I feel very old when I say this, but we are already in the ninth generation of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon. And there were nine of them for a reason. The X1 Carbon was one of the best business laptops you can get in the past. And that remains the case with its latest iteration as well. Lenovo has made a few tweaks, but other than that, it’s the same ThinkPad excellence we’ve come to expect.
Before we get into pricing, I have to make the usual caveat that Lenovo loves to put absurdly high MSRPs on all of its ThinkPads, but they’re usually available for significantly less. So the base X1 Carbon (the Linux model) has an MSRP of $ 2,336, but is currently available for $ 1,401.60. This model contains a Core i5-1135G7, 8 GB RAM (soldered), 256 GB storage and a 1920 x 1200, 14-inch, 400-nit display without touch. Pre-built models run up to a Core i7-1185G7, 32GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage for $ 3,479 (listed at $ 2,249.40). You can add an infrared camera as well as a touchscreen with Lenovo’s Privacy Guard or a UHD + panel, but these options are only available with the IR webcam. The IR camera can also be equipped with person recognition.
The specific model I tested is currently listed for $ 1,829.40 if you design it on Lenovo’s website ($ 3,049 MSRP). As a complete package, it is listed for $ 2,251.99 at CDW but is currently sold out there. It has a Core i7-1165G7 (a step down from the most expensive chip), 16 GB of RAM, 512 GB of storage, a display without touch function, no vPro and no IR camera. It is verified by Evo, which is the program Intel uses to certify high performance models.
The biggest update of the ThinkPad compared to the X1 Carbon Gen 8 is the new 16:10 display, a feature that Lenovo has added across the board to the ThinkPads of the X series. It offers noticeably more vertical screen space than you see from the 16: 9 Carbon Gen 8, which means less scrolling and less zooming out when multitasking.
Aside from the aspect ratio, the screen on this device is quite good. It has a resolution of 1920 x 1200 and comes with a new technology designed to reduce blue light exposure. My device was a bit dark for the category, reaching 297 nits (it’s rated for 400), but the matte texture meant I still saw very little glare in light interiors and was comfortable to work with. The display produced a good picture with vivid colors, high contrast and sharp details. The screen covers 99 percent of the sRGB color space and 87 percent of the Adobe RGB color space, which is good (although not comparable to what you will see on an OLED panel).
In addition to this display, you get a 400-nit FHD + touchscreen model or a brighter 500-nit FHD + touchscreen option with Lenovo’s Privacy Guard technology, which makes it difficult for potential snoopers to peek at your screen from the sides. (This option does not have a blue light filter.) Then there is a UHD + 500 nit screen with no touchscreen that does does contain the blue light filter and also support Dolby Vision. The FHD + panel is good enough that I don’t think most people should need the UHD panel unless brightness is an issue.
The second thing that was upgraded: the hinge. If you place the Gen 9 next to previous ThinkPad X1 Carbon models, you’ll find that the former now has a single circular hinge that connects the display to the keyboard deck. There are communication antennas inside (so no soundbar hinge, but it is something). I like this build a little more, and it makes the lower bezel look a little less chunky, but people will likely have their own views. Speaking of the lower bezel, the visible Lenovo and X1 Carbon logos that adorned the previous model have now disappeared, creating a slightly more sophisticated and less commercial look.
Third change: touchpad is bigger. 10 percent wider, special. Secure, Reviewers felt that the Gen 8 was a bit small. I’ll say that while the extra width is nice, it’s still a bit narrow in height (probably because it needs to accommodate a number of discreet ThinkPad signature clickers), and I found myself running into plastic a lot while scrolling. Everything else about the touchpad is great, however – it has a fairly smooth texture and an effortless click. The keyboard is also snappy, but a bit loud and the back key squeaked on my model.
The X1 Carbon Gen 9 also features an improved Dolby Atmos audio system. There are new upward radiating speakers on each side of the keyboard. The sound was surprisingly good, with particularly powerful percussion and bass. Dolby Access is preinstalled on the device, with which you can switch between equalizer presets for games, films, music and voice calls as well as user-defined profiles. These made a noticeable difference, although I often find that I prefer to hear music in the movie profile, as the music profile highlights the vocals a little more than I would like.
