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Hands-on review: CES 2014: ThinkPad X1 Carbon review


Hands-on review: CES 2014: ThinkPad X1 Carbon review

I not too long ago claimed that the Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga was the most slick in the range yet. But that was before I got my hands on the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon at CES 2014. I stand corrected. This is the classiest professional laptop I’ve seen yet from Lenovo.

The new 14-inch X1 Carbon takes the previous model’s 0.74 inches (H) and 2.99 pounds, and makes it that much thinner (0.73 inches) and lighter (under 2.9 pounds). Lenovo, claiming this the lightest ultrabook available, chalks this up to its lay-flat hinge design and carbon fiber frame.

The result? A business grade laptop that looks like it belongs in the lookout van of a crime drama and feels like, well, not much at all – the X1 Carbon is quickly approaching Macbook Air levels of slimness. So, what did Lenovo manage to cram into an ultrabook this thin?

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

The X1 Carbon comes packing a Haswell processor (up to Intel Core i7 with Intel HD Graphics 5000), backed up by up to 8GB of RAM and an SSD as large as 512GB. All that powers Windows 8.1 behind a 14-inch IPS display as sharp as 2560 x 1440 pixels. On paper, this laptop already eclipses Apple’s darling clamshell.

That’s one funky function row

The most interesting change in Lenovo’s design is its new Adaptive Keyboard technology. Rather than a standard row of function keys like any old laptop, the X1 Carbon has a strip filled with capacitive buttons etched in electroluminescent ink. The buttons’ icons (and their functions) change depending upon which app is active.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

While most Microsoft Office programs keep the buttons to standard function keys, switching over to the browser reveals refresh, back, home keys and more. A quick pop over to Skype, and VoIP controls instantly illuminate the row underneath the screen. A Lenovo representative told me that the keyboard is loaded with over 45 unique functions in all. But there’s one small problem.

Because these icons are etched into the Adaptive keyboard using that special ink, there likely won’t be any more functions available until another X1 Carbon is released. It would be great to see this technology adopted by app makers, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

I found the Adaptive Keyboard to be snappy in both responding to my touch and changing functions based on the currently active app. This is something I could easily see business users taking advantage of faster than the ThinkPad Yoga many modes of use. Of course, users can disable it entirely if they so choose.

The rest of the keyboard and mouse offering is business as usual, and business is good. I sensed little to no flex on the chiclet-style set of keys, and the touchpad was smooth and had that soft give that Lenovo touchpads are known for.

Quick to charge, slow to die

Battery life is one of the chief concerns for laptop buyers these days, especially business users. They want something to last an entire trip, if not longer, on a single charge. Lenovo promises up to 9 hours of battery life, which is commendable.

But here’s the clincher: The X1 Carbon can charge 80% of its battery in just 50 minutes. Thanks to this Rapid Charge feature, a layover at the airport could mean a full charge for the next flight. The endurance game is quickly becoming about not only how long your device’s battery lasts, but how quickly it charges, and Lenovo seems ahead of the game.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Early verdict

Admittedly, it’s tough not to look at the ThinkPad X1 Carbon not get a little giddy. This ultrabook is a beauty that should also be more than capable of handling most business-level tasks with ease.

That Adaptive Keyboard is certainly interesting; it brings the concept of touch control beyond the screen, for one. It was also simply fun to use, which is something a number of office environments could use a dose of. But that rapidly charging battery could be a game changer.

Of course, there’s always the price: $1,299 (about £790, AU$1447). That’s a little pricey for a business laptop, especially at starting configurations. Lenovo is quickly carving its own Samsung-like niche in the market, with premium computing experiences for matching price tags. I can’t wait to see just how premium an experience that truly is when the X1 Carbon (available now) arrives on TechRadar’s doorstep for review.