Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 Review: Near-Perfect Business Ultraportable Stays the Course – CNET

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8.6

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11

Like


  • Stellar build quality

  • Great compromise between screen size and portability

  • Constructed with recycled materials

  • Awesome keyboard

  • Competitive application performance and long battery life

Don’t like


  • RAM soldered on so can’t expand post-purchase

  • Touchpad is undersized

The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 is the company’s flagship business ultraportable and has become the standard against which other business ultraportables are measured. The 11th generation of the venerable X1 Carbon delivers no surprises or revolutionary upgrades from past iterations, but you don’t choose a ThinkPad for unexpected thrills. You choose a ThinkPad for its dependability, security and stellar build quality that includes an industry-best keyboard. And the latest ThinkPad X1 Carbon delivers on these, supplying a trim yet rugged chassis that’s now a bit greener and still a pleasure to use.

With its 14-inch display and 2.5-pound weight, the laptop sits in the sweet spot of offering enough screen space to work long stretches without needing to connect to an external display, while also being light enough for daily travel. And with lengthy battery life, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 will also let you work long stretches without needing to retreat to a power outlet. Now in its 11th iteration, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon remains our favorite business ultraportable for execs on the go.

Configuration as tested

Price as reviewed $1,589
Display size/resolution 14-inch 1,920 x 1,200; IPS, Anti-Glare, Touch display
CPU 1.7GHz Intel Core i7-1355U
Memory 16GB LP-DDR5 6,400MHz
Graphics 128MB Intel Iris Xe graphics
Storage 512GB SSD
Networking Wi-Fi 6E AX211 2×2 AX vPro® & Bluetooth 5.1
Operating system Microsoft Windows 11 Pro

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 series is based on 13th-gen Intel Core processors and starts at $1,435 in the US. For this price, it offers a Core i5-1335U, 16GB of RAM, integrated Intel Iris Xe graphics, a 512GB SSD, a 1080p webcam, and a 14-inch non-touch display with a 16:10 aspect ratio, 1,920×1,080-pixel resolution and 400-nit rating. Our test system costs $1,589 and features a Core i7-1355U chip and the same display as the baseline model but with touch support. Pricing reflects Lenovo’s current discounts, which are always rotating. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 starts at £1,200.00 in the UK and AU$2,287 in Australia. Although that may seem pricey, its business-centric security options and features and sturdy design add to the cost compared to a consumer laptop. 

In lab testing, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 performed well, but you’ll see in the charts below the penalty you pay in raw performance with the efficient Core i7 U-series processor compared with a high-powered part from Intel’s Core i7 H series or Apple’s powerful M2 processor. That the X1 Carbon Gen 11 trailed the Acer Swift Go 14 with its Core i7-13700H CPU and Apple MacBook Air 15 in testing isn’t surprising, but it was disappointing to see it finish behind the HP Dragonfly Pro, which features an efficient AMD Ryzen 7 U-series chip. That said, the X1 Carbon performed well overall. And it lasted nearly 13 hours on our battery drain test, which was second only to the long-running 15-inch MacBook Air. In general use, it operated quickly and quietly without any hiccups or lags when I attempted to stress it with various multitasking scenarios. 

Lenovo does offer one Core i7 P-series CPU option for the X1 Carbon Gen 11 if you want more performance and would be willing to trade some battery life to get it. Intel’s P series sits between the efficient U series and the high-powered H series. There is no option to upgrade the Intel Iris Xe graphics, and you can’t upgrade the memory post-purchase. The RAM is soldered on, so make sure you get the amount you want up front. Our test laptop featured 16GB of RAM, and you can upgrade to 32GB or 64GB.

