ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2018) Review: 6th Gen Workhorse, HDR Brilliance

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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 6th Gen: Industrial Design Chops And Software Simplicity

If you've seen the previous generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon, the 2018 model is virtually identical from a chassis design standpoint. The X1 Carbon series is built with a hybrid carbon fiber and Lenovo Super Magnesium Alloy construction, the latest iteration of which is finished with a texture that does a reasonably good job of resisting fingerprints. Also, new last year for the X1 Carbon is a dramatically trimmed-down chassis and thinner bezels around the display, such that Lenovo is able to squeeze its 14-inch display into more of a 13-inch format that makes extremely efficient use of real estate. This chassis is all about iteration and refinement over years of the X1 Carbon's lineage. It's also MIL-STD 810G durable, passing military grade certification tests for ruggedness.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 6th Gen
keyboard Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 6th Gen

And that right there, boys and girls, is the best notebook keyboard in the ultrabook business, as far as we're concerned. At just a little over half an inch thick and just 2.49 pounds, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is an ultra-thin and ultralight machine to be sure, but its keyboard feels like a full-featured workhorse. The key caps are shaped and positioned well, and have good key travel and tactility. There's also very little if any flex in the keyboard deck itself, which feels really solid. And though you don't get the full "yoga" treatment with the X1 Carbon, you do get 180 degree swing hinges for greater flexibility in positioning the laptop's display.

Oh, and a new feature for you folks that tend to subscribe to the Tinfoil Hat Society (THS - don't we all occasionally?); Lenovo has now built the "ThinkShutter" webcam privacy feature into these next generation machines. The ThinkPad Yoga line has it as well. No more masking tape needed. Just slide the shutter over and then go nuts housing that steak and cheese grinder, even though you're on the office team's ironman/woman challenge. Your secrets are safe with us.

left edge Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 6th Gen
right edge Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 6th Gen
ThinkPad X1 Carbon sd card slot

The left edge of the machine is home to a Thunderbolt port, a USB 3.0 port and the ThinkPad Side Dock port, which also has built in Thunderbolt 3-enabled USB-C connectivity that you can plug into directly, if you're not utilizing a Lenovo ThinkPad Docking Station with the machine. The right side is home to an audio jack, USB 3.0 port and Kensington Lock port. In this day and age, that's a healthy assortment of ports, but we'd still prefer the rear-mounted combo Micro-SD and Micro-SIM Card slot (pictured above) on the edge of the device somewhere. However, versus the X1 Yoga's thinner conceal strip design, we prefer the slide out tray used on the X1. 

track pad Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 6th Gen

Since the X1 Carbon is a full-up notebook design, without the ability of tablet conversion, you don't have pen stylus input with this machine.  However again, Lenovo offers one of the best trackpads in the business, with three button control, as well as an integrated "match-in" fingerprint sensor. That sensor stores fingerprints locally on-chip, which physically isolates them from the host operating system, thus making them significantly more immune to hacks and or malware attack. The X1 Carbon's trackpad is roomy and accurate with solid palm rejection. The fingerprint sensor works well, but perhaps not as forgiving as a smartphone fingerprint sensor, but we're not sure that's necessarily a bad thing.

Then there's the 2018 ThinkPad X1 Carbon's display and it's a genuine beauty. Let's do a little A/B compare to one of our previous favorites, the ThinkPad X1 Yoga Gen 2 with OLED.

stacked ThinkPad X1 Yoga Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 6th Gen
ThinkPad X1 Carbon On Top, ThinkPad X1 Yoga On Bottom
ThinkPad X1 Carbon X1 Yoga OLED vs HDR
ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2018 (Left) - ThinkPad X1 Yoga 2017 (Right)
ThinkPad X1 Carbon X1 Yoga side by side compare
ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2018 (Left) - ThinkPad X1 Yoga 2017 (Right)
Side-by-side, and stacked on top of each other, the 2018 ThinkPad X1 Carbon and 2017 ThinkPad X1 Yoga are similar but also strikingly different beasts. As you can see, the X1 Carbon employs much less material all around both in terms of display bezel as well as general meat around the palm rest and keyboard area. Also, since it doesn't need to articulate a full 360 degrees, its hinges are much smaller as well. The X1 Carbon is so much smaller in fact, that its display looks deceivingly smaller than the X1 Yoga's, though it's actually the exact same size and resolution (14-inches diagonal and a 2560X1440 panel option on both).

HDR 500 Nits LTPS Vs. OLED - A Display Throwdown

Though these displays are also surprisingly competitive with each other, there are some subtle (and not so subtle) differences, if you look closely. Though it's tough for the camera to do it justice, if you're looking straight-on (beastly Ladybug side-by-side shot above), the 2017 X1 Yoga's OLED panel offers just a bit more contrast, with a sliver more detail in spots with slightly deeper blacks, versus the 2018 X1 Carbon's HDR, 500 nits panel. It's darn close though.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon X1 Yoga OLED vs HDR view angle 2
2017 ThinkPad X1 Yoga (rear) - 2018 ThinkPad X1 Carbon (front)
ThinkPad X1 Carbon X1 Yoga OLED vs HDR view angle 1
2018 ThinkPad X1 Carbon (rear) - 2017 ThinkPad X1 Yoga (front)

However, from a viewing angle standpoint, the nod definitely goes to the ThinkPad X1 Carbon and its HDR display, which seems to maintain better color accuracy, saturation and contrast from wider angles. We've set both machines side-by-side here, and offset them on a sharp viewing angle. We then set each machine in the foreground and background, so you can see both from each depth position as well. As you can see, though again the Canon 80D camera even masks some of the detail, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon 6th Gen machine outperforms even the OLED display of the ThinkPad X1 Yoga. This is a major accomplishment in our estimation, as this laptop OLED panel is one of our favorite premium laptop panels to date. We need to live with it a bit longer, but we may have a new favorite ultrabook display here with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

X1 Carbon 2018 Infinity War Trailer
Marvel's Avengers: Infinity War Trailer - Not In HDR But Looking Fabulous

Movie watching on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy after all), is pretty fantastic. Though the above clip isn't rendered in HDR, we did pull down a few HDR rendered movie trailers and again compared them to the OLED-equipped ThinkPad X1 Yoga. The wider dynamic range of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon was obvious and notable with better vibrancy and contrast throughout, hands-down. At this point, it may sound as if we're tossing the OLED-strapped X1 Yoga under the bus, but don't get us wrong, that's a great display in its own right. The 2018 ThinkPad X1 Carbon's HDR display option, on the other hand, may just be another notch up. Lenovo employs an LTPS LCD (Low Temperature PolySilicon) panel technology with this display and its color gamut performance and brightness are impressive. I'm sold.

bottom Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon 6th Gen
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Desktop And Tools
Lenovo's Clean Setup With The Necessary Maintenance Tools

Finally, with respect to software, our 2018 ThinkPad X1 Carbon was delivered with a nice thin footprint of Windows 10 Pro and not much else, other than Lenovo's Vantage software. Lenovo Vantage even seems to have been streamlined with a single interface that rolls up hardware settings for audio, video, web cam, system updates and more. You can also manage Dolby audio settings here, which by the way, does at least add some spatialization effect to the audio output of this laptop. The X1 Carbon's bottom firing speakers don't offer a lot of volume or low end bass response, but they're OK, for utlrabook speakers. Just OK though and we've heard much better. Get yourself a set of earbuds or tap into external Bluetooth delivery, if you want something more.

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