Like clockwork, Lenovo announced a new ThinkPad X1 Carbon series earlier this year and with the lineup now on the market, including upcoming models with Intel’s 10th Gen processors, there isn’t a best time to publish a review.
- 14” IPS LCD Display (several options)
- Intel Core i5, i7 (Gen8 or Gen10)
- 256GB to 1TB SSD
- Priced at $999+ (i5-8265U, 8GB, 256GB)
Configuration as tested: Intel Core i7-8665U (+Intel UHD 620), Windows 10 Pro, 16GB RAM, 1TB Samsung MZVLB1T0HBLR-000L7 SSD. 4K 3840×2160 display IPS LCD
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon can be configured in so many ways, we’ll get back to different CPU and display options as we progress in the review.
Industrial Design: ultra-light made of Carbon Fiber
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon design has made a name for itself by combining ultra-portability and toughness, two attributes that are usually mutually exclusive.
As such, this model has quickly become a professional and IT organization darling, thanks to its 2.45 Lbs weight and MIL-STD 810G Mil-Spec certification (12 tests), among many other things (such as vPro management and more).
Such Mil-Specs certification means that it could withstand what army hardware go through during battlefield storage and transport on the front line. Read our What is MIL-STD-810G article for a complete explanation, or you can check Lenovo’s leaflet to see the 12 tests details.
There are different strategies to achieve such lightweight. Most use Magnesium, but the X1 is made of carbon-fiber (more expensive), except for the removable bottom, which is magnesium alloy.
“THE THINKPAD X1 CARBON HAS MADE A NAME FOR ITSELF BY COMBINING ULTRA-PORTABILITY AND TOUGHNESS”
In 2019, new ultra-portable competitors are coming, and we’ll have to see how new offerings from Samsung and LG compete in the sub 3 Lbs space. At the moment, Lenovo retains a unique advantage of having a 14” display with a 4K option (more on that later) while competitors often have 13.3” displays mostly with FHD resolution.
Classic competitors such as the Dell XPS 13 2019, the HP Spectre X360 2019 have aluminum chassis that are significantly heavier, even though these computers may be more compact. In fact, the XPS 13 has a 33% smaller footprint than the X1 Carbon, but weights 11% more.
The 4K display even gets a carbon-weave pattern in the back, which highlights the fact that Lenovo’s X1 is made out of Carbon. It looks fancy but remains subtle-enough because corporate customers like keeping things low-key.
The design is generally very similar to last year’s edition, which had seen a big reduction in display bezel size. The resistant soft paint looks and feels the same as well. Of course, there are small differences, such as the ~6% additional thinness, but it’s not that obvious at first sight.
Keyboard and Trackpad
As usual, Lenovo nailed the keyboard and input designs. There’s no reason to change a winning formula, and the ThinkPad keyboard has been racking up awards for more than 25 years, and surprisingly, no-one has challenged that design.
The 1.3mm key travel is pretty much optimum for typing comfort and speed, but that’s a matter of preferences. Perhaps Lenovo can win over many MacBook users who grew dissatisfied with their 0.6mm MacBook key travel and its tendency to get stuck with small dirt particles.
This keyboard has a U-shape key design, which means that the keys are not flat, but curved downwards in the middle. This makes the downward push force naturally push the fingertip towards the center, thus helping avoid typing errors.
“LENOVO NAILED THE KEYBOARD AND INPUT DESIGNS”
In addition to being comfortable, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon keyboard is also spill-proof and will have no problem surviving a coffee cup being dropped on it, nor little crumbs falling between the keys.
The only thing that I dislike about the keyboard is the location of the Fn button to the lower-left corner. This is not standard, and I keep missing it, although I’ve dealt with this issue for a number of years.
I personally don’t use Lenovo’s TrackPoint (sorry!), that little red dot above the “B” key, but some people swear by it, and that adds extra stickiness to Lenovo’s input system.
With a trackpad surface of ~8.8 Square-inches, the trackpad is standard. When compared to the competition, this size is not particularly big and you can find much larger trackpads in computers like Macbook Pros and others.
Like any other touch-interface, the size of the trackpad in relation to the gestures matters. On laptops, most people use scroll and pinch & zoom motions. More advanced usages require up to four fingers, and circular gestures tend to be more comfortable with a larger surface. Check the Windows 10 gestures.
- 1x USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3
- 2x USB Type-A, 3.1 Gen1
- 1x Standard HDMI1.4
- 1x Ethernet, Proprietary
- 1x 3.5mm audio
- 1x Anti-theft slot, Kensington
For such a light laptop, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen7 has a surprisingly large number of ports. That stems from the fact that it doesn’t try to be the absolute smallest/thinnest design. After all, once it’s in your bag, it’s the weight that counts, no?
