In two weeks, I learned plenty about the pros and cons of Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch, a high-end Windows 8 ultrabook.
The touchscreen experience on a relatively traditional laptop grew on me a bit during this test. It never quite moved past "nice-to-have," and I'm still skeptical of its widespread business value on the PC (versus tablets and smartphones). The only times I used touch in Microsoft Word, for instance, was simply for the novelty. Even in touch-friendlier applications like a Web browser, I didn't find tons of additional benefit relative to the keyboard-and-mouse interface. When in Start mode or the Windows Store, however, I actually found touch easier to use than the touchpad.
This revealed a significant problem, though: The X1 Carbon's screen wobbles when using touch unless you're being especially gentle -- and even then, there's some give. This was especially true for any tapping functions. Maybe I'm just clumsy, but this ultimately hindered the touchscreen experience -- and it's an issue that simply doesn't come up on most smartphones and tablets.
The X1 isn't a convertible like some Windows 8 devices in that it doesn't flip or otherwise transform into "tablet mode." Its monitor will fold flat against a desk or table -- which removes the wobbling -- but I didn't find much practical use for this feature in my own day-to-day use.
Another drawback will vary from user to user: This is an expensive machine. It starts at more than $1,349 direct from Lenovo. (For sake of comparison, that tops the $1,199 starting price of the 13-inch MacBook Air.) Budgets vary, of course, and if yours is large or unlimited you might not blink at the price tag. I blinked. Stack this next to a well-built Windows 7 laptop that might run half that cost, and the X1 Carbon would certainly win the "cool" vote. But in the practical categories, budget among them, I'm not sure there's a clear upgrade for most people, especially if the touchscreen is more "nice to have" than "necessary for use." It's a solid machine; I'm just not sure it's a $1,349-plus machine, unless price is no object or your employer will pick up the tab.
The Ideal Users
This PC is well-suited for road warriors and other highly mobile workers. It traveled well while retaining the "real" laptop experience and performance, both in the office and on the go. It was reasonably comfortable to use on an airplane seatback tray, even on a short-hop puddle jumper. The pound-and-a-half or so weight difference from my regular laptop was actually noticeable in the carrying case -- especially when I had to do my best Usain Bolt impression through the terminal to avoid missing my return flight.
As an ultrabook, it's a good fit for people who are, well, unsure about ultrabooks. It's a nice middle ground between the "old" PC and newer form factors. (In a twist, a person next to me on one of my flights began working on an older, heftier ThinkPad. I instantly felt younger and cooler with my X1 Carbon. Alas, the feeling didn't last.) Executives who want a high-end laptop might also make a good fit; the price tag matches that market, too.
The Bottom Line
This is a very good PC that I'd like to have in my arsenal -- if only someone else would foot the bill.
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