ThinkPad X1 Carbon Review: Lenovo's 7th Gen Flagship Impresses

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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, New For 2019, 7th Gen Is The Charm

ThinkPad X1 Carbon open
New year, new ThinkPad X1 Carbon—it's easy to think that yearly laptop iterations would be mundane. However, today we're looking at one of our most heavily-awarded line of laptops here at HotHardware, so expectations run high. Last year's Lenovo flagship really impressed us, with power under the hood combined with its well-designed and lightweight body, impressive 2560x1440 Dolby HDR IPS display, and great battery life. That model earned an Editor's Choice award and still stands tall as one of our favorite business-oriented ultraportables. How could the 2019 variant be made even better? 

ThinkPad X1 Carbon carbon fiber top

To start with, this year's model is thinner, lighter, has even more powerful hardware packed under the hood, and boasts an even nicer display. Intel has updated its Kaby Lake R low-power CPUs, so we get Intel's latest here, just prior to the Ice Lake 10nm onslaught that likely won't hit critical mass until well into Q4. Regardless, CPU models both with and without vPro remote management features are available. Lenovo provides a dizzying five choices of display technology, too, including  a touch-sensitive 1080p screen, the same 1440p display that last year's model had, and a new, brighter 4K IPS panel. All of that hardware is packed in a chassis that's both thinner and lighter than last time around, too. It's certainly not an inexpensive PC, but with a premium machine, the hope is that you're buying more than just specs. The build quality needs to be excellent and extra features worth paying for need to come along for the ride. Let's see what the latest ThinkPad X1 Carbon has in store for its more premium price point.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 7th Generation
Specifications & Features
Processor Intel Core i7-8665U with vPro (1.90GHz, max 4.80GHz, 4 Cores, 8MB Cache) - Tested
Intel Core i7-8565U Processor (1.80GHz, max 4.60GHz, 4 Cores, 8MB Cache)
Intel Core i5-8365U with vPro (1.60GHz, max 4.10GHz, 4 Cores, 6MB Cache)
Intel Core i5-8265U Processor (1.60GHz, max 3.90GHz, 4 Cores, 6MB Cache) 
OS Windows 10 Pro 64-bit - Tested
Windows 10 Home 64-bit
Display 14" 4K (3840x2160), 10-bit color, 500 nits, HDR400 certified - Tested
14" WQHD (2560 x 1440) IPS, 300 nits, anti-glare
14" FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS, low power, 400 nits, anti-glare
14" FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS PrivacyGuard, 400 nits, anti-glare
14" Touch FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS, 300 nits, anti-glare
Graphics Intel UHD 620
Storage Up to 1TB Samsung PM981a NVMe M.2 SSD (x4 lanes) - 1TB Tested
Memory 16GB LPDDR3-2133 MHz (Soldered)
Audio Stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos
Camera 720p Webcam with infrared sensor; Windows Hello supported and ThinkShutter privacy guard
Networking Intel Wireless-AC 9560 (802.11ac)
Ports: Left 1x HDMI 1.4
2x Thunderbolt 3 (Power delivery supported)
1x USB-A 3.0
1x proprietary dock connector
1x headphone/microphone combo jack
Ports: Right 1x USB-A 3.0
1x Kensington lock port
Keyboard Chicklet-style tenkey-less, spill resistant, white LED backlit
Battery 4-Cell Li-Ion (3230mAh 15.36v, 50 Wh)
Weight Starts at 2.4 lbs (1.08 kg)
Dimensions 12.71 x 8.54 x 0.58 inches (323 x 217 x 14.95 mm)
Warranty 1-year limited
Price Starting at $1,253.40 ($1999 as configured currently)

Where multiple configuration options are listed above, we tested the configuration in the bold font. What we've got here is the biggest, baddest X1 Carbon you can buy. You get a full terabyte of Samsung's latest and greatest NVMe SSDs along with Intel's refreshed Core i7-8665U with four cores and eight threads backed by eight megabytes of L3 cache. That CPU tops out at a maximum of 4.8 GHz, which is sure to make a big difference in short bursts. 16 GB of LPDDR3 memory feeds the CPU and acts as a frame buffer for the UHD 620 integrated GPU.
ThinkPad X1 Carbon hdr display
ThinkPad X1 Carbon 4K HDR400 500-Nit Display - In A Word, Crispy

The graphics processor outputs pixels to a crispy, bright 500-nit 4K (3820x2160) IPS display with Dolby Vision and HDR400 certifications. While the display isn't an OLED panel, it's still pretty gorgeous and highly competitive with OLED laptop displays we've seen. Its 314 DPI pixel density makes for tack-sharp text and images, and color saturation and contrast levels are good. As expected, Windows detects the HDR tone-mapping capabilities of the 4K display and provides a toggle to enable support for HDR content. If 500 nits of brightness sears your retinas, don't worry — lower settings can drop the display's backlight down to much lower levels, and we had no problems using it in the dimly lit areas. Speaking of the dark, the keyboard has a white LED backlight so you can see what you're doing when the ambient light is low. While the X1 Carbon isn't a two-in-one device with a dedicated touch screen or tablet mode, the screen folds open a full 180 degrees, making it entirely flat on our table. 

ThinkPad X1 Carbon carbon ports left
ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ports (Left Side) - Lots Of IO But Devoid Of MicroSD Card Slot

There's plenty of connectivity on this 14" notebook, too. On the left you'll find a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports, which also support USB 3.1 gen 2 via their Type-C connectors. The second one is coupled with a proprietary network extension port, and the two jacks together support a variety of ThinkPad docking stations. You'll also find USB 3.0 Type-A, HDMI 1.4, and four-pole headset jacks. Around on the right side, there's another USB 3.0 Type-A port, Kensington lock connector, the power button, and and a vent where the system exhausts excess heat. The only port that's really missing is an SD card reader. While it's probably tough to find room for it in a system this small, it's still a must-have, especially in this price range. Consider us disappointed there.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon carbon ports right
ThinkPad X1 Carbon keyboard logo
While laptop keyboards can never have the travel or tactile feedback of your favorite mechanical 'board, the keyboard area of the new ThinkPad X1 Carbon are really nice to type on as usual. There's enough travel that the keys feel responsive, and the slight concave shape cradles your fingertips. That's not really any different than last year's ThinkPad, but props to Lenovo for sticking with something that works really well and maintaining what we feel is one of the best laptop keyboard in the business. Speaking of which, as usual, Lenovo's trademark Trackpoint eraser-style nub sits in the center of the keyboard to move the mouse. There's also an adequate (though not overly big) touchpad at the bottom. Multi-touch gestures for scrolling and zooming work as expected, and there are three buttons, as is the ThinkPad custom. To the right of that is a fingerprint sensor for folks who want to get into the system without a PIN or password. 

ThinkPad X1 Carbon privacy shutter

At the top of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon's screen is a 720p webcam with an infrared sensor, which supports Windows Hello for face unlock. The ThinkShutter physical cover for the camera returns from last year's model, which privacy-minded users will really appreciate. Windows cannot access the camera at all while the shutter is engaged. With the shutter open, a white LED indicates when the camera is capturing video. While Lenovo isn't the only company doing this (some of HP's EliteBook systems have this as well), we think the ThinkShutter is a really nice touch.

Next we'll open this baby up and see what's under the hood. 

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