The Lenovo ThinkPad series is already well-known for its business appeal. For the sixth-gen 2018 model the company has ramped up design to look even more suave and sophisticated standards, while cramming in features that many other laptops can only dream about.
Principal among these features is an ultra-bright High Dynamic Range (HDR) screen with Dolby Vision optimisation. So not only can you look good on the job, you can enjoy premium content during downtime too.
Thing is, with that HDR screen configured, the 2018 X1 Carbon is a pricey slice of laptop, pushing a penny shy of £1,880 (it's just over $2,000 in the US, yowch). That's around £600/$1000 more than many obvious high-end competitors, so does the latest ThinkPad proposition stack up?
Design and connectivity
- 2x USB 3, 1x Thunderbolt 3, 1x 3.5mm jack, 1x HDMI, 1x docking connector
- Dimensions and weight: 324 x 217 x 15.95mm; 1.13kgs
- Black or silver finishes, new blacked-out ThinkPad logo
- ThinkShutter camera slide for added privacy
- Embedded fingerprint reader
The design manual for stylish and slim laptops was written years ago and has become a bit of a bible from which only the bold stray. It says: "maketh your laptops slim, maketh them out of aluminium and maketh sure everyone's going to know it's aluminium when they look at or touch it".
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon tears up the manual, instead showing off its carbon construction in a different, subtle, yet standout way. It probably goes without saying that the X1 Carbon is, indeed, constructed from a carbon shell (carbon fibre reinforced magnesium alloy, as it happens). In practical terms this build makes for a lightweight laptop that's soft to the touch, not cold or sharp like metal.
You might not know it's carbon, though, as there's no carbon fibre-like flecks to be seen anywhere, instead the whole laptop looks coated in a sort-of plasticky like finish. This also likes to attract fingerprints, while that black/grey finish (there's a silver one too) is a bit of a dust magnet. But if you're going to spend two grand on a laptop then you'd best have the feather duster to hand to keep it looking ship shape.
To say it's not slim would be unfair, though, as just like the 2017 model the X1 Carbon has shaved a few millimetres off the older designs, with smaller screen bezels being on area of space saving. At just under 16mm thick, however, it won't outsmart an Acer Swift 7 - but then the ThinkPad is the quieter, better cooled and longer-lasting option, so it's a case of practical rather than overly show-offish.
It's a very ThinkPad design, though, perhaps more than ever: there's no Lenovo logo on the exterior for the sixth-gen outing (only a small one to the base of the monitor on the inside), with the lid showing off a new blacker-than-before sunken ThinkPad logo and etched-on X1 to the opposite corner. Subtle is name of the game.
Even the front-facing camera has a switch, called ThinkShutter, to hide the lens away from view to assure privacy. If you're hacker phobic or hiding from Skype then this is an elegant way to avoid Post-it Notes being stuck on the front!
On the connections front, the ThinkPad remains fully connected for worlds present, past and (sort-of) future: two USB-C ports live to the side, while one full-size USB can be found on the other. There's an Ethernet adaptor which can utilise one of those C-type ports, while the charger will also need to occupy one of the pair when plugged in (but there's fast charging, so that's great).
The rear has a flap for a microSD card slot or nano SIM, as 4G/LTE connectivity can be specified for on-the-go use. Indeed, the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon means business, and not just in the sense that it's ready to take on a load of boring business meetings.
Screen quality and HDR
- Up to 14-inch HDR IPS LCD, 2560 x 1440 resolution display
- Dolby Vision optimised High Dynamic Range
And so on to the X1 Carbon's headline feature: its HDR (high dynamic range) screen. This option is designed to be brighter so it can deliver HDR content, which caters for brighter whites and deeper blacks, with more data for greater colours. Not what you'll need for spreadsheets or presentations, but with more Netflix and Amazon titles offering such content, that's the play here.
If anything it's slightly odd that Lenovo has chosen the ThinkPad series to introduce HDR into its laptops. Being the first, we'd have thought a more consumer-targeted laptop range might have been the better place for that. Still, at this kind of price point it's going to be a rarely purchased option, we suspect. After all, a 55-inch 4K HDR TV can be had for around the same price.
Anyway, onto the detail: the ultra-bright screen can output 500 nits of brightness for extra pop, while the screen's matte coating isn't especially reflective, so content will look clear even when viewed outside. Again, it's good for on-the-go use.
However, in dim conditions it's possible to catch some light bleed, which is particularly notable to towards the four corners. We had first identified this at CES 2018, citing it as not comparable to a top-end HDR TV (with full LED-based back-side illumination or an OLED panel).
On the plus side that added brightness is lovely. You'll need to push it to the full 100 per cent marker, but the clean image looks around 20 per cent more potent than our go-to Macbook Air by comparison. It makes reading that much more comfortable in bright conditions, colours are great, and the IPS panel ensures wide viewing angles. Not the mention the WQHD (2560 x 1440) resolution makes for very crisp images indeed.
If the HDR panel and its mega-resolution sound like overkill for your needs then there is a Full HD (1920 x 1080) panel instead. It's not HDR (it's 300nits max) but at this 14-inch scale should deliver everything you need. However, with prices starting from only £380 less, we'd be tempted to push the boat out and get the best of best with the HDR panel.
