ThinkPad X1 Carbon vs. MacBook Pro 13

Lenovo’s ThinkPad line is one of the most iconic notebook families around. From the ThinkPad logo with the red dot on the lid to the red TrackPoint nubbin to the typical ThinkPad keyboard layout, you’d have no problem picking one out of a lineup. And they remain just as well-built as always, as evidenced by the latest clamshell member, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7.

Apple’s MacBook Pro is also a recognizable notebook line that’s maintained a consistent design aesthetic over the years. Today’s model has the same understated elegance as always and confirms Apple’s reputation for rock-solid build quality.

So, which one of these premium and highly familiar notebooks is worth your investment? We pit the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon against the MacBook Pro 13 to find out.

DesignLenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2018) review

The last design change to the MacBook Pro 13 occurred in late 2016, with Apple utilizing essentially the same silver aluminum chassis and elegant but conservative design, though opting for a thinner profile. It’s now thinner than ever, and its display is more modern with smaller bezels. Thus, the MacBook Pro still looks good in any environment, and you’ll be happy with Apple’s usual attention to detail, overall fit and finish, and granite-like solidity.

Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon has also undergone some relatively subtle design changes. It’s still rock-solid in hand, with a carbon material finish that provides a soft touch with zero flex throughout the chassis. It’s also the usual black ThinkPad aesthetic that’s aggressively businesslike, with updated branding that’s subtler but still recognizable. Get the 4K display and you’ll enjoy a carbon fiber weave that adds some panache, but otherwise, this laptop is all ThinkPad.

Both notebooks have iconic designs, and both sport build qualities that are worthy of their premium pricing. The ThinkPad gets some extra points, though, for fitting a 14-inch display into a chassis that’s nearly the same size and thickness as the MacBook Pro 13’s while being more than half a pound lighter. Ultimately, though, this one’s going to come down to pure aesthetic taste, because when it comes to the design essentials, they’re evenly matched.

Display

Apple’s MacBook Pro line is renowned for offering some of the best displays around. The MacBook Pro 13 is no different, offering a 13.3-inch display with 2,560 x 1,600 resolution (227 ppi) that’s extremely bright, has a wide color gamut with excellent accuracy, and has strong contrast. It’s not a 4K display, but it’s sharp enough and makes a great platform for anyone who works with photos and video.

Lenovo offers a few display options with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The entry-level model is a full HD (1,920 x 1,080 or 157 PPI) panel that offers a better-than-average color gamut with accuracy and good contrast. Only its relatively low brightness holds it back, although its anti-glare coating helps it overcome bright ambient lighting. There’s also an extremely bright (500 nit) 4K (3,840 x 2,160) panel that supports Dolby Vision high-dynamic range (HDR). However, this last option absolutely destroys your battery life.

While we like the sound of that HDR-enabled UHD display given its promise of incredibly bright and dynamic colors, the MacBook Pro 13 out of the box offers a superior display that’s proven to be the best option for creative types.

Performance

Apple MacBook Pro OLED with Touch Bar
Malarie Gokey/Digital Trends

The MacBook Pro 13 was updated in May 2019, bringing quad-core 8th-generation processors and the Touch Bar to every 13-inch model. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon, though, has gained access to Intel’s 10th-generation Comet Lake CPUs, giving it the performance edge. Both can speed through productivity tasks, but the ThinkPad will lead the way.

Both manufacturers utilize very fast PCIe NVMe solid-state drives (SSDs) in their premium notebooks, and so they both enjoy speedy storage performance. The MacBook Pro’s storage space goes all the way up to 2TB, while the ThinkPad tops out at 1TB, although opting for such a large drive as the one Apple offers will cost you a small fortune.

As for onboard graphics, the ThinkPad comes with Intel UHD Graphics 620, while you’ll get either the Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 or 655 with the MacBook, depending on which model you go for. That puts the MacBook Pro ahead, although neither are suitable for playing demanding AAA games.

Keyboard, mouse, and pen

When it comes to input options, people tend to either love or hate what Apple has done with the MacBook Pro in deference to ultimate thinness. There was a time, for example, when MacBook keyboards were considered exemplars of typing perfection. Today, Apple has opted for a more modern “butterfly” key mechanism that’s very clicky (and loud) but also suffers from very short travel. The touchpad is huge, which is a plus, and famously is the best touchpad you’ll find on a laptop.

Following Apple’s updates in May 2019, every version of the MacBook Pro 13 comes with the OLED Touch Bar strip that runs along the top of the keyboard and adds some task-specific touch input. It also gives you a Touch ID fingerprint scanner that lets you log in and verify purchases without typing a password.

Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon, on the other hand, enjoys the always-excellent ThinkPad keyboard with superior travel, a precise tactile feel, and an experience that welcomes fast, accurate typing. It also offers the TrackPoint nubbin sitting in the middle of the keyboard for an old school input option that longtime users will appreciate.

