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Home > Laptop Reviews > Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch (2014)

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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2014)

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What's Hot: Slim yet strong, larger than average display for an Ultrabook, high res touch option.

What's Not: New keyboard design is dubious.

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Reviewed April 16, 2014 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon 14" Ultrabook has been a hit since the first version hit shelves a few years back. Folks have been eagerly awaiting the 4th generation Intel Haswell refresh, and Lenovo took quite some time to release it since other changes were in the works. From the outside, it looks no different from the previous model- sure it's a little thinner and a little lighter, but otherwise it's the same matte black slim and attractive (in a ThinkPad sort of way) skinny laptop we know and love. Inside, Lenovo added more ports, which is no small feat given the reduced height of the machine. The most significant change is the keyboard that ditches the standard Fn row keys for a capacitive adaptive strip that changes context depending on what program you have in the foreground. Messing with the iconic and best of breed ThinkPad keyboard is risky business, and we can't deny that Lenovo is willing to take daring chances with this staid line.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Design and Ergonomics

The 2014 X1 Carbon weighs 2.8 lbs. (non-touch screen model) and 3.15 lbs. for the touch screen model. Interestingly, if you want the trendy super high resolution WQHD 2560 x 1440 IPS display, you'll have to get the touch screen. The non-touch is 1600 x 900 TN only. The display is 14", and those weights are quite light for a 14" Ultrabook with a durable carbon fiber polymer and magnesium aluminum alloy body. As you'd expect, the X1 Carbon is rigid and strong, despite its fairly slim 0.73" thickness. It meets MIL spec 810G tests, has the firm 180 degree hinge that allows you to lay the screen flat on the table--it's a ThinkPad through and through. It's a Hummer, minus the bulk and big carbon footprint.

If you like the ThinkPad look, you'll love the latest X1 Carbon Touch. Again, it would be easy to mistake it for the last generation in terms of looks, materials and design. It's a serious and sleek looking machine that resists fingerprints, is extremely rigid and strong and is designed to take more of a beating than the average waifish Ultrabook. Thanks to Intel Haswell's low thermals and power consumption along with well designed cooling, the laptop is generally very quiet and doesn't get uncomfortably warm.

The laptop has a full size HDMI port, mini DisplayPort, two USB 3.0 ports, a 3.5mm combo audio jack and a proprietary port for Lenovo's included Gigabit Ethernet dongle adapter. Unlike the last gen model, there's no SD card slot. It uses the newer rectangular charging port that's compatible with Lenovo's ThinkPad OneLink and OneLink Pro docks.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Specs and Options

The laptop is available with Intel Core i5 and i7 dual core U series low voltage Ultrabook CPUs and it uses Intel HD 4400 graphics like most Haswell generation Ultrabooks. RAM is soldered on board and you can order it with 4 or 8 gigs of DDR3 memory. Lenovo offers a variety of M.2 SSD drives from 128 to 512 gigs, but there is no HDD option. Our review unit has Intel 7260AC dual band WiFi with Bluetooth 4.0 and you can get 3G/4G LTE with a micro SIM card slot via the $280 GOBI 5000 modem option. As you'd expect from a ThinkPad, there's a fingerprint scanner.

 

Deals and Shopping:

 

2014 Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Video Review

 

Display

We have the 2560 x 1440 IPS model with touch in for review. Super resolutions are all the rage, and in a 14" machine those extra pixels make a bit more sense than on 12" Ultrabooks and tablets. Though Windows 8.1 and Metro Live Tile apps handle display scaling well, keeping text readable and all elements sharp, legacy Windows programs often ignore high DPI scaling and the result is tiny text and UI elements. It's great for working with high res images in Photoshop, but not so great for trying to read and navigate Photoshop's tiny menus. Yes, eventually program developers will get on board with high DPI scaling, but until then, it makes these high resolution displays a mixed bag in Windows.

We were a little disappointed in the matte coating (more like a seriously applied factory screen protector) because it makes the display's contrast look a wee bit low and adds haze. It's odd that the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga's matte finish doesn't have these problems, and in general we applaud the hard to find matte touch display option. Our Spyder 4 Pro colorimeter measured the brightness at 225 nits (Lenovo claims 300 nits, but that matte film might have fooled our colorimeter). That's not wildly bright, but contrast (despite the visual effects of the matte finish) was good at 680:1 and black levels were very good at 0.34. Color gamut is good but not class leading at 66% of Adobe RGB and 85% of sRGB (the best laptop displays manage 98% of sRGB and 75% of Adobe RGB).

sRGB sRGB

Lenovo also offers a $150 less expensive 1600 x 900, 250 nit non-touch TN panel. That's a perfectly adequate resolution for a 14" panel, but we haven't had that model in for review, so I can't attest to its quality. I suspect it's similar to the last gen ThinkPad Carbon X1 display with the same spec panel. The 2650 x 1440 panel supports 10 points of multi-touch and it's covered in edge-to-edge Gorilla Glass.

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Keyboard and Trackpad

The large, buttonless Synaptics trackpad is as ever excellent, though old school ThinkPad owners will likely still lament the loss of discrete buttons for the trackpad and TrackPoint eraser stick pointer. The trackpad is louder than average when clicking (being buttonless, the whole trackpad moves and clicks). Some trackpads ship with a smooth surface while others have a rubbery coating--we have no idea why. Ours is the smooth version that feels and works ideally.

There's good news and bad news when it comes to the keyboard. The good news is that it's backlit and has Lenovo's usual AccuType smile shaped keys that are very tactile and well damped. Given how thin the laptop is, key travel doesn't compare to the thicker ThinkPad X240 or older ThinkPads, but it's still better than many Ultrabook keyboards on the market.

