Lenovo’s ThinkPad laptops are widely regarded as the last word when it comes to business notebooks. With excellent build quality and reliable performance, they’ve long been the gold standard for enterprise devices. And among the ThinkPad notebooks, the X1 Carbon sits right at the top of the totem pole.
First announced earlier this year at CES 2016, Lenovo has stuck to the tradition of updating its ThinkPad X1 Carbon notebook yearly (something it has done for the past two years already). Of course, given the pace at which hardware becomes outdated, we would expect nothing less.
This year’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon is – unsurprisingly – thinner and lighter than its already svelte predecessor, and comes packed with the latest sixth-generation Intel Core i7 vPro processor and other goodies like a class-leading keyboard. It also looks remarkably similar to 2015’s model, but no mistake, this is a laptop built for 2016.
The X1 Carbon comes with an Intel Core i7-6500U (2.5GHz, 4MB cache) processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, which is pretty much in line with most of the flagship ultrabooks on the market today. The processor in our review unit doesn’t support Intel vPro technology, but you can also order the notebook with an Intel Core i7-6600U vPro (2.6GHz, 4MB cache) processor, which adds various security, manageability, and productivity features to help businesses and workers better manage their devices.
For more security, the notebook even features a fingerprint reader on the right palm rest area. The good thing is that this isn’t the sort that you need to swipe your finger on, as is usually the case on a considerable number of notebooks (and the previous generation X1 Carbon). Instead, you just need to press your finger against it and it will read your print just fine. In our tests, setting up fingerprint authentication was a breeze, and we had no trouble with the sensor at all.
When it comes to wireless connectivity, the notebook relies on a 2x2 Intel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8260 module, which supports speeds up to 867Mbps across two spatial streams.
All in all, the specifications of the X1 Carbon are more than enough for the usual office and productivity applications, and we didn’t experience any slowdowns even while running multiple programs.
One of the first things you’ll notice when picking up the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is how impressively light it is. Even now, it’s hard to wriggle out of the expectation that this no-nonsense black slab weighs a fair amount, even if I know that it doesn’t. Once cradled under your arm, you’ll marvel at just how light – and how easy – it is to carry around.
That’s all thanks to the extensive use of what Lenovo says is “satellite-grade” carbon fiber in its construction. At a starting weight of just 1.17kg (this figure varies according to region and model specifications), this is one of – if not the lightest – 14-inch business ultrabooks available today. It is also reasonably thin at 16.45mm thin, so it pretty much fulfills one of the key criteria of business notebooks – portability. This is one notebook that you won’t hesitate to carry around in your bag.
Adding on to its light weight is its impeccable build quality. When you turn it over in your hands, you immediately get the impression of an extremely well put together notebook. Business professionals want their machines to be reliable, and the X1 Carbon is literally built to last. For instance, it features a spill-resistant keyboard that won’t instantly fizzle and die if you accidentally tip your morning cup of caffeine onto it in your fugue state.
On top of that, it has been tested to work from -20 degrees Celsius to 60 degrees Celsius, and has passed 12 Mil-SPEC tests as well. The latter tests subject it to harsh conditions with dust, vibration, heat, cold, altitude, and even solar radiation, so you can rest assured that it will withstand the trying conditions of your soulless meeting rooms.
And speaking of the keyboard, this is one of the best keyboards in its class. The island-style, backlit keys are spaced just the right distance apart, and provide an extremely enjoyable typing experience with around 1.8mm of vertical key travel. In comparison, other thinner notebooks have closer to a 1mm travel distance. It’s impossible to overstate how big of a plus point this is. As notebooks become thinner and thinner, one of the trade-offs has been the typing experience, which makes us appreciate what the X1 Carbon offers even more. It is also a full-sized keyboard, which means you won’t have to stumble over oddly-shaped or sized keys.
The only thing that may take some getting used to is the placement of the Fn key in the bottom left corner, where the Ctrl key is usually located. Veteran ThinkPad users will be used to this, but first-time owners will probably find themselves accidentally hitting the Fn key in the initial days.
Then there’s the signature ThinkPad TrackPoint and trackpad buttons. The center TrackPoint button provides an alternative way to navigate, and is meant to be used in tandem with the scroll rocker above the trackpad. The trackpad itself also proved to be quite reliable and precise, and I had no trouble getting used to it.
As a business notebook, the X1 Carbon naturally comes crammed with a range of connectivity and expansion options. You’ll find a 3.5mm headphone jack, two USB 3.0 Type-A ports, and a full-sized HDMI connector on one side, in addition to a Kensington lock slot. On the other side, there’s Lenovo’s proprietary power connector, Lenovo’s OneLink+ docking port, a Mini DisplayPort connector, and a third USB 3.0 port that can also charge your USB devices when the laptop is powered off.
The OneLink+ docking port will hook up with the ThinkPad OneLink Pro Dock that features extra display connectors and USB ports, but the notebook can also connect wirelessly to the ThinkPad WiGig dock, a cube-shaped device that offers Gigabit Ethernet connectivity and further USB and display ports as well.
A microSD card reader and SIM card slot at the rear edge round out the expansion options. The X1 Carbon actually supports 4G LTE wireless cellular connectivity, so professionals on-the-go can access the internet even when out of range of a Wi-Fi hotspot.
One thing that’s missing is a Thunderbolt 3 port. While you’re still not going to miss out on any key functionality because of that, we find it quite a glaring omission that a premium business notebook like the X1 Carbon should lack the next-generation connector that many cheaper ultrabooks have already adopted.
We should also mention the speakers, which are located at the bottom of the notebook. These fire into the table, which means they often sound muffled, and we also felt that the volume was insufficient at times. That being said, we can't say we expected any different from a business-oriented notebook like this one. Suffice to say, it comes with the territory.
The display itself is 14 inches across with a 2,560 x 1,440-pixel IPS panel and has a matte coating to cut down on glare. This means that colors may appear slightly less vibrant than an equivalent glossy panel, but it’s a small sacrifice to make for an overall more useable display under a wider range of lighting conditions. One thing to note is that there is no touchscreen option available, a reminder that the X1 Carbon is a no-nonsense enterprise notebook. A multi-touch display was actually available on the previous generation model, but Lenovo has since moved the feature to its new ThinkPad X1 Yoga.
The display can actually be pushed back to almost a 180-degree recline, so you’ll have absolutely no problem using it on your lap and finding the right angle to work at.
Lenovo also hasn’t bothered with things like ultra-thin bezels, but the aesthetics of the X1 Carbon doesn’t exactly suffer for it. Ultimately, this is a very sensibly designed notebook that doesn’t try to be too fancy where it doesn’t have to be. If ever there was a professional-looking notebook, the X1 Carbon is probably it.