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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 review: ninth time’s the charm

Lenovo has nailed the ThinkPad formula

Photography by Amelia Holowaty Krales

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The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 on a table in front of a bookshelf, open, angled slightly to the right. The screen displays a Verge article.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

It makes me feel very old to say this, but we are on the ninth generation of Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon. And there have been nine of these for a reason. The X1 Carbon has historically been one of the best business laptops you can get. And that remains the case with its newest iteration. Lenovo has made a few tweaks, but otherwise, it’s the same ThinkPad excellence we’ve come to expect.

Before we get into the pricing, I need to make the usual caveat that Lenovo loves to put absurdly high MSRPs on all of its ThinkPads, but they’re usually available for significantly less. So the base X1 Carbon (the Linux model) has an MSRP of $2,336 but is currently available for $1,401.60. That model includes a Core i5-1135G7, 8GB of RAM (soldered), 256GB of storage, and a 1920 x 1200, 14-inch, 400-nit, non-touch display. Prebuilt models run up to a Core i7-1185G7, 32GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage for $3,479 (listed at $2,249.40). You can add an infrared camera, as well as a touchscreen with Lenovo’s Privacy Guard or a UHD+ panel, but those options are only available with the IR webcam. The IR camera can also come with human presence detection.

The specific model I tested is currently listed for $1,829.40 if you construct it on Lenovo’s site ($3.049 MSRP). As a full package, it’s listed for $2,251.99 at CDW but is currently sold out there. It has a Core i7-1165G7 (a step down from the most expensive chip), 16GB of memory, 512GB of storage, a non-touch display, no vPro, and no IR camera. It is verified through Evo, which is the program Intel uses to certify top-performing models. 

The ThinkPad’s biggest update from the X1 Carbon Gen 8 is the new 16:10 display, a feature Lenovo has been adding to X-series ThinkPads across the line. It affords noticeably more vertical screen space than you’ll see from the 16:9 Carbon Gen 8, which means less scrolling and less zooming out while multitasking. 

Aspect ratio aside, the screen on this device is quite good. It has a 1920 x 1200 resolution and comes with a new technology that’s supposed to reduce blue light exposure. My unit was slightly dim for the category, maxing out at 297 nits (it’s rated for 400), but the matte texture meant I still saw very little glare in bright indoor settings and could work comfortably. The display delivered a good picture with vivid colors, high contrast, and sharp details. The screen covers 99 percent of the sRGB gamut and 87 percent of Adobe RGB, which is good (though not comparable to what you’ll see on something like an OLED panel). 

In addition to this display, you can get a 400-nit FHD+ touchscreen model or a brighter 500-nit FHD+ touchscreen option with Lenovo’s Privacy Guard technology, which makes it harder for potential snoops to peek at your screen from the sides. (This option doesn’t have the blue light filter.) Then there’s a UHD+ 500-nit non-touch screen, which does include the blue light filter and also supports Dolby Vision. The FHD+ panel is good enough that I don’t think most people should need the UHD one unless brightess is an isuse. 

The ports on the right side of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9.
USB-A, lock slot, audio jack on the right.
The ports on the left side of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9.
Two USB-C, a USB-A, and an HDMI on the left.

The second thing that’s been upgraded: the hinge. Put the Gen 9 next to previous ThinkPad X1 Carbon models and you’ll notice that the former now has a single round hinge connecting the display to the keyboard deck. There are communication antennas inside (so it’s no soundbar hinge, but it’s something). I like this build a little more, and it makes the bottom bezel look a bit less chunky, but folks will likely take their own views. Speaking of that bottom bezel, the visible Lenovo and X1 Carbon logos that adorned that of the previous model are now gone, creating a slightly more refined and less commercial look. 

Third change: touchpad is bigger. 10 percent wider, specifically. Sure, reviewers felt that the Gen 8’s was a bit small. I will say that while the extra width is nice, it’s still a bit cramped height-wise (probably because it needs to accommodate a set of ThinkPad-signature discrete clickers), and I did find myself hitting plastic a lot when I scrolled. Everything else about the touchpad is great, though — it has quite a smooth texture and an effortless click. The keyboard is also snappy, though it is a bit loud and the backspace key squeaked on my model. 

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon gen 9 on a table open, angled to the right. The screen displays The Verge homepage. In the background is a bookshelf with potted plants and books.
The keys have a scissor-lift mechanism “to ensure ergonomics and comfort.”
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

The X1 Carbon Gen 9 also has an improved Dolby Atmos audio system. There are new upward-firing speakers on each side of the keyboard. The sound was surprisingly good, with particularly forceful percussion and bass. The device comes preloaded with Dolby Access, which you can use to switch between equalizer presets for games, movies, music, and voice calls, as well as custom profiles. These did make a noticeable difference, though I often find that I prefer to listen to music on the Movies profile since the Music profile makes the vocals stand out a bit more than I like. 

