Photo by Paul Alvarez
Since the days of IBM ThinkPad’s, I always saw these laptops as business-only oriented. The design always felt boring with it’s plain, boxy, bulky aesthetics that only came in a dark gray or black color. It was the corporate America machine, and unless you were in some kind of profession in a cubicle farm setting, you didn’t want a ThinkPad.
Over the years, though, this has changed substantially. You still see ThinkPads as the go-to devices for business because of the robustness and power that they provide — let-alone all the external ports you need, especially in companies that use Microsoft in all areas of their software, including both development or infrastructure.
I feel not only has Lenovo kept the ThinkPad alive and prospering but has made it desirable to the mainstream. The X1 Carbon is a fantastic machine to work on. I have been using it over a week now and feel it is one of the best Windows laptops I have ever used — to be honest, I haven’t used that many.
Though I have little experience in using a variety of different Windows laptops, I do use a Dell Inspiron for work every day and have to say that this ThinkPad blows it out of the water in many ways. Not only is it refreshing to have a Windows laptop without all of the bloatware pre-installed, but Windows 10 shines on this machine and think it adds to the refinement that I feel Lenovo brings in one of their top of the line notebook.
Just to preface before going in too deep on the X1 Carbon ThinkPad. I am approaching this review as an avid Apple user who has been out of the Windows Laptop world for awhile. I know that this specific model is the 7th generation model, so it has similarities to the models before it, I also know that Lenovo makes other ThinkPads as well.
My point in this review is not to talk about this model and comparing it to its previous models or other specific Windows models on the market. Instead, I am reviewing the laptop for what it is right now in comparison to my MacBook Pro or as any high-end laptop that someone might be looking at as a primary computer.
The design of ThinkPads has changed over time but has kept the same aesthetics that most people have appreciated. The X1 Carbon is much thinner than older models of the ThinkPads and fewer ports but overall provides a familiar experience to any ThinkPad you have used in the past.
The model I am using has a 14" 1080p display, Intel i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and a 512 SSD. It is the model that Costco sells on its shelf, which explains why it only has Windows 10 Home installed and not Pro. It comes with 2 USB-C ports (both provide power delivery), an HDMI port, 2 USB 3.1 ports, a mini RJ-45 port, and a headphone jack. Also included are speakers with premium audio from Dolby.
It is nice to see so many ports on a laptop coming from a Mac user, especially in providing them with a slim and light design. One of the biggest arguments from Apple and Mac users is the benefits of thin and lightness that you get in getting rid of some ports on a laptop, but Lenovo shows how it can provide both without much compromise.
I will admit that the plastic casing lets Lenovo get away with the lightness since plastic is so light, even in comparison to aluminum. But I don’t feel the plastic takes away from the quality of the notebook. The soft-touch feel and slight grayish-black coloring make it feel premium.
I also really love the small accents of red throughout, like the iconic red dot for the “i” in ThinkPad on the lid of the laptop. Which still lights up and blinks when in sleep mode. The red TrackPoint still lives on, or what I like to call a “nubbin”, as an alternative to the trackpad providing another red accent to the laptop. Plus, the subtle strip of red a the bottom of the right and left click buttons available to the mentioned nubbin, which all together add a sense of fun detail but not overboard in keeping a slick and uniformed style.
The design of the keyboard is spaced out nicely and I appreciate the rounded bottom of the keys not only for use but another unique design detail. The bezel around the display is slim enough for me to not complain allowing the screen to stand out and not notice it at all.
My overall view on the design of the X1 Carbon is positive. I think because it is new and so different than what I am so used to using on MacBooks for years now, this design is exciting to me. Taking out my MacBook, though, after a week of using the ThinkPad and comparing them side by side, I do still favor Apple’s approach to their laptops more.
When comparing the X1 Carbon to my Dell at work, though, I have to say it is far superior. Even helping my Mom set up her new HP Spectre, which is a beautifully crafted piece of technology, I still prefer this design over it.
I think the “old-school” design of the ThinkPads have a classic style that is hard not to desire. The reason why ThinkPads have remained popular for so long is this ability to own a particular style and sticking with it, even with small modifications, to provide a consistent experience for the users who love this brand.
