Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon Review (2021): Portable, Powerful, and Spendy

Lenovo X1 Carbon is one of the best laptops you can buy. At 2.5 pounds, it is light, thin and very portable. It provides plenty of power for most tasks, battery life all day and – unlike the competition – plenty of ports for all your accessories.

We reviewed the Linux version of the X1 Carbon last year, and everything in this review also applies to the updated version of the machine. The main change for the 2021 X1 Carbon is the transition to 11th generation Intel processors. Oh, and the new, slightly higher screen that now has a 16:10 format, just like the Dell XPS 13.

Carbon Core

The new X1 Carbon is not a design revolution. However, this is a good thing because the design has always been very well done and does not need a makeover. It’s lighter than most of the competition, especially business class laptops like the Dell Latitude, and the soft carbon fiber surface is a Thinkpad feature at this point. It depends on your personal aesthetic, but I’ve always preferred the Thinkpad carbon fiber look over aluminum and titanium laptops.

All the well-known and deservedly famous Thinkpad elements are here: The keyboard is excellent; the red cursor knob is between the G, H, and B keys; and there are three buttons at the top of the trackpad.

There are also plenty of ports. Unlike other ultra-portable ones — I look at you, the XPS 13 and MacBook Air — there are two USB-C Thunderbolt 4 ports, two USB-A ports, an HDMI 2.0 port, a headphone jack, and a Kensington lock jack. The only thing missing is an SD or microSD card slot. Still, a dongle is better than the dozen you need with other laptops.

The most noticeable change in the Gen 9 X1 Carbon is the new 16:10 screen size. Like I said when Dell made the same change to the XPS, you would not think this would be a big deal, but it’s really noticeable in the day to day work.

The extra half-empty screen means there is more vertical space for documents, web pages and spreadsheets, which means less scrolling and generally makes life more comfortable. When I sent the X1 Carbon back to Lenovo, my X250’s 16: 9 screen suddenly felt more cramped. The body size and weight difference compared to the 16: 9 model is negligible and any extra screen you can get out of a laptop is a win for the user.

The model I tested had the FHD + (1920 x 1200 pixels) panel, but there is a 4K option available if you want it. However, the 1080p version has a matte panel, which is a plus if you work in brightly lit situations. It only reaches 365 nits brightness, which is by no means the industry leader, but it was plenty bright enough to sit outside on a summer day and do some work in the sunshine. Unfortunately, there is no OLED screen, which is disappointing.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment, apart from the lack of SD card space, is the 720p webcam. No Lenovo I have used has had an excellent webcam, but this is bad enough that my colleagues commented on how bad it was when I used it for a Zoom meeting. Given the amount of Zoom meetings the average business employee does these days, this seems like a big oversight on Lenovo’s part. To be fair, no computer manufacturer seems willing to put a decent camera in a laptop, so if you really need high quality video, you better have a third-party webcam.

Photo: Lenovo

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