This is an updated version of the original Lenovo X1 Carbon – Three Generations post.
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.
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.
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 accidentally press Shift twice, and start typing in capitals.
The power port was also doubled up to support OneLink docks, which lasted for another generation before being replaced by Onelink+, and in the 5th generation, abandoned completely.
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.
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…
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.
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.
2016 brought in the X1 Carbon Gen 4 and along with it, a similar new X1 Yoga which I reviewed. The touchscreen which had been standard for the last three models had now gone, which to me made the Yoga a better buy. Again, an updated Intel CPU was used – 6th generation i Series. The onboard graphics, (the 520) gets a bit of a bump too. This laptop also had OneLink+ support for the dock, which meant a new dock if you’d invested in the original OneLink.
Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch Gen 4 Keyboard (not the standard US/AU keyboard pictured via @jonolafs)
Battery life was slightly improved, with a now 11 hour claim. It also dropped some weight, down to 1.18kg which was a decent jump down. The fingerprint reader has been upgraded to a press sensor, rather than the swipe style – This newer style is quicker to use, so a welcome change. This one also came in a bit thinner at 16.5mm, where the last model depending on screen specs, was between 17 and 20mm.
As we’ve now grown to expect, 2017 brought in the X1 Carbon Gen 5. Another CPU upgrade too, the 7th gen Intel CPU (which is also the first to not support anything less than Windows 10). This model is so far the most radically different from previous years. Battery life is now up to 15.5 hours, and the entire laptop itself is much smaller. Check out the pictures further down to see the difference, as Lenovo have slimmed out the bezel around the display, making the entire unit more compact. It’s slightly thinner at just under 16mm. This has lead to only a slight weigh increase, now down to 1.14kg. I was surprised at how light this laptop feels when carrying it.
Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch Gen 5 Keyboard
The other drastic changes on this laptop are the ports. The old rectangle plug is gone, in favour of a standard USB-C connection. Actually, they’re Thunderbolt 3 ports. Confused? So is everyone else, but both types of devices/cables will work here. USB-C and Thunderbolt seem to be the new standard that pretty much all the manufacturers are moving to now, so it’s good to see Lenovo go along with that. The ports look the same, and the plug style is identical. Regardless, those old power packs won’t help you any more.
Oh, and there’s now a silver version that releases a bit later than the standard black version, for those who think black is ‘so 2016’.
Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch Gen 5 – Silver
The 2017 X1 Yoga Gen 2 isn’t out yet, so I can’t comment on that – but I’d expect it to again be an all rounder, and maybe a better choice if you want touch screen and tablet mode. Otherwise, the Carbon will give a pure laptop experience which may be all you want.
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, oldest on bottom to newest on top (Gen 1 on bottom…). Note that I had to use an X1 Yoga for the 4th gen position, the only visible difference is the stylus, power and the volume controls on the right hand side, which are missing from the Carbon (separate photo below). You can see the vast size difference of the Gen 5 on top:
X1 Carbon Gen 4 Right side view (Thanks again Jon Olafsson for these shots!)
There are many other areas I haven’t covered – such as all three models have a backlit keyboard which is great in the dark. The first 4 gens have RapidCharge technology, meaning you’ll get about 80% of your charge back in 35 minutes. The 5th gen takes up to an hour, which seems to be due to the Thunderbolt changeover. The screens on all options are high quality with great viewing angles and you won’t find much difference between each one.
It’s hard to say which one you should pick – but hopefully this article lays out the differences to be aware of, to help you decide. Price should be a big factor in this, if you have to go one year older but it’s a lot cheaper, it may be the better choice for you.
The X1 Carbon has a great reputation of being a sturdy and reliable business laptop – you’ll pay a premium for having this sort of quality, and is on par price wise with similar offerings from other vendors.
Note: These laptops were on loan or borrowed from various sources (including Lenovo) and returned. This is not a sponsored or paid for post.