Lenovo recently released the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7, which we found to be a highly refined and attractive rendition of one of the mainstays of the ThinkPad line of business laptops. Standing in its way is one of the best laptops money can buy, period, the Dell XPS 13. The Dell isn’t officially aimed at business users, but it certainly provides the proper mix of performance, build quality, and support.
Also, the XPS 13 beat the ThinkPad X1 Carbon to Intel’s 10th-gen CPUs, incorporating the Comet Lake version in a recent refresh. That gives the Dell another leg up. Can the ThinkPad X1 Carbon compete?
The refreshed XPS 13 has essentially the same design as the previous version, with the same tiny bezels and very small chassis, with excellent build quality thanks to a mix of aluminum in the shell and woven carbon fiber making for a comfortable keyboard deck. Its aesthetic is also unchanged, and it still comes in three color schemes — Silver, Rose Gold, and White.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon underwent more of a change in this generation. It’s thinner, smaller, and lighter than the previous Gen 6 version, while still being constructed of a mix of magnesium allow and carbon fiber. The lid on the version that ships with the new 4K display (more on that later) has a woven carbon fiber pattern that’s quite attractive, but otherwise this is the same iconic black chassis with red accents as adorns the majority of ThinkPads.
The XPS 13 has the same snappy keyboard that fixed the mushy feel of some earlier versions, and we like it. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon sacrificed some key travel in this version to make the chassis thinner, but it’s still quite deep and has a precise mechanism.
Both laptops enjoy excellent touchpads with Microsoft Precision driver support, and so both support Windows 10 multitouch gestures. The ThinkPad has the usual TrackPoint nubbin in the middle of the keyboard if you’re into that sort of thing, while the XPS 13 stands out in having touch display options as well.
Both laptops offer excellent display options. The XPS 13 can be equipped with a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) touch or non-touch display, to go with a 4K (3,840 x 2,160) display that offers a wider color gamut, more accuracy, higher brightness, and greater contrast, and Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) support for streaming.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is the first of Lenovo’s 14-inch ThinkPads to offer a 4K option, and it’s a good one — colors aren’t quite as wide or accurate, but its Dolby Vision HDR support is deeper than the Dell’s. You can also select a low-power Full HD display that will significantly extend battery life.
Finally, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon has much better connectivity, with two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 support, an Ethernet/docking station connector (that unfortunately requires an optional adapter), two USB-A Gen 1 ports, and a full-size HDMI port.
The XPS 13, on the other hand, comes with just two USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 ports and a single USB-C 3.1 port. The XPS 13 does beat out the ThinkPad in possessing a microSD card reader. The XPS 13 also utilizes a Killer AX1650 Wi-Fi card that offers support for the latest Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) standard, whereas the ThinkPad is stuck on Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac).
The lastest XPS 13 benefits from shipping with Intel’s 10th-gen Comet Lake CPUs, which though based on older 14nm architecture enjoy increased core counts and clock speeds. Remarkably, the XPS 13 will at some point offer a top-level, six-core Core i7 part, which will pack a ton of power into a tiny computer with dramatically improved multiprocessing performance. Any video or photo editor who wants a highly portable powerhouse will want to consider the XPS 13. At this point, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon remains on Intel’s 8th-gen CPUs, which are still plenty fast and efficient, and Lenovo offers the vPro version of the processor for enterprises.
We don’t know yet just how much of a performance and efficiency advantage the 10th-gen CPUs will offer. But, it’s sure to be significant and gives the XPS 13 a leg up here. Lenovo will be introducing 10th-gen refreshes of the ThinkPad line soon enough, and so the battle will even out at some point.
The XPS 13 is a much smaller laptop in width and depth, thanks to some of the smallest bezels you’ll find surrounding a 13.3-inch display. It’s 0.46 inches thick and weighs 2.7 pounds. That compares to the ThinkPad X1 Carbon that’s 0.59 inches thick and weighs less at 2.4 pounds. The XPS 13, therefore, takes up less space in your backpack, but it will weigh you down just a bit more. But both are easy to carry around.
We don’t know yet how Comet Lake CPUs will perform in terms of battery life. But the XPS 13 with its 52 watt-hour battery should do well compared to the Thinkpad X1 Carbon with only 51 watt-hours of battery capacity. Comparing like for like in terms of display, we expect the XPS 13 to do better.
The Dell XPS 13 is more up-to-date and remains at the top
The XPS 13 starts at $1,000 with a Core i3-1011U CPU, 4GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe solid-state drive (SSD), and a 13.3-inch non-touch Full HD display. It tops out at 1,900 (on sale for $1,744) for a Core i7-1050U CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB PCIe SSD, and a touch 4K display.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 is a more costly laptop. It starts at $2,089 (on sale for $1,462) for a Core i5-8265U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe SSD, and a non-touch Full HD display. You can spend as much as $3695 ($2,561 on sale) for a Core i7-8665U CPU, 16GB of RAM, a 1TB PCIe SSD, and a non-touch 4K display.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 is the best version yet, but it can’t beat out the Dell XPS 13 for performance or price. Then again, not many laptops can.
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