We’ve always been quite fond of Lenovo’s Thinkpad X1 Carbon ultrabook but the last release has been getting a bit long in the tooth. The updated-for-2014 model of Lenovo’s top-end ultrabook just happened to land in our lap and it has won the hearts of the Stuff team all over again, despite having Windows 8.1 installed right off the bat. The operating system must be growing on us.
Visually there isn’t much of a change between the updated X1 Carbon and the previous incarnations, at least from a design standpoint. Matte black carbon fibre is the order of the day all round and this contributes to the lightweight feel of the notebook as well as the very thin profile.
There is one large change in the keyboard, which now has a multi-function LED touch strip at the top of the keys which has taken the place of the more usual Function inputs. Lenovo has called “First” on this feature, which lets users switch between media, web browsing, video chat and the more usual F1 through F12 keys with a touch on the left side of the strip. The idea behind this is fantastic and the quick-swapping LED keys are very responsive, though it’s often hard to see which selection you have active thanks to the muted design. Another problem is the backspace key, which has been made smaller and placed next to the delete key. We’ve lost count how many times we accidentally hit the wrong key.
Peering under the hood of the 2014 Carbon shows some speedy tech inside. Intel’s Core i7-4550U has pride of place and there is a tidy 8GB of system memory tucked away in there as well. Graphics are handled by Intel’s embedded HD Graphics 5000 solution and Lenovo had opted for a 256GB solid state hard drive in the model that Stuff had to play with. That explains the speedy boot-up time. We wouldn’t have argued with some third-party graphics but there’s no way that Lenovo could have done that and still kept the Carbon as skinny as it it.
The stock graphics are no cause for complaint though, even on the QHD touchscreen display that the review unit was fitted with. A resolution of 2,560 x 1,440 is not to be messed with, though seeing Windows 8.1 running on a display as bright and as clear as the one Lenovo used will mess with your eyes a little at first, especially on text-heavy pages. We’re probably just not used to this sort of clarity in a 14-inch Windows laptop.
We definitely weren’t expecting gesture and voice control, two gimmicky features that (sometimes/sorta) work but leave something to be desired. Users can activate either by using the adaptive key row, which has options to start either up, and then swipe through songs when they are listening, control movie playback and also move through PowerPoint presentations. When it works. Gesture control, which uses the X1’s webcam to detect hand motions, isn’t as finicky as the voice recognition however, which apparently isn’t anywhere near as fast as just performing a procedure manually. We couldn’t convince it to function at all.
Connectivity is something that Lenovo have not neglected. The 802.11 a/c WiFi standard is supported, Bluetooth is a given and there’s also space for a SIM card in case you’re keen on carting your own 3G around. Biometric access, HDMI-out, and USB 3.0 have all also been included for this configuration.
The adaptive key row is an interesting and sometime useful addition, though it can be frustrating when you’re not sure which set of functions is selected. The gesture and voice control isn’t nearly as useful as we’d like but the overall hardware update and (our personal highlight) the QHD touchscreen display more than make up for that. Lenovo has brought the X1 Carbon back, admittedly with some features you’ll never use, but rather too much than too little. Right? Unfortunately everything here comes at a price – the new X1 will set you back around R33,000 but it’s all worth it at the end of the day.