The bad news is Lenovo's new innovation, the Adaptive Function Row: an Fn row that changes context depending on what you're doing. The actual keys and labels will change between 4 possible layouts, and these are E-Ink touch sensitive keys. Thus they're not tactile in the least, and since their function sets are limited, it's not a wildly useful feature. Lenovo has a general use set, and these are standard Fn keys, then there's a strip for IE/Chrome/Firefox when web browsing, a home set with the keys becoming multimedia and wireless controls, and conferencing for Skype and similar programs. If you're accustomed to hitting Alt-F4 in IE to exit, you're out of luck since the Fn keys handle things like "back" and "reload" instead. Now this attempt at innovation doesn't break my heart, but I'm not a diehard function key user... you may be different. But Lenovo changed some standard keys, just a few in fact, but one that drives me mad is the elimination of the Caps Lock key. Really. We're supposed to double-tap the shift key, as if using our BlackBerry smartphones of old. The backspace and delete key have undergone an odd marriage that pairs them together in the space of a normal key, and their positions are swapped. OK, this isn't the end of the world if you rarely use Caps Lock or often press it accidentally, but why mess with the standard keyboard on a line that's beloved of reactionary long-form typists.

Benchmarks and Performance

This is a standard Ultrabook, so performance varies little from other ThinkPads running on Intel 4th generation Core ULV Ultrabook CPUs with Intel HD 4400 graphics. Thanks to the spritely M.2 SSD, application and Windows boot times are very fast and the machine is responsive and powerful enough to handle all manner of business and school programs. Clearly it's not a gaming laptop nor is it meant for frequent AutoCAD work, but it has enough oomph to render full HD video and compile moderate size programs in Visual Studio.

Lenovo offers a variety of SSD capacities from 128 to 512 gigs, and you can order it with 4 or 8 gigs of DDR3 RAM. Memory is soldered on board so you won't be able to upgrade it later. You can buy it with the Core i5-4200 or 4300U or the Core i7-4600U for a little extra performance bump. Currently, the Core i7 model only comes with 8 gigs of RAM.

Benchmarks

(1.9 GHz Intel Core i5-4300U, 4 gigs RAM and 180 gig SSD)

PCMark 7: 5028

wPrime: 20.8 sec.

Geekbench 3: single core 2836, multi-core 5414

PCMark 7 Benchmark Comparison Table

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 5028
Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro 4737
Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga (Core i5) 4769
HP Spectre 13 4826
Sony Vaio Flip 13 4434
Dell XPS 12 (Core i5, Haswell) 4889
Asus Zenbook UX301 5828
Lenovo Flex 14 4434
Sony Vaio Pro 13 (Core i5 Haswell) 4549
Samusng ATIV Book 9 Plus 5050
Acer Aspire S7 (Core i7-4500U) 5075
Asus Transformer Book TX300 4495
Acer Aspire R7 3981
Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A Touch (Core i5) 4670
Microsoft Surface Pro 2 4905

CrystalDiskMark score, Intel Opal 180 gig SSD:

sRGB

Battery Life

Compared to the last generation X1 Carbon, Haswell brings the expected battery life improvements, and we averaged 2 to 2.7 hours longer runtimes. The 45 Whr battery remains unchanged from the last generation model. At 50% brightness with the WQHD touch screen Core i5 model, we averaged 6 hours of battery life in mixed productivity use with a 45 minute Netflix session thrown in. That's average for an Ultrabook. Unlike the Lenovo ThinkPad X240 and ThinkPad T440s, there's no Bridge Battery system with an optional external secondary battery, so you'll have to make do with the internal battery that's sealed inside.

Conclusion

If you're a ThinkPad person and want one of the thinnest models available, or simply prefer a 14" display but don't want to move up to the larger T440s, then the Carbon X1 is worth serious consideration. We love the build quality, fast SSDs and high resolution touch screen option, but we do wish the matte finish were a little less dulling. Other amenities like Gigabit Ethernet, OneLink dock options, top of the line Intel dual band WiFi 7260 AC wireless and the 3G/4G LTE option make this an attractive business traveller. The question is, how often do you use Fn keys and can you live with Lenovo's keyboard experiments?

Website: www.lenovo.com

Price: $1,199 and up. $1,500 as configured for our review unit.

Related:

Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga Review

Lenovo ThinkPad X240 Review

Lenovo ThinkPad T440s Review

Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro Review

Dell XPS 12 Review

HP Spectre 13 Review

 

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

 

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

 

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

 

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

 

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Specs:

Display: 14", 2560 x 1440 IPS touch screen or 1600 x 900 TN non-touch display. Intel HD 4400 integrated graphics. HDMI and mini DisplayPort.

Battery: 45 Whr Lithium Ion rechargeable, sealed inside.

Performance: 4th generation Intel Haswell Core i5 and i7 ULV CPUs. 4 or 8 gigs DDR3 RAM, soldered on board and not upgradeable. 128 to 512 gig M.2 SSD drives available.

Size: 13.03" x 8.94" x 0.55" (Front)-0.79" (Rear). Weight: 2.8 pounds for non-touch and 3.15 lbs. for touch screen model.

Camera: 1.3MP

Audio: Built-in stereo speakers (2 x 1 watt) with Dolby Home Theatre audio, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone/mic jack.

Networking: Integrated Intel 7260AC dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.0. 3G/4G LTE GOBI 5000 WWAN with SIM card slot optional. Gigabit Ethernet via dongle adapter.

Software: Windows 8.1 64 bit.

Expansion and Ports: 2 USB 3.0 ports, 3.5mm combo audio, HDMI, mini DisplayPort and Gigabit Ethernet via dongle adapter and proprietary port.

 

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