Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch: A lightweight contender

The company's latest ultrabook is sleek and powerful, offering an impressive display and an interesting keyboard innovation.

In the battle for the sleekest and most powerful slim laptop, Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch Ultrabook is a real contender. I spent a week with one and found it to be a performance powerhouse that gave me a full day on a charge and is chock-full of technological goodies.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch starts at $1,399, including a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-4200U processor, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD and Microsoft Windows 8.1. The review unit came with 8GB of RAM, which raised the price to $1,529; you can also swap out the processor for a Core i5 4300U ($100 more) or a Core i7 4600U ($270 more) and/or upgrade the storage to a 512GB SSD for another $450.

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon Touch
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch

The X1 Touch's case is made of carbon fiber, measures 0.6 x 12.9 x 8.9 in. and weighs in at 3.1 lb., an ounce less than the model it replaces. The small AC adapter brings its travel weight up to 3.5 lb., which makes it a very acceptable carry-on.

The all-black system has a soft-touch coating that makes it easy to grab and hold onto. A nice touch is that the "i" in the ThinkPad logo lights up with a red LED when the system is on.

Sturdy enough to stand up to the rigors of travel, Lenovo says that the system passed eight military specification tests for temperature, humidity, vibration and mechanical shock.

An impressive touch display

Open the X1 Touch, and the 14-in. ultra-high-resolution screen becomes the center of attention. The 0.4-in. bezel that surrounds the display is among the thinnest I've seen, making the display seem to float in space.

The X1 Touch uses Intel's HD Graphics 4400 video engine, but lacks any dedicated video RAM; it uses 1.8GB from the X1's system memory. Capable of displaying 2560 x 1440 resolution, the display shows an impressive amount of detail, but I found it only about average in terms of brightness.

The X1 Touch's display responds to 10 independent touch inputs and can interpret a variety of gestures, such as pinching an image to zoom in or making a circular motion to show the next image. I found that it works fine with an off-the-shelf stylus as well.

The screen is more stable than some other touch-enabled systems such as Toshiba's KiraBook, but it still wobbled a bit on occasion. You might need to brace the lid with one hand.

The X1 Touch's lid opens a full 180 degrees -- so you can lay it flat on a table and use it for, say, for drawing or sketching, while still having the keyboard handy.

Keyboard kapers

Below the screen is what Lenovo calls its Adaptive Keyboard. It's really a long, narrow, pressure-sensitive monochrome panel that sits between the display and the real keyboard; the context-specific icons across its surface light up depending on what mode it's in.

Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon Touch
The Adaptive Keyboard (just above the main keyboard) has context-specific icons across its surface that light up depending on what mode it's in.

There are four modes you can choose manually by tapping the left end of the panel. The default Home setting performs many of the functions that many keyboard top rows do today: It lets you do things like raise or lower the volume, make the screen brighter or dimmer and snip items from a window. Function mode shows normal function keys. Web Conference mode gives you specialty keys to, for example, adjust the microphone or camera settings, while Web Browser mode offers icons for going back one page and snipping an item from a site.

There's also a setting called Dynamic mode that changes the array of choices in response to which application is running. At the moment, the list of supported programs is small and limited to specific software packages such as Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Skype and Office.

Overall, it's a great way to make quick adjustments to the system's operations -- the only thing that I found a bit annoying is that you can't add custom entries.

Like generations of ThinkPads before it, the X1 Touch has both a pointing stick in the center of the keyboard and a touchpad. I found the glass touchpad to be overly sensitive and took some training to get used to. The keyboard itself was comfortable and accurate; its 18.8-millimeter keys are backlit for late-night work.

Other features

Around its perimeter, the X1 Touch offers a reasonable selection of ports: Two USB 3.0 ports, a DisplayPort, HDMI and audio connections, a Gigabit Ethernet port, a SIM card slot and an SD Card slot. It also comes with 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

Above the screen is a 720p webcam, and under the system is a pair of speakers that use Dolby Home Theater v4 audio. The X1 Touch sounds great but never really gets loud enough to rattle the windows.

The system works with Intel's WiDi system for sending audio and video to a projector, but lacks Near Field Communications (NFC). For the security minded, the X1 has a Trusted Platform Module as well as a fingerprint scanner.

Test results

Make no mistake about it, the X1 Touch is a screamer that scored an impressive 1,938 on the PassMark PerformanceTest benchmark, making it one of the fastest ultrabooks available. The system scored a 226 on Maxon's CineBench processor tests, but it couldn't run the CineBench graphics routine due to a driver incompatibility that affects recent Intel graphics accelerators; Intel is working on a fix.

Surprisingly, for such a high-performance system, the X1 Touch never got more than warm. It was also able to continuously play HD videos for 5 hours and 29 minutes on a single charge -- a test result that indicates the system should comfortably last through a full day of solid usage with modest power management settings in place.

The X1 Touch's 2,700mAh battery has the ability to quickly charge; with the system turned off and plugged in, I was able to boost a depleted battery to an 80% percent charge in 50 minutes. This is not as impressive as the non-touch version of the X1 Carbon, which can do the same thing in about 35 minutes, but it's still impressive.

The X1 Touch comes with a one-year warranty; upping it to three years adds $169. There is currently no dock available.

While the system comes with Windows 8.1, you can change it for either Windows 8.1 Pro 64 or Windows 7 Professional 64 for an additional $50. The X1 Touch also comes with a one-month subscription to Norton Internet Security and Lenovo Solution Center, an application which, among other things, shows the system's status and when your warranty runs out.

Bottom line

The Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon Touch is the rare notebook that does just about everything well, from performance and battery life to its touch abilities and superb display. Its $1,399 price tag is relatively high, but if you want the best, it is worth every penny.

This article, Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch: A lightweight contender, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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