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Computerized Investing > April 13, 2013
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by CI Staff

$1,349 to $1,849

Next-generation Windows Ultrabook.

Last year, I reviewed a few Windows 7 Ultrabooks from some of the leading PC makers. These slim notebook computers are intended to challenge Apple’s MacBook Air. Overall, I wasn’t overwhelmed with what I saw. While those systems are definitely a step up from the netbooks that were all the rage just a few years ago, they had a ways to go in terms of price and displays. With the New Year, a new wave of Ultrabooks is making its way into the marketplace. The first I have received to review is the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

Design

Generally speaking, I am not one to be blown away by design. I tend to prefer understated and utilitarian to flashy. Perhaps for that reason, I fell in love with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon as soon as I unpacked it. The X1 Carbon, as its name suggests, is made of matte carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic. The result is a “black-tie” look for this sleek machine. Don’t let the lack of metal fool you, however. The X1 Carbon also has a solid, rugged feel to it.

Compared to the Ultrabooks I reviewed last year, the X1 sports a 14-inch display, a step up from the typical 13.3-inch display. The HD, anti-glare display has a 1600-by-900 resolution, which is also a definite improvement over last-year’s Ultrabooks. In fact, this is better than the native 1440-by-900 resolution of the 13.3-inch MacBook Air.

Equally impressive is that Lenovo was able to increase the display size without adding much to the overall weight. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon weighs just a shade over three pounds (3.094 pounds to be exact). In fact, Lenovo claims that the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is the world’s thinnest and lightest 14-inch Ultrabook. By comparison, the 13.3-inch MacBook Air weighs 2.96 pounds and the heaviest Ultrabook I reviewed last year was the 13.3-inch HP Folio 13, which was my favorite and weighed 3.25 pounds. The overall footprint of the X1 Carbon is 13.03 inches by 8.9 inches.

The glass trackpad of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is responsive and is centered with the spacebar, yet offset slightly to the left of the overall machine. Unlike the Lenovo IdeaPad U300s I reviewed last year, I didn’t experience the annoying accidental bumps with the X1. Positioned above the trackpad are three dedicated mouse buttons: right, left and center/scroll. I much prefer having dedicated mouse buttons to those integrated within the trackpad, which is becoming standard. For those used to this, however, the X1 also has this functionality built into the trackpad. The X1 also comes equipped with a ThinkPad mainstay: an Ultranav Trackpoint. I have always been partial to the joystick control since my very first work notebook, a Toshiba, which had one.

With a nod toward enterprise customers, the X1 comes with a fingerprint reader. However, I have come to appreciate and prefer this method of logging in to a computer. Instead of entering a password, you just swipe your finger to bring the PC out of sleep mode or when logging in at startup.

Even though the X1 Carbon is positioned for business users, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have the bells and whistles one would expect from a consumer system. It comes with Dolby Home Theater v4 enriched surround sound. I was extremely impressed with the sound quality delivered by the X1.

The precision keyboard is backlit, a feature, frankly, all notebook PCs should offer standard. The keyboard is well laid out, with a slightly larger footprint due to the 14-inch display, providing a well-spaced design. While the keys themselves don’t offer the tactile feedback I prefer in a keyboard, the “AccuType” key design found with the IdeaPad U300s has been carried over to the X1 Carbon. The lower portion of each key is rounded, which according to Lenovo makes typing more comfortable and accurate. Overall, I found the keyboard to be responsive.

Features

The X1 Carbon has a unique collection of input/output features. First off, it comes with a Mini DisplayPort (mDP) instead of a traditional VGA or HDMI port. Apple announced the development of this technology in 2008 and now uses it in all its new Macs. It has also found its way into the Windows PC market. With a suitable adapter, which you will need to purchase yourself, mDP may be used to drive displays with a VGA, DVI or HDMI interface. The X1 also comes equipped with one USB 2.0 port on the left and one USB 3.0 port and a 4-in-1 SD card reader on the right, a feature lacking in many Ultrabooks. Ideally, there would be two USB 3.0 ports. As is the case with all true Ultrabooks, the X1 does not have an internal optical drive (CD/DVD). Keep in mind that you will need an external drive if you wish to install software from a CD or DVD, or if you wish to watch a DVD movie or listen to an audio CD. On the right side there is also a headphone jack.

For wireless connectivity, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon has optional Bluetooth 3.0. There is also a USB-to-Gigabit Ethernet adapter for connecting to wired networks. Another nice feature of the X1 is the ability to turn it into a mobile hotspot, sharing the Ethernet or mobile broadband connection on a Wi-Fi network. For an additional $115, you can also add AT&T 3G Integrated Mobile Broadband.

The X1 also comes with a 720p HD webcam for videoconferencing.

