In two weeks, I learned plenty about the pros and cons of Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch, a high-end Windows 8 ultrabook.
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I'm about to return the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch ultrabook that Intel lent me for review purposes, and I'm not eager to do so. It's a fine piece of hardware. Overall, I've enjoyed using it and wouldn't mind hanging on to it.
That said, there are a some downsides that make the parting a little less sorrowful. Read on for a recap of my first two weeks with the X1 Carbon.
The first thing I noticed: This Windows 8 machine booted straight to desktop mode. (Start Button devotees, rejoice.) That's because my demo came outfitted with Start8, a paid app that enables you to bypass the touch-oriented Start screen that has caused so much commotion in the early days of Microsoft's so-called Modern UI. (Note: Lenovo is not actually shipping the X1 Carbon with Start8 preinstalled.) Without getting off on a Windows 8 tangent, my Start8 experience confirmed that a system option to boot directly to desktop mode -- and opening the Start screen only if and when you want the live tiles UI -- is a no-brainer addition to Windows 8.1. Doing this would enable the best of both worlds rather than forcing a single experience regardless of hardware or use case.
This 64-bit X1 Carbon ran on Windows 8 Professional. While there's a non-touch version of the X1 Carbon, this is the "multi-touch" device that enables full touchscreen capabilities with Windows 8. It has a 14-inch screen, 4 GB of RAM, and an Intel Core i5 processor (1.80-GHz). It also came with full desktop versions of Office 2013.
I did not conduct rigorous performance or durability testing. Rather, I put it through my normal paces -- lots of time at the desk, occasional use around the house, and one quick-turnaround plane trip. (The latter helped test an assumption that this would be a good fit for regular business travelers who want a full-blown PC rather than a tablet.) Here's what I found.
For what it's worth, this a good-looking piece of hardware. It's slim without feeling fragile, and I like the graphite black color. I really liked the keyboard, which is sleek and comfortable without making me feel like I've got hot-dog fingers or otherwise shortchanging the productivity of a traditional keyboard, which is a gripe I have with some of the "ultra" ultrabooks on the market. That speaks to one of my higher compliments of this machine: It strikes a nice balance between modernity and productivity. It lays off the flair in favor of business sense -- a smart choice given the ThinkPad line's historical market. For someone who spends a lot of time typing and reading on-screen, the X1 Carbon delivered a productive work experience.
The X1 Carbon is fast; boot time took just a few seconds, as were shutdowns. Some credit to Windows 8 here: For all of the grumbling about usability, it's speedy. Battery life was strong. I didn't do lab tests but it met expectations based on Lenovo's 8-hour claim.
This is an ultrabook for "PC people" who need to get work done. It paid off on some of the commonly touted benefits of the ultrabook category -- slim hardware, lightweight, fast boot and shutdown times -- without sacrificing screen size, keyboard real estate and other factors. I've found smaller ultrabooks sometimes feel too precious in the sense that they're less comfortable to spend long hours working on, especially if that work involves extensive typing and other kinds of content creation or data entry. There's an 11-inch MacBook Air in my household, for example; it's stylish, fast, and certainly mobile. But the times I've tried using it for extensive work, especially writing work, I grew tired of the keyboard and smaller screen. Not so on the larger X1 Carbon.
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