Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017) Review: Optimized Mobility

Lenovo's 2017 ThinkPad X1 Carbon: A Case Study In Optimization

Lenovo's venerable ThinkPad business oriented laptop line is punctuated by a couple of stand-out models, but perhaps none as striking, at least for a ThinkPad, as the ThinkPad X1 series. In its current lineup, Lenovo offers two models specifically that command attention perhaps more than others, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga that we recently revisited--with its 360-degree hinge and sweet OLED display--and the new 5th generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon that we'll be looking at here today. Though the 5th gen ThinkPad X1 Carbon may share a similar design signature and materials as the previous generation, Lenovo's 2017 version has been almost completely re-designed.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon Open home screen

Lenovo made some tough, smart decisions here and that's really what the 2017 ThinkPad X1 Carbon is all about. The machine is still built with its tried and true, flat black carbon fiber and Super Magnesium Alloy materials, the latter of which is claimed to be the world's strongest and lightest metal. However, the similarities end there both in terms of its exterior mechanical design and interior processing platform, which is now powered by Intel's 7th gen Kaby Lake Core Series processors.

We took a quick tour of the machine, as well as a few other Lenovo highlight products, at CES in Las Vegas this year. If you've got a few extra minutes to spare, check out Lenovo's CES 2017 product demo suite, with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon on display toward the end of the clip, then we'll dive deep on this ThinkPad refresh from every angle... 

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017) 5th Generation
Specifications & Features

Perusing the specs, we see Lenovo opted for the Intel Core i5-7300U in our test machine, which is a nicely balanced dual-core, quad-thread CPU that turbos up to 3.5GHz. However, there are also Core i5-7200U and Core i7-7600U options available. The Core i7 will get you 4MB of L3 cache (versus 3MB in the Core i5) and a top-end speed of 3.9GHz, but as you'll see, the Kaby Lake Core i5 we tested holds up rather nicely under load. Starting at about ~ $1175, it's a pricey but nicely equipped machine to be sure, and it also sports an NVMe SSD for its storage subsystem, something that is thankfully becoming commonplace now. 

The other notable features here are two Thunderbolt 3 capable USB Type-C ports, along with a single USB 3 port, a full-sized HDMI output port, and a Micro-Ethernet dongle port. So connectivity-wise, you're in pretty solid shape with this machine. And when it comes to battery life, users should be in even better shape as the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon not only sports the better efficiency of Intel Kaby Lake architecture, but also a larger 57 Whr battery, as opposed to the 52 Whr battery of the previous generation. 

ThinkPad X1 Carbon and Power Brick

All those upgrades aside, there is now but one display option for the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, a 14-inch FHD 1920X1080 matte finish, anti-glare IPS panel with 322 nits brightness. This may or may not be a concern for you, but if you're looking for a 1440p or 4K option unfortunately that's not in the cards.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2017 Next To X1 Yoga closed
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2017 Next To X1 Yoga
2016 ThinkPad X1 Yoga (left) - 2017 ThinkPad X1 Carbon (right)

On the other hand, what you get for a more limited panel selection with the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a decidedly more compact machine. Here, Lenovo took a page from the thin bezel playbook and dropped the side bezels to 5mm and the top bezel to 9mm, just thick enough to still support that HD webcam up top. 

Next to one of Lenovo's also 14-inch ThinkPad X1 Yoga machines, as you can see in the two shots above, the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon strikes a significantly smaller footprint overall. Both the display bezel and optimized palm rest area contribute to much cleaner, more compact lines. What's also impressive is how Lenovo managed to get the overall system weight of the machine down to just she of 2.5 pounds, which is over a half-pound lighter than the previous generation machine. This is one svelte ultrabook to be sure. If only we could get an OLED option here too? Sigh, one can dream right? 

Let's drop in for a closer look at the 5th gen ThinkPad X1 Carbon...

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