Lenovo’s eighth-generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon checks a lot of the boxes buyers have when shopping for a new laptop. It’s been that way for years, with clamshell ThinkPads winning plenty of awards over the past few decades. The X1 Carbon follows in that vein by offering a very solid laptop experience for the money you pay. It’s not perfect, but what laptop is?
I’ve been testing the X1 Carbon for a couple of months on and off with other machines I have, and I definitely get why so many people like it. As far as traditional laptops go, this laptop deserves to sit near the top. It’s undoubtedly a laptop you should think about buying by default. It isn’t the default laptop for everyone, but certainly a default laptop for certain people.
One glance at the X1 Carbon is all it takes to determine that it’s a ThinkPad. Not only does Lenovo slap its ThinkPad X1 branding right on the lid, but the entire machine is black carbon fiber. There aren’t a lot of other laptops that offer a design like that, so if you’re a fan you’ll have to shop ThinkPad.
The carbon fiber is reinforced with magnesium for sturdiness, so there’s no flexing or bending when you start twisting the lid and base of the machine. The overall construction of the 8th-gen X1 Carbon is extremely solid while also being lightweight at just 2.4 pounds. I’ve carried the laptop around in my backpack during my testing period and you barely notice it because of its weight. It’s a nice change of pace compared to the aluminum laptops I usually carry to the office.
Lenovo also put the X1 Carbon through some pretty rigorous tests. The company touts the X1 Carbon meets MIL-STD 810G standards which will help with cold temperatures, dirt, dust, and accidental drops. While the carbon fiber enclosure might look plain, it’s at least functional in this aspect.
Looking around the laptop, Lenovo included a nice array of ports. There are two USB-C ports, a mini Ethernet port, two USB-A ports, an HDMI port, and a headphone jack. That should be enough for just about any casual laptop user. If your workload demands more, there’s no shortage of adapters to purchase on the internet.
The power button is on the right side of the machine along with some air vents, while a SIM tray sits at the back. Lenovo sent me the LTE version of the X1 Carbon, but for some reason I couldn’t get it to work with my Google Fi data SIM.
When you open the lid, you’ll find it can lay flat on a table. However, it’s still a traditional laptop so it doesn’t rotate 180 degrees or anything. The display is coated in a matte finish with pretty pronounced bezels, while below it sits the keyboard/trackpad combo and speaker grille.
Overall, I like this design. It’s extremely similar to basically every past ThinkPad, and some may find that boring. If you want something more exciting, you should look at the ThinkPad X1 Yoga which flips around and comes with an aluminum build. But if you’re cool with a plan black laptop that’s lightweight and durable, you’ll probably like the X1 Carbon.
The screen on the X1 Carbon is perfectly fine. All Gen 8 X1 Carbons ship with a 14-inch panel. Mine came with a 1080p resolution which is suitable for everyday tasks. However, 1080p is starting to become an outdated resolution for laptops. You can get a model with a QHD or 4K resolution instead, and while that’ll drain your battery more, I think it’d be worth it since everything will be a bit sharper and easier to see.
Regardless, the display on my X1 Carbon has been just fine. It gets pretty bright in direct sunlight, and the matte finish helps avoid glare. Color reproduction could be a bit better along with off-axis viewing, but since the X1 Carbon’s a business-focused machine I can forgive these pitfalls.
Keyboard and trackpad
Like I mentioned earlier, below the screen are the keyboard and trackpad. I’ve always been a fan of ThinkPad keyboards thanks to their fantastic key travel and comfort, and the X1 Carbon’s keyboard is no exception. You’ll truly enjoy typing on this machine.
The X1 Carbon also adds some new controls in the Function row for answering video calls through apps like Skype. In the age of handling almost all business virtually, these keys definitely come in handy.
As far as the trackpad goes, it’s pretty good. It’s not as smooth as a glass trackpad, but it gets the job done. You still get physical left/right mouse buttons along with the TrackPoint in the middle of the keyboard.
