Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 review: Two steps forward, one step back

by owner

Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11, which not-confusingly-at-all feature 13th-generation Intel Core processors.
Enlarge / Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11, which not-confusingly-at-all feature 13th-generation Intel Core processors.

Andrew Cunningham

Specs at a glance: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 (As reviewed)
Display 14.0-inch 1920×1200 touchscreen (162 PPI)
OS Windows 11 Pro
CPU Intel Core i7-1355U (2 P-cores, 8 E-cores)
RAM 16GB LPDDR5 5200 MHz (soldered)
GPU Intel Iris Xe (integrated)
Storage 512GB NVMe SSD
Networking Wi-Fi 6E (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.3
Battery 57 Wh
Ports Two Thunderbolt 4, two 5Gbps USB-A, HDMI 2.0b, headphones
Size 8.76×12.43×0.6 inches (222.5×315.6×15.36 mm)
Weight 2.48 lbs (1.12 kg)
Warranty 1-year
Price as reviewed $1,733

Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 Carbon has long been one of our favorite ultrabook designs, combining a generous array of ports, a nice keyboard and trackpad, and a larger-than-typical 14-inch screen into a thin-and-light package.

Last year’s Gen 10 iteration had a major flaw, though—a big step down in battery life, at least partially attributable to a more power-hungry 12th-generation Intel processor. (Yes, before we get any further, Lenovo’s ThinkPad generational designations don’t align with Intel’s processor designation, so a Gen 10 ThinkPad uses a 12th-gen Intel CPU, and the Gen 11 ThinkPad uses a 13th-gen CPU.)

This year’s Gen 11 X1 Carbon refresh mainly has one job: retain all the good stuff about last year’s refresh and the X1 Carbon lineup generally but get the battery life closer to where it was before. The Gen 11 partially does that job. That means the performance gains from last year are negligible (and sometimes even a small step backward). It’s an acceptable sacrifice for improved battery life, and the X1 Carbon is still one of the best all-around portable laptops you can buy. It’s just that the Gen 11 model still can’t quite manage to feel like an across-the-board upgrade from the Gen 9 X1 Carbon from two years ago.

ThinkPad is ThinkPad

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is another in a long line of understated black business laptops.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is another in a long line of understated black business laptops.

Andrew Cunningham

Externally, the new X1 Carbon changes very little, even by the standards of other recent ThinkPad refreshes. There’s nothing externally visible that distinguishes the Gen 11 X1 Carbon from the Gen 10 model; the size and weight, the small bump in the display bezel for the 1080p webcam, the ports, the keyboard, and everything else about the laptop are identical to last year’s version.

To reiterate the reasons to prefer a Carbon to an XPS 13 or a similar 13-inch laptop, the 14-inch screen is slightly larger and more comfortable to work on without adding substantially to the laptop’s size and weight. It’s still nice to have a built-in HDMI port and a pair of USB-A ports in the system without needing to resort to dongles (two Thunderbolt 4 ports mean you get all the benefits of USB-C charging and Thunderbolt transfer speeds, too).

This version of the ThinkPad keyboard is still one of the best you can get in an ultrabook, with relatively comfortable key travel, nice spacing, and an even backlight; there’s a shallower and less-satisfying version that we’ve seen in other ThinkPads, like the Z13 from last year, but that’s not the one being used here. For those who live and die by the TrackPoint nub, it’s present and accounted for; for those who don’t, the trackpad is reasonably large and accurate, though the TrackPoint buttons do cut into the space that would normally be used for a trackpad.

We tested the version of the X1 Carbon with the typical 1920×1200 non-touch display, which has a pleasant matte texture, a peak brightness of 400 nits, and a 1,778:1 contrast ratio as measured by our i1 Display Studio colorimeter (all of these numbers are consistent with our Gen 9 and Gen 10 testing). A touchscreen option, a brighter version with a “PrivacyGuard” filter to keep people from peeking at your screen in an open office or on a plane, a somewhat sharper 2240×1400 option, and a 2800×1800 OLED option are all available, though the basic screen has been more than fine for my day-to-day use. There is no 4K-or-better option, though at this screen size, a 4K panel mostly serves to burn through extra battery without offering many user-visible benefits.

The X1 Carbon's max display brightness is fine but not exceptional, at least with the default display panel.

The X1 Carbon’s max display brightness is fine but not exceptional, at least with the default display panel.

Andrew Cunningham

Everything else about the ThinkPad is either fine (the speakers, the laptop’s attractive but fingerprint-prone soft-touch coating) or good (the webcam, which also includes a physical privacy shutter). These things are also all consistent with X1 Carbon models from the last few years.

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