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 on a table in front of a bookshelf, facing away from the camera, angled to the right.
There are four 360-degree far-field microphones as well.

Finally, the match-on-chip fingerprint reader is now integrated into the power button (it was previously next to the touchpad). Sure, that’s a slightly more convenient position. The sensor didn’t quite get my fingerprint every time (possibly due to how tiny it now is), but it generally worked well. 

If you’re not a fan of the fingerprint reader, you may want to spring for a model with the IR camera, which supports Windows Hello facial recognition. Human presence detection enables the computer to automatically wake when you’re near it and lock when you move away. I didn’t have one of these fancy cameras, but the regular one on my unit was serviceable enough — I looked grainy on my Zoom calls, but generally accurate. There’s a physical webcam shutter as well, as is standard for ThinkPads of this caliber. 

The X1 Carbon is absolutely up there with Dell’s XPS as one of the best-built laptops you can buy

Elsewhere, the Carbon Gen 9 has a heck of a lot in common with previous X1 Carbon models. It has the same beautiful black chassis with all of the signature ThinkPad features, from the red TrackPoint to the unique keyboard layout. (Remember: Fn and Ctrl are reversed on ThinkPads.) It’s unbelievably thin and light (2.49 pounds, 0.59 inches) while still being quite durable; Lenovo says it’s undergone MILSpec durability testing. The X1 Carbon is absolutely up there with Dell’s XPS as one of the best-built laptops you can buy. 

Inside, the X1 Carbon now includes 11th Gen Intel processors with Iris Xe integrated graphics across the board. My test model was a great multitasker, with no problem running Zoom calls on top of Spotify streams on top of heaps of Chrome tabs. Intel’s Core i7-1165G7 delivers some of the best performance you’ll find from a laptop of this size.

You wouldn’t want to rely on the Iris Xe GPU for anything super graphics-heavy, but it can lend a hand with all kinds of general video playback, multimedia work, and computational tasks. I got through editing a batch of photos just fine. Anyone who plans on doing a lot of gaming has access to similarly priced and similarly built options with GPUs, such as the Dell XPS 15

For some raw numbers, the ThinkPad took 10 minutes and 22 seconds to export a five-minute, 33-second 4K video in Adobe Premiere Pro. That’s about 20 seconds faster than the XPS 13 with the same processor took to complete the same task. It was over two minutes slower than the M1 MacBook Pro and took over twice as long as the Dell XPS 15 with a GTX 1650, just to illustrate how much an entry-level GPU can add. 

I wasn’t able to run the Puget Systems benchmark for Premiere Pro because it kept freezing. Lenovo is looking into the problem but hasn’t figured out the cause yet. In the meantime, the X1 Carbon tends to score mid-200s (248, most recently) on this test. That also doesn’t approach the MacBook Pro, but it does beat the XPS 13. Overall, the ThinkPad’s graphics performance doesn’t top the category, but it’s solidly in the mix. 

I didn’t encounter any bothersome fan noise while using the X1 Carbon. I also had no problem using the device on my lap — it got toasty but never uncomfortably so. The touchpad and palm rests were always downright cool, even under fairly intense loads. No complaints on that front, which is commendable for such a thin device. 

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 keyboard seen from above.
That trusty TrackPoint remains.

Finally, the ThinkPad’s battery (while running my dozen-tab-plus workload with frequent YouTube and Spotify in the background around 200 nits of brightness) varied a bit based on settings. I consistently got over 10 hours of juice when I was on the Battery Saver profile and had Intel’s battery-saving features on, but I could see as low as five with a more powerful performance profile. I saw an overall average of eight hours and 43 minutes, which is respectable — better than the XPS 15, where I only averaged around six hours, but worse than the XPS 13, where I averaged over nine. I didn’t see any performance penalty from the Battery Saver profile, so I’d use that if you need all-day juice. Also a benefit: The ThinkPad doesn’t ship with McAfee or other crapware that can eat into battery life on consumer models. 

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 closed, seen from above.
Looks like a ThinkPad, runs like a ThinkPad.

Apart from the dim screen (and the lack of an option brighter than 500 nits, when a number of business models now offer 1,000-nit options), the still-slightly-cramped touchpad, and the squeaky keyboard, I have very few complaints about this X1 Carbon. Its price is quite high, of course, so those nitpicks still do give me some pause.   

Lenovo’s new additions — particularly the 16:10 screen and the upward-firing speakers — are absolutely welcome, and they make the X1 Carbon Gen 9 unquestionably the best iteration of this device so far. It’s a formula Lenovo has perfected to a tee, combining the ThinkPad line’s world-class engineering with exactly the tweaks it needed to stay excellent in the modern market. While the X1 Carbon isn’t the best value for consumers, any deep-pocketed business shopper should give it a look.