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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (4th Gen, 2016)

Editor's rating (1-5): rating starrating starrating starrating star

What's Hot: Slim, light yet strong. Fantastic keyboard, very good display, good port selection.

What's Not: No touchscreen option, no USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 port.


Reviewed May 6, by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Fourth time's a charm? Maybe so with the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 4th generation. Not that the previous generations were slouches. Quite the opposite: the first gen was the first extremely thin 14" business Ultrabook with a rigid casing. The second generation floundered a bit with a gimmicky keyboard and the third generation hit the sweet spot with a normal keyboard. The current 4th generation model is an evolutionary improvement with the better screen we were pining for. In fact, there are two very good screen options: full HD and QHD, both bright and with competitive color gamut. Even better, the X1 Carbon's price is now very aggressive relative to previous generations that could easily hit the $2,000 mark with customizations. The Ultrabook now starts around $1,200, and that's for a perfectly respectable Intel Core i5 model with 8 gigs of RAM, a 128 gig SSD and a 1080p screen. The drawback? Touchscreen options are gone for the Carbon--you'll have to move to the ThinkPad X1 Yoga or ThinkPad T460s if you want a (very) similar laptop with touch.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Specs at a Glance

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon runs Windows 10 on Intel Skylake 6th generation Core i5 and i7 dual core Ultrabook 15 watt CPUs with Intel HD 520 graphics. It's available with 8 or 16 gigs of RAM and M.2 SSD drives (SATA-3 and PCIe NVMe available). There are 1920 x 1080 full HD and 2560 x 1440 QHD matte displays (both non-touch), a backlit keyboard, 720p webcam and dual band WiFi 802.11ac with Bluetooth. 4G LTE and WiGig are optional. The laptop weighs just 2.6 lbs. (1.2 kg) and is 0.65" thick. It has a carbon fiber and fiber glass casing with a magnesium alloy internal frame (roll cage, in Lenovo lingo).


Design and Ergonomics

The latest generation X1 Carbon is virtually unchanged from the previous generation, so I won't dwell on design. This is a matte black rectangle, as you'd expect from a ThinkPad, and if you're a ThinkPad person, it looks striking and fabulously slim and modern. At 0.65", it is indeed skinny, though not as skinny as the thinnest laptops on the market (Samsung Notebook 9, 12" MacBook, HP Spectre 13.3). That's fine since ThinkPads are also more robustly built and designed to handle the foibles of travels without breaking. The carbon fiber lid has a little bit of flex, but that's the nature of the material and it's the most rigid carbon fiber lid on the market. If you press on the back, the display doesn't show light pools and the keyboard deck is extremely rigid.

The laptop has an ample selection of ports for an Ultrabook, and these include two USB 3.0 ports, both HDMI 1.4 and mini DisplayPort 1.2, Ethernet (proprietary port plus included dongle adapter), 3.5mm combo audio and a OneLink+ dock connector (proprietary Lenovo connector for docks with USB, display out and more). On the back edge, hidden under a door you'll find the microSD card slot and SIM card slot for the optional 4G LTE module.



This is where the latest generation X1 Carbon makes its mark: it's available with very good 14" displays that test similarly to the lovely ThinkPad X1 Yoga's in terms of brightness and color gamut. Even better, they're true matte displays rather than having an edge to edge glass overlay with a matte screen protector. That means there's no milky look or grain as on some of Lenovo's older laptops with matte screen protectors. The only drawback is that Lenovo has drawn the line, and the X1 Carbon is now a non-touchscreen laptop; you'll have to move to the ThinkPad X1 Yoga if you want a clone with touch (and pen) for $300 more.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Both 1920 x 1080 full HD and 2560 x 1440 QHD models have 300 nit IPS displays. Color gamut on our QHD model is (finally) competitive with other brands in this price range and it matches the X1 Yoga with full sRGB coverage and 75% of Adobe RGB. Gamma is spot on at 2.2. As with the X1 Yoga, the 1080p display should offer the same good characteristics. Contrast is decent at 580:1, brought down a bit by a just OK 0.58 black level at max brightness. The native 7100K white point is above the ideal 6600K, but it's not as far off as the high resolution Dell XPS 13 and the 13.3" Samsung Notebook 9 that have even higher white points. The net result is a display that looks great when watching movies and is well suited to editing photos and videos professionally. It's still not up to the standards of the Microsoft Surface Book or 13" MacBook Pro in terms of absolute color accuracy, but it's very, very good.


