Few laptops have been as anticipated in 2012 — if such a sentiment actually exists — as Lenovo’s latest ultrabook, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. At 14 inches diagonally and a hair under 3 pounds, Lenovo is offering a machine at the same weight as most 13-inch ultrabooks, including the MacBook Air, but giving you an extra inch of screen size and more room to stretch out.
The contrast of spacious screen to weight on the Carbon is really quite jarring. It’s at least 25 percent lighter than other 14-inch laptops I’ve tested, a real leap forward in portability. That lightness is largely due to the reliance on carbon fiber in the lid and in the internal roll cage (hence the name). Lenovo says this design choice gives the notebook the same strength as aluminum, but at one third the weight.
The X1 is tapered like the MacBook Air, which makes it look thinner than it actually is. At 23mm (including the footpads) in the rear, it’s really no thinner than other ultrabooks on the market — and quite a bit fatter than some recently released laptops, like the Samsung Series 9.
The X1 Carbon comes in four configurations, starting at $1,400. Lenovo sent us the top-of-the-line model ($1,850), which features a third-generation Core i7 at a blazing 2.5GHz, 256GB SSD drive, 4GB RAM, and a dazzlingly bright screen with 1600 x 900-pixel resolution. Ports include a mini-DisplayPort jack (keep compatibility in mind, as this is the only video connector available), a card reader, and two USB ports (one 2.0, one 3.0). get-gadget Ethernet is available via an included USB dongle.
Performance is dazzling, as you’d expect from a computer with a top-of-the-line chip like the X1 Carbon offers.
Performance is dazzling, as you’d expect from a computer with a top-of-the-line chip like the X1 Carbon offers. There’s no dedicated video card, so don’t expect to be gaming with it, but general app performance is very speedy. That performance, combined with the super-bright LCD, comes at a cost, though. The Carbon’s battery life, at barely three hours, just isn’t impressive.
Another problem with the Carbon is its clickpad. I’d thought Lenovo had worked the kinks out of its touchpad issues, but the X1’s clickpad — which, in a first for the company, uses a glass surface — is a bit rattly and loose. This makes clicks and even taps difficult to accomplish without the cursor jumping around on the screen. This became increasingly frustrating during my testing, but fortunately, the Carbon also features the famous ThinkPad pointing stick, too. So, if the clickpad gets to be too aggravating, you have an out.
The keyboard is in line with Lenovo’s move to island-style keys on all its laptops. The action and travel are good, but not great. In general, it’s one of the better ultrabook keyboards I’ve encountered, and it’s suitable for long-form typing.
Of course, price is going to be the big sticking point with this laptop, and I suspect most buyers will gravitate toward the lower-end configurations. The $1,400 version is about in line with the $1,200 MacBook Air, and that’s clearly the machine which both Lenovo is targeting and which buyers are going to have to weigh the Carbon against. They are both exemplary computers, but in the end, I still have to give the nod to Apple for now, as the weak battery and frustrating clickpad on the X1 tips the scales in Cupertino’s favor.