Eight Weeks Later: Living With The Lenovo X1 Carbon Ultrabook

thinkpad-x1-carbon-site-300pxWhile under a different title, this post is the third in a series called A Road Warrior Plans To Shed Some Weight. It describes my thoughts leading to the purchase of an Ultrabook.

It’s been about eight weeks since the Lenovo X1 Carbon arrived. During that time I’ve made three business trips. So I’ve accumulated some experience with the X1 Carbon (hereafter just X1C) both at home and on the road.

The day or two after I placed the order for the X1C I came down with a significant case of buyers remorse. I paid around $1700 for the device, which is without question a lot of money. I had thought that perhaps I was being unduly irresponsible, even for me.

Looking around for both the best price and a specific configuration (i5 CPU, 8 GB memory, 256 GB SSD, Windows 7 Pro) I had placed the order with a dealer on E-bay. I reached out to the dealer to cancel the order but was told that was not possible. The order had been sent onward to Lenovo, who were already about to ship the system.

The initial shipping projections has put delivery at three weeks from the order. In actuality, it was delivered in just over one week. I doubt that would have been possible had I actually required the system that quickly.

The excitement caused by the arrival of the X1 Carbon cast aside the last of my concern about the wisdom of its purchase. It’s a lovely machine. There are several nice video reviews of the X1 Carbon, if you’re interested in such things. While I don’t intend to do a lengthy review, I will share some of the highlights of the first weeks of its use.

The X1 Carbon is physically very nice. The carbon fiber case is quite rigid. It’s feels solid despite weighing in at just under 3 pounds.

The keyboard is pleasant to use. It’s my first experience with a full-sized “chicklet” keyboard. The HP Mini 5102 has a similar keyboard, but at 94% of full size it was nowhere near as nice as a daily drive.

About my only complaint about the keyboard stems from a minor change in the key layout. On every other computer that I have the left Control key is the outside most key on the keyboard.

Lenovo-vs-HP-Key-Layouts

On the X1C it’s the second key from the left. The outer most key being the function key. This difference in keyboard layout has wrought havoc with my cut, paste & copy habit. I suppose that over time I’ll become accustomed to the different keyboard layout.

The backlit keyboard is a real treat. I’ve not had such a convenience before. It’s something that I’ve longed for as it makes typing in a dimly lit room much easier.

Lenovo-X1-Carbon-Backlit-Keyboard

I do find it odd that the keyboard backlight is manually controlled. Given the ubiquity of ambient light sensors in smart phones I would have thought that the keyboard backlight could be automated in such a laptop.

The LCD display is pretty good. It’s LED lit, so quite bright and uniform. The display resolution, 1600 x 900 pixels is an improvement over the 1376 x 1024 pixel display of the HP netbook. It’s nowhere near the source of eyestrain presented by my old laptop, which has a 15.4” display at 1920 x 1080 pixels.

Some in the Lenovo customer forums have complained about the “screen door effect” presented by the display. This is an artifact of the LCD panel and would not be present in an IPS display. I admit that I can see what they describe, but it simply doesn’t bother me.

The X1C has a display port which I used on my most recent business trip. I brought an inexpensive mini-display-port-to-HDMI cable so that I could connect the X1C to the HDTV in my hotel room. This allowed me to watch some TED talks on the 40” HDTV instead of the laptop display.

In truth, the major reason for purchasing that cable is to address those rare times when I need to give a presentation using the X1C. If I end up doing this sort of thing more than occasionally I could see spending a little more for a wireless display connection.

One area where the X1C has been a disappointment is it’s overall size. Not that it’s overly large, because it isn’t. True to the online reviews it has a 14” display in the same form factor as the MacBook Air’s 13” display.

The image below was taken upon a visit to The Micro Center when I was seeking a shoulder bag for the X1C. The sales staff in the Apple area were genuinely intrigued by the idea of a Windows system with many of the physical attributes of the MacBook Air. They are an odd sort of twins, after a fashion.

Lenovo-X1-Carbon-vs-Apple-Macbook-Air

I had been hoping that the X1C would be a little better suited to use while on an aircraft, which was one of the advantages of the wee 10” netbooks. While it’s smaller than my old HP8510W, it’s still too large to be useful while seated in coach.

The X1C has a USB port on either side. One is USB 2.0 and the other USB 3.0, not that it typically matters that much in my world. My most common use for the USB port is to attach portable storage or the adapter for my wireless mouse.

Speaking of the wireless mouse, the trackpad on the X1C is very nice. It’s much better than anything I’ve used from HP. I find that I especially like having buttons at the top and bottom of the  trackpad. Even so, for Photoshop work I prefer to use a mouse.

While the X1C has almost always used Wi-Fi as it’s means of getting online, there has come one time when I might have appreciated a wired Ethernet connection. The X1C does not have a built-in Ethernet interface, so I recently purchased a Plugable USB 2.0 to 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet Network Adapter. For a modest $25 this lets me connect to wired LANs when required.

The combination of Windows 7 and the solid state disk drive (SSD) result in some impressive boot times. The system also returns from hibernation very quickly. It boots so quickly that I’ve somewhat fallen out of the habit of using the hibernation function.

No doubt you’re interested in the battery life. I wish I could be more definitive in this regard. Lenovo claims something on the order of 5 hours of run-time. In my experience it’s less than that, perhaps more like 3.5 – 4 hours. Then again, I tend to like the screen brightness dialed up a bit which is harder on the battery.

I also have the X1C set to merely suspend when the lid is closed, which is the default setting. This  leaves the system drawing more power than would be the case if it fully hibernated, but pays off in that it resumes extremely quickly.

One reservation I had about making the purchase of the X1C was the then pending release Microsoft’s Surface Pro. Ward Mundy of Nerd Vittles was at first very excited about the Surface Pro, but has since revised his opinion of the device. He now recommends the Asus UX31A, which looks to be a fine and more affordable choice in the Ultrabook category.

To this point I am very pleased with the Lenovo X1 Carbon. Given the investment it represents that’s certainly a good thing. Now if only I could completely cast off my old corporate laptop and actually reduce the amount of weight that I carry when I travel. I’m still hopeful that will eventually come to pass.

  • mrtiro

    About the Fn and Ctrl key positions, there may be a BIOS option to swap the functions of those two keys. There is an option on my Thinkpad (T510). It was under Config > Keyboard