Lenovo X1 Carbon - Thoughts after 6 Months

Earlier this year, I bought a new laptop which is my daily workhorse. I don’t own any other computers or tablets. I decided to put my ramblings in to a post below. This is not a technical review of the laptop or going in to benchmarks or different customisations, there’s plenty of that available online in “formal” reviews.

For the past couple of years, I have used a Microsoft Surface Pro as my main computer. I started with a Surface Pro 3 when I was working for a University, and when I moved jobs to a Managed Services Provider, I thought I was happy with what I had and so I purchased a Surface Pro 4 with the dock and Type Cover. After using it extensively for the first 9 months in my new position, I kept realising I was unhappy with my decision, to the point where I was ok with admitting it to myself. There were a few key reasons for this, but the major ones were keyboard, kickstand and DPI scaling. I also made this mistake of purchasing a model with 8GB of RAM. I was constantly maxxing this out, sometimes without even running a couple of local virtual machines that we usually require in the MSP role. I also quite consistently had docking issues with the SP4. I had the newest dock available at the time, but on occasion one or both of my monitors wouldn’t get detected. I was often trying to redock, or at times even had to unplug the Display Port cables from the back of the monitors so they were detected properly. Alas, I made the decision to move back to a ‘traditional’ laptop. This was in around April 2017.

I’d been keeping an eye on things over the first few months in 2017 and knew that a few new releases and refreshes of models were due at the start of the year, due to the release of the new Intel processor and also following on from CES.

The main machine in my sight was the Dell XPS. For a long time it is known as being the best of the best when it comes to ultrabooks, but I was having a hard time justifying the price for the spec I needed when there was no sale on. I wasn’t fond of the webcam placement either, and being 100% remote worker I do often use the camera to enhance the interaction experience. I also decided early on to pass on anything Apple related. I’d just end up running windows anyway, and the limited connectivity was not something I was fond of, nor was the price point for most of the models I was looking at.

I was familiar with the Lenovo Yoga, and even though it gets great reviews I still didn’t want a ‘hybrid’. And then I came across the Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 5. I couldn’t believe I was seriously considering an IBM/Lenovo laptop. I’m not sure why, but I’d never been fond of them. But after checking the specs on the X1 Carbon, I knew this was going to be one of the machines at the top of my list. The specs were perfect. A 14" screen in the footprint of a 13" machine. Wide selection of processors, 16GB ram available and nice connectivity on the laptop itself without going over the top. As I tend to do, I read reviews from the first few pages on Google, and I couldn’t find a bad thing being said about this machine. It was often compared to the XPS, and some trusted reviewers placed the X1 Carbon at the top of the list for Ultrabooks.

When I made the purchase back in May 2017, there were two codes available online. LENOVO15 (15% off when spending over $1500) and LENOVO20 (20% off when spending over$2500). There was also a promotion where the USB-C dock, which I required, was $1 when purchasing an X1 Carbon, instead of the usual$279(ish).

My original spec came to around $2250AUD, and applying LENOVO15 got me down to around$1950AUD. I then realised that if I specced up the laptop a bit more and ‘spent’ over $2500, that I could use LENOVO20, brining my buy price down to just over$2k. I decided to up the processor to the top i5 being offered, and put in a 512GB NVMe SSD. The spec of the machine I ended up with in addition to the standard options was:

• Core i5-7300U 2.60GHz
• 16GB RAM
• 512GB PCIe-NVMe SSD
• USB-C Dock

I chose to stick with the one year warranty, but I will add an extended warranty on every year so I’m covered moving forward. We use BYOD for work so I need to ensure I’m covered as damage or fault to the laptop would end up putting me out of pocket.

At first, like some reviews have said, when pulling this out of the box, you wonder if the battery is even included. It is light, thin and has a professional look about it. Opening up the lid, I noticed the hinges are strong, not flimsy with the screen bouncing around when you let it go like some cheaper laptops I’ve used in the past.

I got the laptop set up, updated and got my basic suite of apps installed and configured just how I like it. From there, I took an image of the machine and saved it off on my NAS using Acronis True Image. My aim was to regularly roll back to this image every couple of months just to ensure I’m running a clean build with no nasties. SO far I’ve had the laptop for 6 months and I’ve done a roll back twice. There are a couple of things I’ve needed to tweak or add each time, but the process works well. Within about 25 minutes, I’m back to a clean day 1 build of the machine.

The keyboard. Everyone raved about the keyboard on the X1 Carbon (including previous generations). When I saw this I was like, “yeah, ok. I’m sure it’s fine”. I’ve used the laptop heavily over the past 6 months which has included quite a lot of travel, and the keyboard is everything it is cracked up to be. I wrote the bulk of this post on a flight to Auckland from AUS. There was no way I would be doing this comfortably if I still had the Surface Pro.

Battery Life. This bad boy lives up to my expectations. The battery life is fantastic. I’m sure the advertised 15.5 hours has some caveats, but I can easily get a full work day out of the battery no issues at all. The other nice feature is the fast charging of the battery. Lenovo claim that it can charge from 0% to 80% in 60 minutes, and I would agree.

The Dock. The dock that I purchased is a USB-C dock. I was originally a tad hesitant because I had flashbacks to 5-7 years ago trying to get USB2 docks for customers who “cheaped out” to work properly, but then I soon realised this is the new norm, and that my last experience with USB docks was a long time ago, across a much older and slower protocol (USB2). The dock allows me to drive my 2 Dell 24" Full HD monitors as well as the laptop screen at the same time, which is the maximum requirement I have. The remaining connectivity is quite good, with plenty of USB ports (some specifically for charging devices). I had several issues with the Surface Pro 4 dock and getting it to pick up both monitors after sleep mode. Not once in 6 months have I had an issue with the Lenovo dock, and I dock and undock my machine every, single, day.

Things I initially didn’t like:

The first time I used it at night, I realised there was no backlight on the keyboard when I started typing. Oh no, I thought. I quite often work in not well-lit areas and a backlit keyboard is essential. I thought to myself, “I don’t remember seeing this as a ‘con’ in any of the reviews”. So I got up and turned the light on to inspect the function keys, and then I noticed a familiar icon on the keyboard. Hooray! Function + space bar turns on the backlight on the keyboard. I’ve also since found out that this can be controlled in software using the Lenovo Settings as well (launched by default with function + F9). I’m very used to this now, but it would be nice if this came on automatically when typing.

Next thing was the location of the left Control key on the keyboard. I’m used to the far bottom left key being Control, but on the X1 carbon it is the function key. The control key is one key to the right, usually where I would think the function key would be. Turns out I use a lot of Control+Something commands, and I kept reaching for function. Damn, this was going to take some adjusting. A few days after owning the machine, I was having a good look through the Lenovo Settings program and came across this option:

Aha! They’d either planned for this from day one, or I’m not alone and they received enough complaints to have the option to switch these keys in software. Fantastic. I made the change and it has been fine ever since.

All in all, I am extremely happy with this laptop and would recommend (and have) to anyone looking to purchase an Ultrabook, especially those that travel often and need a reliable workhorse in the backpack with them. If you are in the market, check out some reviews and videos of the X1 Carbon, I don’t think you will be disappointed!