A fantastic ultra-light and ultra-durable business computer

Highs

  • Amazingly lightweight
  • High-end performance
  • Proven durability
  • Extensive configurability

Lows

  • Not the most compact
  • Speaker quality could be better

Rating and Price

  • Rating: 9/10

Like clockwork, Lenovo announced its 2018 X1 Carbon Gen6 laptop at CES 2018. It’s been on the market for a couple of months now, so it’s an excellent time for a review of the “tip of the spear” of the Lenovo X series, which Lenovo describes as the “Ultraportable Productivity Tools.” Designed for business, the X1 Carbon promises extreme portability and durability, two concepts that rarely mix, yet the five previous X1 Carbon models have proven that it is possible. How good is this 6th Generation of X1 Carbon? Read on…

Configuration as tested

We are testing the X1 Carbon Gen6 equipped with the Intel Core i7-8550 CPU (1.8 – 1.99 GHz), 8GB of RAM and 256 GB of SSD storage (Samsung PM961 256GB, model  MZVLW256HEHP-000L2). The display version is the IPS LCD 1080p anti-glare, with touch support.

Configuration options

Lenovo covers a relatively high number of CPU options. While many OEMs are happily providing two options, Lenovo has a total of four, as listed below. The Core i5-8250U version can only get 8GB of RAM, but all the others can be ordered with 16GB at purchase time.

  • Intel Core i5-8250U Processor + Windows 10 Home 64
  • Intel Core i5-8350U Processor + Windows 10 Home 64 (+$95)
  • Intel Core i7-8550U Processor + Windows 10 Pro 64 (+$235)
  • Intel Core i7-8650U Processor + Windows 10 Pro 64 (+$195)

The PCIe-NVME SSD options are solid, and although you cannot get a 2TB version, you can upgrade it yourself since the back cover can be easily removed.

  • 256GB Solid State Drive PCIe-NVME OPAL2.0 M.2
  • 512GB Solid State Drive PCIe-NVME OPAL2.0 M.2 (+$233)
  • 1TB Solid State Drive PCIe-NVMe M.2 OPAL 2.0 (+$520)

What’s new?

Since the 2017 Edition of the X1 Carbon which we also reviewed, the X1 line has had incremental changes, and the two most impactful is the switch to the Intel Core 8th generation processors (quad-core), and the optional Dolby Vision HDR Display. At the top of the display, the webcam has Think Shutter, a Lenovo physical webcam privacy shutter – no more tape needed.

Industrial Design

The X1 Carbon design is very recognizable, and the 2018 Edition sticks to a formula that has worked very well. From time to time, Lenovo has small design updates, but it’s fair to say that the 2018 edition looks very much like the 2017 one. In fact, from a few yards away, it could be difficult to tell them apart.

The industrial’s goal is to be visually agreable of course, but more importantly, the whole idea is to have a robust and carefree laptop for business professionals. As such, the Lenovo X1 Carbon 2018/Gen6 has a “soft paint” that is quite resistant to fingerprint marks. The surface feels dry and much less slippery than aluminum counterparts. Aluminum gets scratched very easily too…

With 323.5 x 217.1 x 15.95 mm dimensions for a weight of 1130g (~2.49lbs), the X1 Carbon 2018 is exceptionally light although it is not extremely compact. This is a direct result of using a Carbon chassis (more in a minute). The uber-compact Dell XPS 13 (9370) weighs 7% more at 1210g, the HP Spectre X360t weighs 11% more, and the Huawei Matebook X Pro weighs nearly 18% more, despite all of them being smaller than the X1 Carbon.

Durability

Underneath, the body is made of a Carbon hybrid material that makes it both light and extremely durable. We don’t know the exact composition of this Carbon material, but in general, Carbon is 2-5 times more rigid than aluminum and steel, at the same weight.

"DROPS AND SPILLS WON'T STOP THIS COMPUTER"

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon passes 12 military MIL-810-G certifications for drops and shocks. These tests are designed to make sure that military hardware can survive the vibrations and shocks during transport in the field. That’s an excellent proxy for civilian travel. Drops and spills won’t stop this computer.

In my opinion, this standard is much more meaningful for laptops than it is for phones in my opinion. Laptops screen are well protected from shocks (when closed), and their mass is high enough that internal components could be damaged by the impact force. Many other laptops would probably not pass this endurance tests, so it is one objective metric we can use for durability.

