Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon review: Better-than-HD ultrabook gets smart function keys

Sarah Tew/CNET

It's an interesting idea, and works as advertised. That said, I don't see it as being enough to sway your purchase decision one way or another. The commands are not programmable, and three of the four rows of commands actually share most of the same buttons. That said, I'd love to see this idea expanded into other systems, and with the ability to create custom commands.

The 14-inch touch screen is a system highlight, thanks to its 2,560x1,440-pixel native resolution. There is a lower-res screen option available, a mere 1,600x900 pixels, but that seems like a poor way to save a few bucks on an already expensive laptop. The display has a matte finish that still allows colors to pop, while keeping glare down, and the screen looks good even from wide viewing angles.

Ports and connections Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
Video HDMI, Mini DisplayPort
Audio Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack
Data 2 USB 3.0
Networking Ethernet (via dongle), 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

Connections, performance, and battery
Like many business systems, the X1 Carbon skips the SD card slot (a security concern for some), but you do get two video outputs, both HDMI and Mini DisplayPort. Ethernet requires a dongle, but Lenovo would no doubt like you to use one of its OneLink docks to add additional connectivity, including DVI, full Ethernet, and four USB 3.0 ports. That standalone dock costs $179, a hefty additional investment, but I use an older USB-powered version, and have found it to be excellent.

Sarah Tew/CNET

In our benchmark tests, the Core i5-powered X1 Carbon performed as expected when compared with other recent ultrabooks with higher-than-1080p displays. Nearly all these systems have fourth-gen Core i5 CPUs, from Intel's ultra-low-power line (except the Toshiba Kirabook , which has a previous-generation Core i7), and you'll find any of these more than powerful enough for everyday personal and business tasks, from putting together PowerPoint presentations to social media and Web surfing to streaming HD video.

Given all that, what we're really looking for from the X1 Carbon is amazing battery life. A slim, on-the-go laptop needs to last all day, and while the X1 does well, it's not a long-lived as some. The system ran for 5 hours, 41 minutes, in our video playback battery drain test, which is merely OK, and not in the same ballpark as the 13-inch MacBook Pro, nor even the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus or Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro. Keep in mind that all of the systems mentioned here have better-than-HD displays.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion
The third version of the ThinkPad X1 is the best to date, and it remains one of the only choices for a slim, high-design business laptop with premium features. The addition of both a 2,560x1,440-pixel-resolution display and the adaptive function key row is welcome, but these upgrades also drive the price up high enough that you're likely to have to twist some arms to get your IT department to get this as your next work laptop.

HandBrake multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Find more shopping tips in our Laptop Buying Guide.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2014)
Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,792MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400; 128GB Samsung SSD

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (October 2013)
OSX 10.9 Mavericks; 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-4258U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1GB Intel Iris Graphics; 256GB Apple SSD

Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,749MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400: 128GB SSD

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro
Windows 8.1 (64.bit); 1.6GHZ Intel Core i5-4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,792MB (shared) Intel HD 4400 Graphics; 128GB Samsung SSD

Toshiba Kirabook
Windows 8 (64-bit); 2GHz Intel Core i7-3667U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 256GB Toshiba SSD

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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Part Number: 20A7CTO1WW
MSRP: $1,299.00 Low Price: $1,234.05 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Installed Size 4 GB
  • Weight 2.8 lbs
  • Graphics Processor Intel HD Graphics 4000
  • CPU Intel Core i5 (3rd Gen) 3337U / 1.8 GHz
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