ThinkPads are unmistakable. While other OEMs focus on achieving the thinnest and lightest chassis, the perfect shade of rose gold to attract the masses, and nearly invisible bezels, Lenovo has given the ThinkPad family thoughtful updates that keep its original focus and also attempt to stay on top of the newest laptop design and use innovations.
The 2018 ThinkPad X1 Carbon combines a familiar yet durable and sleek design with a few new features—an HDR-ready screen, a webcam shutter, and new mics. While these are small updates overall, they show that Lenovo continues to pay attention to what its customers want as well as what they may want in the future. The new X1 Carbon reminds us all that Lenovo’s classic laptop line can hold its own against flashier, trendier competing devices—it can even outshine them in some ways.
Look and feel
Lenovo has given ThinkPad diehards plenty of reasons to love these premium work laptops, and the sixth-gen ThinkPad X1 Carbon doesn’t skimp on any of them. The carbon fiber chassis on this 14-inch laptop makes this device incredibly light and comfortable to work with and tote to various work locations.
|Specs at a glance: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2018)|
|Screen||14-inch 1920×1080 FHD IPS anti-glare||14-inch 2560×1440 HDR WQHD IPS glossy display||14-inch 2560×1440 HDR WQHD IPS glossy display|
|OS||Windows 10 Home||Windows 10 Pro||Windows 10 Pro|
|CPU||Intel Core i5-8250U (up to 3.4GHz)||Intel Core i7-8650U (up to 4.2GHz)||Intel Core i7-8650U (up to 4.2GHz)|
|RAM||8GB LPDDR3||16GB LPDDR3||16GB LPDDR3|
|HDD||256GB PCIe SSD NVMe v1.1.0||1TB PCIe SSD NVMe v1.1.0||512GB PCIe SSD NVMe v1.1.0|
|GPU||Intel UHD Graphics 620|
|Networking||Intel Dual-Band Wireless-AC 8265, Bluetooth 4.2|
|Ports||Two USB 3.1 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, HDMI port, microSD card reader, headphone/mic combo jack, lock slot|
|Size||12.74×8.55×0.63 inches (323.5mm×217.1mm×15.95mm)|
|Other perks||fingerprint sensor next to trackpad, webcam shutter, TrackPoint ball|
Weighing 2.49 pounds, the X1 Carbon is even lighter than some of the most popular ultrabooks available now, including the new Dell XPS 13 laptop. While some of those ultrabooks incorporate soft-touch material on palm rests and other areas, Lenovo blankets the X1 Carbon with it, giving its lid, palm rests, and every other inch a friendly-yet-durable feel.
Lenovo made sure the X1 Carbon could withstand extreme temperatures, shocks, and vibrations by having it pass 12 MIL-spec tests. Its durability combined with its light design make it an intriguing contender for workers who travel often or who regularly find themselves working in unfamiliar places. It’s also refreshing to see an ultrabook that hasn’t been influenced by the latest color or texture trends. Other OEMs try to speak to a number of different types of users with metallic-colored or white-accented laptops. But Lenovo knows that most ThinkPad customers prioritize the happy balance of build quality and classic design over the latest finishes that are taking consumer electronics by storm.
The display options for the X1 Carbon emphasize the importance of this balance. My review unit sports the highest-quality display possible: a 2560×1440 HDR IPS non-touch panel. Categorized as DisplayHDR 400, this panel reaches up to 500 nits of brightness and will support Dolby Vision later this year. It’s nice to have that HDR label, but DisplayHDR 400 panels aren’t radically different from non-HDR displays in terms of color gamut and black-level performance. Don’t expect the same type of HDR performance as you’d find on an HDR-ready TV, since the standards for PC monitor and laptop panels are different from those applied to televisions.
Lenovo doesn’t offer a 4K panel option on the X1 Carbon, but unless you work in a creative industry or primarily use the device for media consumption, a 4K panel isn’t necessary. Sure, they’re beautiful to use and behold, but you probably don’t need to pay the premium for it. The arguments for a touchscreen on a laptop are more nuanced. I’ve explained my thoughts on touch panels on laptops (note, not convertibles) before: they’re nice to have but not incredibly useful on a device with a screen that tilts back 180 degrees at most. But I’m glad Lenovo added one touchscreen option for users who find those panels more useful on laptops than I do.
