amazon Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 reviews
Although the Lenovo ThinkPad lineup is geared towards business people, these rugged, feature-packed laptops also captivate many consumers. The latest ThinkPad X1 Carbon, dubbed Gen 7, is a prime example of this crossover. This ultraportable business laptop distills the ThinkPad concept to its essence, reducing weight but keeping key ThinkPad features such as a comfortable keyboard, the iconic red TrackPoint, and management features rich IT management and security. It also offers enthusiast features like facial recognition and a stunning 4K glossy display with HDR support, overkill features for many business users.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is now in its seventh generation. Still, at first glance, you will hardly notice the difference between this generation and the previous generation, the generation before that, and so on. Lenovo has never strayed far from the classic ThinkPad formula, which calls for a solid black chassis, a red silicone pointing device (TrackPoint) in the center of the keyboard, and of course, a diagonal “ThinkPad” logo on the outside.
Many other ThinkPads continue to follow this formula. The size, weight, and materials set the X1 Carbon Gen 7 apart from its ThinkPad X, T, and L siblings. The latest flagship ThinkPad T-series, the ThinkPad T490, weighs in at 3.7 pounds and is 0.7 inches thick, that’s after a significant drop from its predecessor. The X1 Carbon Gen 7 is in a different league altogether, measuring 0.59 x 12.7 x 8.6 inches (HWD) and starting at just 2.4 pounds. Weights vary depending on optional extras.
These dimensions not only fit the X1 Carbon Gen 7 squarely into ultraportable laptop territory, but they also mean it’s one of the lightest in that territory. That is even more impressive when you consider that the X1 Carbon Gen 7’s 14-inch screen is almost an inch larger than the 13.3-inch screen on most laptops we consider ultraportable.
Despite its lightweight, the X1 Carbon Gen 7’s combination of a magnesium bottom and a carbon fiber display lid gives it a solid feel. The MIL-STD 810G certification lends some legitimacy to that impression, confirming that this is indeed as rugged as you’d expect from a ThinkPad. Many other laptops share these characteristics, but none of them are lightweight. Even the beautifully designed Apple MacBook Air, the original trendsetter of the ultraportable laptop genre, weighs 2.75 pounds. The near-perfect Dell XPS 13 is also heavier, at 2.7 pounds, and let’s not forget that both Apple and Dell have fewer screens.
New screen and cover options
The main changes to the ThinkPad X1 Carbon of revisions have to do with the display and the exterior styling of its lid.
The base model I’m reviewing, with a full HD (1,920 x 1,080 pixels) display, has the same black display lid as the previous generation. Stepping up to the top-end model with a 4K display (3,840 x 2,160 pixels), you get a screen cover with a distinctive carbon fiber weave. It’s a small concession for those who want a bit of flair on their very tough ThinkPad. Lenovo describes it as a way for owners to be reminded that their device is partially made out of carbon fiber, as it’s not obvious. Presumably, the company believes that those interested in such colors also want a 4K display.
Between the base model 4K and 1080p displays, Lenovo offers two more screen options. These include a unique 1080p touchscreen with a matte finish, which I found very convenient when testing on the previous generation. Another display option is a WQHD (2,560 x 1,440 pixels) matte display that doesn’t support touch.
If you want the brightest and most vibrant display, consider the 4K version, which has 500 nits of brightness rated and supports Dolby Vision for high dynamic range (HDR) pictures and videos.
The base model’s screen has a brightness of 400 nits, which I found to be perfectly adequate for viewing text documents in a well-lit office, although images and videos were a bit dim.
As always, a luxurious typing experience.
Despite its slim chassis, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 has a keyboard that is at least as comfortable as any I’ve used on other ThinkPads in recent years. Its backlit keys are sculpted to provide visual guidance to your fingertips, and they offer extraordinary stability.
Unfortunately, the touchpad isn’t nearly as comfortable to use. It’s cramped; its click action is rather stiff and unresponsive, taking longer than I’d like to register motion. The keyboard uses Microsoft’s Precision Touchpad interface, so tweaking is simple, but increasing the sensitivity didn’t help much.
Classic TrackPoint pointer control serves as a consolation prize for a mediocre trackpad. It’s especially useful if you’re trying to move the arrow pointer in a cramped environment, such as an economy-class airline seat. It takes some getting used to, but ThinkPad fans have a long way to go; TrackPoint has been around since IBM owns the brand, and other companies, such as Dell, have copied it in their business laptops.
Lenovo has redesigned the X1 Carbon’s speaker system for this generation. It has two top-facing tweeters next to the display hinge and two down-firing woofers. Overall, the audio is adequate for video conferencing, although I didn’t find it as powerful as the one on the MacBook Pro, which uses stereo speakers that pop up.
The webcam on my test unit was also good enough for video conferencing, and it includes a convenient built-in privacy door that you can close when not in use. It lacks infrared sensors that let you log into your Windows account using facial recognition, something only available on models with an upgraded display. However, my test unit came with a fingerprint reader, which could correctly recognize my prints every time I used it over several days of testing.
Adapter-Up for Ethernet
To take full advantage of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7’s I/O selection, you’ll need Lenovo’s proprietary Ethernet adapter. Integrating a full-size Ethernet jack in such a thin laptop is impractical, so the usual approach is to design a small jack with a hinge that expands when you’re ready to plug in the Ethernet cord. Instead, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 uses a proprietary Ethernet jack that is not distorted but requires an adapter ($35). This method is certainly more reliable than a hinged jack, although it does mean that Lenovo also profits from selling adapter cables.
