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Grow Your Business Technology

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Review: Is It Good for Business?

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Review: Is It Good for Business? The ThinkPad X1 Carbon earns 4.5 out of 5 stars. / Credit: Jeremy Lips

Business-class laptops don't get more portable than this. The latest iteration of Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon is so light that you'll barely feel it in your work bag, making it an enticing option for commuters and frequent travelers. You also get a sharp, 14-inch display, long battery life and a top-notch keyboard. Add in business-class security, and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is hard to beat for mobile workers.

A 14-inch laptop display might be the perfect size for productivity, but workers usually have to sacrifice some portability to get that much screen space. Not so with the 2016 ThinkPad X1 Carbon, which is one of the lightest notebooks I've ever tested, and certainly the lightest business-class notebook.

At just 2.6 lbs., the updated X1 Carbon is about a half pound lighter than the 3-lb. MacBook Air — and that machine has a smaller, 13-inch display. A full-size ThinkPad model such as the 14-inch ThinkPad T460 is significantly heavier, at 3.8 lbs.

The X1 Carbon's svelte design does have a few tradeoffs, though. For starters, it lacks some key ports that you will find on thicker ThinkPads, including an Ethernet jack and a full-size SD card slot.

You still get a pretty good spread of ports, though. The notebook's left edge has a USB 3.0 port, a mini DisplayPort for linking to monitors and projectors, and Lenovo's OneLink+ docking port.

 The right edge, meanwhile, adds a full-size HDMI port and two extra USB 3.0 ports. Finally, you'll find the notebook's microSD card reader along the laptop’s back edge.

All the security features you could want come standard on the X1 Carbon. For everyday security, you get a fingerprint reader, located conveniently on the right edge of the keyboard deck, just below the arrow keys. The one-touch scanner was easy to set up, and proved extremely responsive during my testing, whisking me to my desktop reliably each time I tested it.

Meanwhile, corporate IT departments will be pleased by the inclusion of a Trusted Platform Module-based hardware encryption, as well as remote management capabilities via Intel VPro technology on all models with Core i5-6300U processors or better.

I've always favored 14-inch laptops for work. Compared with 13-inchers like the XPS 13 and the MacBook Air, that extra inch makes screen-intensive work tasks feel more comfortable. The X1 carbon's 14-inch display provides plenty of real estate for editing documents or multitasking with two windows side by side.

My review model came equipped with a 1920 x 1080-pixel (1080p) display, which is plenty sharp for a laptop this size. Text looks crisp, and images are clear and colorful. It's also nice and bright, topping out at 292 nits of brightness, which beats the category average of 248 nits.

Lenovo also sells the system with a sharper, 2560 x 1440-pixel display for an extra $70 when purchased via Lenovo.com. The upgrade is enticing, but there's one big downside: the higher-resolution model doesn't last as long on a charge. But more on that later.

I'm a big fan of the matte finish that comes on X1 Carbon's display, which does a great job of fending off distracting reflections from windows and overhead office lights.

Deep, snappy and extremely comfortable, the X1 Carbon's keyboard is one of the best you'll find on any laptop – which is even more impressive when you consider the notebook's slim profile. You get a generous 1.8mm of key travel, which is better than the 1.5mm we look for in a laptop keyboard, and far deeper than the 1mm you'll find on the 13-inch MacBook Air. A deeper keyboard provides a more comfortable, desktop-like typing experience because it prevents you from feeling as if you're "bottoming out" when you strike each key.

I was also impressed by the keyboard's snappy tactile feedback, which helps make this a keyboard I could type on all day long. Meanwhile, backlighting can be toggled on and off, which is useful for low-light typing.

As with other ThinkPads, you get two cursor control options. The glass touchpad is large and responsive, with a smooth surface that allowed my finger to glide easily. Gestures like two-finger scrolling were equally reliable.

You also get the red TrackPoint pointing nub, located between the G, H and B keys. The nub is handy for controlling the cursor without moving your hands from the home row on the keyboard, but it takes some getting used to if you haven't used one before.

The X1 Carbon can easily last through the end of a long business flight, with just over 9 hours of endurance during typical usage. That's pretty good when compared with the 14-inch laptop average of 7 hours and 57 minutes. That only applies to 1080p model, though – if you upgrade to a power-hungry 2560 x 1440-pixel display, expect about an hour less battery life.

Some rival systems lasted even longer on our battery test, which simulates continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi. The Dell XPS 13 ran for 11 hours and 54 minutes, and the MacBook Air lasted an epic 14 hours.

The X1 Carbon's quick-charging capabilities might help make up for some of that difference, though. The system is able to charge up to 80 percent in about an hour, which is good news for workers who want to top off their battery during a short layover at the airport.

Despite its slim profile, the X1 Carbon packs plenty of power. My review system came with an Intel Core i5-6300U processor with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid-state-drive (SSD) storage, a configuration that provided blazing fast performance. The system sped along without a hint of lag while I edited a large spreadsheet with more than a dozen tabs open in my Firefox web browser, including one streaming HD video.  

It scored a predictably high 6,828 on the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance. That easily outstrips the laptop category average of 6,399, as well as rival systems like the XPS 13 (6,391) and the MacBook Air (5,783).

The X1 Carbon also impressed on our spreadsheet test, matching 20,000 names to their addresses in just 4 minutes and 14 seconds. That's about a minute and a half above average.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is fully customizable when purchased through Lenovo.com, which allows you to equip the system with a range of processors, displays and storage options.

The baseline model comes with an Intel Core i5-6200U processor with 8GB of RAM, 128GB of SSD storage and a 1080p display for $1,142.

My $1,470 review unit, meanwhile, is a pretty good sweet spot for mobile workers, offering a speedier Core i5-6300U processor and double the storage (for a total of 256GB) over the base model.

Pricier models can be purchased with up to an Intel Core i7 CPU with 16GB of RAM and 1TB of storage. The display can also be upgraded to a 2560 x 1440-pixel panel, if you don't mind the previously mentioned hit to your battery life.

Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a featherweight work companion that makes very few compromises. It's the lightest 14-inch business laptop on the market, and its performance, battery life and build quality are all impressive. Plus, few laptop keyboards can match the X1 Carbon's comfy layout.

Other systems offer even longer battery life, and some workers might lament the lack of an Ethernet port on the X1 Carbon. But mobile workers tired of lugging around heavy laptops will probably be won over, anyway. 

Brett Nuckles

Brett Nuckles has been a working journalist since 2009. He got his start in local newspapers covering community news, local government, education and more before he joined the Business News Daily staff in 2013. He graduated from Ohio University, where he studied Journalism and English. Follow him on Twitter @BrettNuckles.