Finally, the match-on-chip fingerprint reader is now integrated into the power button (it was previously next to the touchpad). Sure, that’s a slightly more comfortable position. The sensor didn’t get my fingerprint every time (possibly because it’s so small now), but generally it worked fine.
If you’re not a fan of the fingerprint reader, you might want to go for a model with an IR camera that supports Windows Hello face recognition. Presence detection allows the computer to automatically wake up when you are nearby and lock when you move away. I didn’t have any of these fancy cameras, but the normal one on my device was usable enough – I looked grainy on my Zoom calls, but generally accurate. There is also a physical webcam shutter, as is common on ThinkPads of this caliber.
Elsewhere, the Carbon Gen 9 shares a lot in common with previous X1 Carbon models. It has the same beautiful black case with all the distinctive ThinkPad functions, from the red TrackPoint to the unique keyboard layout. (Remember: Fn and Ctrl are swapped on ThinkPads.) It’s incredibly thin and light (2.49 pounds, 0.59 inches), yet quite sturdy; According to Lenovo, it has undergone a MILSpec durability test. The X1 Carbon is right up there with Dell’s XPS as one of the best-built laptops you can buy.
Inside, the X1 Carbon now contains 11th generation Intel processors with fully integrated Iris Xe graphics. My test model was a great multitasker with Zoom calls being made smoothly over Spotify streams over heaps of Chrome tabs. Intel’s Core i7-1165G7 offers some of the best performance you can find on a laptop of this size.
You don’t want to rely on the Iris Xe GPU for super graphics, but it can help with all kinds of general video playback, multimedia work, and math tasks. I got through editing a number of photos just fine. Anyone who wants to play a lot has access to similarly priced and similarly built options with GPUs like the Dell XPS 15.
For some raw data, it took the ThinkPad 10 minutes and 22 seconds to export a five-minute, 33-second long 4K video to Adobe Premiere Pro. That’s about 20 seconds faster than what the XPS 13 took with the same processor to do the same job. It was over two minutes slower than the M1 MacBook Pro and lasted twice as long as the Dell XPS 15 with a GTX 1650, just to illustrate how much an entry-level GPU can do.
I couldn’t run the Puget Systems benchmark on Premiere Pro because it kept freezing. Lenovo is investigating the problem but has not yet figured out the cause. Meanwhile, the X1 Carbon tends to score in the mid-200s (248, last) in this test. That doesn’t matter to them either Macbook Probut it beats that XPS 13. Overall, the graphics performance of the ThinkPad is not right at the top of the category, but it is a solid mix.
I didn’t notice any annoying fan noises with the X1 Carbon. I also had no problem using the device on my lap – it got crispy but never uncomfortable. The touchpad and the palm rests were always really cool even under relatively heavy loads. There are no complaints on that front, which is commendable for such a thin device.
Finally, the ThinkPad’s battery (around 200 nits of brightness during my workload with dozens of tabs and frequent YouTube and Spotify in the background) varied a bit depending on the settings. I consistently had over 10 hours of juice when I turned on the Battery Saver profile and enabled Intel’s battery saver features, but I could only see five hours with a more powerful performance profile. I saw an overall average of eight hours and 43 minutes, which is respectable – better than the XPS 15, which I only averaged about six hours on, but worse than the XPS 13, which I averaged over nine hours. I didn’t see any performance degradation from the Battery Saver profile, so I would use it if you needed juice all day. Another advantage: The ThinkPad does not come with McAfee or other crapware that can affect the battery life of consumer models.
Aside from the dimmed screen (and the lack of a more than 500 nits brightness option when a number of business models now offer 1,000 nit options), the still somewhat cramped touchpad, and the squeaky keyboard, I have very few complaints this X1 Carbon. The price is pretty high, of course, so these nitpicks still give me a break.
Lenovo’s new additions – especially the 16:10 screen and upward-facing speakers – are totally welcome, and undoubtedly make the X1 Carbon Gen 9 the best iteration of this device to date. It’s a formula that Lenovo has perfected, combining the world-class engineering of the ThinkPad range with exactly the tweaks it needs to stay excellent in the modern market. While the X1 Carbon may not offer the best value for money for consumers, every business-minded shopper should take a look.
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