Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Review: A winner with big improvements
It also brings the power button back to the keyboard deck, and it doubles as a fingerprint sensor. Oddly, it’s not round like on ThinkBooks. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon comes with Intel’s new 11th-generation vPro processors, meaning that it also comes with Iris Xe integrated graphics, Thunderbolt 4, faster memory, and more.
We already called the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 8 the best business laptop, but Lenovo really kicks it up a notch with Gen 9.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9: Specifications
|CPU||Intel Core i7-1185G7 (3.0GHz)|
|Graphics||Intel Iris Xe|
|Display||14.0″: FHD+ (1920×1200, Multi-touch, IPS, 500 nits, Anti-glare, 16:10, 100% sRGB, ThinkPad Privacy Guard)|
|Body||315×221.6×14.9mm (12.4×8.72×0.59inches), 1.133kg (2.49lbs)|
|Memory||16GB LPDDR4x-4266 (soldered)|
|Storage||512GB M.2 2280 PCIe NVMe SSD|
|Ports||1 x USB 3.2 Gen 1
1 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 (Always On)
2 x Thunderbolt 4 / USB4 40Gbps (data, power, display)
1 x HDMI 2.0
1 x headphone / microphone combo jack (3.5mm)
1x Nano-SIM card slot (optional for WWAN models)
|Connectivity||Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX201, 802.11ax 2×2 Wi-Fi + Bluetooth 5.2|
|Camera||IR & 720p, with privacy shutter, fixed focus, Human presence detection|
|Input||6-row, spill-resistant, multimedia Fn keys, LED Backlit
UltraNav TrackPoint pointing device and glass surface multi-touch touchpad
|Audio||2 x 2W and 2 x 0.8W (Dolby Atmos)|
|Security||Discrete TPM 2.0, TCG certified, Match-on-chip FPR on Power button|
|Battery||57Wh, supports Rapid Charge (80% in 1 hour)|
|Material||Carbon fiber (top), magnesium alloy (bottom)|
|OS||Windows 10 Pro|
Note that ThinkPad prices are subject to change. Basically, the way prices on Lenovo.com work is that there’s some made-up full price that’s never actually used. There’s always some deal that varies depending on when you check.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is light, but it doesn’t compromise on ports
If you’re familiar with ThinkPads at all, then you know that the ThinkPad X1 Carbon comes in any color that you want, as long as it’s black. The one that Lenovo sent me is flat black, which is the classic design. There’s also another black carbon fiber weave design that’s nice if you want something that’s just a bit flashier.
But it’s not like some ThinkPads that give you a choice between carbon fiber and aluminum. This one comes in carbon fiber; that’s why it’s called Carbon. Carbon fiber is a strong material that’s also light, making it stand out over the much heavier aluminum. Indeed, this laptop weighs in at just 2.49 pounds.
This is about as light as it gets without making compromises. In fact, for years, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon wasn’t just the premium ThinkPad, it was also the lightest. Now, we have the ThinkPad X1 Nano, which weighs in at under two pounds.
So the question is, why would you get the X1 Carbon instead of the much lighter X1 Nano? There are obviously pros and cons to each, but a key pro to the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is that it still has the legacy ports that your business probably needs.
On the right side, there’s a USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A port and a 3.5mm audio jack. Yes, despite a redesign and all new internals, Lenovo is keeping around the 5Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 1 port instead of going for the 10Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 2.
On the left side, you’ll find dual Thunderbolt 4 ports, another USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A port, and an HDMI 2.0 port. Thunderbolt 4 means that you can use a single port to power two 4K displays or one 8K display. You can also use it to connect an external GPU. However, this is not an upgrade from the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. That’s not saying anything bad about this Gen 9 model; it’s saying something good about the Gen 8 model.
Thunderbolt 3 could do the exact same thing if an OEM used the full spec. There was a minimum spec though where the port would only use two lanes, so you’d get 20Gbps speeds instead of 40Gbps. Unfortunately, there was no way to know what you were actually getting because almost no OEMs made it easy to find out. As a reviewer, I’d just connect every laptop I got to two 4K monitors. The good news is that the ThinkPad X1 series used full Thunderbolt 3. Long story short; the port isn’t an upgrade from last year’s.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 is redesigned over last year’s model, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at it. Most ThinkPads look the same, and that’s by design.
