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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon: Our first take

Lenovo put its ThinkPad X1 Carbon under a shrink ray, and the result is wonderful

If you need a laptop for serious work, and you need it to be seriously light, you probably want a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. That’s been true since the laptop’s inception. Yet the Carbon, with its 14-inch display, has always been chunkier than some of its peers.

Until now. Lenovo is looking to solve the problem the same way Dell and others before did — by slimming the display bezels. Though it retains a 14-inch display, the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon has a footprint smaller than many 13-inch systems.

PC enthusiasts may feel a bit underwhelmed by thin-bezel design in 2017. The Dell XPS 13 introduced its InfinityEdge display two years ago, yet most competitors still have fatter borders around their screen. Switching to a thin-bezel display does give Lenovo an advantage that many other laptops can’t claim. It’s also the first 14-inch laptop to take this approach.

And Lenovo has an important advantage – a camera at the top of the screen. Dell’s XPS 13 is great, but professionals despise the location of its camera, which is stuck underneath the screen rather than above it. That can be awkward when making a video call.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon doesn’t share that issue. And unlike the HP Spectre x360, which cheats by having thin bezels on the sides by a fat bezel at the top, the Carbon is thin all the way around. Sure, the top bezel is a bit thicker than the sides. But it still looks plenty svelte.

And its design mirrors that slender appearance. Its thickness of .6 inches isn’t class-leading, but it’s far from bulky, and it provides room for a robust selection of ports including two USB 3.0, one USB 2.0, and one USB Type-C / Thunderbolt 3. The Carbon is also just 2.5 pounds, making it lighter than most of its peers.

Ok, the bezels are thin – but does it work?

A light, thin chassis is always great, but there’s more to a laptop than that. ThinkPad owners are demanding. They want to know a laptop is ready for work. So, is it?

Yes – absolutely. While the Carbon’s improvements are much needed, they’re also subtle. In truth, the laptop doesn’t look or feel all that much different than the year before. There’s a new silver color option for users who want something more distinct, but the black Carbon looks like, well, a ThinkPad.

And it has a ThinkPad’s keyboard. Key quality can be a real problem for small laptops, as Apple’s MacBook Pro 13 and 15 proved. The Carbon has no such issues. It offers plentiful key travel with a firm, clear bottoming action. Typing feels good, and we found it easy to reach a high level of accuracy the moment we started to hammer at the keys.

The touchpad is less impressive. It’s fine, but it’s of typical size, and feels no more or less responsive than most. Competitors like Apple and HP offer much larger touchpads, with a smoother and more refined feel.

ThinkPad loyalists may not care, because they won’t be using the touchpad. The TrackPointer remains available, and it works just as well as ever. While some users may find it archaic, we’re still fans of the TrackPointer, since it allows fast cursor movement with minimal physical movement.

The internals won’t slow you down, either. Lenovo will ship the Carbon with a variety of seventh-generation Intel Core i5 and i7, up to 16GB of RAM, and up to a 512GB PCIe NVMe solid state drive. The battery is a robust 52 watt-hour unit, said to be good for 15 and a half hours of endurance.

Building on a solid foundation

Lenovo’s changes to the ThinkPad X1 Carbon are relatively subtle. This isn’t a complete re-design, and any who’s not a ThinkPad fan may not appreciate the enhancements.

But the Carbon has never been a laptop for everyone. It’s a thin workhorse, the kind of laptop that may be called on to work in New York one day, and in Taipei the next. We’ve always admired the fact Lenovo’s flagship ThinkPad can achieve class-leading usability while maintaining its slim figure.

The new, smaller Carbon doubles-down on its predecessor’s strengths, to great benefit. This isn’t a laptop you’d suggest to everyone, but it’s still a great choice – perhaps the best choice – for users who need a lightweight workhorse.

You’ll have to pay at least $1,349 for the ThinkPad X1 Carbon when it arrives at retailers this February.

Highs

  • Thin bezels, for small footprint
  • Light, at just 2.5 pounds
  • Great keyboard
  • Powerful hardware despite size

Lows

  • Mediocre touchpad

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