Now that I have gone over the overall design and aesthetics of the laptop, I would now like to veer towards the functionality of the device and how well the experience this design provides.
First off, I will say the keyboard is a joy to type on. I am writing this review on the X1 Carbon and will admit the higher key-travel and clickiness of the keys is excellent. There is a lot of debate towards higher versus lower key travel, but I honestly see it as a personal preference.
Most think that this a black and white decision, in that you have to choose one side only.
I disagree completely.
I think I can praise the hell out of this Lenovo keyboard and talk about how much pleasure it brings me to type on it. But also say the same thing about my MacBook Pro. Both offer very two different experiences, and I think a lot of people can enjoy both without having to choose one over the other.
Now if you are asking what do I ultimately prefer? Neither. Since I am in the camp that likes both experiences, I am left picking what suits my needs by looking at each laptop overall, not just the keyboard. I think that is missed a lot in this whole debate over keyboards. Some find the keyboard the most important and make their buying decisions solely on that — which I understand. But for those like me who like both experiences, it takes more than a keyboard to steer me one way or another.
In saying all that, I would like to repeat that I do love this keyboard. I hardly miss a key; they feel soft but not mushy and have an excellent kickback click that provides useful feedback while typing quickly. I have no issue with the key placements but do have a problem with the backlight.
The backlight on the keyboard is excellent — when it is on. Since there is no light sensor on to detect low light, the backlight on the keyboard does not turn on automatically when I am in the dark or low lit room. This was a bit disappointing when I was struggling in a dark room trying to find the fn+spacebar combo to turn it on. I also don’t like that there are only two brightnesses. I would have preferred to have it be able to dim like the MacBooks do or at least have more than two brightnesses for different low light environments.
I will have to admit that the display on this laptop was my biggest disappointment. The 1080p screen, while bright and crisp when sitting a certain distance, was not that great. The colors felt a little washed out, a lot compared to my MacBook Pro, and when I leaned in just a little bit, you could see a good amount of pixels.
You can get an upgraded model of the X1 Carbon, though, and it looks like that display is pretty great. I haven’t seen one myself but the specifications look promising with the options of having a QHD display providing more resolution, at 2560x1440, with the same anti-glare screen as the one I am using or a UHD option at 3840 x 2160 resolution with Dolby HDR on a glossy screen. Both options provide more color and vibrancy giving you a better experience than what I have had over a week.
Though the anti-glare has been good about preventing glare when in the sun, I do prefer the glossy glass screen on my MacBook Pro. I think this is part of the reason the screen quality feels so flat and unexciting to me. It is in no way a bad display compared to others I have seen out there, but I was hoping for a bit more — maybe my expectations have increased with Apple’s amazing displays on even their lower-end iPads and MacBooks.
One big plus for me on the X1 Carbon display is the 14-inch widescreen size. The size, though not that much more significant than my MacBook Pro, is pretty awesome. I especially like having the wider aspect ratio for having two windows next to each other with plenty of room (for activities).
The trackpad was more of an issue for me than the laptop itself. I say that because, for some reason, I had trouble getting used to it. The hardware itself feels excellent and is very responsive to both selecting things and scrolling.
My issue is knowing when to click or tap. On my MacBook Pro, I have always learned to tap unless I am trying to select something to hold and move. I don’t know if it is because when I use my Dell laptop at work, I click on everything and I am not used to tapping, but I kept struggling on opening things when using this trackpad. Eventually, I got used to it and just tapped most things, but it did take some time.
I hardly used the TrackPoint along with the right and left key buttons instead of the trackpad. Not for any taste reason but because I forget it is there. I have never used that type of input device, so I had no desire to try it out. I like that Lenovo keeps it even if it feels a little outdated. I am not sure how many people use it instead of the trackpad, but keeping it there makes no difference to me.
The keyboard isn’t affected by it, even with the G, H, and B keys being altered to account for it. Nor does the trackpad feel affected with the right and left key buttons taking space at the top. One thing I didn’t realize until now that I am writing this is how small the trackpad is compared to current MacBook Pros. I never noticed that the trackpad felt smaller or felt affected by its size. I guess that shows how good the trackpad is and how it doesn’t need to be huge for it to be functional.