Keyboard and Trackpad

The Keyboard, Trackpad, and Trackpoints are areas that the ThinkPad team think of as sacred. A significant portion of the ThinkPad user base keeps buying because of these elements which have proven to be comfortable.

The spill-proof keyboard is backlit (monochrome light), and the key-travel is ~1.8mm which is relatively long for a laptop. The ~3.2mm distance between keys seems a little bit smaller than on the X1 YOGA 2018/Gen3 (~3.6mm), although it feels nearly identical. Interestingly enough, we measured the X1 Carbon curved key size at 16x16mm (256 sqmm), which is just a tad bigger than the 15x15mm we saw on the YOGA X1.

"GENUINELY UNIQUE INPUT PERIPHERALS"

There is a matter of personal preferences here, so we encourage you to try these if you can, but if you cannot, we’re giving high praises to the typing and pointing quality experience of this computer. There are other excellent Trackpads out there – but the Keyboard, Physical “mouse” buttons and the Trackpoint are genuinely unique input peripherals.

The trackpad surface is made of glass, which is the smoothest and best material for this purpose. This is typical in this price range, but more affordable laptops can have various trackpad materials to reduce the cost.

With a surface of ~8.84 square inches, the trackpad is comfortable, but a bit smaller than on the X1 YOGA (~9.9 sq inch). The difference is mainly in the height of the trackpad, and that might slightly decrease the comfort for common gestures such as vertical scrolling. There are much larger trackpads on the market, even in the ultra-thin category.

It is because this is a computer with a 16/9 display, and given how compact it is, there isn’t much room left anyway. If Lenovo wanted to have a higher Trackpad, the physical mouse buttons would need to go. In my opinion, ThinkPad aficionados would rather have a slightly smaller Trackpad.

Ports

  • Left
    • 1x USB-C (charging+data)
    • 1x Native Ethernet requires RJ45 Adapter
    • 1x Full-size USB-A
    • 1x Full-size HDMI
  • Right
    • 1x Full-size USB-A
    • 1x 3.5mm audio
    • Anti-theft lock
  • Rear
    • 1x SIM
    • 1x MicroSD (400GB max.)

Users who frequently use USB-A or HDMI are probably those who would gain the most when compared to laptops that focus on USB-C ports. Having to carry a dongle for the HDMI connection often leads to not having one just when you need it the most…

The microSD slot lets you add slower-performance storage at a low-cost. You can get 128GB for ~$36 or 200GB for ~$65, with a monster 400GB microSD card going for ~$200. You could use it as a backup or store media files.

Speakers

The Lenovo X1 Carbon has two speaker grills, but I noticed that most of the sound power seem to be coming from the left one. The speakers audio quality is not that great, but it is fine if you are sitting in front of your computer or use it in bed.

If you want to sit back a little and use your computer “as a TV,” a laptop like the Huawei Matebook X Pro offers much better sound, both in volume and body. After all, the X1 Carbon is a work computer, but it should have enough body size to accommodate a better sound experience.

Display

All version of the Lenovo X1 Carbon have an IPS LCD display. IPS technology is the best option for laptops at the moment. While there are occasional OLED options for 12” laptops, only Lenovo had released a 14” OLED display. Although it was beautiful, the manufacturing for that OLED size is not the industry’s priority for now.

Learn more: LCD vs. OLED. Which is Best And Why?

With the current IPS options, the high-resolution Dolby Vision HDR display offers the best quality. If you stream from services like Amazon, Hulu or Netflix (support page), you may have HDR content available, depending on what you watch. The difference can be very noticeable, but it’s just hard to tell how much content will be available for you.

The display we had has a 100% sRGB color gamut which is very nice, and the Dolby Vision model hits a 100% Adobe RGB gamut, which is even better.

"MULTIPLE IPS PANEL OPTIONS COVER A WIDE RANGE OF USE CASES"

If you like using Windows Hello face login, the 3D infrared camera is only available on models with the WQHD anti-glare display 720p HD Camera with ThinkShutter and microphone. The multiple IPS panel options cover a wide range of use cases.

