Lenovo's X1 Carbon Touch Ultrabook: Light, Slick and Expensive

If you like Windows 8 and have lots of room in your budget, you'll love the Lenovo Carbon. But most consumers will find the price and the limitations and complexity of Microsoft's new operating system a turn off.

Lenovo’s X1 Carbon Touch Ultrabook is light, well engineered and fun to use. Too bad it runs Windows 8 and costs a jaw-dropping $1,684 in the configuration I tested.

The Carbon is the latest incarnation of the venerable ThinkPad line of business-oriented laptops invented by IBM years ago. It has the ThinkPad's signature red eraser head pointing device, but you're much more likely to use the large glass touchpad or the 14-inch touchscreen that defines it a Windows 8 PC.

The Carbon illustrates both engineering excellence and the problems Microsoft's newest operating system poses to manufacturers. The ThinkPad's hardware isimpressive but no beyond criticism.

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Battery life is not great, in part the price you pay for a bright, responsive touchscreen. And the ultra-thin profile -- a wedge that’s just under three-quarters of an inch tall at its highest point – leaves only enough room for two USB ports. The glass touchpad has a great feel, but seemed a bit finicky at times. Because internal space is tight, the memory modules are soldered to the motherboard and there are no slots that would let you expand beyond the 4GB of memory already installed.

Many reviewers and users have complained about how confusing it is to use Windows 8, a reimagined operating system that tries to bridge the gap between the conventional desktop and the apps-oriented, touch-enabled world of the tablet and smartphone. If you've made a point of not reading much about Windows 8, you'll be utterly flummoxed by the lack of a start button, and the list of most-used apps and utilities that rise out of it. If you didn't know about the "Charms" bar on the right-hand side of the screen, you wouldn't even know how to turn the machine off.

Although most buyers are probably not that naïve at this point, Lenovo has added its own version of a start button that makes it easier to dive into a new OS. The manufacturer has also included a number of business-friendly security and support features that IT departments will like.  

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Lenovo has done touch typists a big favor by making a subtle, but important, change to the keyboard. The lower edge of each key is rounded instead of squared off, yielding more space between keys and fewer chances to hit the wrong one. The keyboard is backlit, and you can even adjust the brightness of that feature by holding the function key and tapping the space bar.

Excellent built-in speakers are another plus. If you were using the Carbon for a Skype call, you'd have no trouble hearing. I fired up my Pandora station, cranked up the volume and went into another room, and could still enjoy the music. Not bad.

Lenovo claims a battery life of about seven hours. I did not perform a rigorous test, but in casual use I'd say that the five or so hours other reviewers have measured is about right. On the other hand, Lenovo says the battery can be recharged to 70 percent of its capacity in just 30 minutes, and that was my experience.

As I mentioned, the screen is 14 inches, but because of the way it has been packaged, it only takes up the space usually allotted to a 13-inch screen, which keeps the Carbon compact, and weighing in at 3.4 pounds. That's not the lightest laptop on the market, but it's noticeably lighter than many 14-inch laptops that also meet Intel's Ultrabook requirements.

The screen folds down into a horizontal position, which makes it easier to pretend that the Carbon is a tablet. That's handy when it comes to looking at pictures or videos, or cruising the Web, and no doubt, Microsoft and Lenovo would claim that it makes it easy to use the new, cloud-focused touch-enabled version of Office. It doesn’t.

I downloaded Office 365 and as other reviewers have said, using it without a mouse is awkward and exhausting. There's no way you would do that for any length of time, which altogether obviates the point of a touch screen. I mean, why have it if you don’t want to, you know, touch it? At least when you're trying to be productive.

Image source: Lenovo

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