Informed by Lenovo's ThinkPad DNA, the X1 Carbon is a slim, strong and sexy ultrabook. Wrapped in a stealth-black rubberised material, it's a hair under 19mm at its thickest point.
As is befitting of a Lenovo, the base is rigid and stronger than pretty much everything else out there, thanks to a Carbon fibre skeleton, with only Apple's unibody designs offering a similar feeling of solidness. In the name of thinness, the 14-inch screen isn't as re-enforced as Lenovo usually makes it, and while you can pick the laptop up by the monitor, it will result in the LCD bending and light bleed appearing where the pressure points are.
It does flip flat though, ideal for those who want to dock (Lenovo offers a USB 3.0 dock with two DVI ports, one VGA and five USB 3.0 ports) or those who can never find the right viewing angle. It's also 1600x900, matte and has impressive viewing angles, despite being TN-based. Look closely and you'll see faint vertical lines, which may irritate some — a trait we've come to expect on Lenovo laptops. Yellow folders in Explorer also tend to look a little green.
Despite brandishing the Dolby Home Theater v4 badge, sound is weak and completely lacks any bass response. The included Dolby software mitigates things somewhat by allowing you to turn off sound attenuation and adjusting the EQ, but it's nothing spectacular — bring your headphones.
Dedicated buttons are provided above Lenovo's excellent backlit keyboard, supporting mute, volume and microphone mute functions. There's another, unmarked button that loads Lenovo's Solution Center, a full-screen GUI that gives access to your laptop's settings, provides shortcuts to programs and websites and, (surprise) shoehorns in a Lenovo app shop. We appreciate the sentiment, but the app itself is bulky, slow to load, sluggish, an excuse to sell something and will be utterly obsolete with Windows 8.
Since it's a ThinkPad, the X1 Carbon gives you the choice of a TrackStick or clickpad, with physical mouse buttons (including a middle click) above the clickpad only. Lenovo's using a glass Synaptics clickpad, and has omitted the ability to right click using a simultaneous double finger tap from its driver.
Lenovo joins the ranks of the odd, by providing one USB 3.0 port and one USB 2.0 port — why both can't be USB 3.0 is beyond us, but at least the 2.0 supports charging. You've only got DisplayPort out for video, although Lenovo does include a DisplayPort to VGA adapter to deal with ye olde business projectors. The user otherwise gets a headset jack, SD card reader, and a USB 2.0 to Ethernet adapter.
Well, almost it. One of the bigger positives of the X1 is the SIM slot on the back, feeding an Ericsson H5321gw that supports UMTS 850/900/1900/2100 and GSM 850/900/1800/1900, and is rated for 21Mbps down and 5.76Mbps up. It's not the beefiest kid on the block, but it should support all 3G networks in Australia — a nice little positive.
Specs on our customised review model were quite reasonable, although the price can get quickly out of hand when upgrading. Running on Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, our AU$2710 model came with a Core i5 3427U @ 1.8GHz, 8GB RAM, a 256GB SSD, dual band WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0 and the aforementioned WWAN module. Take that down to 4GB RAM, Windows Home Premium and a 128GB SSD, and the price drops dramatically to AU$1629.
The biggest source of pain is the SSD upgrade, as SanDisk has made a custom X100 module for Lenovo. The 256GB swap-in costs AU$522 when upgrading from the base 128GB — the wholesale price for a standard version is considerably cheaper, and using an off-the-shelf mSATA SSD could have driven down the price even further. Take into account that the price for the 128GB removal should also be subtracted and that the US sells a 256GB model with a Core i7 3667U for US$1849, sans state tax, and we can't shake the feeling of being taken for a ride.
Handbrake encoding (in seconds)
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Core i5 3427U, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
No surprises here, as the third generation Core i5 processor and SSD do their jobs.
Battery life (time)
- Heavy battery test
- Light battery test
- 6h 58m
- Dell XPS 14 (Core i7 3517U, 8GB RAM, 500GB HDD, GeForce GT 630M)
- 5h 42m
- Fujitsu Lifebook U772 (Core i5 3427U, 4GB RAM, 500GB HD + 32GB SSD cache)
- 5h 35m
- Apple MacBook Air 13 Mid 2012 (Core i7 3667U, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD)
- 5h 21m
- Toshiba Satellite U840W (Core i5 3317U, 6GB RAM, 500GB HDD)
- 5h 10m
- HP Envy 6 1010TU (Core i5 2467M, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD)
- 4h 47m
- Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Core i5 3427U, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD)
- 4h 30m
- HP Envy Spectre XT (Core i5 3317U, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
- 4h 27m
- Apple MacBook Air 11 Mid 2012 (Core i5 3317U, 4GB RAM, 64GB SSD)
- 4h 25m
- Sony Vaio T 11.6 (Core i5 3317U, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
- 4h 21m
- Asus ZenBook Prime UX31A (Core i7 3517U, 4GB RAM, 256GB SSD)
- 4h 18m
- Samsung Series 9 13-inch, 2012 (Core i5 3317U, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Lenovo's battery life could do with a little work. It's still nothing to sneeze at, but there are options out there that will simply last longer.
Lenovo's succeeded in delivering a sexy ultrabook that still retains the traditional ThinkPad design cues. The battery life isn't as good as it could be though, and the SSD upgrade prices are simply ludicrous.