For several laptop generations, Lenovo’s ThinkPad line has been the go-to for professionals and office workers. ThinkPads have been remarkably consistent in quality since the beginning, with every iteration improving performance and functionality without removing features ThinkPad owners have come to love.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a perfect example of this. Lenovo’s signature business ultraportable is now in its 5th generation, adding new Intel Kaby Lake processors and a larger battery without sacrificing the portability of this 14-inch device. And after using this laptop for a few weeks now, it’s clear that Lenovo’s minor year-on-year improvements have led to a stunning device that’s the best ThinkPad ultraportable yet.
Like previous versions of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, the 5th generation model is remarkably compact for a 14-inch laptop. At just 1.13kg heavy, the X1 Carbon is lighter than most standard 13-inch ultraportables, and this has been achieved without sacrificing battery life. Lenovo hasn’t tried to make the X1 Carbon particularly slim, at 15.95mm thick, however its footprint is similar to 13-inch devices thanks to slim bezels around the display.
Lenovo has achieved such a light laptop thanks to their choice of materials for its construction. Rather than opting for a dense metal exterior, like many premium laptops on the market today, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon’s body is almost entirely soft touch plastic. Generally I prefer metal bodies from a visual and textural perspective, but as far as plastic bodies go, the X1 Carbon’s is excellent. Its pleasing texture makes the laptop a joy to carry, and its minimalist design looks great. Understated designs tend to work well in business environments; this is exactly what the X1 Carbon provides.
For a laptop that’s mostly black plastic, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is surprisingly resistant to fingerprints and grime. After a few weeks of use you will notice a few marks around the place, but it’s far less prone to fingerprint accumulation than some other laptops I’ve tried. Plus, the X1 Carbon doesn’t have a touchscreen, so you won’t have to obsessively clean the display either. The matte finish to the screen is certainly welcome.
The X1 Carbon includes a 180-degree hinge, allowing the display to fold flat in the event you need a wide angle between keyboard and screen. I wish more laptop manufacturers would strive to make the hinge as flexible as possible, as there are times where the angle limit on some laptops isn’t enough.
One of my favorite aspects to the X1 Carbon is its outstanding array of ports. You get two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, both of which can be used for charging, along with two USB 3.0 Type-A ports. Lenovo is providing users with a fantastic mix of both future and current USB technology, rather than prematurely forcing users into a USB-C only life. There’s also a full-sized HDMI port, which will come in handy for connecting to meeting room projectors, and a 3.5mm audio jack.
Perhaps the strangest port on the X1 Carbon is the proprietary connector that’s dedicated to Ethernet. As this ultraportable is way too slim to include an Ethernet port on the device itself, Lenovo has included a dedicated port that attaches to an included Ethernet dongle. It’s a neat way of dealing with Ethernet on a modern laptop and still gives you access to four USB ports when Ethernet is in use.
While not new to the 5th-generation X1 Carbon, I love the inclusion of a fingerprint reader here. More and more laptops are including fingerprint security through smartphone-like touch sensors, and it works well to secure your device while providing quick and easy access to the right user. Lenovo’s implementation here is particularly snappy.
One of the best aspects to any ThinkPad laptop is its keyboard. The implementation on the X1 Carbon is largely fantastic, with excellent tactile feedback and travel distance providing a great typing experience for a thin-and-light laptop. Large modifier keys and dedicated buttons for home, insert, delete and even print screen improve the experience.
My only real complaint about the keyboard is the terrible position of the Fn key. In every keyboard ever made except for the ThinkPad keyboard, the control key is found in the bottom left corner. However, on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon and other ThinkPad laptops, the Fn key is in the bottom left corner. This makes it pretty hard to pick up this laptop and start performing basic commands like copy and paste without rewiring your brain to the new position of the control key.
Luckily you can switch the function of the Fn and Ctrl keys in the BIOS of this laptop, which basically solves this issue. This should be the default configuration.
The trackpad included with this laptop is excellent. It’s highly responsive, tracks your finger accurately, and includes a very pleasant click mechanism. There’s also ThinkPad's signature red trackpoint you can use as a pointer, which isn’t a favorite of mine, but I know some people swear by this navigation option. Both solutions are well implemented, as you’d expect.
Included with my ThinkPad X1 Carbon review unit is a 14-inch IPS LCD 1080p display, although a 1440p option will be available later this year. 1080p is a decent resolution for a laptop of this size, and it works well at 125% scaling. The anti-glare matte coating combined with peak brightness of 310 nits makes this screen easy to view in most lighting conditions, while viewing angles are solid.
Surprisingly, Lenovo only rates this display as having a contrast ratio of 700:1. I’m not sure whether this is an extremely conservative estimate, because I measured an actual contrast ratio of nearly 1400:1 at peak brightness. Color accuracy across the board is average, though this is mostly due to an incorrect color temperature of 7340K, which gives the display a ‘cold’ blue tone in general. Slight calibration can easily fix issues with the temperature and gamma (2.0 not 2.2) to provide a decent though not outstanding color experience.
The 1440p option could be good for those that want increased sharpness from their display, although the sharpness provided by the 1080p display is still excellent. Upgrading to 1440p will introduce a minor hit to performance and a moderate hit to battery life in most situations.