The X1 Carbon’s display has a 16:9 aspect ratio, making it slightly wider than the 3:2 aspect ratio displays on other ultrabooks. This widescreen design is actually better suited on a media-focused device, but it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it might. Displays with a 3:2 aspect ratio show more of a document or webpage before you need to scroll, so I just spent a bit more time scrolling than I would have on a different device.
The X1 Carbon has the best variety of ports I’ve seen on a new ultrabook: it has two USB 3.1 ports; two Thunderbolt ports that support charging, data transfer, and DisplayPort; a full-sized HDMI port; a microSD card slot; and a headphone/mic combo jack. It also has the ThinkPad side dock, allowing it to connect to Lenovo’s various USB docks, external displays, and other accessories. I’m happy when an OEM includes just one regular USB port, since so many have been quick to embrace the Type-C life before the dongle life has completely vanished. Two regular USB ports will undoubtedly sway some power-users who simply can’t switch over to Type C fully yet because of work or personal demands.
Two far-field mics also sit inside the new X1 Carbon, allowing you to talk to Cortana from up to four meters away. I’m not much of a Cortana user, particularly because I typically don’t need to talk to my laptop when I could easily look up what I need while working on it already. But these far-field mics have become standard on most laptops as virtual assistants become more prevalent in our mobile and stationary electronics.
Keyboard, trackpad, and camera
A stellar keyboard marks all ThinkPads, and the one on the X1 Carbon makes for a fantastic typing experience. Each key is quite satisfying to click thanks to the 1.8mm of travel, and the full-sized, standard layout means there are no unlikely key surprises awaiting you. As someone who makes a living from typing words, the X1 Carbon has been one of my favorite devices to use all day, every day for work.
The red TrackPoint ball sits at the meeting point among the G, H, and B keys. This method of navigation isn’t the most comfortable for me, but I can understand how some would prefer it to even the modestly sized trackpad that sits just beneath the keyboard (Ars’ Peter Bright is, like many others, an avid TrackPoint user). The TrackPoint also sits slightly deeper in the chassis than the rest of the keys, making it hard to mistake it for a key or accidentally press it while typing.
The X1 Carbon’s trackpad is fairly standard for a ThinkPad and includes physical right- and left-click keys at the top of the square. The center key lets you scroll more easily with the TrackPoint ball as well. I only wish that the trackpad was slightly bigger, given the luxurious space it gleans on other competing ultrabooks.
The “Match-In” fingerprint sensor sits on the right side of the trackpad, giving all users one Windows Hello biometric login option. This fingerprint sensor has a fully encapsulated SoC, meaning all of its enrollment, pattern storage, and biometric matching happens on the chip itself, rather than on other parts of the system. This makes for a more secure biometric login option since your fingerprint information doesn’t float between the sensor and the rest of the PC.
The newest X1 Carbon includes a webcam shutter as a standard feature, allowing you to block the camera whenever you want. It takes considerable force to move the shutter from open to closed since it sits mostly flush with the top bezel along the display, but that’s a good thing. It also makes it harder for the shutter to move from covered to uncovered unexpectedly. A visible red dot signals when the webcam is blocked by the shutter, so you’ll always know when it can and cannot see you.
Lenovo offers an IR camera as an optional feature for the X1 Carbon, but a shutter isn’t available on those models. It’s unfortunate that you can’t have a model with both, but it’s an understandable sacrifice. IR camera setups take up more space than regular webcams, making it more difficult to install a shutter that covers both the webcam and the IR camera. I always appreciate more biometric login options, but I’d make do with the fingerprint sensor only on the X1 Carbon. I often cover my webcams with tape, so having a built-in shutter that adds privacy and prevents my laptop from looking like a sad, bandaged device outweighs the use of an IR camera in this case.