The USB-C Thunderbolt 3 is also the Power port (65W charging) and can be used to connect to an external monitor. The full-size HDMI port is handy for projectors and older monitors, no dongle needed.
Since Thunderbolt 3 devices can be daisy-chained, you can get by with a single port if you are a bit careful.
Two USB-A (full-size) can be used with legacy devices such as printers, USB-keys, security keys and all kinds of things that still use that format. Most 13.3 competitors will have at least one USB-A port, but both the Macbook Pro and Macbook Air only feature USB-C at the moment.
The audio quality was one of the weaknesses we spotted in the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Gen6 (2018), and the good news is that Lenovo has vastly improved upon last year’s X1 Carbon model with a quad-speaker setup (2-tweeter facing top, 2-woofers facing down).
“LENOVO HAS VASTLY IMPROVED THE SOUND QUALITY AND POWER”
The four speakers, along with Dolby Atmos sound processing, create a powerful sound with more “body”. There is a bit of sound distortion with the tweeters at maximum volume, but overall, this is getting close to the Huawei MateBook X Pro, which remains the reference for thin & light audio quality.
Note that many laptops don’t come with Dolby Atmos, and we noticed that it can make a significant difference, especially now that Atmos’ software has a “dynamic” setting that you only have to enable once.
Our review unit was equipped with the 4K IPS LCD option, which meant that it has an extremely high pixel density and color accuracy (~140% sRGB). We measured its brightness at 544 NITs, which is ~10% higher than the 500 NITs specification. This display is also certified for Dolby Vision HDR.
- 14″ WQHD (2560 x 1440) 300 nits, IPS, anti-glare
- 14″ FHD (1920 x 1080) 400 nits, IPS, low power, anti-glare
- 14″ FHD (1920 x 1080) 400 nits, IPS, PrivacyGuard, anti-glare
- 14″ FHD (1920 x 1080) 300 nits, IPS, anti-glare, multi-touch
- 14″ UHD (3840 x 2160) 500 nits IPS, glossy, dolby vision™ HDR 400
For prospect buyers, Lenovo has a vast array of options that include 1080P FHD with various resolutions, brightness and security options. The 4K display is glossy, 1080p versions have a matte “anti-glare” finish. Note that only ONE 1080p option has multi-touch.
The ample choices allow Lenovo to target vastly different use cases going from pure office work to some slice of the creative (and lucrative) market where people need more accurate colors, along with higher brightness.
On our 4K display, the brightness setting is not linear, and when you go from 100% to 90% by pressing the keyboard key, the brightness diminishes by ~50% (!!) which is a bit weird because there are plenty of situations where you would want brightness between 250 and 500 NITs.
For reference, the 1080p display would get something like 350 NITs and 110% of sRGB color coverage. You may find slightly better 1080p displays (although 13.3”) with Dell and HP, but the Lenovo 4K option has higher brightness and sRGB coverage than its 4K competitors.
Unlike the Lenovo X1 Yoga 2019 (review coming soon…), the X1 Carbon screen can be extended to 180-degree, but not 360. It is also a perfect match with the portable Lenovo ThinkVision M14 we recently reviewed.
There are two possible webcam options, depending on your display choice. They consist of the plain webcam and the other one with the secondary infrared (IR) sensor to securely unlock the computer using a 3D scan of your face.
Although the fingerprint-unlock works well, I really like having the face unlock option as well. All X1 Carbon webcams include ThinkShutter, a physical shutter that blocks the camera lens to protect your privacy. This is part of ThinkShield, a Lenovo security initiative that covers different computer security aspects.
Laptop webcams are not a defining factor, and Huawei claims that only a small fraction of laptop users actually use the camera on a regular basis. Like most such webcams, the X1 Carbon has a 720p sensor and can capture video and photos at 1280×720: this is very much standard.
The microphone setup is probably the biggest webcam change since last year, with a better 4-microphone array that works in all kinds of situations, from single chat to having multiple participants in the room.
Audio recording works well out of the box, but Lenovo points out that you can select specific use cases in the (Microphone Settings) such as having multiple people in the room or voice recognition to get further recording optimizations.
The Thinkpad Carbon X1 Gen7 comes with Intel’s 8th or 10th generation processors, and that’s at least 6 CPU options in total (4xGen8 + 2xGen10).
We’ve tested the Intel Core i7-8665U (8th Gen), as the 10th generation CPUs aren’t configurable (yet) on Lenovo.com. However, we can look at the performance of the Dell XPS 13 7390 with Core i7-10710U to pinpoint generational CPU differences. You can expect a similarly configured X1 Carbon to behave comparably.