Display and Audio: Brand-new 16:10 screen
The display might actually be the most exciting part of this review. Let’s start with what’s actually new. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon has a 14-inch 16:10 display, which is a big deal. It came from a 14-inch 16:9 screen in recent years, so it’s taller now, but not as wide.
This is a trend that we’re seeing across the industry. Taller screens are everywhere, including 3:2 screens that are in Microsoft Surface products, as well as the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Titanium and the HP Elite Folio.
Because of math, that also means that not all screen sizes are created equal. Screens are measured diagonally, so 14 inches at 16:10 has a larger surface area than 14 inches at 16:9. The closer you get to a square, the larger the surface area.
Now, let’s get into what’s new to me, because despite reviewing dozens and dozens of Lenovo PCs, this is the first one it’s sent me that has the Privacy Guard display. The whole idea is that it stops people looking over your shoulder from seeing what you’re working on. It’s a feature that I’ve checked out on plenty of HP EliteBooks, so I was excited to see Lenovo’s take on the feature.
Naturally, I had to put the ThinkPad X1 Carbon next to the HP Elite Dragonfly and see which one has the better privacy display. The answer is that HP does with its latest Sure View Reflect, as you can see from the images above. HP has really focused on this, as it’s refined the product over several generations. Lenovo’s privacy screen is pretty good too though, but it’s different. Rather than making it impossible to see what’s on the screen, a lot of the time, you can still see it without being able to read text.
There’s also one other weird difference between the two products. HP uses one of the function keys to turn on its Sure View privacy display. Lenovo requires that you hit Fn + D to turn it on. It’s just strange to me because if you don’t know the keyboard combo to turn it on, you might not even know you have the feature.
There are also compromises to be made if you go with the Privacy Guard display. Even when the feature is turned off, the viewing angle isn’t as much as with a regular screen. There are actually four options. There’s a 400-nit non-touch panel, a 400-nit touch panel, a 500-nit touch Privacy Guard panel, and a 500-nit UHD panel with Dolby Vision HDR support.
The display has narrower bezels than we’ve seen in recent years, and the top bezel includes a 720p webcam and an IR camera. Yes, it’s a shame that in the work-from-home era, it still has a 720p webcam instead of 1080p.
It also has Human-Presence Detection, which is what it sounds like. It senses when you sit in front of the PC and wakes it up. When that happens, the IR camera lights up for facial recognition and it logs you in without you ever having to touch it. It also works for locking your PC when you walk away.
For audio quality, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 actually has four speakers that are tuned with Dolby Atmos. There are 2W speakers that are placed on either side of the keyboard. The other two are 0.8W tweeters that are placed underneath the device. This method delivers the clarity, volume, and overall quality that Dolby Atmos sound is known for. It’s great for anything from listening to music to conference calls.
This would normally be the part that I’d comment on the streaming chops of the laptop, but this doesn’t feel like a movie-streaming machine. With the Privacy Guard display, it’s really made for privacy-oriented folks that do a lot of work in public. If you’re looking for a business PC that employees can take home at the end of the day and watch movies on, you should look at one of the other screen options.
Keyboard and Touchpad: It has a wider touchpad
If you’ve ever used a modern ThinkPad, then you know what to expect from the keyboard here. First of all, it’s the quality that ThinkPads are renowned for. It’s comfortable, and it’s accurate too. I don’t find myself making any errors with this keyboard.
The key press is 1.5mm, which is what Lenovo has been using for a while now in its ThinkPads. Newer ultra-thin designs like the ThinkPad X1 Nano and ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga have brought it down to 1.35mm, and I think that will be an improvement when we see that on the whole lineup. While 1.5mm feels fine, 1.35mm is a bit more modern. Across the board, most OEMs are just going with shallower keyboards.
But Lenovo doesn’t like to make changes with ThinkPads. When it does, it does so at a very slow pace. Every ThinkPad still has a TrackPoint between the G, H, and B keys. Yes, it’s a relic from an age when Windows touchpads were terrible. Still, it has its own fan base. Personally, I just ignore it, but if you like it, it’s there.
It does have a Precision touchpad though, along with three physical buttons above it. Those buttons are designed for use with the TrackPoint, although I’ll actually use them with the touchpad. The touchpad is wider on this model too, which is nice. I always appreciate a larger touchpad, but it really makes the buttons stand out. They really take up a lot of space.
