Hands on: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2016) review

A reboot with loads of potential

What is a hands on review?
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Our Early Verdict

The 2015 version of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon was a solid performer. We expect the 2016 version to be equally solid with a few nifty enhancements added.

For

  • 11-hour battery life claim
  • 16GB of RAM
  • WQHD screen

Against

  • Pricey
  • Marginal upgrade to 2015
  • No touchscreen

Last year's version of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon was a fully-capable business Ultrabook that featured a few minor flaws. Unfortunately for Lenovo, these issues kept the Carbon from reaching the pinnacle of the business laptop market.

With the 2016 reboot of the Carbon, Lenovo has sought to remedy these issues, particularly in terms of battery life and additional connections. What we have here is a marginal upgrade over a predecessor that required only marginal upgrades.

Add in a few cool new features and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (starting at $1,299, about £883, AU$1,809) is worthy of your consideration when it goes on sale in February (unless you require a touchscreen).

ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Design

Built with Lenovo's signature ThinkPad black-on-black chassis with subtle hints of glitter, the X1 Carbon isn't exactly the epitome of design innovation. For example: it doesn't come in a touchscreen model. However, with a longstanding following of ThinkPad users, Lenovo has opted to keep things simple and comfortable by maintaining its design principles. This includes the basic, chiclet-style keyboard, as well as a boring but sturdy silver dual hinge that flips back to about 175-degrees. No, the model I played with did not bend all the way back to 180-degrees. However, Lenovo claims the final product will reach the final 5 degrees.

The X1 Carbon is a compact and light device that weighs only 2.6 pounds (1.27kg) and is 0.66 inches (16mm) slim. This is light and slim enough to fit into a typical backpack, but for a standard notebook that doesn't detach, come with a 4K screen, or even a touchscreen, I would have liked Lenovo to get the weight and thinness down just a bit.

In fairness to Lenovo: the weight and girth are a huge upgrade over last year's model, which was about 11 ounces and 0.05 inches bigger.

We absolutely hated the screen on last year's multi-touch panel, which suffered from severe screen glare, an issue that Lenovo doesn't appear to have remedied on the 2016 model. Both last year and this year's model come with up to WQHD resolution displays. The model I played with for a few minutes didn't appear to have too much awful glare, but we'll know for sure when we get our hands on it for our battery of tests.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Specs

Last year's model, which went toe-to-toe with the industry leading ultrabooks the Dell XPS 13 and the 13-inch MacBook Pro, only featured 512GB of storage. This year's model goes up to 1TB of storage, up to 16GB of RAM, and up to an Intel Core i7 processor. Those are exquisite upgrade options that are among the higher end of laptops that aren't considered mobile workstations.

We had a very hard time getting last year's model to run for more than 5 hours at a stretch. This year, Lenovo said the Carbon features an 11-hour battery life. We can't verify this claim until we run it through our battery life tests, but this would represent a dramatic upgrade over last year's model. Keep your fingers crossed.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon

The X1 Carbon features three USB ports, a microSD slot, WAN support and OneLink+ support, which can drive dual 4K monitors or an Ethernet expansion. Last year's model didn't have an SD card slot and only one USB port, so you're getting a bit more flexibility with the newer model.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon

For security-minded individuals and businesses, all versions of the X1 Carbon come with touch fingerprint scanners.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Early verdict

The Lenovo X1 Carbon is an expensive device that can be outfitted with high-level specs. Last year's top-of-the-line Carbon costs about $2,100 (about £1,427, AU$2,920), which is a heft price to pay for a laptop that doesn't really stretch the boundaries of design innovation. Expect this year's highest-end version to cost about the same.

If you were turned off by last year's model because of its poor battery and the lack of an SD expansion, you may want to consider the 2016 version. Lenovo has gone out of its way to remedy these issues. However, if you just didn't like to look and feel of the 2015 model, Lenovo has done little to evolve the newer Carbon.

All in, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon isn't perfect and it will likely bend your budget. But because of a few improvements over last year's respectable model, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is worthy of your consideration.

(Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the Carbon was available with a touchscreen and stylus.)

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.