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Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon 2014 Review

Performance

An ultra-book such as the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon is designed for portability first. This includes battery-life which means power consumption must be low. As such, it is available with a choice of CPU yet only comes with built-in graphics.

The Intel Core i7 and i5 CPUs are quite capable with speeds from 2.6 to 3.3 GHz. They also consume relatively little power which makes them highly suitable for laptops. For web-browsing, word-processing and document editing, any of these CPUs will be working far from its maximum load.

The base X1 Carbon comes with 4GB of RAM. That is a good start but anyone planning to use multimedia or other data-intensive applications should consider getting the 8 GB option. Windows itself takes at least 1.5GB, so going for 8GB almost triples free memory.

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon 2014

As for the Intel HD4400 built-in graphics, it is noticeably under-powered. This is a decent chip to use on most laptops, except that the X1 is not one of them. With its 4 megapixels display, the HD4400 is pushed to its limit. Even dragging Windows suffers from stuttering and lags when things like Desktop Composition or Aero Glass effects are enabled. Luckily, these are very easy to disable. However, consider it as a warning that this laptop cannot handle complex graphic-processing.

Disk options are all SSD. These disks are very fast, extremely reliable and consume little power. They are also not susceptible to altitude limits of traditional HDDs with moving parts. There are options from 128 to 512 GB. The 180 and 240 GB options provide full-disk encryption, other sizes do not. Unless you have sensitive data, it would not be necessary to go for the more costly encrypted (OPAL) disks.

Considering Lenovo's Windows 7 64-bits installation takes around 75 GB, the smallest option is tight. There is no SDXC slot either for additional storage, so consider adding $150 for the 256 GB option a minimum. The 512 GB option costs $450 more compared to the 128 GB SSD.

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon 2014

With Windows 7 Professional 64-bits, boot time is around 24 seconds, including time to load the BIOS which happens very quickly. The first logon after a cold boot takes 12s, while next ones take just 8s. Resuming from sleep takes an impressive 5 seconds. This is where SSDs really deliver as booting is quite intensive in terms of disk access.

Keep in mind the boot speed of any operating system is highly dependent on its configuration. The current installation used on the X1 Carbon being reviewed is quite light, yet it can be improved by turning off unneeded services. However, it is much easier for the opposite to happen and booting to take much longer. To maintain boot speed, make sure that programs being installed do not run anything on start-up.

The X1 Carbon 2014 can come with Windows 8.1 instead. Those who fancy it and do not mind an extra 0.4 lbs and thicker laptop can opt for a touchscreen. There is no logical reason to do this as it forces fingerprints onto the display which decreases readability. Speaking of fingerprints, the carbon-fiber body of the X1 is particularly prone to them since its matte finish contrasts easily with marks.

Battery-life is quote by Lenovo as up to 9 hours of awake time under light use. During testing, it achieved just short of 8 hours of web-browsing and document-editing, More intensive use lowers battery-life with constant video playback bringing it down to 6½ hours. This is certainly impressive yet some other ultra-books boast considerably higher numbers. It is not possible to compare absolutely since things like display brightness, radios, services, etc all impact power-consumption.

Competition

Ultra-books have greatly improved over a rather stagnant state since last year. One can only attribute this to competition from tablets which offer extreme portability and some impressive specifications lately. Still, these ultra-books are premium devices and so only a handful of competitors exist.

The Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon is one of the most complete ultra-books, only surpassed by the Fujitsu U904 which offers a class-leading 3200x1800 IGZO display, a built-in SDXC reader and, like the X1, built-in 4G. That one is also offered with a non-glare screen but, sadly, this option is not available in North America. The Fujitsu is 12% smaller by volume yet heavier by 0.75 lbs.

HP, Toshiba and Asus all offer competitive models among high-resolution ultra-books. Notably absent from this list is Sony which recently sold its VIAO business to JIP and offers smaller ultra-books with rather unimpressive HD resolutions.

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon 2014

The 13.3" HP Spectre 13t is the smallest competitor by volume and thickness. It has a 2560x1440 resolution glossy display and is built into a solid aluminum casing, making it weigh almost as much as the Macbook Pro. It offers full 802.11 a/b/c/g/n WiFi but no broadband. It does have an outdated combined SD and MMC slot.

The Toshiba Kirabook offers a 13.3" LCD with 2560x1440 resolution. It is extremely similar in specifications to the Spectre 13t, including aluminum casing. It is 10% larger yet 10% lighter. The Kirabook offers more modern technology, including 4K HDMI output and a built-in SDXC card reader.

The 13.3" Asus Zenbook UX301 also offers a 2560x1440 resolution. It is the second smallest, after the HP yet a good deal lighter, right between the non-touch and touch version of the Thinkpad X1 Carbon. While being built around most of the same core components as its competitors, it features the most powerful built-in graphics of the group, an Intel HD5100. The remaining components include dual-band wireless with Bluetooth 4.0, an SD card reader and both a Micro-HDMI and a Mini-Display port.

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon 2014

While most people looking at Windows laptops are unlikely to look for a Mac one, and vice-versa, it is worth noting how the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon compares with the latest Apple MacBook Pro. Anecdotally, when seeing the X1 Carbon, the reaction "Oh, so it's like a MacBook" is often heard.

The MacBook Pro made headlines by being the first ultra-book with a high-resolution display. Its 13" LCD has a little less wide 16:10 aspect-ratio compared to 16:9 which all other ultra-books use. This gives it slightly more vertical resolution at 2560x1600. Since the display is smaller, the MacBook Pro ends up with a higher DPI than the X1 Carbon. Still, that does not match the 3200x1800 resolution of the Fujitsu U904. Like the X1 Carbon, the MacBook Pro has a relatively large frame, only 5% smaller. At 3.46 lbs, it is much heavier since it is made of aluminum instead of aircraft-grade carbon-fiber This makes it conduct more heat and feels much warmer than the X1 Carbon.