Keyboard, trackpad and nipple
- Classic ThinkPad 'nipple' mouse to centre of keyboard (plus trio of separate keys)
- Backlit keys with long travel for easy typing
- Trackpad with embedded left/right click
In addition to the HDR option, the other trend-bucking top feature of the Thinkpad X1 Carbon is its keyboard. A deliberate antidote to the continued slimming-down of keyboards elsewhere, the key action here is chunky, well-defined and about as deep as is physically possible in a laptop this thin.
Not everyone seems to understand why people get miffed at companies like Apple and Asus making keyboards with keys that barely depress when you tap them. But it makes a difference if you type thousands of words a day. None of this 'butterfly keys' nonsense; we've found typing on the X1 Carbon to be a great experience. The keys even sound dampened - there's not a monstrous click with each keypress, which will be a saving grace for your colleagues' ears (and your own).
Lenovo has kept another ThinkPad staple in the Thinkpad X1 Carbon: a "nipple" mouse (no sniggering at the back). It's the tiny joystick found between the G, H and B keys. Yep, that bright red one - you really can't miss it. Some find this as embarrassing as it sounds, and while it's a bit of a relic, it does let you control the mouse cursor while barely changing your hands from their normal typing position.
It's also why the X1 Carbon's mouse buttons are above the trackpad rather than below it: they're for the nipple, not the pad. And if there's a part of the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon that doesn't look that great no matter how you try to sell it, it's this. However, they do work and have a high-quality click just like the keyboard's keys. That middle button acts as a scroll wheel, if you're wondering.
For those not game for nipple-flicking, there's a standard touchpad below, one with its own physical click. While relatively small and a bit too left-side positioned for us (more central would be better), its surface is lovely, with an ultra-smooth textured glass finish that's so fine it feels almost soft.
Next to the pad there's a fingerprint scanner. These were found in business laptops years ago, but they are much more in fashion these days. You just have to place a finger on the recessed pad to get it working via Windows Hello for rapid login. We don't like the position of it much, but it does work.
Performance and battery life
- Up to 8th Gen Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM, Intel UHD Graphics 620
- Up to 1TB SSD PCIe storage, microSD slot (to the rear)
- Dual Band Wireless-AC (2 x 2)
- Integrated 4G/LTE (if specified)
- Dolby Premium Audio
Unlike its predecessor, the sixth-gen Thinkpad X1 Carbon bolsters its performance with the 8th Gen Intel Core i7-U CPU. That's a quad core chip, upping the power over its dual core 2017 predecessor. In the HDR option you'll also gain 16GB RAM (not 8GB), making that extra £380 investment all the more worthwhile.
The X1 Carbon has the guts to cope with moderate to fairly heavyweight tasks without breaking a sweat. The fan to one side is great for cooling, but this doesn't kick in when doing normal tasks like browsing, mailing and building various Office-based work tasks (other slimmer Lenovo laptops start barking far quicker, we've found).
No surprise, however, that the X1 Carbon doesn't have any particular gaming skills. You get the Intel HD 620 graphics chipset, which is just basic integrated graphics. These days that's enough to make some games that are a few years old run acceptably at 720p with all the bonus visual effects turned off. But that's your lot.
That extra power, screen resolution and brightness does take its toll on battery life though. And by a whole lot. The 1080p 2017 model lasted for over 12 hours per charge for us; this 2018 HDR model can only score about eight-and-a-half hours (and that's not with all settings and brightness constantly at max).
Fast-charging may go some way to counter this, but if you want to stream that content for longer then you'll need to ditch the HDR option and look elsewhere.
The sixth-generation Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon gets in first with HDR screen skills, making it a standout laptop. Its not eye-searingly bright, mind, but that added brightness certainly makes for clean visuals that are far cleaner than other laptops we've been using of late.
Trouble is, you'll have to pay for it: both with heaps of cash and also with the laptop's battery longevity. The HDR option, as reviewed, is £1880, while battery life, at around eight-and-a-half hours, is far shorter than the 2017 non-HDR model. There is fast-charging here, but that can only make up for so much. Plus, in dim conditions, there's some light bleed to the corners of this panel, which hold it back from HDR perfection.
That said, the ThinkPad Carbon X1 does everything it should for your business and pleasure needs. It's slim, tough, lightweight, more powerful than before and offers features no other laptop can, including a keyboard that's the pinnacle of typing. And in avoiding looking like a carbon copy of every other ultra-slim in 2018, this carbon-clad laptop has heaps of appeal in its point of difference, as much as it does in its accomplishments.
MacBook Pro 13
If you fancy going with the crowd instead, the MacBook Pro 13 is an undeniably great laptop. However, its approach is the opposite to Lenovo's in several respects: the keyboard is much shallower, the touchpad much larger and high-end models have a touch OLED display above the keyboard.
Dell XPS 13
Few other laptops balance style and substance as well as the XPS 13, which is a great choice if you want something with more visual pizzazz than the Lenovo. It's also cheaper than the X1 Carbon and lasts longer too.
Microsoft Surface Book
This is another top-end laptop, but one with different and more varied aims. It's heavier and thicker than the Lenovo, but has a detachable screen, a stylus, and packs-in a dedicated graphics chipset for better gaming performance.