above the category average (79,051) and the XPS 13’s showing (77,584).
Users who want a lot more graphics might want to purchase an external GPU and connect it to one of the X1 Carbon’s Thunderbolt 3 ports.
For a laptop this thin, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon has a strong port selection, including two USB USB Type-A ports, a full-size HDMI connector, two Thunderbolt 3 ports and a microSD card slot.
The right side houses one Type-A port, a 3.5-millimeter audio jack and a Kensington lock slot. The left side contains the HDMI port, one USB Type-A port and two Thunderbolt 3 connectors.
One of the Thunderbolt 3 ports is part of Lenovo’s side-docking connector, along with a proprietary port that goes next to that connector. Starting with the 2018 models, ThinkPads will use a new set of side docks, rather than having their docking ports built in to the bottom, something the prior X1 Carbons never had. The laptop charges via either of the Thunderbolt 3 ports, using the included USB Type-C power adapter.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s 720p webcam captures bright but mediocre images. When I shot a photo of myself, the blue and gray on my shirt were accurate, but my facial features were a little blurry. If you don’t have the optional IR camera, you can slide the ThinkShutter over the lens for an added layer of protection against hacking.
Sliding the shutter not only covers the image sensor but also disables it in software. So, when I fired up the camera app, it showed the camera as disabled rather than just displaying a black picture.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon will get you through a workday and then some. The 1080p version of Lenovo’s laptop lasted a strong 11 hours and 1 minute on the Laptop Mag Battery Test 2.0, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi. The model we tested with a 2K, HDR screen endured for a still-strong 10 hours and 28 minutes. Both times are more than 2 hours longer than the category average (8:23) and the time from the Dell XPS 13 with 4K display (8:23). The Dell Latitude 7390 lasted 10 hours and 23 minutes, and the XPS 13 with 1080p screen lasted an even-longer 11 hours and 59 minutes.
MORE: Laptops with the Longest Battery Life
The X1 Carbon also supports fast charging. Lenovo claims that the machine can go from 0 to 80 percent in just 60 minutes with its AC adapter. In our tests, the laptop hit 68 percent after an hour and 80 percent after another 12 minutes. It got to 99 percent in an hour and 58 minutes.
Software and Warranty
Lenovo puts only one piece of first-party software on the X1 Carbon. The Lenovo Vantage app gives you fine control over settings for the audio, camera, system thermals, keyboard and pointing devices. It also checks for and downloads updates. There’s also the usual collection of Microsoft-loaded bloatware that we find on every Windows 10 laptop, including Candy Crush Soda Saga, Bubble Witch Saga and Autodesk Sketchbook.
Lenovo backs the X1 Carbon with a standard, one-year warranty on parts and labor. See how the company fared on Best and Worst Brands ratings and Tech Support Showdown.
If you want to invoke Cortana or Alexa (when it arrives on Windows), you can do so from across the room. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s built-in far-field microphones promise to pick up your voice from as far as 13 feet away.
In our noisy office, I stood between 13 and 14 feet away from the laptop, said, “Hey, Cortana,” and asked about the weather. I had to raise my voice a bit, but it worked. The laptop also heard me when I was standing a few feet behind its open lid.
X1 Carbon Issues
After we originally published this review, I decided to buy an X1 Carbon for myself and, unfortunately, experienced a number of quality-control issues. I noticed either keyboards that weren’t as snappy as the one on our review unit and / or 1080p screens that fell noticeably short of their advertised 300-nit brightness rating. I also found several users reporting different problems with their X1 Carbons on Reddit.
Despite the risk of getting a sub-par unit, which happens with any purchase, we still strongly recommend the X1 Carbon. Even if you end up with a keyboard that’s not quite as responsive or a screen that’s not quite as bright as those we tested, this is still the best productivity laptop on the market. Just make sure to hold onto your receipts and be mindful of the return policy where you shop.
Lenovo X1 Carbon Price and Configuration Options
Lenovo lets you customize your ThinkPad X1 Carbon to order, meaning you can choose from among different CPUs, SSDs, screens and RAM amounts. Alternatively, you can purchase a stock configuration. The base model of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon costs $1,063 and comes with a Core i5-8250U CPU, a 1080p screen, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Lenovo also sells a 512GB SSD model on sale at the time of writing for $1,252.
The $2,269 model (on sale for $1,588) has a Core i7-8650U CPU, a 2560 x 1440 touch screen, 16GB of RAM, a 512GB SSD and the IR camera for facial recognition. A $1,699 model has the high-end, 2560 x 1440 Dolby Vision HDR screen; a 1TB SSD; a Core i7-8650U CPU; 16GB of RAM; and the standard webcam. Then there is what Lenovo calls the X-traordinary Bundle, which includes an X1 Carbon with a Core i7-8650U CPU, a 2560 x 1440-pixel display, 16GB of RAM, and a 1TB SSD. This $2,423 package (originally $3,462) gets you an extended three-year warranty and loads of accessories, including a USB 3.0 dock and ThinkPad X1 sleeve.
Because it has the lowest-resolution screen, the base model we tested will undoubtedly have longer battery life than the other configurations. However, if you want the best picture quality and performance, you’ll need to step up.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon remains the ultimate business Ultrabook, thanks to its gorgeous design, awesome typing experience, long battery life and epic screen. If you’re looking for even more endurance, your budget is tighter, and you don’t need the same level of durability and security that the Carbon provides, consider the Dell XPS 13. It starts at just $899, offers an optional 4K screen and lasts 2 hours longer on a charge.
If you don’t mind carrying an extra pound or so, look into Lenovo’s ThinkPad T480, which starts at $1,359 and offers a huge, extended battery. However, if you want the best business clamshell that money can buy, look no further than the X1 Carbon.
Credit: Shaun Lucas/Laptop Mag
Eye-popping HDR display; Long battery life; Best-in-class keyboard; Lightweight; Attractive design
Tinny audio; Mediocre webcam
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon offers the best combination of productivity, portability and performance of any business laptop.