In addition to the single Ethernet port, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon has a strong, if quite ordinary, port selection. The chassis features two USB Type-C ports (each supporting Thunderbolt 3 speeds), two USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-A ports, an audio jack, a full-size HDMI port, and a Kensington-style notch for connectivity. Physical security cable connection. Wireless connectivity includes Wi-Fi 802.11ac and Bluetooth 5.0, but not Wi-Fi Next Generation 6 (802.11ax). You can add a modem for LTE data, a rare option for laptops sold in the US, but it will hit download speeds of 450Mbps, not the 1Gbps that many mobile devices today offer.
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Performance is so excellent.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 that I tested came with an Intel Core i5-8265U processor, 8GB of memory, and a 256GB PCI Express NVMe SSD. These are decent specs for everyday computing tasks, though you can take each of them to the next level in competitive ultraportables in the X1 Carbon’s price range.
You can also equip the X1 Carbon with better components. If you get the most out of everything in the online configuration tool, you’re looking at a Core i7 with vPro, 16GB of memory, and a 1TB SSD. So I’ve included a few systems with Core i7 CPUs, 16GB of memory, and 512GB SSDs for performance comparison purposes. Also in the mix is the more similarly configured MacBook Pro.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 performed admirably in our benchmark tests, finishing at or near the top in each, even when compared to the heavier, better equipped Asus ZenBook 14 and HP EliteBook 840 G5. That is partly thanks to the CPU of the X1 Carbon from Intel’s “Whiskey Lake” generation. Like many of Intel’s later generation high-end laptop CPUs, it has four cores and supports up to eight concurrent threads, allowing for simultaneous processing of multiple instructions from the software. But except for the ultra-low-power Core i7 in the Acer Swift 7, each of the other systems listed above also has multi-threaded CPUs, so part of the X1 Carbon’s advantage can be attributed to Lenovo’s performance.
To evaluate the system’s overall performance for office-focused tasks such as word processing, spreadsheet work, web browsing, and video conferencing, we use PCMark 10. Total performance suite This entity simulates various real-world productivity and content creation processes and generates proprietary scores. Meanwhile, PCMark 8 has a Storage subtest that we use to gauge the speed of the boot drive.
There are a few surprises here. All systems perform roughly equally on the storage benchmark, as they all use the same fast PCIe SSD. The PCMark 10 difference is slightly larger, but the score of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 still represents excellent day-to-day performance even if it falls slightly below the ZenBook 14’s score.
For a more nuanced look at performance on specialized resource-intensive tasks, we test 3D rendering performance in Maxon’s Cinebench R15 engine and image-editing performance in Adobe Photoshop CC. Cinebench emphasizes CPU rather than GPU to render a complex image. Meanwhile, the Photoshop test emphasizes the CPU, storage subsystem, and RAM. Still, it can also take advantage of most GPUs to speed up applying filters, so systems with chips or Powerful graphics cards can see an increase.
It’s great to see that the X1 Carbon Gen 7 scores the best in Cinebench. Its Photoshop scores aren’t top of the pack, but it’s still very competitive. Although this laptop is not designed as a multimedia editing platform, you can perform these tasks quickly.
To evaluate gaming performance, we use UL’s 3DMark benchmark suite and Unigine’s Superposition utility. We ran two different 3DMark subtests, Sky Diver and Fire Strike, suitable for different types of systems. Both are DirectX 11 benchmarks, but the Sky Diver is better suited for mid-range laptops and PCs, while the Fire Strike is more demanding and made for high-end PCs to enhance their quality. Like 3DMark, the Superposition test renders and scans a detailed 3D scene and measures how the system copes.
Each system performed the same graphics tests as PCMark, except for the Acer Swift 7. None of these results were suitable for playing high-graphics games (ideally a laptop); gaming should post results above 60 frames per second on the Superposition test, but they suggest that browser games, Minecraft, and other similar titles should do just fine.
When testing these synthetic benchmarks, I also observed while browsing the web and entering parts of this story on the X1 Carbon Gen 7. Everything was smooth, even when I unplugged the cable. USB-C charger and laptop automatically switched to Better Battery mode. I also spent some time with the 4K version of the X1 Carbon. I noticed some laggy and jerky window animations in the better Battery mode, which suggests some performance limitations in the model. There to extend the battery life better. Switching to Better Performance mode largely resolved these issues on the 4K version.
About battery life, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7’s power-off time is admirably long, at least as measured by our battery summary test…
The system lasted more than 14 hours on this test, which involves playing a local 720p video file at 50 percent screen brightness on a loop in airplane mode. That requires less processing power, so if you’re doing more typical tasks like browsing the web or converting files, you’ll likely experience a different outcome. The same goes for the 4K version — Lenovo itself warns that it won’t last as long as its 1080p sibling. 4K monitors tend to consume more power.
The best laptop for business
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 is close to the ultimate business laptop you can get. It’s not flashy, but it’s incredibly well designed, offers a variety of configuration options, and has a sturdy frame that won’t weigh heavily on your travel bag. Therefore, this is a rare business laptop that also stimulates consumers to look for a high-end machine.
It’s clear that Lenovo is aware of the success of its crossover lineup, and the ability to add that carbon fiber weave and 4K HDR display is a logical response to it. If you have a lot of money, you can add these options, especially if you plan to use the X1 Carbon to watch movies. On the other hand, most businesses would probably do better to buy the entry-level model reviewed here, or one close to it, with the only option of vPro support if they need to.
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