Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2014) First Impressions and Photos

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2014) First Impressions and Photos

Oh my

I'm having a hard time imagining this is not my next laptop. The latest version of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is thin, light, gorgeous and powerful, and is clearly in a league all by itself. I'll try to be objective here, but ... oh my. This is the real deal.

I had hoped to wrap up my review of the somewhat similar Yoga 2 Pro—see my Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 Pro First Impressions and Photos for the most current write-up—but will do so soon. In the meantime, let me focus on the wondrous new beauty that just showed up for review.

It's immediately stunning. From the moment you pull this lithe, 3-pound beauty out of the sadly pedestrian box it comes in, you realize it's something special. The materials are topnotch. It just looks and feels high quality. Which it should, given the price: The review loaner would cost about $1500 as configured. I'd bump up the processor to an i7 and probably end up closer to $1800. This is a serious PC for serious customers. (You can get an X1 for as little as $1200.)

I may need to buy this.

But first. Here's what this laptop is all about.

Lightest 14-inch Ultrabook. If you get this device configured without a touch screen, it weighs just 2.8 pounds. With a touch screen (my preference), it's about 3.15 pounds.

Materials. The top lid is made of reinforced carbon fiber, while the bottom deck is magnesium aluminum alloy.

Processor. You have a choice of two Intel Core i5 processors (4200U, 4300U) or an i7 upgrade. The review unit came with the mid-level processor.

RAM. The review unit has 4 GB of RAM, which is pretty much entry level these days. I'd go for 8 GB.

Screen. This is where things get interesting. At the low-end, you can opt for a 1600 x 900 screen that would no doubt be perfectly usable. (My 15-inch Ultrabook uses that resolution.) But you can upgrade to a superior 2560 x 1440 IPS display and you'd be nuts not to. This screen is gorgeous, albeit quite glossy. (There's no graphics upgrade option: The X1 uses the Intel HD Graphics 4400 chipset.) And you can lay it flat, which, among other things, lets you use the screen in portrait orientation if you desire.

Storage. X1s start with 128 GB of SSD-based storage and go up from there. The review unit has an unusually sized 180 GB SSD.

Expansion. For a thin and light device, the X1 is stocked with ports: 2 full-sized USB 3.0 ports, two video out ports (mini-DisplayPort and full-sized HDMI), and Ethernet (requires a dongle, but at least it's not USB-based). Missing? Any form of SD.

Docking. Next to the excellent squared off power plug is a Lenovo OneLink Pro Dock Connector, for connecting to the firm's latest docking solution, the ThinkPad OneLink Dock Pro. (Previously docking solutions were USB-based.) I'm not reviewing the dock, however.

Keyboard. Lenovo's keyboards continue to set the standard and it's possible that the new backlit X1 version is the best one yet. There are some controversial choices to this design, however: The superfluous CAPS LOCK key has been replaced by small HOME and END keys, and there's a new BACKSPACE/DELETE duo key in the top right corner. I got right down to work with it and think these were great design decisions, but I will of course use this regularly going forward and report back when I know more.

Adaptive function row. Perhaps even more controversially, Lenovo has replaced the top row of keys—usually a combination of function keys and media keys—with a new touch-based adaptive function row that lets you toggle between various sets of keys. This removes the need for a separate (often confusingly placed) FN key. And as intriguing, it apparently can offer up unique key layouts on an application by application basis and provide voice and gesture controls. I'll be testing all of this.

Pointing. Like most ThinkPads, the X1 includes both a nubbin pointer device (which I prefer), and a gesture-compatible trackpad. That trackpad is quite a bit different from the one on the previous X1 version. It's much bigger, for starters, and uses integrated buttons rather than the traditional buttons of old.

OS. Lenovo sells the X1 Carbon with Windows 8.1 64-bit, of course.

Battery. Lenovo says the X1 Carbon is good for up to 9 hours on a charge. We'll see about that.

Compared to the IdeaPad Yoga 2, this device features a bigger screen, which I like, but a slight lower resolution (2560 x 1440 vs. 3200 x 1800). But they are similarly gorgeous. The X1 is of course more of a traditional laptop form factor: It lies flat but does not fold, bend or spindle. The keyboard is clearly better on the X1, as is the pointer selection. But it's also more expensive.

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 2 (top) and ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2014) (bottom)

This is a serious contender and the fact that its arrival has made the other laptops in my home office suddenly uninteresting is, I think, very telling. More soon.

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