Carbon copy

If you thought the ThinkPad X1 Carbon would receive a radical redesign for its 11th birthday, you would be mistaken. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 looks the same as past versions. It’s a boxy, matte-black laptop with red accents and won’t be mistaken for anything other than a ThinkPad. I happen to like this traditional look. It’s like seeing a familiar face at a crowded party or a favorite family member during the holidays. And while it can be described as “boxy,” the X1 Carbon is not clunky or heavy. In fact, I think it’s just about perfect in terms of offering room to work while remaining light enough for daily commutes or long days on the road.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 laptop angled away to show the lid behind the display

Matt Elliott/CNET

Like past models, the X1 Carbon Gen 11 features a carbon-fiber lid, magnesium-alloy keyboard deck and aluminum bottom panel that allows the laptop to be lighter than competing models made primarily from aluminum but without sacrificing strength. It weighs only 2.5 pounds, which is lighter than the 13.6-inch M2 MacBook Air (2.7 pounds) and 13.4-inch Dell XPS 13 (2.6 pounds). And both of those models have smaller displays than the 14-inch X1 Carbon. It’s a full pound lighter than the 3.5-pound, 14-inch MacBook Pro, too. Made from a magnesium-lithium alloy, the 14-inch Asus Expertbook B9450 is lighter at just 2.2 pounds, but its 14-inch display has a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio and isn’t as large as the X1 Carbon’s 16:10 panel. I’d happily tote around a few extra ounces for the added screen space of the X1 Carbon.

The X1 Carbon Gen 11 may not look any different from past models, but Lenovo did make some changes to its construction. This latest X1 Carbon features 90% recycled magnesium in the palm rest and 55% recycled aluminum in the bottom cover. Other components, including the speaker and battery enclosures and power adapter, are made in part from post-consumer recycled content (PCC) plastics. It’s among the first ThinkPad models to include recycled materials, an important consideration for many businesses looking to reduce their carbon footprint.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 laptop at an angle to show the keyboard

Matt Elliott/CNET

A laptop as thin as the X1 Carbon shouldn’t be able to have such a comfortable and plush keyboard. The keys have a soft, buttery feel with a quiet response and yet offer snappy feedback that makes me feel like a fast and accurate typist — a feeling that I can quickly lose touch with on other laptops. The keyboard is also spill-resistant and offers two-level backlighting. My only complaint with the keyboard are the PgUp and PgDn buttons that Lenovo squeezes above the side arrow keys. It took me a few days before I stopped accidentally hitting those when attempting to navigate around a document with the arrow keys.

If you are among the few who prefer mousing via a pointing stick rather than a touchpad, then you’ll be pleased to see the red pencil-eraser nub at the center of the latest ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The only downside to its inclusion is the reduced size of the touchpad. It’s rather narrow from top to bottom to make room for the mouse buttons designed to be used with the pointing stick. And with our test system’s touch display, you have three ways to control the cursor. It’s too bad you can’t lose the pointing stick if you opt for the touch display upgrade.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 laptop has both pointing stick and touchpad

Matt Elliott/CNET

Lenovo offers five display options for the X1 Carbon Gen 11. The baseline display is a 1,920×1,200-pixel, nontouch IPS panel rated for 400 nits of brightness. Our test system has this panel but with touch support. You can also get this display with a brighter, 500-nit rating and Lenovo’s ePrivacy filter that makes it harder for people — say, the passenger squeezed into the middle seat next to you on a redeye — to view your the screen from the side. The other two nontouch display upgrades bump up the resolution: a 2.2K (2,240×1,400) IPS panel and a 2.8K (2,880×1,800) OLED.

Unless you need a touch display, I recommend choosing one of the higher-resolution options. Text was not sharp on our test sample’s 1,920×1,200-pixel IPS panel, with letters looking fuzzy and gray instead of crisp and deep black. Text should look crisper on the 2.2K IPS panel and inky black on the 2.8K OLED option. Both are available for reasonable upcharges. 

No matter which display you choose, it’ll be attached to the rest of the laptop with a hinge that feels overqualified for the job. The single hinge runs nearly the width of the display and offers the perfect amount of resistance. It glides smoothly so that you can make adjustments with just one finger, and it’s strong enough to hold the display firmly in place.