- Core i5-8265U Processor (4 Cores)
- Core i5-8365U with vPro (4 Cores)
- Core i7-8565U Processor (4 Cores)
- Core i7-8665U with vPro (4 Cores)
- Core i7-10510U Processor (4 Cores)
- Core i7-10710U Processor (6 Cores)
Geekbench shows that if you want higher levels of performance, you should configure the X1 Carbon with the new Intel 10th generation processors, just like the XPS 13 7390.
One of the benefits of the 10th generation Intel Core is the increased graphics performance at the high-end. Alternatively, you may get a better performance “for the price” by opting for a 10th-gen Core i3 processor, if you don’t need peak performance.
In an office environment, the extra horsepower isn’t making as much of a difference as one may think, but for Creative work (video-editing, photoshop…) it definitely would.
* Performance numbers are from testing in 1080p mode so that we get consistent metrics across laptops. Resolution can impact some benchmarks such as PCMark 8 Home or PCMark 8 Work where 4K scores were ~15% lower.
Overall, the multi-thread CPU performance of the 10th Generation is higher, along with drastically better graphics performance. Intel’s new Iris Plus integrated graphics present in the 10th Generation Core processors practically doubles the graphics performance, and that’s the most important takeaway.
If you do intensive multi-core computing such as creative apps or GPU-driven apps, you will want to get the latest 10th generation CPUs. For office tasks, you can stick to the 8th generation, and you could even buy the X1 Carbon Gen 6 if you find a great deal, because office tasks aren’t much faster than on last year’s X1 Carbon.
One added benefit of the Intel 10th generation platform is that it should come with WiFi-6, which improves nearly every aspect of WiFi, from speed to efficiency. But you need a WiFi-6 router to benefit from all that.
Optionally, it is possible to get a 4G LTE CAT9 integrated modem (Fibocom L850-GL 4G LTE CAT9) to stay connected at all times.
When it comes to battery life, we recommend looking at the battery capacity (in Wh or Watt-hours) as the primary factor for any given CPU/GPU/Display combo. These are the primary power-consumers on any laptops and similarly-configured systems tend to draw power in a similar way.
The 51Wh battery capacity of the 2019 X1 Carbon is less than the 57Wh if last year’s X1 but it matches the 52Wh of the Dell XPS 13 and is a bit more than the 49Wh of the Macbook Air (2019).
You can find 13.3” systems with 60Wh (+17%) batteries like the HP Spectre X360 13t, but that one is 17% heavier, so it has the same battery capacity “per Lbs” than the Lenovo X1 Carbon has. Essentially, Lenovo could increase the battery capacity, but that would induce extra weight. For high battery-capacity check the Lenovo X1 Yoga!
That said, users can quickly replenish their battery using Lenovo’s RapidCharge at a speed of 47Wh per hour, which is 13% faster than last year’s model, according to our lab tests.
Lenovo’s 65W charger is not uncommon in the PC world, but some manufacturers do use 45W, and Apple has 61W (MacBook Pro) and 30W (MacBook Air) chargers that are not as powerful/fast.
Finally, keep in mind that 4K displays tend to use significantly more power (30%-40% more), so if battery longevity is your main concern, pick one of the 1080p/FHD options. In some tests, the battery life of the FHD model can be 2X longer when compared to the 4K model.
Our 4K configuration got 06h03 mn of battery life in the PCMark 8 Work battery benchmark (PCM8WB). You should get significantly more with a 1080p display option.
PCM8WB is probably the most representative of what you would get in the real world and is much better than “custom-made” browsing tests that browse fake sites. Video-playback tests are interesting for that specific use-case, but they are not representative of general computer use.
Conclusion: unique and very flexible offering
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen7 (2019) is an excellent ultralight laptop that is configurable to compete at any performance or price point in the high-end 13” to 14” laptop market.
The four or five display options can accommodate many types of buyers, including those who have unique security requirements (Lenovo PrivacyGuard) or want to choose between matte and glossy finishes.
It is different from great competitors such as the Dell XPS 13 and HP’s Spectre X360 because it is light and built for physical endurance. It is a rare laptop in that ultralight market to have a spill-proof keyboard and pass Mil-810-STD tests.
The X1 Carbon is also the Ultralight laptop that has the most ports, especially if you compare it with the MacBook Pro which doesn’t have a single full-size USB and weighs 23% more.
Of course, there are things that Lenovo could improve upon, such as having smaller bezels, a larger trackpad, and a more compact form-factor. There are options out there if you want one or two of these things but overall, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen7 is a hell of a laptop.
Overall product rating: 9.5/10
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