The latest ThinkPad X1 Carbon (starts at $1,349; $1,629 as tested) is the thinnest and lightest one yet. Lenovo’s flagship business ultraportable weighs less than 2.5 pounds, yet has the processing muscle to power through presentations, spreadsheets, and a lot more. And with almost 16 hours of battery life, this laptop is built to handle those long work sessions when a wall outlet is nowhere in sight. It’s the best ultraportable for business, whether you’re a C-level executive or the proprietor of a small-to-medium-size business.
Honey, I Shrunk the Laptop!
It was easy to tote last year’s X1 Carbon around the office, and the fifth-generation iteration is even more portable. It measures a smaller and thinner 0.6 by 12.7 by 8.5 inches (HWD), and at 2.45 pounds, it’s 14 ounces lighter too. The 14-inch laptop is closer in thinness and weight to the 12-inch Apple MacBook (0.52-inch thick; 1.99 pounds), though some of the X1 Carbon‘s extra thickeness is due to its wider port selection.
On the left side are a pair of USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3. The Apple MacBook has just one USB-C port (sans Thunderbolt 3 support), while the Dell XPS 13 Touch gives you one USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port, though like the X1 Carbon, it also has a selection of legacy ports. Both of the X1 Carbon’s USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports support charging and DisplayPort (with an adapter, which is not included), in addition to data transmission at USB 3.1 (10Gbps) and Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps) speeds.
You’re all set for multi-monitor support (up to three displays) or a single-cable connection to a supported dock, like the Lenovo ThinkPad Thunderbolt 3 dock or ThinkPad USB-C Dock, or to a Thunderbolt 3-equipped monitor. Good thing, because this X1 Carbon iteration loses the Lenovo OneLink+ docking connector you may use on your current Lenovo ThinkPad.
You’ll also find an HDMI jack on the left side, as well as a USB 3.0 port, and a proprietary mini-Ethernet jack that works with an included dongle. The XPS 13 Touch also needs a USB-to-Ethernet dongle for wired connections, but that system is aimed at consumers, while the X1 Carbon is all business. The dongle is easy to forget in your office, a definite drawback if you travel to a hotel with iffy Wi-Fi service. On the right side are a headset jack, a second USB 3.0 port, and a security-lock port. Around back are a microSD card slot and a SIM card slot for an optional 4G LTE modem.
Another notable feature is Anti-Fry protection. All USB-C chargers will physically plug into the USB-C ports on the laptop so it’s easy to plug the wrong cable into the X1 Carbon, but not all chargers and cables are as well engineered as the ones that come with Acer, Apple, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and other first-tier laptops. The X1 Carbon can prevent damage if you’re using a non-standard AC adapter (say the one that comes with a no-name $125 Windows tablet). When we plugged a 36W USB adapter (made for Android phablets) in, it couldn’t supply enough power to charge the laptop, but when we plugged the 60W AC adapter from the discontinued Google Chromebook Pixel into the X1 Carbon it charged the battery without incident. This is a good sign that USB-C charger interoperability is progressing, so you won’t necessarily have to buy a Lenovo-sourced replacement if you lose yours.
The 14-inch In-Plane Switching (IPS) display has full HD resolution, with very small bezels around the screen, which helps shrink the overall depth and width of the laptop. The webcam is in its usual spot centered over the screen, avoiding the camera-angle problems of the Dell XPS 13 Touch, which has the it below the screen, so it almost looks up your nose if you don’t readjust the lid. The screen is rated for 300-nit brightness, a bit less than the 400-nit display on the Dell XPS 13, but both are easily readable in direct sunlight.
Not surprisingly, the X1 Carbon’s keyboard is one of the most comfortable in the business, and it has an embedded TrackPoint pointing stick for ThinkPad vets. There’s also a one-piece, glass-surface touchpad below three physical mouse buttons. The fingerprint reader that sits to the right of the touchpad works with Windows Hello, and can be integrated into your company’s security policies for one-touch logins to your accounts. The speakers are on the base, pointed toward you. They produce an impressive amount of sound, though it’s understandably tuned for voice use in web conferences.
Our review configuration comes with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. While you can replace the SSD with something larger (up to 1TB). Memory is soldered to the motherboard, so you will have to choose between 8GB and 16GB when you order the system. Our unit has Microsoft Signature prep, a service that eliminates any added bloatware, so a Microsoft Office 2016 Trial, a few Lenovo utilities, and Windows 10 Pro are all that are on the drive.
A Productivity Workhorse
Our X1 Carbon test unit is equipped with an Intel Core i5-7300U processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics 620. Advances in the CPU technology and the SSD’s data throughput helped the laptop achieve top scores in the PCMark 8 Work Conventional (3,240 points), CineBench (367 points), and Photoshop (3 minutes, 36 seconds) tests, ahead of rivals like the Apple MacBook, the Dell XPS 13 Touch, the Lenovo ThinkPad X260, and the VAIO S. With a score of 2:38 in Handbrake, the X1 Carbon trailed the Dell XPS 13 (2:08), though not enough for it to be a concern. The X1 Carbon was above average in our 3D benchmark tests, making it good enough for business-related 3D rendering. You can even play a casual game like Minecraft in your down time. This laptop will serve you well over the three to eight years it takes your company to depreciate its capital expense.
In our battery rundown test, the X1 Carbon lasted an impressive 15 hours and 59 minutes. That’s hours longer than all the ultraportables in its category, save the Lenovo ThinkPad X260 (23:08), which has the benefit of an extended battery (it managed 10:45 with its standard battery). It certainly lasts longer than the the HP EliteBook 1040 G3 , which lasted 6 hours, 55 minutes: less than the 8 hours we’d consider all-day computing. This means you’re all set for any trans-oceanic trip, even if there’s no AC power at your seat. It’ll certainly last a couple of business days between charges, longer if you let the system sleep between uses.
The Best Ultraportable You Can Buy
The latest iteration of the Lenovo X1 Carbon is easy to carry everywhere, it’s sleek enough to show off, it’ll last all day (and then some), and it has the power to motor through office and multimedia tasks easily. In addition, the screen is brilliant, and the keyboard is top-notch. It’s about $300 more expensive than the Lenovo ThinkPad X260, another favorite, but that extra cost gets you a thinner, lighter, and more powerful laptop, and adds forward-thinking features, like two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports and two USB 3.0 ports, to the mix. It’s our top pick for business ultraportables.