/> ED I T O R S C H O I C E IN N O V A T IO N A W A R D
X

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017) review: A modern classic for the battery-bleeding business traveler

LoriGruninNewHeadshot.jpg

I love carbon fiber -- I'll put that right out there. The feel yes, but most importantly the way it makes everything so lightweight. And, sadly, more expensive as well. Lenovo's 2017 ThinkPad X1 Carbon, dubbed its "5th gen" model, recommends itself as the perfect traveler's laptop with its lightweight body, relatively speedy performance and exceptional 11.8-hour battery life. But you'll pay for the privilege of toting it around.

lenovo-thinkpad-x1-carbon-01.jpg
8.2

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017)

The Good

Class-leading battery life, good performance and its light weight are among the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's main virtues.

The Bad

It's expensive, and there's no touchscreen option.

The Bottom Line

This isn't the most feature-packed or stylish system. But it does have the classic look and the performance, battery life and light weight a traveler needs from a traditional laptop.

The current X1 Carbon starts at $1,330, £1,839 or AU$2,099. The only significant hardware configuration options are the processor -- a choice of seventh-generation Core i5 or i7 models -- 8 or 16GB memory or SSD storage options between 128GB and 1TB. With the hardware maxxed out and Windows 10 Pro, you can spend up to $2,750 on it. (There's also Snapdragon X7 LTE-A WWAN and a vPro version of the wireless and Bluetooth chipset options for no extra cost.)

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 5th Gen (2017)

Price as reviewed $2,520; £1,938; AU$2,750
Display size/resolution 14-inch 1,920x1,080-pixel display
PC CPU 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7600U
PC Memory 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 1,866MHz
Graphics 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620
Storage 512GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac Bluetooth 4.2
Operating system Windows 10 Pro (64-bit)

If you're more concerned with budget than performance, you'd probably be served well enough with a Core i5-7200U, 8GB, 512GB configuration which comes in at under $1,900. Also, keep in mind that Lenovo offers preferred pricing to some of its retailers, so you can get significantly lower price from sites such as CDW -- which charges $2,123 compared to Lenovo's $2,520 for our evaluation configuration, for instance.

There are slightly different options in the UK. For instance, the price difference between the i5 and the i7 is trivial, so you might as well get the i7, and there's no choice for memory or 128GB SSD option. So the budget UK configuration is about £1,839. In Australia, my suggested configuration comes to just under AU$2,000.

In June 2017 Lenovo plans to ship a models with a Quad HD (2,560x1,440-pixel) display. Unless it ships with a more powerful battery -- which it probably won't -- it won't have the same battery life as the HD model we tested. That's a lot of pixels to cram into such a small 14-inch display. I think a touchscreen model would make more sense. And it's priced similarly to the slightly smaller HP EliteBook x360 -- you're paying a premium for the security and management features on both -- but without the two-in-one flexiblity.

Hi-ho, the battery -- Oh!

The X1 Carbon has one of the longest-lived batteries we've ever tested: It lasted just under 12 hours in our streaming video test. In fact, we've only seen 2 laptops with 14-inch class screens break the 11-hour barrier -- this and the . (The latter case is more of a feat given that it has a much higher-resolution screen.) The rest are slightly smaller 13-inch models.

Of course, your mileage may vary. On a WebEx conference over Wi-Fi, audio over and the screen brightness down to around 50 percent, the battery level dropped over 10 percent in 40 minutes. But once the call ended and I just sat and typed (with Wi-Fi still active), the depletion slowed significantly. It also lasts days in sleep mode if you're one of those people who don't use their computer daily.

The rest of its performance is less stellar but in line with the rest of its class. Lenovo uses slower 1,866MHz memory than many other systems' 2,133MHz, which delivers lower scores on the memory and CPU-intensive tests, but in this class of laptop I don't think you'll notice any difference in performance. And I think it contributes to the better battery life.

Unobtrusive design

Aside from its 2.5 lb (1.1 kg) light-but-strong body, the rest is typical of its class. It has a 14-inch display in a 13-inch-class body at 12.7 inches (324 mm) wide. This makes sense, given that the width of the display is 12.2 inches (31 cm). The display is bright, nonreflective and quite readable, with an embedded webcam on the top bezel. I wasn't really impressed with the color quality or exposure for the webcam, so if you want to impress a client you'll need to surround yourself with flattering light.

I don't love the keyboard, but it's not bad as far as laptop keyboards go. I like a little more bounce in my keys, but they have a decent amount of travel, and the concave chicklet keys do feel nice on your fingers. I also think the touchpad needs some sort of backlighting, at least for the buttons at the top, because it's hard to find in the dark. Lenovo's UltraNav system of TrackPoint buttons, the veteran Trackpoint stick (which I don't really like) and ClickPad touchpad wiht standard right- and left-click zones offers a lot of navigation choices, but the touchpad is a little smaller than we've seen lately to make room for it all along with the fingerprint sensor.

lenovo-thinkpad-x1-carbon-05.jpg

There are a gazillion different options for getting around.

Sarah Tew/CNET

There's also a combo Esc/FnLock button, which I really like. It lets you choose whether the top row of buttons act as hardware shortcuts for volume, brightness and so on, or whether the function keys are in effect. And given the awful placement of the Fn button -- right where touch typists reach for the Ctrl key -- it's great that there's an option in the Lenovo control panel to swap them. I was crazed until I discovered that.

I did have some trouble with the fingerprint sensor. It had issues registering my fingerprint and then had trouble recognizing it to log in.

I can't comment on the administrative features, save to say it seems to have all the relevant IT security options Lenovo offers. And like all Windows 10 systems it's got a lot of Microsoft do-not-want-ware. And, of course, despite trying everything I could to defer it, Windows decided to update minutes before an important press conference. But none of that is Lenovo's fault. At least the Signature Edition doesn't have McAfee anything on it. McAfee is the kudzu of Windows systems -- if kudzu popped up and told you to water it every five minutes.

It offers the bare minimum set of connections I'd expect for a system this size and purpose: a USB-C Thunderbolt and charging connector, a USB-C and Thunderbolt port, two USB 3 Type-A (one always-on charging), a full-size HDMI and a mini Ethernet connector, plus a jack. Like the EliteBook x360 the sound system is optimized for voice and not so much for music -- the sound depends heavily on the angle at which you hear it -- and movies look a little washed out, but both will get you through the long, boring hours in a hotel room.

Lots to recommend it

Though this isn't the most feature-packed or stylish system, it does have the classic look and the performance, battery life and light weight a traveler needs from a traditional laptop.

Multimedia Multitasking test 3.0

LG Gram 13 (2017) 570Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (13-inch, 2016) 443HP EliteBook x360 (2017) 428Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017) 426
Notes: Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)

Geekbench 3 (Multi-Core)

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017) 6571LG Gram 13 (2017) 6647Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (13-inch, 2016) 7650HP EliteBook x360 (2017) 8854
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance

Streaming video playback battery drain test

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017) 710HP EliteBook x360 (2017) 694LG Gram 13 (2017) 690Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (13-inch, 2016) 607
Notes: Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)

System Configurations

Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (13-inch, 2016) Apple macOS Sierra 10.12.1; 2.9GHz Intel Core i5-6267U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 1,536MB Intel Iris Graphics 550; 256GB SSD
HP EliteBook x360 (2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-6600U; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 512GB SSD
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.8GHz Intel Core i7-7600U; 16GB DDR4 SDRAM 1,866MHz, 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 512GB SSD
LG Gram 13 (2017) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7200U; 8GB DDR4 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD
lenovo-thinkpad-x1-carbon-01.jpg
8.2

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8Battery 9