Unlike many an Ultrabook, there’s no mistaking this one for a MacBook Air, or even an Air wannabe. Staying true to the venerable ThinkPad brand, the X1 Carbon is matte-black through and through, and clad in that distinct rubberized coating that feels nice to the touch, won’t easily slip from your grip, and remains blessedly free of fingerprints. It looks every bit the business companion it’s intended to be. In fact, the X1 Carbon looks a lot like the ThinkPad X1 we reviewed last year. But it’s grown from 13 inches to 14 inches, and its body has been flattened to Ultrabook standards, measuring just .71 inches at its thickest. Its lap weight, by the way, comes in just under three pounds.
Can a ThinkPad be sexy? When you’re talking about the slender and sleek X1 Carbon, it sure can.
Another notable difference from last year’s X1 is the Carbon’s carbon-fiber construction (see what they did there?). The material is used in the notebook’s shell and its internal “roll cage,” making it both lightweight and rugged enough to withstand eight Mil-Spec tests for toughness.
The X1 Carbon does feel sturdy. Despite its thin profile, there’s little flex to the keyboard deck when the notebook is held by one corner. The hinges seem solid, and as an added bonus allow the notebook to open a full 180 degrees. We also have to give props to the keyboard. It’s one of the most satisfying we’ve used on an Ultrabook, with nice large keys and satisfying travel. If you like backlighting, the Carbon’s got it. The touchpad is also quite nice—smooth and predictable—and TrackPoint is there for folks who like to control the cursor with ThinkPad’s signature red nubbin.
The screen is a full 1600x900 pixels, and a matte coating keeps glare and reflections to a minimum. But the vertical viewing angle is fairly narrow, leading to contrast and color degradation off axis.
Compared to our previous Ultrabook zero-point rig—the first-gen Asus Zenbook UX31E—the Ivy Bridge–sporting X1 Carbon scored decisive wins in all the benchmarks, with margins of 15 to 60 percent. But this month we’re debuting a new Ultrabook zero-point, an Intel reference design featuring a 1.8GHz i5-3427U. This is the same CPU found in the Carbon X1, but as you can see from the chart, performance wasn’t identical. We attribute the Intel rig’s wins to a combination of additional memory bandwidth (DDR3/1600 vs. DDR3/1333), which impacts game performance in particular, and a speedier SSD. Both drives have a SATA 6Gb/s controller, but CrystalDiskMark revealed a significant disparity, with Lenovo’s SSD achieving read/writes of 372.3- and 173.5Mb/s, respectively, to the Intel’s 479.5- and 303.5Mb/s.
Battery life on the X1 Carbon wasn’t stellar at a little more than four hours in our video rundown test, but Lenovo’s RapidCharge makes rejuicing speedy. We were back at 75 percent battery capacity in 30 minutes and 100 percent in an hour.
The X1 Carbon isn’t perfect, and that can make its relatively high price less palatable, but it does offer features you can’t get anywhere else, namely ThinkPad quality and a look that’s cool in that not-even-trying kind of way.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
Understated good looks; solid build quality; nice keyboard/touchpad.
Pricey; 128GB SSD; average battery life.
1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3427U
14-inch 1600x900 antiglare LCD
SanDisk 128GB SSD
Mini DisplayPort, USB 3.0, USB 2.0, headphone/mic, 4-in-1 SD card reader, Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11n, 3G WWAN, 720p webcam, USB-to-Ethernet dongle
Lap / Carry
2 lbs, 15.5 oz / 3 lbs, 13.8 oz
Premiere Pro CS3 (sec)
Photoshop CS3 (sec)
ProShow Producer (sec)
Quake III (fps)
Quake 4 (fps)
Battery Life (min)
Our zero-point ultraportable is an Intel reference Ultrabook with a 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3427U, 4GB of DDR3/1600 RAM, integrated graphics, a 240GB SSD, and Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit.