Lenovo X1 Carbon – Three Generations


The Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen3 came out recently, so I thought it would be a good time to review the 3 models and compare. I won’t be looking at too many of the specs, because each generation has had many configurable options – but where it makes sense, I’ll draw attention to technical differences.

The X1 Carbon is part of Lenovo’s Thinkpad series. These are normally aimed at businesses, due to their military-spec testing. Consumer models of Lenovo laptops are still of high quality, but don’t have the same stringent testing and guarantees. Thinkpads have been around since 1990 – then they were owned by IBM, but Lenovo bought out IBM’s personal computer business in 2005 and continued with the name.

Generation 1

Originally, the Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen1  launched in 2012. It was the successor to the Thinkpad X1, and was quite popular when it hit the market, but there were a few major drawbacks. No touchscreen, and a 14″ 1600 x 900 res screen were still good, but not in the realm of amazing. This was partly resolved about 4 months later at the start of 2013, when a touchscreen variant, inventively called the Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch. This still had the lower resolution though, while the Lenovo Helix released at the same time had a much smaller 12″ screen yet ran at 1920 x 1080.

Battery life was quite good too, Lenovo quoting 8 hours under ideal conditions. For a 2012 laptop, that was pretty impressive.

lenovo x1 carbon gen1 keyboardLenovo X1 Carbon Touch Gen 1 Keyboard

The Gen 1 laptop was powered by a 3rd Generation Intel CPU, Intel HD 4000 graphics chip . It weighed in at 1.54kg. Keyboard wise, this was the standard design that most Thinkpad laptops had, and worked well.

Generation 2

Then in early 2014, the Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 2 launched. For the CPU, Lenovo had moved to the 4th Generation of Intel CPUs. Screen wise, the base model was still the 1600 x 900 res, but there was also upgrades available – a massive 2560 x 1440 resolution with an additional touchscreen optional.

Several new design changes were made, and not all were seen as improvements. The biggest was a new feature called the ‘Adaptive Keyboard Row’ which was a long LCD panel at the top of the keyboard. Instead of actual buttons for function keys, it was now a cycling set of images that let you toggle to the keys you wanted – standard function keys, or 3 other screens of laptop shortcuts. Software could be installed to auto detect the most likely keyboard option you’d need, but personally I’d almost always want the function keys. It was also possible to always default to the one you wanted which made it more usable. Personally, I’d rather just have keys and a function button.

Other major changes were the dropping of the left and right buttons on the trackpad – now it was just where you clicked on the trackpad. I prefer those physical buttons. A strange adjustment was removing the caps lock key, and replacing it with ‘Home’ and ‘End’ buttons. For anyone who uses a keyboard regularly, changing the placement of buttons to the opposite side of the keyboard than you’d expect them to be isn’t a great design choice.

Caps lock was still possible to do by pressing ‘Shift’ twice, and that would light up a tiny LED on the shift key to indicate Caps Lock was on. Another strange design choice, as it was very easy to accidently press Shift twice, and start typing in capitals.

Despite these changes, the laptop was still solid overall. For it’s weight, it was 200 grams lighter than it’s predecessor at 1.34kg. The graphics had been updated to Intel HD 4400/5000, and battery life was ‘a bit longer’ at around 9 hours.

lenovo x1 carbon gen 2 keyboardLenovo X1 Carbon Touch Gen 2 Keyboard

The laptop was also thinner, and sported more ports than the Gen 1. Between then Gen 1 and Gen 2, each had it’s pros and cons. If only they could mash them together to make the perfect laptop…

Generation 3

Enter the Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen3 in early 2015. A 5th Generation Intel CPU would be inside each laptop, along with another updated Intel HD 5500 graphics chip. The base level resolution had been bumped up to 1920 x 1080, with the standard 2560 x 1440 high res option available, along with a touch variant.

Battery life had gone up another hour or so, to 10ish hours depending on what screen you had. It hadn’t shed any weight, depending on the variant it came in at somewhere between 1.31kg and 1.44kg, which is still rather light and comparable to the MacBook Air.

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Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch Gen 3 Keyboard

The adaptive keys were gone, function keys were back. Caps lock had it’s place back on the keyboard too, with Home and End being moved to the right side of the keyboard again. The trackpad had it’s left and right mouse buttons back too!

Almost perfect, except they put the function key back in the bottom left hand corner. For people used to finding the Ctrl button there, it’s a bit of a change to get used to (and Gen 1 had the key in the same spot). Really, it should be one key over – such as Lenovo’s Yoga 2 Pro has.

Generation 4

Please read the bottom of this post for more info.

More Photos

To show what ports are available on each model, and comparing size/style, here’s some photos from each side of the laptops stacked together:

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Top to Bottom: Gen3, Gen2, Gen1

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Top to Bottom: Gen3, Gen2, Gen1

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Top to Bottom: Gen3, Gen2, Gen1

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Top to Bottom: Gen3, Gen2, Gen1

Summary

There are many other areas I haven’t covered – such as all three models have a backlit keyboard which is great in the dark. They all have RapidCharge technology, meaning you’ll get about 80% of your charge back in 35 minutes. The screens on all options are high quality with great viewing angles.

They all have Dolby speakers, and dual noise cancelling microphones. All have spill resistant keyboard. There is a lot to like about all the models, but each has it’s own style. Who knows what they’ll do with Gen 4.