For internal storage, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon comes with either a 128G or 256G solid-state drive (SSD). My review model came with a 128G SSD, nearly 14G of which is devoted to the Lenovo Recovery partition. On the main partition, I had less than 50G of free hard disk space. For enterprise users, this may be more than enough storage for word-processing files, presentations and spreadsheets. However, when you start dealing with digital audio, photo and video files, this remaining hard disk space will disappear rather quickly. An upgrade to a 256G SSD will cost you around $150. Lenovo chokes the drive with its ThinkVantage-branded suite of tools that control such things as the power-management and battery-conservation functions. There isn’t much “bloatware” you can uninstall to free up precious hard disk space.

You have your choice of three third-generation Intel Core processors with the X1: i7-3667U (2.0 GHz), i5-3427U (1.8 GHz) or i5-3317U (1.7 GHz). The X1 also offers up to 8G of DDR3 memory.

Finally, you have your choice of Windows 7 Home Premium, Windows 7 Professional, Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro.

Performance

My review model came with the middle i5-3427U processor. Initially, I was a bit surprised by the speed test results I was getting with the system, the first of which was running a series of database reindexing and field calculations using AAII’s Stock Investor Pro fundamental stock screening and research database program. In these tests, the X1 was only as fast as the HP Folio 13 I reviewed last year, which up to this point is my top Ultrabook. However, performance in these tests is a function of both hard disk and processor speeds. The HP Folio 13 has a Samsung SSD, recognized as being some of the fastest SSDs on the market, while the X1 has a SanDisk solid-state drive. To get a better indication of the processor speeds, I then performed the same tasks using an external hard drive. In these tests, the X1 was nearly 20% faster than the HP Folio 13.

The X1 had Intel HD Integrated graphics, which means the main memory and video memory are shared (dedicated video memory in an Ultrabook or any notebook is a rarity). This video memory is enough to handle all but the most video-intensive operations, such as gaming.

I was also a bit surprised by how long it takes to start the X1 from a cold start—just under 30 seconds. This is almost 50% longer than the HP 13 I reviewed last year. This is a function of the hard drive, so it is perhaps not surprising that the X1 lagged the Folio 13 in my speed tests given the speed of the Samsung SSD. However, from sleep mode, the X1 awakens almost instantaneously.

Battery

Lenovo claims that the X1 Carbon can squeeze 6.3 hours from its battery. More than likely, this is using Lenovo’s Battery Stretch power-saving settings, which dims the screen so much it is only viewable in a darkened room. I experienced roughly 5.5 hours of battery life of “normal” usage—Wi-Fi activated, typical power-saving features activated and normal word-processing functions. While its battery will probably allow you to work on a transcontinental flight, this is not an all-day battery life. This is disappointing considering I was able to get seven or eight hours or more battery life from some of the Ultrabooks I looked at last year. The X1 does come with Lenovo’s Rapid Charge feature, which can charge a battery up to 80% in roughly 30 minutes.

Overall

There is much to like about the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. While, as I mentioned, I am not one to be swayed too much by style, the X1 Carbon is a beautiful piece of technology. I much prefer the black matte look to the silver Mac look that has taken hold across the industry. From a more practical aspect, its 14-inch display sets it apart in the Ultrabook arena and is larger than the ultimate benchmark, the MacBook Air. The 1600-by-900 resolution is also an improvement over last year’s Ultrabooks, as well as the MacBook Air. Somehow Lenovo is able to pull this off in a system that weighs roughly three pounds. The third-generation Intel Core processors allow you to do almost everything the typical notebook user would be doing and it is noticeably faster than second-generation chips. While it is geared toward enterprise users, its audio and video capabilities will also meet the needs of all but the most demanding users. Add in the backlit keyboard and dual-navigation trackpad and trackpoint, and the X1 Carbon is definitely worth considering.

However, there are a few things that give me pause as well. First off is the paltry free hard disk space due to the abundance of space Lenovo’s proprietary utilities consume. This presents a problem for consumers unless you upgrade to the 256G SSD. Furthermore, there is the battery life. The four-cell battery helps keep the weight down, but delivers a less-than-impressive life. Lastly, there is the price. My review model, with the Core i5-3427U processor, 4G of memory and 128G SSD is priced at $1,499. This is pricey, considering the performance, the battery life and the under-60G of free hard disk space. Overall, the X1 price ranges from $1,399 to $1,849.

If price were not an option, I would love the X1 Carbon, irrespective of its performance. I would be able to overlook battery life and disk space that older, less-expensive Ultrabooks overmatch. As it is, the practical side of me wins out and I would still have to give the nod to the HP Folio 13.

Pros

  • 14-inch display with 1600-by-900 resolution
  • Weighs roughly three pounds
  • Backlit keyboard
  • Solid construction
  • Third-generation Intel Core processor

Cons

  • Average battery life
  • Little free hard disk space on 128G SSD model
  • Expensive given battery life and free hard disk space

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

$1,349 to $1,849 ($1,499 reviewed)


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