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Lenovo's slim X1 Carbon gets an 'adaptive' row of touch controls (hands-on)

New CPUs and a better-than-HD screen make this 2.8-pound ultrabook a top crossover contender.

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Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon moves into its third iteration at CES 2014. The basic premise remains the same, with the X1 pitched as an ultrabook-thin premium 14-inch laptop with the chops to be a business system, but with the high design to make it cool enough to tote around off-hours.

Lenovo says this is the lightest 14-inch laptop in the world, and at 2.8 pounds, it certainly weighs less than many smaller 13-inch laptops. The carbon fiber body helps with weight, and also adds strength and durability. Like previous versions, the display folds back 180 degrees, allowing you to lay the system down flat, or at least find the perfect angle when you're in a cramped meeting room or coffee shop.

Of the 2013 X1 Carbon, I said: "Even though this is still a business-targeted ThinkPad, it's also one of the most satisfying ultrabook laptops I've used this year." However, "it's expensive, especially compared with much of the ultrabook competition, and has a handful of quirks."

New for the 2014 edition is something Lenovo calls an adaptive keyboard, which replaces the function key row with a small touch-screen strip that changes based on what app you're using. There are four presets with different commands, including ones for Web browsing and VOIP use. It's a pretty clever concept, and the strip changed automatically when we opened different applications, which was an unexpected bonus.

The battery life gets a purported boost to 9 hours, much longer than the 5 hours the previous version tested at. Lenovo's Rapid Charge technology, found in many of the company's laptops, lets you charge the battery up to about 80 percent in 1 hour.

The processor can go up to a current-gen Intel Core i7, plus up to 512GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage. The display is interesting -- the two options are a lower-res 1,600x900-pixel-resolution screen and a better-than-HD 2,560x,1440 one. A 4G/LTE antenna is also an option, something you don't see on laptops very often anymore (now that so many people use 3G/4G hubs or shared mobile phone data).

While this is one of the few laptops that can effectively walk the line between IT-friendly business system and slim, attractive consumer product, it doesn't have as many ports and connections as you might need at home. That leads to Lenovo's new OneLink docking products, which are designed to give you access to anything you might need that's not already built into the laptop. For example, the ThinkPad OneLink Pro Dock includes USB ports, audio and Ethernet connections, and DisplayPort and DVI video outputs.

The 2014 version of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon starts at $1,299 and goes on sale in late January. The OneLink Dock Pro starts at $179.

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