Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2014, A Fantastic Revision

Design, Layout and Build Quality

Lenovo took the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon almost back to the proverbial drawing board.  Not only does the machine sport a few major functional design changes but the chassis itself is built with a more rigid, high density carbon fiber filled polymer that feels just as light (it's actually slightly lighter than the previous gen) but much more solid in the hand.

The previous generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon felt just a little bit flimsy in spots.  The wrist rest area and lid especially had some flex to them.  The new X1 Carbon chassis does away with this completely with a smoother, less textured exterior surface and all around much sturdier construction. There is zero flex to the entire chassis including the lid and display area and even the 180 degree wide-swing hinges are designed better and offer a smoother, more confident motion.  If you liked the previous 2012 ThinkPad X1 Carbon design, you'll absolutely love the new model's build quality. It's just, in a word, fantastic.

The 2014 ThinkPad X1 Carbon's 2560X1440 display is also pretty fantastic, sporting a matte finish that minimizes glare but optimizes viewing angles very well.  It's one of the best touch panels we've seen yet, as far viewing angle performance is concerned.  Colors are rich and balanced while text remains crisp and legible, even while switching between apps or IE, which aren't optimized for ultra-high resolution on a small 14-inch display.  Lenovo sets the machine up with a balanced 150% magnification for web browsing and desktop apps, while Metor or "Modern UI" home screen optimized apps look clean and sharp at full res.

One major design change decision that was made was to do away with the trackpad mouse buttons that accompany the red Trackpoint mouse.  These mouse functions are now fully integrated into the trackpad itself and we didn't miss the discrete functionality at all, though Trackpoint purists might miss them.  We will say that, out of the box, the touchpad is configured with a very fast scroll speed and we'd recommend dialing it back a bit if you find yourself over-correcting often.


The 2014 ThinkPad X1 Carbon keyboard itself is just more Lenovo excellence.  There were some small concessions that needed to be made for the new 5-row design, versus the previous generation 6-row implementation, but adapting to these small changes requires assuming a minor learning curve.  Specifically, the combination split Backspace and Delete key may catch you hitting one or the other command accidentally, but it took us less than a week to settle in to reaching just a little less for Backspace and just a little more for Delete.


For ports and IO, you get a pair of USB 3.0 ports, HDMI, mini DisplayPort, an Ethernet Dongle port that supports native RJ45, a combo mic/headphone port, a micro-SIM card slot for option cellular connectivity, a Kensington lock port and Lenovo's USB-like rectangular port jack.  Everything is here, except for the micro-SD card slot.  Why Lenovo did away with this in the new X1 Carbon design is beyond us.  Frankly, this one omission kept us from deeming the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon as "perfect" Hot Hardware.  But alas, few things, if anything in life, are truly perfect. 

Another nice surprise is that the Lenovo's new power brick for the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is dramatically smaller; in fact the new model has 45 Watt total power capacity while the previous version is a 90 Watt adapter.  Regardless, travelers that like to minimize bulk and weight will appreciate the significantly more efficient footprint here as well.

One of the hallmark features of this new ThinkPad design is Lenovo's adaptive function row display strip above the keyboard.  This is actually a liquid crystal display that allows for various icon patterns to be displayed even in bright lighting conditions.  Lenovo achieves this with an electroluminescent layer behind the display. 

The Home function row includes icons for volume, brightness, gesture control, screen snip voice recognition with Dragon Assist. The Web Browser row shows when IE, Chrome or Firefox are launched, and the Web Conference row activates when Skype, ooVoo, WebEx, Lync, Google Talk or Windows Messenger are engaged. Finally, there is a standard F-key function row that activates for Microsoft Office apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc.

Though some of the functions offered are more of a novelty, other functions like brightness, volume, screen snip, search and some of the browser functions, are valuable additions for accessibility, usability with Windows 8, and aesthetics.   F-key functions are feeling a bit dated at this point but have been the current convention for so long now, they're hardly given a second thought by most manufacturers.  We're pleasantly surprised by the usefulness of this new evolution of the function row and hope to see more adaptive presentations in future Lenovo products.

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