Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017) full review
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is one of the most serious-looking ultra-slim, ultra-light laptops around. Years on from this series’ original launch in 2012 plenty of that ThinkPad business-like DNA remains in-tact.
Don’t start thinking this is some boring business machine, though. It may not have acres of aluminium or a rainbow-backlit keyboard but the 2017 ThinkPad X1 Carbon does have a great typing feel, excellent battery life and a seriously light and portable frame.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon: Price
Lenovo sent us this model, but with a Core i7 CPU upgrade (you can customise the spec on Lenovo's site). This pushes the price up to £1459.
There's also an £1839 version, which has a Core i7 CPU, 16GB RAM, Windows 10 Pro, a 512GB SSD and a 4G mobile internet module. Lenovo’s online customisation tool lets you pick and choose most of these extras, although other retailers are likely to just sell the baseline models.
Later in 2017 Lenovo plans to release a version with a higher-end 1440p screen, although right now we don’t know how much that will cost.
All versions come with Lenovo’s excellent Think warranty as standard, which is a 3-year on-site deal. This means you don’t have to send the X1 Carbon in for repair. Other manufacturers often charge hundreds of pounds for such a warranty.
Don't forget to check out our roundup of the best laptops of this year.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon: Design
At first glance the X1 may appear to be a plastic laptop, which would be disappointing at this price. However, as the name suggests, it is not plastic.
The shell is constructed of several layers of carbon fibre-reinforced polymer on top of a magnesium cage. This ensures it’s very strong and very light.
It’s just 1.14kg, which is extremely light for a laptop with long battery life, a 14in screen and a full dual-core Intel Core-series processor rather than one of Intel’s ultra (ultra) low-power Y-series chips.
It is also a refreshing change from the reams of hybrid computers and ultrabooks obsessed with shiny aluminium. Not everyone will love the old-school ThinkPad vibe this laptop is drenched in, but we know plenty of people who would.
It’s black, serious and doesn’t try to make its keyboard keys sink into the surround like a MacBook. Compared with the ThinkPad Carbon models we reviewed years ago, the 2017 Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1 has a much slimmer screen surround. Like other top-end ultra-portable laptops such as the Dell XPS 13, there’s very little redundant space around the display.
Lenovo says it enables fitting a 14in display into the footprint of a traditional 13in laptop. Once again, the Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1 cares a lot about portability.
Unlike a few of the style laptops we’ve reviewed recently, the Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1 is also very rigid, demonstrating the role of that multilayered carbon fibre and magnesium build.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon: Connectivity
The Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1 is a comfortable choice for people who don’t like that their old connectivity standards are rapidly disappearing from many of the most desirable new laptops. Where some now feature USB-C ports and a headphone jack — and nothing more — the Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1 includes a broad spread of sockets that aims to please almost everyone.
There are two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C sockets, two USB 3.0s, a full-size HDMI and a miniature RJ45 networking port (an adapter cable with standard RJ45 connector is supplied). It’s far more versatile than a MacBook, which would need an expensive and clunky dock to get the same connections.
The X1 Carbon also has a pop-out microSD tray hidden on the rear edge. As people who have to use proper cameras to take product photography all the time, we’d prefer a full-size SD, but even we have to admit those without DSLR or compact system cameras would find microSD more useful anyway.
There is also a SIM slot in the tray that holds the microSD. It makes the Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1 a true business traveller machine. It’s probably overkill for the average laptop buyer, but if it appeals one of the lowest-cost deals going for a SIM at the moment is Three’s £8 a month deal, which gets you 2GB per month.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon: Keyboard and Trackpad
Look at the top half of the Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1, the screen, and it looks every bit the typical modern laptop. The bottom half, the keyboard, is where the classic ThinkPad design thrives.
First, you’ll notice there’s a ‘nipple’ mouse as well as a standard trackpad. These are incredibly rare these days, and not everyone likes them, but they let you operate the mouse without moving your hands from the typing position. The little red blip by the G and H keys is a pressure-sensitive non-moving joystick that can make the cursor fly from one end of the screen to the other with one small gesture.
This is why there are three buttons above the trackpad too. They are the nipple mouse’s buttons. The left and right ones are standard L/R buttons, the middle one turns the red blip into a scroll wheel.
You can ignore the nipple mouse if you like, the only real compromise that the buttons eat into the trackpad’s space a little. The pad is on the small side, but has one of the smoothest surfaces you’ll find in any laptop, at any price. Its top surface is textured glass and is like silk, even smoother than a MacBook’s trackpad.
Its click is well-defined, quiet and has a nice soft feel that makes quick double-clicking easy.
The X1's keyboard is also unusual. While shallower than the ThinkPad boards of a decade ago, the keys are much deeper than those of just about any other slim and light laptop. The typing feel is great, particularly if you find the trend for ultra-thin keyboards a step in the wrong direction.
Its keys are well-spaced and there are a few shortcuts not seen in other laptops. For example, one brings up the settings menu, another the Bluetooth menu. There are no media control function keys, but the ‘Star’ sitting on F12 is a User Defined key you can make do all sorts, from launching apps to typing a phrase.
The keyboard also has a white backlight, with two brightness levels.