The extra TrackPoint buttons do encroach on the standard touchpad’s space, however, providing a smaller space for swiping and gestures than we like. Nevertheless, it’s still precise and enjoys Microsoft Precision touchpad support. You can also opt for a touch display for some added convenience, and Windows 10 Hello password-less login is supported by an optional infrared camera and a fingerprint scanner. There’s even a physical privacy cover for the webcam if you want to ensure your notebook isn’t spying on you.

Connectivity

Apple’s latest MacBook design drops any pretense at supporting legacy peripherals, offering USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 support as the only option. On the MacBook Pro 13, you’ll get either two or four ports, depending on how much you’re willing to spend. Add in a 3.5mm combo audio port and the usual 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios, and that’s the extent of the MacBook Pro’s connectivity.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is an entirely different beast when it comes to hooking up. It comes with two USB-A 3.1 ports for legacy add-ons, two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3, and a full-size HDMI port. Whew, that’s a lot of ports. The 3.5mm combo audio jack joins 802.11ax (Wi-Fi 6) and Bluetooth 5.o to round out a very well-connected notebook indeed.

We really, really appreciate machines that combine legacy and futuristic support, and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon offers that in spades.

Portability

Regarding weight and thickness, the MacBook Pro 13 is no longer particularly special at just over three pounds. Its bezels are small but not the smallest all around, resulting in a chassis that’s diminutive but not especially so. It’s a comfortable machine for tossing in a backpack, but it’s no longer an industry leader.

We were a little disappointed with the MacBook Pro’s battery life when we reviewed it at the start of 2019. Back then, it actually took a step back from the previous model, dropping the battery from a 74.9 watt-hour unit to a 49.2 watt-hour one if you opted for the Touch Bar, and a 54.5 watt-hour one if you didn’t. That was before Apple’s May 2019 update, though, and now that MacBook Pro 13 comes with either a 58 or 58.2 watt-hour battery, depending on the model you choose. Our tests saw the battery draining after 10 hours and 24 minutes in our video streaming test and 5 hours 3 minutes in our web browsing test. That puts it slightly ahead of the ThinkPad in terms of capacity and roughly on par with the Lenovo (depending on the test).

Lenovo’s offering comes with a 51 watt-hour battery, which is less than the 57 watt-hour battery found in the sixth-generation model. Pair it with the 4K display and you’ll get around 6 hours 30 minutes of web browsing and 7 hours 30 minutes of video streaming.

While the ThinkPad X1 Carbon has a larger display than the MacBook Pro 13, it’s only slightly thicker overall at 0.58 inches. However, it’s also almost a half-pound lighter, meaning that it’s going to weigh you down less as you’re trekking from place to place.

Availability and price

The MacBook Pro 13 is a distinctly premium notebook. The Touch Bar version starts at $1,299 and comes with a quad-core 1.4GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD. Pricing goes all the way up to $3,099, which nets you a quad-core 2.8GHz Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 2TB SSD.

Now that the 7th-generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon has launched, you can pick one up starting at $1,396. That gets you an 8th-generation quad-core 1.6GHz Core i5-8265U processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and full HD display. You can customize it all the way up to $3,281 for a 10th-generation Intel Core i7-10510U, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD, and that lust-worthy (but battery killing) UHD display with Dolby Vision HDR.

That means there are plenty of options when it comes to both the MacBook and the ThinkPad, with pros and cons on both sides. Look for sales and you may be able to get yourself a bargain on the one you want.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon wins this premium notebook battle

Apple’s update to the MacBook Pro 13 in May 2019 made it much more competitive with the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. It now has excellent performance and a gorgeous display, plus you no longer have to pay an arm and a leg for the Touch Bar.

But is that enough to top Lenovo? Unlike some Windows laptops, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon fares well in the places where the MacBook traditionally excels, such as in durability and design. As well as that, you get great connectivity, a reliable keyboard, and top performance.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon probably won’t win over a lot of Mac fans, but overall, Lenovo has made upgrades in all the right places. We think you’ll find your money better spent on Lenovo than Apple in this comparison.

With Lenovo just launching its 7th-generation ThinkPad X1, now’s a good time to see if the latest model tickles your fancy.

It’s also worth noting that in late 2019, Apple announced an update to its MacBook Pro lineup with the release of the MacBook Pro 16. It features a number of performance improvements, including a bigger and higher resolution display (3,072 × 1,920), more powerful graphics with the AMD Radeon Pro 5000M-series, the option of up to 8TB of SSD storage, and up to 64GB of RAM. Perhaps the most important update of all to the new MacBook Pro 16 is the updated keyboard, which features a new scissor-switch design that has resulted in a more enjoyable typing experience. There’s even a physical escape key now, too!

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