Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2015) Review: Back To Basics With Broadwell

Design, Layout and Build Quality

The 2015 ThinkPad X1 Carbon is largely unchanged versus last year's model, at least from a high level design standpoint. The machine is built from a high density carbon fiber and plastic composite that presents a nice flat black, slightly textured surface that does unfortunately attract fingerprints, though it's not the worst we've seen by a long shot in this area.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon1

The display of the 2015 X1 Carbon sports a matte finish, LED backlit panel that drives a native resolution of 2560X1440, just like the 2014 version. However, the previous generation of X1 Carbon didn't have the brightest display out there and this year's model is more of the same. In fact, at 270 nits, you'll occasionally find yourself dialing up the brightness slider to give things more pop. Color saturation, contrast and clarity are all solid but things could just be brighter.

Update, 3/15/15: After additional time with the 2015 ThinkPad X1 Carbon, it has become obvious that, while perhaps its display is specified at 30 nits lower brightness than the previous generation, it actually appears significantly brighter and better balanced in terms of color reproduction versus the previous generation model. In fact, though it still feels like the new X1 Carbon's panel could offer a bit more output, we're pretty satisfied with that aspect of the panel Lenovo chose for this new ThinkPad. It gets the job done well. 

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Keyboard

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Function Keys

Then there's the 2015 X1 Carbon's keyboard and by far, at least in my humble view, it is one of, if not the most, valuable salient features of this machine.  Lenovo's notebook keyboards have always been some of the best in the business and the new X1 Carbon continues this tradition. This 14-inch platform just feels perfectly balanced, spacious but efficient. Key travel is excellent and I can fly on this machine as easily as I can hammering away on my high-end Deck mechanical keyboard. It's also backlit of course, which is becoming standard practice these days. The palm rest and keyboard areas also seem slightly more rigid than last year's model, with almost no flex on this typing deck.

You'll also notice that Lenovo, thankfully, has reverted back to a standard mechanical Function Key row up top. The adaptive display key design on the previous gen just didn't work out that well and it was met with some resistance in the user community. I for one am happy to see these standard keys back and Lenovo does a nice job of enabling some of your most-used controls with them, like volume, screen brightness, radio controls, Windows Settings, Windows Search and display output switching.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touchpad

The trackpad has also been redesigned with a more traditional three mechanical button, plus two integrated button setup that works much better than the previous model's button-less design. At first effort, the previous gen model's trackpad worked OK, but over time it started to getting finicky and became cumbersome. It's good to have the excellent ThinkPad trackpad of old back in the mix. It just works too well. And of course there's the trackpoint nub, which I never use but others swear by.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ports Right

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ports Left

On the right edge of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon you've got a USB 3.0 port, the Ethernet dongle port, some venting, and a lock port. On the left edge, Lenovo built in the headphone/mic combo jack, another USB 3.0, Mini-DP and full-size HDMI ports, and their proprietary Power and OneLink dock combo connector. In addition, on the back edge of the machine, you'll notice a standard SIM card slot. However, you might have noticed a rather large omission.  Yes, Lenovo left out the SD Card slot yet again. It's almost inexcusable. How many end users have Flash cards from cameras that they'd love to just pop into this machine but can't?  Apparently Lenovo just doesn't target these users it seems. Those of us that actually like quality pictures or video shot on DSLRs, instead of smartphones, are left out yet again. Really? Hello? Ughh. Wake up and smell the coffee, Lenovo.
X1 Carbon top

X1 Carbon bottom
The rest of the build is a pretty standard, high quality affair. The X1 Carbon's carbon fiber composite construction is light weight, very thin but still feels solid in the hand. In fact, it all feels very well-balanced. As you can see, on the bottom side you'll find the stereo speaker ports, as well as some additional venting. Sound quality is not the X1 Carbon's forte. Things sound as tiny as ever and can't match the output of Dell's XPS 13. However, this a business machine first, so if you want to rock a Bluetooth speaker setup, buds or headphones are advisable. The good news is, this machines stays cool and quiet under pressure. You'll hardly notice the 2015 X1 Carbon under load and it certainly won't toast your lap in a traditional usage position.

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