  • 14″ FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS anti-glare, 300 nits
  • 14″ FHD (1920 x 1080) IPS anti-glare multi-touch, 300 nits (+$85)
    • As reviewed, and measured at 291 NITs
  • 14″ WQHD (2560 x 1440) IPS anti-glare, 300 nits ($138)
    • IR Camera Option
  • 14″ HDR WQHD (2560 x 1440) IPS glossy with Dolby Vision, 500 nits ($180)

Not only the highest-end display can reproduce more colors at normal brightness levels, but the HDR capabilities mean that it can reproduce more colors at higher brightness levels as well, which increased the “Color Volume.”

Additionally, a higher brightness makes the display more readable and comfortable to use outdoors or in very bright environments. Most laptops hover between 250-350 NITs of brightness, but at ~500 NITs, this laptop is well above the average and would make a huge difference in some situations

Most laptops come with a glossy screen these days. They tend to make the colors “pop” a little more, and text may appear a tiny bit sharper. However, they are very reflective, which means that you may have difficulty reading if your immediate surrounding is very bright.

As its name indicates, the anti-glare version yields much less reflection, and the screen would appear a bit more matte in general. There is not a right and wrong for glossy vs. anti-glare and it all depends on what your preference is. In the past, glossy screens would often have much better colors, but over the past 18 months, anti-glare displays have improved enormously to the point that most people wouldn’t notice until we point it out.

Finally, if you opt for a higher-resolution display, the image will obviously look sensibly sharper. Keep in mind that more pixels also mean higher power consumption. If your priority is battery life, you may want to stick to the 1080p/FHD resolution or look at the YOGA 920 which has a larger battery.

Webcam

Webcam cameras are not a hot point of competition, and some OEMs say that only 10% of people use it regularly. However, not all are identical, so we’re starting to document what various shots look like. This time, we’ll compare this computer with an entry-level phone’s selfie camera (Galaxy J7, $100). The phone wins by a small margin.

comparison image Acomparison image A

The audio is more advanced, with the integration of far-field microphones which are designed to capture sound from any direction. Previously, many microphones were optimized for having the user in front of the screen.

Far-field microphones are much better for group calls as it can pick up the voice of everyone, regardless of their location relative to the laptop. Non-far-field microphones often drop off your voice if you go out of the optimum location right in front of the computer.

This addition was also done with smart voice assistants such as Microsoft’s Cortana, which is well integrated to this laptop. You can leave the microphone ON, and Windows will listen for the wake-up command.

Performance

As it is often the case with PC laptops, the performance between different competitors within the same price, and with the same CPU is quite similar. If two systems use the same CPU with comparable memory and frequency, they should yield comparable synthetic benchmark results. This is what we can see by looking at the Geekbench 4 scores of the Yoga 920, X1 Yoga 2018, Dell XPS 13 (9370) and Huawei MateBook X Pro, among other options.

Opinion: Are benchmarks important? What do they mean?

CPU Synthetic Performance

Since most competitors use the same kind of CPUs, this is a rather dull test. If anything, it shows that the 8th Generation (quad-core) of Intel CPU can be much faster than the 7th Generation (2 cores) in multi-threaded tasks. Even on a laptop, it is quite easy to spread workloads to four cores, and in our experience, there is a very noticeable usability gain with that particular CPU update.

3D Graphics Benchmarks

Since most of the laptops in this category use the same integrated Intel GPU, their scores are very similar. Typically, I would not consider these graphics processors as “gaming-capable,” but they are okay for casual gaming and older game titles.

Creative users should care more about having a fast GPU because video or photo-editing applications can make great use for such specialized units. Note that for compression purposes, the Intel CPUs have a small dedicated unit which significantly helps speed things up, but doesn’t compete with even with an entry-level discrete graphics processor.

The Huawei Matebook X Pro uses such a processor and could easily leave competitors in the dust, scoring a 2X higher 3D graphics performance.

Productivity performance test

Benchmarks like PCMark 8 Work are perhaps more representative of the day to day workload of users who would be interested in purchasing this kind of computers. In this particular test, the Lenovo X1 Carbon does particularly well, even outpacing its larger cousin, the X1 YOGA and other competitors running with a similar Core i7-855U CPU platform.

This is mainly due to the fact that the Samsung SSD drive used by Lenovo seems to have slightly faster Writes as the competitors’ storage modules. This is yet another reminder that it’s not all about CPU and GPU speeds, although I have a feeling that the write performance might be a bit over-represented here.

