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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2018) Review: Productivity at its Finest

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Lenovo unveiled its new ThinkPad X1 lineup this year at CES, and in typical fashion, we got a unit to review. For this piece, we received the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon. A successor to last year’s popular model, the sixth generation of the laptop that’s left a legacy at the company still attains many of the aspects customers look for in a productivity-focused Windows machine. With its top-of-the-line specs and added touches that round off to a unique experience, there’s no denying the X1 Carbon is a great laptop.

And yes, I know that sounds biased, but it’s my honest opinion. Let me explain.

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Let’s start off with the design. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon we received has a carbon-fiber build with a matte/soft touch finish that feels both smooth and sturdy. It doesn’t do any 360-degree flip tricks or anything, but it does provide a classic laptop form factor with a screen that can be bent up to 180-degrees. Yes, it’s not an all-metal clamshell like the MacBook or Surface Laptop, but it gets the job done. It’s thin, it’s super light at just 2.5 pounds, and it’s convenient to carry around.

Speaking of carrying it around, Lenovo designed the X1 Carbon to be more durable than most other laptops on the market. While I don’t have exact statistics to share as to how durable it is, it has survived a slight tumble from my backpack onto carpeted flooring. I don’t have a reason not to believe it would survive other, more intense falls in the future.

In a nutshell, the best way to describe the X1 Carbon’s looks is to say it’s a business-oriented laptop. And it is. It’s exactly what Lenovo was going for, and they executed beautifully.

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The X1 Carbon has one of the better laptop screens.

A part of every good laptop, you need to be able to open its lid with one hand without the entire computer raising from the table at the same time. The X1 Carbon’s hinge is leveraged perfectly so you can do so, and before you will sit a 14-inch matte display. Its surrounded by relatively thin bezels and contains a Full HD 1920×1080 resolution. I have to say, it’s one of the better laptop screens I’ve seen in my time. Sure, it could be sharper, but there’s a Quad HD 2560×1440 option for a reason. It produces good color reproduction, gets bright enough for highly-lit environments, and extrudes contrast very well especially while watching video. It’s also a touchscreen which makes interacting with the laptop feel a bit more natural than just by using a keyboard and mouse.

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Speaking of which, the keyboard on the X1 Carbon is extremely comfortable to use. It offers enough key travel that you can press really hard while typing and get a satisfying experience out of it. It’s also backlit for working in dark environments.

My only gripe would be the swapped positions of the Control and Function keys at the bottom left. I’m used to reaching to the bottom left-hand corner to tap and hold Ctrl, but on the X1 Carbon, I’ve had to retrain myself to reach where Fn is usually found. There is a setting to switch the commands of the keys if you aren’t a fan of this layout, but after I got used to it, I didn’t bother switching them and messing up my muscle memory even further.

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Sitting directly below the keyboard is a trackpad with three physical buttons for scrolling, left-clicking, and right-clicking. I never used them thanks to buttons being built into the trackpad itself, but if you like dedicated keys, they’re there.

In my experience, the trackpad seemed fine. I feel like it could be a bit more precise as it doesn’t feel as smooth while moving around the cursor as I had hoped, but it’s totally fine if you don’t have something like a Bluetooth mouse to connect. For me, at least, I prefer a dedicated mouse.

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ThinkPad nub is back!

For cramped environments, Lenovo has yet again included the ThinkPad nub that’s been around for a number of years at this point. It sits in the middle of the keyboard and provides a unique way to navigate around Windows 10 if you don’t have enough arm move to operate the trackpad. I rarely ever used it, but I think it’s because I’m just not used to using it. For fans of it, however, it’s there.

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For specs, Lenovo sent us the X1 Carbon with an 8th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage. It also comes with integrated Intel graphics and Windows 10 Pro. After configuring the laptop on Lenovo’s website, the price sits at $1,584.90.

It performs as it should.

On paper alone, it isn’t hard to tell the X1 Carbon will perform well under light-to-medium workloads. In real world experience, it spits out this very result flawlessly. Of course, when you have apps like Photoshop or a graphics-intensive game open, you’ll start to experience slowdowns. But considering this is a business-oriented laptop meant for performing tasks like working on spreadsheets, replying to emails, and using the web constantly, most buyers shouldn’t experience any problems with this particular configuration.

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ThinkShutter: for the paranoid.

For the webcam, Lenovo opted for a 720p HD sensor that sits in the slim bezel atop the display on the X1 Carbon. I usually don’t review webcams, but this one is interesting considering its security measures. Rather always being exposed to the end user, it comes with the company’s new ThinkShutter which is a physical cover you can slide over your webcam so hackers can’t spy on you. It’s a very basic addition but could make a big difference in someone’s life who’s paranoid by the stories they hear of people spying on others through their webcams.

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Also security-related, the X1 Carbon comes with a new fingerprint scanner that stores its data inside a dedicated chip within the laptop itself. This means you’ll have a lesser chance of someone hacking your computer and retrieving the encrypted information regarding your fingerprint. Unfortunately, the sensor is still pretty unreliable and was hit-or-miss nearly every time I used it, but it’s there if you prefer it over a PIN or password.

I should also mention there’s a model of the X1 Carbon that comes with an IR camera for Windows Hello facial recognition. This would likely come in handy if you experience problems with the fingerprint sensor like I did.

I/O wise, we’re looking at a plethora of ports that should come in handy for both casual and productive users. It includes two USB 3.1 ports, two USB-C ports that both deliver Thunderbolt 3 output, a full-size HDMI port, a headphone jack, a microSD card reader, and an Ethernet extension connector. Modern laptops are beginning to stray further and further away from older connection types and gravitate toward using USB-C exclusively, so it’s nice to see Lenovo stick to standards we’re all used to for its productivity-focused flagship.

Speakers = hot garbage.

As for speakers, there are units mounted to the bottom half of the X1 Carbon that fire downward. I absolutely hate any speakers that do this on a laptop because they get muffled, they’re often tinny, and they never get very loud. In fact, this is probably my least favorite part of the entire laptop. Assuming you have a good set of headphones, however, you can probably excuse the sub-par sound output.

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For any productivity-focused user, battery life is crucial. Luckily, the X1 Carbon can get you through the entire day and then some. Lenovo advertises up to 15 hours, and that’s just about what I noticed. I’ve experienced nothing short of 10 hours of use throughout the day all with brightness set to 100% and multiple Google Chrome tabs open constantly. In some instances, such as over the weekend, I can get around 12-13 hours of use. The laptop also charges pretty fast thanks to RapidCharge. All in all, you shouldn’t have a problem with endurance on the laptop whatsoever.

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Overall, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is stupendous.

Assuming you can look past the terrible speakers and hit-or-miss fingerprint reader, you should really consider picking up the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon if productivity is your focus. The design is perfect for mobility, the keyboard is comfortable, speeds are top notch, the display delivers great quality, battery life is on par, and security remains a top priority for Lenovo. It’s so well-rounded, in fact, that this should seriously be the only laptop busy professionals express interest in. It’s simply perfect for someone who does a lot of document management, web-based projects, or work on the go.

Therefore, unless something else comes along that delivers even better speakers or a more reliable fingerprint sensor, just get the ThinkPad. It’s perfect.

Rating: 8.5/10

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