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Back to Front: Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen1, Gen2, Gen3

Update

The Lenovo Carbon X1 Generation 4 came out in 2016, but I didn’t get one to review. Instead I got the Lenovo X1 Yoga which I think is a better all rounder vs the Carbon X1 Gen4. Check out that review and decide for yourself!

19 thoughts on “Lenovo X1 Carbon – Three Generations

  1. NICE REVIEW!!. A t440p owner myself with a bit of OCD, I cant help but notice the touchpad wearing in Gen 1 & 2. Is it a common phenomenon? I am also experiencing this and have a shiny orb in the middle of the touchpad. Should i contact lenovo for a touchpad change?

    Looking for your kind reply.

    1. Thank you 🙂 First check that it’s not just the oils from your fingers that can be cleaned off. Otherwise, it’s a pretty common occurrence on most trackpads. There’s no harm in contacting Lenovo either – at worst they’ll just say no! Let us know how you go with it.

  2. Adam, how noisy are the three models? I’ve heard Gen3 is quiet. What about Gen1 in a light usage scenario (i.e. web browsing with adblockers on to prevent obnoxious, resource hogging animated ads)? I’m seriously thinking of getting a refurbished gen1, in the hope it’s quieter than the T430 I’m using at the moment (fan is on at all times). So in such a use case, is the fan on continuously?

    On another note, is the touchpad that large that you accidentally ‘click’ whilst typing by touching it with the palm? I’m talking about that part of the palm just below one’s thumb – no idea what that’s called; sorry, I’m not a native English speaker

    Excellent review, BTW!

    1. Hi Lycian – I don’t have the X1 Gen1 in front of me now, but I’ve never noticed anything to bad with the fan. The Helix has a noisier fan from what I’ve observed. I’d also recommend not choosing an i7 model as they run the hottest and will have the fan kick in earlier.

      Yes that’s the touchpad you’re exactly right 🙂 I haven’t had the problem of accidently clicking it with my wrists, but you can disable it under the Ultranav settings of Mouse in Control Panel.

      My hands rest left and right of the trackpad comfortably for typing and don’t touch it with my palm (just tried on someone else’s nearby).

      Also keep in mind that programs like Chrome are really good at making the CPU work hard and for the fan to kick in, so you could try another browser if that’s the one you’re using – universal, nothing special about Lenovos 🙂

  3. Is it worth to buy the first gen i7 3rd gen
    Touch version … 8gb ram and 256 ssd
    What the first gen i7 compared to 5th gen i5
    Cos I was hoping to take a 5th gen i5 Thinkpad and found first gen i7 x1 carbon touch instead
    Will be worth and how will handle in competition to i5 fifth gen …. Am a student …and need it for coding and gaming …

    1. Comes down to price really, you won’t notice too much performance difference between the two (but the first doesn’t have bluetooth if that matters to you) and the touch screen panel for F keys although I’m not a fan of, isn’t much of a difference – I’d be following the price.

      4th and 5th genereation Intel CPUs didn’t have too much of a difference – 6th gen is a different story!

  4. Dear Adam
    I have just bought Lenovo X1 Carbon Ultrabook Thinkpad how can I determine which generation it is? thanks

    1. The pictures above should help – do you have the LCD panel on the keyboard? Then it’s a Gen 2.
      Do you have the green wifi off/on switch on the side? Then it’s a Gen 1.

      That leaves the Gen 3, but there’s also a Gen 4 that recently came out that I’m waiting to get my hands on.

  5. Hi Adam,
    Just looking on eBay for one of these…..do you have a gut feel of what you would be prepared to pay for the 3 different generations? e.g. gen 1 i7 256GB refurb seems to go for about £400….
    Also, do you have a ‘winner’ in terms of which one you would go for. I don’t mind paying more money if I think it is worth it – Cheers pal!

  6. Hiya Adam,
    It is 3 months since I wrote here & all has gone full circle…I never did buy one & went for a HP Spectre….which I then spilt wine over & it went pop!! – so I am now back at X1 & it’s spill proof keyboard! So which would you go for? Gen 1 or Gen 2? – Thanks !!

    1. Hi Nigel,
      Gen 1 is getting a bit long in the tooth now, Gen 2 would be my pick if you don’t mind the LCD strip instead of function keys 🙂

  7. Hi Adam,

    Great review, thoroughly useful.

    Looking to buy a Gen3 X1 but need a quick way to identify it vs. the Gen1. I figure the Gen2 is easiest without the function keys and should be noticeable. Basically i need to know if the finger print scanner is only present on the Gen1, if so i can use that as my indicator.

    If that’s not the case, do you have any suggestions on how to fool proof identify these two?

    Thank you!!!

    1. Hi Derek,
      Good question – I don’t know if the fingerprint scanner was missing from all versions of the gen3, so I check for the wifi on/off switch on the side. Only the gen1 has that, so that’s my glance check to identify!

    2. I think g2 and g3 have the fingerprint scanner on the edge strip beside the keyboard, whereas g1 has it below the cursor keys. Another quick way to distinguish between the models is the cooling fan outlet. On g1 it’s on the left side. G2 and g3 also have extra connectors under a cap beside the power connector, plus a different SIM port at the back (opens with a pin).

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