The speakers sound nice, though I hardly listen to music through any laptop speakers when I have headphones nearby. And since I opted for Windows Hello, I didn’t set up the fingerprint scanner. I think fingerprint scanners are a good thing to include in laptops today — for both Macs and Windows. But do see it is as a secondary option. Windows Hello and my Apple Watch unlocking my laptops are preferable to me since it requires no input from me besides tuning my device on.
So the hardware I would have to say overall is excellent. If I were to choose to keep this laptop or start using Windows full time, I would probably opt for a version of the X1 Carbon with the QHD display or, more likely, the UHD display since the screen is a very high priority to me. But the hardware on this version is pretty great and, for most, more than enough.
After using Windows for a week on my MacBook Pro, I don’t have that much more to add. There were some things that I wasn’t able to use on Windows running on my MacBook, though. The main thing that I already mentioned before was Windows Hello.
Windows Hello is nice when wanting just to get in. Typing in a password, though important, can get old, so being able to just look at the device you want to work on and it authenticates you is my kind of future.
We already get to unlock our devices on an iPhone since FaceID was announced on the X models. Now that iPads and lower-end iPhones have this functionality, including many Android phones, it only makes sense people want this on their laptops and desktops too.
I do understand that these options are not full proof since someone could potentially use a picture of you and unlock the device. But I also hear that this type of biometric authentication is improving and getting better every day. So though it may not be as safe as typing in a very secure password, the convenience is huge and hopefully overtime just as reliable.
Other things that I noticed were the massive list of updates needed when I first set up the X1 Carbon ThinkPad. I saw this same thing when using Windows on my MacBook, but it was over 37 updates that I needed to download and install on this machine when I first logged in.
This wouldn’t be as surprising to any Mac user who purchased a laptop after Apple announced a new version of its software, and apps were all updated as well to support it. The difference I believe is how frequent this amount of updates happen on Windows compared to macOS. This is something I touched on in my review of using Windows but will just say that though it can be a nuisance, it is not that big of a deal.
Like I also mentioned earlier, the bloatware being very minimal on this device is a fantastic thing. I know in the past, Windows laptops would be cluttered with software including anti-virus software and other unneeded tools taking up space. From what I can find, Lenovo only has one app that provides tools specifically for the hardware and a place to get to their support team or additional information you may need.
Overall, Windows and apps run great on this device. Granted, I mostly use the browser and a couple of Office apps, the performance of the machine is fantastic. I would say Windows runs better than on my MacBook Pro, which makes sense since the VM had to share resources with macOS.
In conclusion, I have to say that I like using this device for a little over a week. I think coming from using Windows for a week prior helped me prepare for what I was getting myself into using a Windows-only machine for awhile. Not only do I feel that the hardware is fantastic, but the overall package in using Windows 10 makes this laptop feel superior to other laptops in many ways.
I think I will still use my MacBook Pro for the foreseeable future, looking forward to it after these last two weeks of using Windows only. Still, it is exciting to know that not only is there an operating system that can keep up with macOS but hardware that can compete against MacBooks too.
I didn’t want this review just to be a Mac vs. Windows comparison, but since I am solely a Mac user, it only makes sense to use that perspective while judging the X1 Carbon ThinkPad. I will say that though my tastes are fluid when talking about keyboards or trackpads, the display is where I draw the line. And if I am choosing between this version of the X1 Carbon ThinkPad and the MacBook Pro solely on hardware alone, I am going to choose the MacBook Pro.
I think I could let go of the Space Gray aluminum casing and low-travel keyboard since the housing and keyboard on this ThinkPad is excellent. But the display on the MacBook Pro is so hard to let go. I am looking forward to using my MacBook Pro again so that I can write on that vibrant and beautiful screen again.
So if you are looking for a powerful laptop that is reasonably priced and aren’t as picky as I am about the screen, I would say grab this X1 Carbon ThinkPad. But if you are like me and need all those things but with a better than great display, I would say either look at other options, like the Surfaces — those maybe next, or check out the X1 Carbon with the QHD or UHD upgrades.
Or you can be like me and go pick up a MacBook Pro; excuse me while I get mine now.