The Perfect Laptop for the Engineering Manager
Roopinder Tara posted on May 22, 2018 | | 1579 views

The Lenovo X1 Carbon is the new belle of the ball among business laptops. The 2.6-pound marvel runs circles around my 3.5-pound ThinkPad T450s–a trusted companion for four years, over hundreds of thousands of miles and through many stacks of projects. But, as much as I swear by the T450s, it has begun to show its age.

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, at 2.7 lbs, is the laptop you’ll lust – unless you’ve had the Apple-flavored Kool-Aid. (Image courtesy of Lenovo.)
The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, at 2.7 lbs, is the laptop you’ll lust after–unless you’ve had the Apple-flavored Kool-Aid. (Image courtesy of Lenovo.)

More laptop alternatives exist these days compared to when I purchased the T450s and so it was tempting to consider non-ThinkPads. Super trendy, the iPad Pro started to become a regular at meetings and events. And with a keyboard, the iPad Pro was just like a laptop, right? But before I made the jump, I had to check out the latest from Lenovo.

The Perfect Travel Companion

Pulling the X1 Carbon out of the box is to immediately worry if something this thin and light will perform the job of the laptop you had been lugging around.

The 14in form factor is perfect for travel. If the height of the screen was any taller, it would risk getting hit as the giant in the seat in front of you reclines immediately and without warning. If it was any narrower, the keyboard would have to shrink. Mini keyboards have a way of throwing off your typing, but there’s no need to worry about that since the X1’s keyboard is full size. 

The Joy of Typing

Typing on a ThinkPad has a long and fabled history that goes all the way back to the IBM Selectric keyboard, favored by secretaries winning typing contests, blazing along at stenographic speed with an odd-shaped metal ball of letters, an obvious advantage over rows of levers that could get stuck. The Selectric daisy wheel went away with word processors and dot matrix printers, but its keyboard, a standout for its tactile feel and heft, continued to be manufactured by IBM. As IBM tired of the PC market, it also lost interest in the magnificent keyboard. It was kept alive with a combination of stubbornness and ingenuity from a corps of faithful, eschewing the $10 plastic keyboards favored by consumers that favored cheap over the ultimate typing experience. However, Lenovo–the Chinese computer manufacturer that bought IBM’s computer business including its vaunted ThinkPad line–continued to pay homage to keyboard lovers. While not up to Selectric standards, ThinkPads are almost universally admired, an industry standard against which others are found wanting.

The X1 Carbon keyboard is so good it will make you want to keep writing. Laptop keyboards, aftermarket keyboards, even the best aftermarket keyboards (like Logitech’s) can't compare. The keyboard is enough to make you drop the idea of adding a keyboard to a tablet and calling it a laptop. No other keyboard comes close to the tactile feedback, the spacing, arrangement… It all just works on the X1.

The backlit keys in action, allowing work when taking notes during lights-out presentations and when cabin lights dimmed on overnight flights.
The backlit keys in action, allowing work when taking notes during lights-out presentations and when cabin lights dimmed on overnight flights.

The backlit keys are especially handy. The two-level brightness at its lowest setting is enough to make out the keys when the lights dim during a presentation or after dinner is served on an overnight flight.

Light and Bright

The display is a full 1920 pixels wide. Out of the box, I was surprised to find my usual window-cluttered desktop was not fitting, however. As I write this, I have over 20 windows open. With a 2K screen, I should be able to fit Chrome on one side and Word on the other, but it was not happening. This was easily remedied–the factory settings called for text to display at 150 percent of its size; once down to 100 percent, everything fit onscreen nicely.

Sound and Vision

Through a series of conference calls, the speakers and microphone worked flawlessly–until they didn’t. An external speaker had provided sound superiority with my previous ThinkPad. Before the external speaker, I had to often shout into the computer’s microphone. That is no longer necessary with the X1. The X1 may not be built for blasting music, but for calls and meetings, it’s perfect!

However, there was one moment of panic when no sound emitted except with headphones. A tech support call provided the solution–reinstalling the drivers for the internal speakers. A big Windows update may have been the culprit.

You can maintain your privacy with the sliding camera cover dubbed as ThinkShutter. No more annoying Post-It note cover! (Image courtesy of Lenovo.)
You can maintain your privacy with the sliding camera cover dubbed as ThinkShutter. No more annoying Post-It note cover! (Image courtesy of Lenovo.)

If a work-from-home day has you dressed in less than business casual, you will appreciate a little slider the X1 provides over the camera lens. You will be heard but not seen. 

Battery Life

Lenovo touted the X1 for lasting six to eight hours, but my results varied. On a recent flight, after only a few minutes at altitude, I opened the X1 to see only two and a half hours left, enough to make me fearful and scouring for outlets.

I activated the screen dimmer and voila, the time remaining climbed. On a cross country flight, I used the X1 from an early morning flight from SFO, through a layover in O’Hare, arriving late on Eastern time and still had a little juice left. The X1 may be the first truly portable ThinkPad.

After loading about 90 percent of the software from my old laptop, I did start to see degradation in battery performance. For example, the X1 started to show some bad habits, like staying on even with the screen shut. Also, the X1 started emitting a rather loud whirring after a couple of hours of desktop use–the fan seemed desperate to get rid of heat. It was loud enough to interfere with a conference call. A check underneath revealed the unit to be quite warm. Raising the unit with a pair of pencils underneath provided a workable (albeit an inelegant) solution to the overheating problem by allowing the vents some more breathing room. 

Out of the Box

The unit arrived clean and fully charged. Its bare-bones packaging was no doubt the result of the X1 being a review unit. I’m sure every other user would have more attractive packaging.

The X1 follows the trend of incorporating USB-C in its power adapter. (Image courtesy of Lenovo.)
The X1 follows the trend of incorporating USB-C in its power adapter. (Image courtesy of Lenovo.)

The adapter is smaller than my previous ThinkPad’s; the X1 uses the increasingly common USB-C power adapter. I could have used a USB outlet, however, which I had gotten used to from an aftermarket AC adapter and what the Microsoft Surface supplies.

The fingerprint reader seems to work much better. It recognized me from an index finger scan every time–even better than my iPhone.

ThinkPad Trademarks

The TrackPoint–the ThinkPad lover’s cherry on top. (Image courtesy of Lenovo.)
The TrackPoint–the ThinkPad lover’s cherry on top. (Image courtesy of Lenovo.)

While the keyboard alone is worth the price of admission, ThinkPad fans will appreciate the X1 remaining true with classic touches like the TrackPoint (the little red button that works like a mouse that users of lesser laptops don’t get). Also, the distinct matte black finish not only looks like it means business, but it is easier to grasp than the shiny, slippery aluminum case made popular by the MacBook.

Lenovo has caved into the Apple craze by offering its laptops now with shiny silvery finish. Let us resist.

How Much?

As tested, as configured below and including touch screen, the X1 is listed at about $2,500, but a current promotion by Lenovo brings the price just under $2,000.

Tech Specs

Device Name

LAPTOP-OMQ0RHK7

Processor

Intel Core i7-8550U CPU @ 1.8GHz 1.99 GHz

Installed RAM

8.00GB (7.86GB usable)

System Type

64-bit operating system, x64-based processor

Pen and Touch

Touch support with 10 touch points

Local Storage

238GB

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