Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2014) review: first look
CES 2014 has seen Lenovo continue its blazing run of form, and its newly refined ThinkPad X1 Carbon is no exception. We may not have been fans of the X1 Carbon Touch (we preferred the original, slimmer non-touch model), but 2014 sees Lenovo combine the best of both worlds – the new, touchscreen-equipped X1 Carbon is now the lightest 14in Ultrabook in the world.
It’s jam-packed with improvements. The chassis now weighs a claimed 1.28kg, which is lighter even than the original 1.36kg non-touch model. It’s also 5mm thinner than the X1 Carbon Touch, measuring an impressive 17mm thick, and 2mm thinner than even the original, non-touch X1 Carbon.
The base has clearly lost a little podge around its waist, the slimming effect is most noticeable in the touchscreen and lid – the whole unit is far thinner than that of the previous model. Looks-wise, this is as sleek and steamlined as business laptops get – it’s easily smart enough to give a good few consumer models a run for their money.
Silky-feeling carbon fibre stretches above and below, and while build quality still feels up to par, the weight-savings have resulted in a more flexible-feeling base. Lenovo is bullish about the X1 Carbon’s toughness, however – the company is keen to emphasise that it has been tested to military specifications, even if it won’t specify exactly which specifications they are. The only thing Lenovo divulges is that it’s tested for resistance to dust, vibration, heat, cold, altitude, water and humidity. So, just the usual kind of office conditions, basically.
The Adaptive Keyboard feature is ingenious. This replaces the row of Function keys along the keyboards top edge with an LCD strip panel that cycles through four modes. Dabbing the Fn button on the top left edge swaps between standard Function keys and three banks of dedicated action buttons, and the options also automatically adapt to the program in use, providing dedicated buttons for Internet Explorer, Skype and other applications.
Lenovo was keen to stress the minimal effect of this on battery life – the LCD strip is illuminated with an ultra low-power phosphorescent backlight. And as you’d expect from a ThinkPad, the rest of the keyboard is just as comfy and pleasant to type on as ever.
High-DPI comes to ThinkPad
While Lenovo’s Yoga 2 Pro featured a 3,200 x 1,800, 276ppi display, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon opts for a 2,560 x 1,440, 210ppi display. This decision is intended to slightly reduce the severity of scaling issues, which are common to high-DPI panels – few applications currently scale well at high-DPI resolutions.
In any case, the IPS panel serves up strong image quality. There’s none of the graininess that afflicted the X1 Carbon Touch, and the combination of vibrant colour reproduction and potent backlighting makes for cracking image quality.
Lenovo has also covered pretty much the whole gamut of business essentials. There’s dual-band 802.11ac, Bluetooth 4, optional 3G and a proprietary Ethernet adapter is also supplied. Twin USB 3 ports, HDMI and mini-DisplayPort also make the grade.
If all the above isn’t enough for you, then the X1 Carbon’s new power connector is now compatible with the matching OneLink dock. The socket is still backwards-compatible with previous PSUs, but hook up the dock via the new, larger connector and it’s capable of carrying power and USB 3 signals. And as ever, Lenovo’s Rapid Charge technology allows the battery to charge to full capacity in little over an hour.
The dock adds four more USB 3 ports, two USB 2 ports, full-sized DisplayPort, DVI, an Ethernet socket and, thanks to the DisplayLink technology, allows the X1 Carbon to power three displays simultaneously.
The Lenovo representative we spoke to stated that he’d been happily running five displays – the X1 Carbon’s display, two monitors via the DVI and DisplayPort connections and two more USB monitors. Probably enough for most purposes.
Our first question after hearing about all the upgrades was: “how much?” The answer, you’ll be pleased to hear, is no more than previously – so around £1,500 inc VAT, depending on which specification you go for.
It’s pretty safe to say that the X1 Carbon is going to be a shoo-in for PC Pro’s Business laptop A-List. The first concern we have – and we’re confident Lenovo will have made sure this isn’t the case – is that the new high-DPI display and Adaptive Keyboard feature may end up putting a dent in battery life.
The second potential sticking point is the high-DPI display – with few, if any, applications currently taking advantage of the extra pixel density afforded by such displays, we fear it may be a backward step for the X1 Carbon.
With the X1 Carbon due to land early in 2014, we’re (just a little bit) eager to put it to the test. Keep your eyes peeled for PC Pro’s definitive in-depth review.