Down below the keyboard is a finger scanner, a feature rapidly becoming common in higher-end laptops. Funnily enough, these used to be standard in ThinkPad business laptops, but are suddenly mainstream. These pads are much more palatable, though, because you just place a finger on them rather than having to pass it across the pad, as with old scanners.
You use it to log in, using Windows 10’s Hello feature. It’s among the most reliable laptop finger scanners we’ve used. It works just about every time, first time, although is not as fast as a phone scanner.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon: Display
The Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1’s screen is pretty large given the size of the laptop. It’s a 14in display, using an IPS panel of 1080p resolution. One neat feature is that the hinge folds back to 180 degrees, which can be handy if you want to share what’s on-screen.
For the most part, though, this is an ultra-practical productivity display rather than a ‘lifestyle’ one. There’s no touchscreen and the finish is matt rather than glossy. This kills reflections, handy for outdoors use, but a glossy finish makes colours pop more.
Maximum brightness is 300cd/m2, which is very good rather than superb, but thanks to the matt style we’d be happy to use this laptop out in the sun.
Colour performance too is good rather than fantastic. It covers 82.2 percent of the sRGB colour standard, 59.7 percent of Adobe RGB and 63 percent of DCI P3.
This is low enough to make the slight undersaturation quite clear to the most eagle-eyed of you, but the Carbon's screen still looks good because its contrast is great. A 1162:1 contrast ratio places this among the best LCD laptops in this respect. Play a movie and blacks really do look black.
Of course, when the colour is just OK and the 1080p resolution doesn’t get close to matching some of the more pixel-packed laptops at the price, it makes us keen to see what the 1440p version will look like. There are no claims of improved colour performance in Lenovo’s literature, though.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon: Performance
There are several CPU options, ramping up to the Intel Core i7-7600U, which is an almost £300 upgrade over the i7-7500U our model has. The crucial point to note, though, is that all versions use Intel’s U-series CPUs rather than the lower-power Y-series kind used in a few ultra light laptops, like the Acer Swift 7.
Windows 10 runs like a dream, as you’d hope. Most of its internals are high-end, or at least toward the upper end of mid-range. For example, the 256GB here uses the latest PCIe-nvme tech, with read speeds of 1950MB/s, and writes of up to 805MB/s. Faster SSDs exist, but most uses that would exploit that extra power would need a quad-core CPU anyway.
The Intel Core i7-7500U here is a dual-core CPU, among the fastest you’ll find in a slim laptop, but not a match for a desktop processor. In Geekbench 4 it scores 8500 points, and 2925 in the PC Mark Home 8 test. This is actually better than we squeezed out of the Razer Blade Stealth in both cases, despite using exactly the same CPU, although it was also rendering Windows at a higher resolution in the background.
There’s enough power for just about any productivity purpose, including Photoshop and, for example, pro-level music production software.
The one area it’s not quite so hot on is gaming. As with every laptop that relies solely on integrated graphics, in this case an Intel HD 620 chipset, modern games are compromised.
Alien: Isolation runs at an average 29.6fps, which is playable if you’re not too demanding, but that’s at 720p with the visuals turned down. This drops to 13fps when running the game at 1080p with visual effects restored.
Thief is borderline unplayable no matter the graphics setting, averaging 21fps at 720p (low settings) and 6.2fps at 1080p, high settings.
This is no surprise: all slim and light laptops with similar specs yield similar results. You just have to remember laptops like the Carbon aren’t great for gaming. It seems unlikely too many people after a ThinkPad will expect amazing frame rates in games, though.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon: Battery Life
Stamina is a much bigger focus. The X1 has a 57Whr battery, similar to the 60Whr capacity of the class-leading Dell XPS 13.
Battery life is excellent. Playing a 720p video on loop at 120cd/m brightness the Lenovo ThinkPad Carbon X1 lasts 12 and a half hours, sailing through a full day’s work with ease.
This is one of the laptops’s great strengths, proving it’s nothing like the chunky laptops that may come to mind when you think of “business” machines. It also outdoes much of the lifestyle laptop competition, matching the class leader Dell XPS 13 almost to the minute.
Lenovo says it has actually made the Carbon last a mammoth 15.5 hours using a battery benchmark, but that must have been with the screen almost completely dark. If you need this kind of endurance, check out Microsoft's Surface Laptop which lasted 16 hours in our tests.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017): Specs
- 14in screen (1920 x 2160) 1080p 282ppi IPS LCD matt anti-glare
- 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U (3.5GHz boost) 2 cores, 4 threads
- Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
- Intel HD 620 GPU
- 8B 1866MHz DDR3 RAM
- 256GBTB SSD PCIe
- 802.11b/g/n/ac single-band 2x2 MIMO
- Bluetooth 4.1
- 2x USB-C Thunderbolt 3
- 2x USB 3.0
- Native RJ45
- Kensington Security Slot
- microSD card slot
- microSIM slot
- Stereo speakers
- HD webcam
- Single mic
- 3.5mm headset jack
- UK tiled keyboard with numberpad
- Two-button trackpad
- 57Wh lithium-ion battery, removable
- 323 x 217 mm x 16 mm
- 3-year on-site warranty