The core components of the MacBook Pro are similar to the Toshiba Kirabook, including an SDXC slot and 4K HDMI output but no 4G built-in. Like Lenovo, Apple claims up to 9 hours of battery-life for their ultra-book.

Model Lenovo Thinkpad
Carbon X1 Gen 2
Fujitsu
U904
HP
Spectre 13
Toshiba
Kirabook
Asus Zenbook
UX301
Apple
MacBook Pro
Screen Size 14" 14" 13.3" 13.3" 13.3" 13"
Resolution 2560x1440 3200x1800 2560x1440 2560x1440 2560x1440 2560x1600
Anti-Glare Yes OptionalNot available in North America No No No No
Weight (kg) 1.09 1.43 1.52 1.35 1.18 1.57
Thickness 0.69 0.61 0.59 0.7 0.6 0.71
Width 13.03 12.99 12.75 12.44 12.8 12.35
Height 8.92 9.05 8.66 8.15 8.8 8.62
Volume 80.2 71.71 65.14 70.97 67.58 75.58
Material Carbon Fiber Aluminium
Aluminium
Aluminium
Composite Aluminium
Trackpoint Yes No No No No No
Trackpad Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Buttons 3 2 2 2 2 1
Illumination Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Webcam 720p 720p 720p 720p 720p 720p
USB 3.0 2 2 2 3 2 2
Display Out HDMI 4K
Mini-DP
WiDi
HDMI HDMI
Mini-DP
HDMI 4K Micro-HDMI
Mini-DP
HDMI 4K
Mini-DP
WiFi 802.11
a/b/c/g/n
802.11
a/b/g/n
802.11
a/b/c/g/n
802.11
a/b/g/n
802.11
a/b/c/g/n
802.11
a/b/c/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0 4.0
Gigabit LAN Yes Yes No No No No
Battery Life 9:00 8:00 9:00 7:45 8:00 9:00
Recharging 45 mins 120mins ? ? ? ?
Reader None SDXC SD / MMC SDXC SD SDXC
4G Yes Yes No No No No
SSD 256 GB
512 GB
256 GB
512 GB
256 GB 256 GB 256 GB
512 GB
256 GB
CPU Intel Core i7 3.3Ghz Intel Core i7 3.3Ghz Intel Core i7 Intel Core i7 2Ghz Intel Core i7 3.3Ghz Intel Core i7 3.3Ghz
Memory 4 GB
8 GB
2 GB
6 GB
10 GB
4 GB
8 GB
8 GB 8 GB 8 GB
16 GB
Graphics Intel HD4400 Intel HD4400 Intel HD4400 Intel HD4000 Intel HD5100 Intel Iris
Approx
Price
$1929 USD $2649 USD $1239 USD ? ? $1599 USD

Conclusion

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon 2014

The Lenovo X1 Carbon Generation 2 truly stands out as one of the most unique offerings on the market. Its premium design and sleek carbon-fiber body makes it the lightest ultra-book while having the largest display among high-resolution ultra-books. No one should be surprised to read that it is not perfect. No model is yet the X1 Carbon leads where it counts:

  • The 14" LCD with 2560x1440 resolution is absolutely the best-in-class. Its anti-glare coating gives superior visibility and a wide viewing angle. The display is sharp with natural looking colors and surprisingly uniform brightness. Given one must use the display to interact with the laptop more than any other component, it is understandable that this is the top reason to choice the X1 Carbon above its competition.
  • While not the thinnest, it is incredibly slim and the lightest high-resolution ultra-book. This is a tremendous advantage for a device which is meant to be highly portable yet deliver the full power of a laptop.
  • All premium ultra-books boast long battery-life, between 7:45 and 9 hours, with Lenovo claiming the longest, as do several other manufacturers. Uniquely, the Lenovo X1 Carbon can charge its battery to 85% capacity in 45 minutes flat, something not matched by any competitor. In contrast, a model like the Fujitsu U904 takes 2 full hours.
  • The quirky interface of the X1 Carbon is the most sophisticated of any ultra-book. Its Trackpoint gives it more precise control and 5-buttons integrated into the Trackpad offer functionality completely equivalent to using a typical mouse or trackball. The newly-introduced adaptive row can be frustrating. However, it squeezes more functions two clicks away than what is generally possible on a laptop.
  • 4G and SDXC are incredibly convenient and may be added using an awkward device plugged into a USB port. Yet, as much as an SDXC slot is sorely missed on the X1 Carbon, 4G is generally used more often and for longer periods. Unless choosing the Fujitsu U904, one cannot have both of these built-in. Between a 4G and an SDXC option then, the former is probably more desirable.
  • The 720p HD web-cam with dual noise-canceling microphones is excellent for Skype or other type of video-conferencing. The microphones cancel out ambient noise while Lenovo software reduces keyboard sounds to make taking notes less disturbing.
  • The X1 Carbon excels in connectivity, including dual-band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, WiDi and GPS, plus the already-mentioned built-in 4G option. Note that WiDi requires a compatible receptor, so it could not be tested.

After 5 months of almost daily use, the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon keeps delivering. Getting around its quirks is a habit now, although I still miss-click the middle-button often. The light weight and excellent battery-life make it easy to carry and use for long stretches of time. Its high-resolution display is ultra-sharp with excellent visibility thanks to an impeccable anti-glare surface. While being the largest ultra-book certainly requires more space, it also makes this device more comfortable, particularly considering that its carbon-fiber body stays quite cool.

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