If you factor in how much performance you’re getting for the weight you’re carrying, the Lenovo X1 Carbon pulls even further ahead.

Storage / SSD synthetic performance

With nearly the same SSD hardware as the Lenovo X1 YOGA, it is not surprising to see the X1 Carbon to score ~5060 points at the PCMark 8 Storage Benchmark.Because most competitors run on comparable-performance storage, this level of performance is not only excellent; it is also common for this category of products.

Performance conclusion

The X1 Carbon performs exactly how we thought it would. It is solidly within the capabilities expected of its system configuration and 3D-gaming aside, This laptop can able to handle the most common tasks that people throw at this kind of productivity laptops.

If anything, I would suggest upgrading to 16GB of RAM if you work with massive files (photo editing, videos) because any file swapping from memory to SSD will kill the performance.

Temperature and cooling

Just before looking at the charging speed, we went on to deplete the battery by running a very intensive CPU test called Prime 95. It will push all cores to 100% utilization and will heat up to the point where the thermal throttling will kick and and stabilize the temperature of the system to avoid a critical crash. We control the temperature with the Core Temp utility. The Carbon X1 won’t burn your lap anytime soon.

"THE CARBON X1 WON’T BURN YOUR LAP ANYTIME SOON"

It is possible to force the laptop to push the limits by clicking on the battery icon and selecting the faster performance mode, which favors speed at the expense of battery life. Our ambient temperature at the time of testing was 23C.

  • “Best Performance” caps the CPU utilization to a sustained 80%
  • “Better performance” allows the CPU to work as fast as the temperature will allow
    • a sustained ~95% CPU usage in practice, with the CPU temperature at 67C to 69C (37C while idle)

We also took some infrared shots and left the power supply visible as a reference. It had a surface temperature of 45C. The 36C hottest point on the X1 Carbon keyboard is visible in the image below, while the palm area was around 27C. In the back, the the edge of the laptop (near the screen) experienced a temperature of 38C, just 1C above body temperature.

The Lenovo X1 Carbon cooling system works very well, especially when considering that it is relatively quiet, more so than other ultra-compact laptops such as the formidable Matebook X Pro, for example.

Battery

With a 57Wh battery capacity, the Lenovo X1 Carbon lands within the sweet spot for the high-performance + ultra-light category of laptops. This is just a bit more than the 54Wh found in the X1 YOGA, a much larger computer, and a lot more than the ASUS Zenbook 3 deluxe (46Wh, model UX490UA).

If you want to maximize battery life, we would recommend selecting the 1080p base display version. Higher resolution means more pixels, and higher brightness (HDR) means more power.

The X1 Carbon features Lenovo’s RapidCharge which means that a 60mn charge time will take the battery from 0% to 80%. The charge speed is therefore 0.76Wh per minute or 45.6 Wh per hour of charge. “Wh” which stands for Watt-hours is a unit for energy storage.

Batteries typically charge at a constant speed from 0% to 80%. The charging then slows down considerably from 80% to 100%.

Note that the computer ships with a 65W charger that is RapidCharge compatible. If you buy the smaller 45W charger accessory, you will not get the fast-charging capability.

Conclusion

The Lenovo X1 Carbon was always designed to be the lightest, most compact Lenovo X1 laptop. It is a fantastic ultra-light and ultra-durable business computer for busy professionals who want a care-free computer that can just work even with a brutal travel schedule, or work in the field.

"A FANTASTIC ULTRA-LIGHT AND ULTRA-DURABLE BUSINESS COMPUTER"

This emphasis on durability, associated with a surprisingly low weight and excellent performance (particularly performance-per-pound) makes the Lenovo X1 carbon a unique choice in the business world. Add to that a generous battery capacity (for this category) and a large 14” display, and you get an excellent product.

The X1 Carbon Gen6 doesn’t take the lead on metrics such as performance/price or battery/price. It is not a value-oriented computer, but a productivity and performance laptop. The Lenogo Yoga 920 or the HP Spectre X360 13t would provide better “bang for the buck” because they are more oriented towards the consumer or creative user profiles, and lack the durability features the X1 Carbon has.

Overall product rating: 9/10

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