Deals and Shopping:


Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2016) Video Review


Performance and Horsepower

The 4th generation updates to the latest Intel Skylake CPUs, and super-fast PCIe NVMe SSDs are available as an upgrade. Otherwise, things remain much the same as the previous generation: there are dual core 15 watt Core i5 and i7 CPU options and Intel HD 520 integrated graphics. RAM is soldered on board, so you can't upgrade it later, and the notebook is available with 8 or 16 gigs of dual channel DDR3L RAM.

You can get the X1 Carbon with your choice of a SATA-3 SSD (cheaper) or a PCIe NVMe SSD (faster and around $100 more expensive for a given capacity). The faster drive does make for stellar benchmarks (our machine has a 256 gig PCIe SSD), and will be noticeable to those who move lots of files daily or several large files. The M.2 SSD is readily accessible once you remove the bottom cover that's held in place by Phillips head screws, so you can upgrade it later if you wish. The latest generation Intel 8260AC dual band WiFi AC wireless card is likewise accessible for upgrades, though I don't foresee most folks wishing to replace this card. There's a bay for the optional LTE 4G Sierra Wireless module or WiGig.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

In both Core i5 and Core i7 form, the Lenovo is fast enough to be a main machine unless serious 3D gaming, many hours of professional video editing or professional CAD is your thing. Those are better served with larger and heavier Intel quad Core laptops with dedicated graphics if your backpack and budget allow.




Battery Life

The ThinkPad has a 4 cell, 52 Whr battery that's nominally sealed inside (you'll have to unscrew the bottom cover to service it). Lenovo claims up to 11 hours use time on a charge, and as per usual with PC maker's claims, that's optimistic. It ran 7-8 hours when doing productivity and streaming video tasks with brightness set to 40% and WiFi on. The laptop supports Lenovo's fast charging, so you can top it up significantly when on a layover at the airport.



The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon faces some serious competition, even within Lenovo's own overlapping lineup where the ThinkPad X1 Yoga and ThinkPad T460s beckon. The X1 Yoga brings a 360 degree hinge, touchscreen and a Wacom pen for $300 more. The T460s is priced similarly to the Carbon, but it's a wee bit thicker and heavier at 3 lbs. vs. 2.6 pounds. The T460s offers a traditional docking station connector (handy if you own an old school dock) and a RAM slot for upgrades later, though that's of limited value if you order an X1 Carbon with 16 gigs of RAM. Pluses for the X1 Carbon include the very thin and light yet extremely durable design, the elegant look (if you're a ThinkPad person), healthy selection of ports, a super keyboard and very good matte displays. Now that the price has come down for the X1 Carbon, the price is very competitive with the Dell XPS 13 too. As a bonus, you gain a little extra screen real estate with the 14" Carbon, though it's not as compact as the XPS 13.

Price: starting around $1,150


Related Reviews:

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (34d gen, 2015) Review

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga Review

Lenovo ThinkPad T460s Video Review

Dell XPS 13 Review

13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display Review

Samsung Notebook 9 Review


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Display: 14", 1920 x 1080 or 2560 x 1440 non-touch IPS screen. Intel HD 520 integrated graphics. HDMI 1.4 and mini DisplayPort 1.2.

Battery: 4 cell, 52 Whr Lithium Ion rechargeable, sealed inside.

Performance: 6th generation Intel Skylake Core i5 and i7 ULV CPUs. 8 or 16 gigs DDR3L RAM, soldered on board and not upgradeable. 128 to 512 gig M.2 SSD drives available (SATA-3 and PCIe NVMe drives available).

Size: 13.11" x 9.01" x 0.65" (thickest point). Weight: 2.6 pounds.

Camera: 720p webcam.

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 8260AC dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.1. 4G LTE Sierra Wireless WWAN with SIM card slot optional. Gigabit Ethernet via dongle adapter.

Software: Windows 10.

Expansion and Ports: 3 USB 3.0 ports, 3.5mm combo audio, HDMI, OneLink+ dock connector, mini DisplayPort and Gigabit Ethernet via dongle adapter and proprietary port.



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