IBM’s ThinkPad has always been my paragon for what a good laptop should be. Never mind the general perception of ThinkPads as boring and frumpy machines for office types; I’ve always loved the reliability and unrivaled durability of those IBM designs. But I’ve spent the past decade happily residing in Mac land, courtesy of some very good MacBooks, which had the added advantages of sleekness and long battery life. So now my ideal laptop is some hybrid of the two: a machine that can do everything, in all circumstances, but which is also effortless to tote around and lasts a very long time. The 2017 ThinkPad X1 Carbon is almost that computer.
This is the fifth generation of the X1 Carbon line, and the differences from the prior model are easily apparent. Lenovo, the Chinese company that has been doing a decent job of extending the ThinkPad pedigree post-IBM, has shrunk the bezels around the 14-inch display in a major way, bringing the X1 Carbon very close to Dell’s XPS 13 and its InfinityEdge display. Lenovo even pulls ahead by having its webcam at the top of the display, rather than off in a bottom corner as Dell has with its thin-and-light laptop. And Lenovo’s got an IR camera for full Windows Hello support.
The fingerprint reader on the X1 Carbon has "match-in-sensor" technology to completely avoid interacting with the operating system when authenticating users (and thereby minimizing the chances of being compromised). The OS itself, as with all of Lenovo’s new ThinkPads, is a Microsoft Signature Edition of Windows 10, which means zero added bloatware. The trackpad is now a Windows Precision touchpad. The red TrackPoint nub is still around for old school ThinkPad devotees. The hinge has a classic 180-degree rotation that feels like it’ll last a decade or more.
Yes, practically every new laptop is a machine full of good things, but this X1 Carbon seems to be checking off most of the boxes I care about while adding some things I don’t necessarily need, but appreciate having. Most of all, though, Lenovo is claiming ridiculously long battery life with this machine. I haven't been able to put it through its paces yet, but in my experience with it last night, I kept neurotically checking the battery life estimator and it kept throwing up figures close to 10 hours, even on a laptop that was two-thirds charged and not sitting idle. At the same time, Lenovo’s new ThinkPad X270 and T470 were showing battery numbers roughly half what the X1 Carbon was promising. Given how stupidly light this laptop is — at less than 2.5lb / 1.12kg — and the fact it uses an Intel U-series processor, I’m impressed. Lenovo promises 15.5 hours of battery life on the X1, but even if it gets a solid 10 hours, I’d be delighted.
The X1 Carbon derives its name from Lenovo’s use of a carbon fiber mesh in the top lid. That helps to lighten its weight while retaining that signature ThinkPad durability. The rest of the body is made out of a magnesium alloy. It’s all very pleasant to the touch, all matte and grippy surfaces, and zero glossy bits. I appreciate all these design decisions, and I’m delighted to see two Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C ports alongside two classic USB-A ports. And the X1 Carbon charges via USB-C too. It’s almost perfect.
Except, well, Lenovo doesn’t believe in the SD card slot like I do. This isn’t the first ThinkPad X1 Carbon to lack an SD card slot, but it’s the first one that I’ve been interested in enough to want to own — and that omission curbs my enthusiasm dramatically. I hated when Apple nixed the SD card slot from the new MacBook Pro, and I hate it now that Lenovo’s crafted such a great computer without one. One of the Lenovo reps here at CES asked me if I’d trade some extra thickness and weight in the machine to accommodate that "extra" slot and my answer is absolutely yes.
Other people might take issue with the X1 Carbon’s lack of touchscreen options (which Lenovo hinted might change some time very soon, but for now, is relegated to Lenovo's Yoga line). But I’m not troubled by that, nor am I bothered by the 1080p display resolution, which can also be upgraded to 2560 x 1440. I’d actually take a 1080p laptop with a full 10 hours of battery life (and Lenovo’s keyboard, hinge, build quality, and everything else I’ve praised above) over the fancy 4K touchscreens surfacing on the horizon. My ideal laptop is still a mobile machine, first and foremost, and I’m happy enough to accept the majority of compromises Lenovo presents with the X1 Carbon. All except for that precious SD card slot.