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With the X1 Carbon, Lenovo refines its best ultrabook

With the X1 Carbon, Lenovo refines its best ultrabook

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Lenovo X1 carbon
Lenovo X1 carbon

For CES 2014 Lenovo is taking its very best ultrabook, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, and fixing the previous model's few pain points to make an early entrant for the ultrabook to beat in 2014. The new model starts with a similar design to last year's X1 Carbon — and that's a good thing. As the name suggests, its body is made of carbon fiber, which offers a sturdy, light, and attractive design. But the company's slimmed the machine down with the help of Intel's cooler, more power-efficient Haswell processors. It's now 0.68 inches thick (down from 0.74 before) and about 0.1 pounds lighter. More importantly, our primary gripe with last year's model has been fixed: Lenovo promises that battery life is up by over 70 percent to roughly 9 hours. For such a premium machine that's the kind of battery life we expect, and we're glad that Lenovo listened to our complaints.

The new model also has a couple of other tricks up its sleeves. It's taken a while, but Lenovo's offering a much appreciated high-resolution screen option on the new X1 Carbon. The 14-inch, 2560 x 1440 IPS display looks great, and it's the default if you opt to purchase the laptop with a touchscreen.

Lenovo's also tinkered with the keyboard. Instead of a traditional row of function keys, there's a thin capacitive touch strip that offers four different sets of controls. In addition to function keys, there's a default setting with search, screenshot, and other Windows 8 shortcuts; a VoIP set with mute and other controls; and an option for internet browsing. The controls aren't customizable (they're etched into the panel), but software on the laptop automatically sets the function row depending on which app you open. Skype, for instance, will switch the row to the VoIP controls. It's a neat little trick that has the side benefit of cleaning up the look of the X1 Carbon, but those who depend on the function keys will likely miss having real buttons up there.

Ill-advised keyboard design mars an otherwise excellent ultrabook

Perhaps our only real gripe with the ultrabook is a less flashy change to the chiclet keyboard. The backspace key now sits to the left of the delete button, which leaves the former floating awkwardly away from the edge of the keyboard. Additionally, Lenovo's completely removed the caps lock key. We've seen others do this before (Google replaced it with a search button on its Chromebooks), but Lenovo has opted to put the old school "Home" and "End" keys in its place. It's a truly puzzling choice, especially for a machine suited for business users. With the new setup, you'll have to double tap the shift key to turn on caps lock. Otherwise, it's a wonderful-feeling chiclet keyboard and it comes with a very smooth (and large) all-in-one clickpad that's a pleasure to use.

As a high-end ultrabook, the X1 Carbon has the power you'd expect. It comes with low-voltage Haswell Core i5 or i7 processors, HD4400 integrated graphics, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD (upgradable to 512GB). In terms of ports, Lenovo's added a full-size HDMI port to the mix, in addition to two USB 3.0 ports, a mini DisplayPort, and OneLink docking and charging connector. One thing that hasn't changed about the X1 Carbon is the price: it'll start at $1,299 and is available to purchase today.

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