I know there’s a strong fan base for the TrackPoint so I won’t ask for its removal, but to me it’s unnecessary. I’ve never really been in a situation where I don’t have room to reach my hand down to the trackpad to use the cursor. And like millions of others, I’ve developed a habit of just reaching below the space bar to move the mouse. I totally understand the appeal, though – you can just move an index finger to the left or right and move the mouse. I’ve simply never been able to get accustomed to doing that.
But hey, that’s just me.
Next to the trackpad is a fingerprint sensor that works with Windows Hello for a secure way to log-in. You also get facial recognition thanks to IR sensors in the top bezel of the laptop. And for the paranoid, Lenovo includes its ThinkShutter web cam cover that physically blocks your webcam, just in case you think you’re being spied on by a hacker.
Lenovo sent me the X1 Carbon with a 10th-generation Intel Core i5 10210U processor. It’s a fine chip, one that can handle everyday tasks like document writing, checking email, and listening to music. It’s not designed for anything too crazy, but it’s more than capable of juggling basic tasks throughout your day.
When you start throwing heavier things at it, the X1 Carbon tends to choke. Adobe Lightroom with a few Microsoft Edge tabs and Spotify in the background is enough to introduce quite a few stutters. Of course, this may also be because the laptop I got came with just 8GB of RAM. I think you should get 16GB of RAM whenever you can – it just makes a huge difference. There’s an option for that when you buy the X1 Carbon, so save a few extra bucks and get the upgrade.
My unit also came with a 256GB PCIe SSD for storage. This is another area where I think spending more money is the right move. There’s an option for a 512GB SSD, and that’s the one I’d get. However, if you tend to do a lot of cloud computing, you could probably get away with the lower storage tier.
All in all, I don’t expect anyone to have any serious issues with performance from this version of the X1 Carbon Gen 8. It’s the cheapest model you can buy, and for the money you spend (which is about $1,000 depending on where you buy it), it’s quite good.
It’s also very self-aware, if you will. This version of the ThinkPad isn’t built for handling heavy workloads, and that’s the point; you’re supposed to do laptop things on it, because it’s a laptop. That’s especially true when you consider business people are its target demographic.
My everyday workload requires more powerful hardware, and I’m sure a more expensive version of the X1 Carbon would help. But maybe you’re not running Microsoft Publisher, Lightroom, Photoshop, Spotify, and Outlook all day. If that’s the case, you’ll be just fine.
Battery life on the X1 Carbon Gen 8 is nothing to rave about, unfortunately. I’m averaging about 6-7 hours of usage every day with mixed use, in spite of Lenovo’s claims of up to 19.5 hours of usage on a single charge. If I’m careful, I can probably get up to eight hours of usage, but I have to not open Lightroom or Google Chrome for that to happen. I’m not sure what Lenovo was smoking when they published that “19.5 hours” figure, but you likely won’t get anywhere near that endurance.
Luckily, the 65W charger that comes in the box can juice the 51W battery up to 80 percent in under an hour. So when you inevitably run out of power, it won’t take long to recharge.
Unless you buy one of Lenovo’s Yoga laptops (not including the ThinkPad X1 Yoga), you won’t get great speaker quality, and that’s the reality of the X1 Carbon’s audio situation. The speaker grille above the keyboard and the two downward-firing units below the base eek out tinny audio mixed with plenty of distortion at higher volumes. Nothing about these speakers impressed me, so thank God that headphone jack is there.
The 8th-gen ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a perfectly suitable everyday laptop. It offers good performance, a decent screen, manageable battery life, a durable design, and plenty of IO. This makes the machine a good default laptop to consider. If all you want is a laptop, the X1 Carbon is worth looking into.
Keep in mind, you won’t be blown away by basically anything on this device. Everything’s pretty average, but it manages to get the basics right. Like I said, the X1 Carbon isn’t designed to take on heavy tasks like video editing and gaming. It’s meant to do laptop things like check email, write documents, and even do some light photo editing.