One other thing worth mentioning is that the power button has made its way back to the keyboard deck. Previously, it had been moved to the side. It’s no longer the circular button that it was a few years ago, strangely enough, considering that it now doubles as a fingerprint sensor. It scans your fingerprint when you first press it to power on the PC, so you don’t have to touch it again after it boots up. It’s a super convenient feature. You just press the button to power on the PC and it logs you in.
Performance and Battery life: The ThinkPad X1 Carbon benchmarks really well
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon that Lenovo sent me includes an Intel Core i7-1185G7 and 16GB of RAM. It’s pretty great. It’s the same series of chips that we’ve seen in previous generations, so it’s still engineered for productivity. But it also packs Iris Xe graphics with 96 execution units.
This is kind of a big deal in the business PC space. Last year when Intel announced its 10th-gen processors, codenamed Ice Lake, it was the first from the company to use a 10nm process. Intel had delayed its 10nm process for years though, and when it got there, it frankly couldn’t produce a lot of chips. Alongside Ice Lake was Comet Lake, which used the same 14nm architecture it had used since Skylake.
Ice Lake came with Iris Plus Graphics, with performance that blew away the laughable integrated graphics that Intel had offered in the past. Unfortunately, Comet Lake was still using the old UHD Graphics.
Every business PC with 10th-gen processors used Comet Lake because Intel never made Ice Lake vPro.
To put it simply, 11th-generation ‘Tiger Lake’ is a big improvement over 10th-gen ‘Ice Lake’, but it’s a massive improvement over 10th-gen ‘Comet Lake’. That’s why this is even a bigger deal for business PCs.
All of the photos for this review were edited in Photoshop, and the added power from Iris Xe is real. You can feel the difference coming from 10th-gen. Moreover, if you’re actually a normal person and coming from something much older, the improvement will be quite drastic. You can use this for FHD gaming, video editing, and more.
For benchmarks, I used PCMark 8, PCMark 10, Geekbench, and Cinebench.
|ThinkPad X1 Carbon
|Lenovo Yoga Slim 7
Ryzen 7 4800U (25W)
|Lenovo ThinkBook 14s Yoga
|Surface Laptop 4 13.5
|PCMark 8: Home||4,532||4,566||3,851||4,331|
|PCMark 8: Creative||4,910||4,861||4,861||4,777|
|PCMark 8: Work||4,144||3,926||4,083||3,925|
|Geekbench||1,489 / 5,280||1,160 / 6,362||1,534 / 4,861||1,551 / 5,829|
|Cinebench||1,303 / 4,224||1,455 / 4,820||1,295 / 5,194|
As far as PCs with integrated graphics go, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon tops the list of Intel PCs that I’ve ever tested. The only PC with integrated graphics that did better was the Lenovo Yoga Slim 7 with its AMD Ryzen 7 4800U, and that processor is jacked up to 25W. Indeed, if you’re keeping score, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon definitely does well. If you’re not keeping score, it’s not quite as big of a deal. What you’re getting here is Intel Tiger Lake and Iris Xe performance, just like with plenty of other devices.
Battery life seemed all over the map when using the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. Frankly, I can’t put a pin in what the variable is. I was able to get up to six hours doing regular work. On the other hand, there was one time that I drained the battery in an hour flat. There aren’t any real variations in my workflow either.
Should you buy a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9?
This is the ninth-generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon. It’s a tried and true product, and it’s already renowned for being one of the best around. If I tell you that it’s good, that probably goes without saying. What I’m saying is that Lenovo took a winner, and then made it even better.
First, here’s the bad. Battery life was mixed, and the webcam is still 720p. Yes, I know that product decisions take time, but in the era of working from home, a 1080p webcam would have been really nice. In fact, I’d bet money that next year’s model will have an FHD webcam.
Now, let’s talk about all of the good because there’s a lot that’s been improved with this year’s model. First of all, there’s a new display, which is 16:10. I’m digging the Privacy Guard panel, but there are UHD and regular FHD options too. The big deal is that the screen is bigger without having to make a bigger chassis. There’s also a larger touchpad, which I have mixed feelings on. I do love any time a touchpad gets bigger, but it really highlights the physical buttons and how much room they take up. Still, bigger is better.
And of course, the performance is fantastic. It’s got a Core i7-1185G7 and 16GB of RAM, as we’ve seen in plenty of devices. For some reason, this one just benchmarks better than all of those though. It’s pretty cool.
Those are just the improvements. It’s still under two and a half pounds, it’s MIL-STD-810G certified like all ThinkPads, and it’s got one of the best keyboards around. This PC is just on another level.