Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon Ultrabook Review

Author: SKYMTL
Date: January 5, 2013
Product Name: ThinkPad X1 Carbon
Warranty: 1 Year (upgrades available)
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Keyboard & Touchpad

Over the last few years we’ve seen subtle yet tasteful updates to the chassis of ThinkPad models but the Precision keyboard’s layout, key type and overall design had remained steadfastly the same. People loved it, often stating it was the best around. Now things have changed.

Gone is the old chiclet style layout and in its place is an island style design which uses individually contoured keys with a “smile”-like shape. These keys also have a slightly concave shape which hugs your fingers and completely eliminates slipping. According to Lenovo, the unique, large keys are supposed to cut down on errors and improve accuracy while also maximizing the keyboard’s overall area.

By promising vast improvements over previous –nearly perfect- designs, Lenovo may be making some lofty claims, but the X1 Carbon’s keyboard is –in my opinion at least- simply spectacular. The soft-touch palm rests do help with the typing process but the X1’s newly minted keys are the stars of this particular show. They offer just the right amount of tactile feedback without feeling overly springy and touch typists will be pleased with the generous distances between each “island”. I found the slightly curved bottom edge actually helped with typing speed since it expanded the sweet spot of every key, ensuring the expanded size is being put to good use. Meanwhile, the massive Enter and Shift buttons were a godsend throughout the testing process. Is it better than past attempts to create the perfect notebook keyboard? I’d say so but that’s just a subjective opinion from someone that types more than 20,000 words per week.

While Lenovo’s key engineering may be head and shoulders above the competition, after using the X1 for the better part of three weeks, I feel certain areas still need attention. The fingerprint reader is just horribly placed and will constantly mistake your palm for an attempted access request (it can be disabled easily enough), the left Function and Control buttons’ positioning is reversed and the Page Up and Page Down locations next to the direction keys will be hugely frustrating for casual gamers and professionals alike. In addition, the contoured key surface does take some getting used to as the concave shape self-centers your fingertips, causing an odd sensation for first-time users.

The X1 Carbon’s keyboard is backstopped with a variable backlight which is controlled by pressing the Function key along with the space bar. Unfortunately, even on the lowest setting, it gobbles up power and significantly reduces battery life.

Directly below the X1’s screen bezel lies a small plastic area which houses the audio controls and mute buttons for the mic / headphone jack and integrated speakers. There’s also a center-mounted control that brings up Lenovo’s SimpleTap operating system wrapper which essentially provides a predominantly icon-centric experience that replicates tablet interactions on notebooks without a touchscreen.

Lenovo’s handy TrackPoint makes a comeback on this Ultrabook and we couldn’t be happier for its inclusion. The patented TrackPoint’s primary mission is to provide an alternate form of onscreen pointer input through the use of a center-mounted red “joystick” and a trio of buttons located below the space bar. It excels in granting lightning quick access to cursor movements when typing, has been well integrated and I preferred using it over the buttonless touchpad.

Speaking of the touchpad, while it doesn’t house any physical buttons, the lower portion has two integrated areas which replicate left and right click areas and provide adequate feedback. The size and surface resistance are perfect, ensuring proper gesture controls for both Windows 7 and Windows 8. Unlike other examples, it rarely misstepped during multi touch testing which is a testament to Lenovo’s engineering, though I would have preferred the integration of physical buttons.

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