I’ve been eagerly awaiting the arrival of my Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon laptop for months. The reason is this is the laptop where they finally got the carbon fiber cover to look like carbon fiber. I’m a car guy, and what is the good of carbon fiber if you paint over it? Lenovo did a fascinating thing, though, as they also still have the coating that makes it easy to hold the product (glossy carbon fiber is also slippery), and the result is a lightweight (2.4 pounds), good-looking laptop.
Fixing Carbon Fiber
As I noted above, I’m a car guy, and when you do carbon fiber in a car, it is typically an extra-priced accessory. Yet, up until now, PC companies that used carbon fiber generally covered it up, and painted carbon fiber looks and feels like plastic. Now there is an issue with carbon fiber; it often doesn’t age well because it scratches, can get slippery, shows fingerprints and can get foggy over time. Lenovo put a protective finish on its implementation that appears to address all of those problems while still letting the weave peak through. If I’m paying extra for carbon fiber, I damn well want to see it, and with this laptop, I do.
Only one screen option comes with a touch screen, and I didn’t get that option. Now I’m torn on touch screen laptop interfaces. I’ve used them enough that when I have a laptop without touch, I tend to try to put my finger through the screen until my brain realizes touching the screen no longer does anything. However, there is a downside to touch, and that is a fingerprinted screen often looks like crap. On top of that, I don’t miss touch at all on my desktop PC.
Most people don’t even use 2-in-1 laptops as tablets, and I question the need for a touch screen laptop because fingerprinting is a huge annoyance for me. Even though I’m still at the stage where I’m trying to touch the screen and unlearning this will be difficult, once unlearned, I think I prefer no fingerprints on my screen over touch with fingerprints.
Any Color You Want? Um, No
This statement comes from an old Ford Model-T joke because, as with this laptop, you could get any color you wanted as long as the color was black. But I’m OK with black because the color is simple, generally doesn’t fingerprint unless glossy (which this isn’t) and it has remained trendy for decades. It is also consistent with the ThinkPad brand.
Speaking of color, I got the highest resolution WQHD display, and it is stunning. It's only 300 nits, so outdoor viewing will be iffy, but inside it is one of the prettiest displays I’ve seen so far, and visually it compares well with the OLED display I had on an earlier ThinkPad.
Dolby Atmos Sound
This laptop is no boom box, but it has downward-firing woofers and Dolby Atmos sound. Music sounds surprisingly good but, if you are like me, you probably have headphones for music. But I watch Prime Video and Netflix when I travel, and when I’m in my hotel room I either stream to the TV or use my laptop. Movies sound amazing, decent stereo separation, and there's a nice audio range. There's not enough volume to make up for an amp and seven speakers surround at home but still damn nice for a hotel room.
The laptop I received has the 8th generation Intel Core I-7 with vPro, and the range is from an 8th generation i5 to a 10th generation Core I-7 without vPro. It has Intel graphics, so it isn’t a gaming box, but since I’m increasingly gaming off the cloud and rarely have time to game anymore on the road anyway, this isn’t a problem. It has all-day battery life, which means you can leave the charger in your case for emergencies or in your hotel room to charge at night.
I didn’t get WAN either and not because I don’t like it. I have a fleet of laptops I use, and I get tired of trying to figure out which one I left the SIM card in, so I don’t spec a WAN solution unless I specifically want to see how it works. Tethering on my phone, using the WAN access point I have, or the WAN in my car, all work just fine anyway. I like the fact you can open and work with a WAN card, and then it would be worth it.
This laptop has a compliant Windows Hello camera and something else that is becoming more common: a manual privacy shutter so you can physically block the camera. I’ve never worried much about this, but for those who want to make sure no one is watching them, it is a handy feature. At my age, I figure if someone wants to see me nude God bless them. I don’t even want to see me nude.
The ThinkPad X1 is arguably the best laptop Lenovo makes, and one of the best laptops made--period. It is for those who want long battery life, light weight and a laptop that will both show well and perform well (but not for gaming); this could be the perfect laptop for you. Mine had a list price of around $3,000, but with discount code (THINKSAVEBIG), it dropped to a much more reasonable $1,820.40 as configured.
All in all, I’m pretty pleased with this laptop. It caused me to rethink some things like touch screen, see how far sound has come in laptops, and only took me about 30 minutes (plus sync time) to set it up mostly unattended. As a side note, setting up a current Windows 10 notebook is now amazingly painless.
Rob Enderle is a principal at Enderle Group. He is a nationally recognized analyst and a longtime contributor to QuinStreet publications and Pund-IT.