If you do opt for the touch display, you’ll appreciate the antiglare coating that does an admirable job in combating glare and reflections. Many touch displays feature a glossy screen coating that makes viewing the display annoying at best and a nightmare at worst in certain lighting situations. You’ll be able to view the X1 Carbon’s display under bright lights and even outdoors. I confirmed the display’s 400-nit rating; it registered a maximum brightness of 410 nits on my tests with a lux meter. I was able to work outside on a sunny day without squinting at the screen.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 laptop's webcam above the display

Matt Elliott/CNET

Lenovo offers a 1080p webcam on all X1 Carbon Gen 11 models, but our test system’s display upgrade also included an upgrade to the camera that adds IR capabilities. With the IR webcam, you can use facial recognition for easy, secure logins. The power button also doubles as a fingerprint reader, giving you a second biometric option. The webcam produces fairly clean, grain-free images and features a physical privacy cover so you can ensure no prying eyes are watching you when you aren’t on a Zoom call or other video conference. Other security features include self-encrypting SSDs, optional Intel vPro processors, support for Tile tracking, discrete TPM 2.0 and FIDO authentication.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon is designed for getting work done rather than being entertained, but it still offers better-than-average speakers. It features a quad array with two 0.8-watt tweeters and two 2-watt woofers. They produce fuller sound than the typical pair of 2-watt speakers but still fall short of being all that useful for listening to music or even movies. Their sound, however, more than suffices for Zoom calls and work videos.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 laptop's ports include two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C connections

Matt Elliott/CNET

The X1 Carbon Gen 11 eschews the minimalist approach for external connections that many ultraportables take and offers a useful selection of ports. It has two Thunderbolt 4 USB-C ports, two USB-A 3.2 Gen 1 ports, an HDMI 2.1 port and a combo audio jack. It supports the latest Wi-Fi 6E standard, and if you need to stay connected when you’re away from a Wi-Fi network, you can add WWAN connectivity. 

Lenovo has found a winning formula for the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, and I can’t fault the company for sticking with it. I applaud the move to use recycled materials in this, the 11th generation of the product, while maintaining the traditional X1 Carbon fit and feel. It’s solidly constructed yet thin and light with a 14-inch, 16:10 display that’s big enough that I didn’t feel cramped, even during long work stretches. Based on a Core i7 U-series CPU, our test system offered competitive performance and a long running time and stayed cool and quiet during operation. It’s our favorite Windows-based ultraportable for business.

How we test computers

The review process for laptops, desktops, tablets and other computer-like devices consists of two parts: performance testing under controlled conditions in the CNET Labs and extensive hands-on use by our expert reviewers. This includes evaluating a device’s aesthetics, ergonomics and features. A final review verdict is a combination of both objective and subjective judgments. 

The list of benchmarking software we use changes over time as the devices we test evolve. The most important core tests we’re currently running on every compatible computer include: Primate Labs Geekbench 5, Cinebench R23, PCMark 10 and 3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

A more detailed description of each benchmark and how we use it can be found in our How We Test Computers page. 

Geekbench 5 (multicore)

Acer Swift Go 14 (SFG14-71) 11,804HP Dragonfly Pro 9,146Apple MacBook Air 15 9,013Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 8,431Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED UX5304V 7,999Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 10 7,836Asus Expertbook B9450 7,520

Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R23 (multicore)

Acer Swift Go 14 (SFG14-71) 12,789HP Dragonfly Pro 12,696Apple MacBook Air 15 8,721Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 10 8,376Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 8,237Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED UX5304V 6,793Asus Expertbook B9450 5,348

Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited

Apple MacBook Air 15 6,876Acer Swift Go 14 (SFG14-71) 4,116HP Dragonfly Pro 3,790Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED UX5304V 3,780Asus Expertbook B9450 3,633Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 3,563Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 10 3,539

Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Online streaming battery drain test

Apple MacBook Air 15 991Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 775Asus Expertbook B9450 739Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED UX5304V 660Acer Swift Go 14 (SFG14-71) 563Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 10 452HP Dragonfly Pro 449

Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

System configurations

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 Microsoft Windows 11 Pro; 1.7GHz Intel Core i7-1355U; 16GB DDR5 6,400MHz RAM; 128MB Intel Iris Xe graphics; 1TB SSD
Asus Expertbook B9450 Microsoft Windows 11 Pro; 1.7GHz Intel Core i7-1255U; 16GB DDR5 6,400MHz RAM; 128MB Intel Iris Xe graphics; 1TB SSD
Acer Swift Go 14 (SFG14-71) Microsoft Windows 11 Home; 2.4GHz Intel Core i7-13700H; 16GB DDR5 4,766MHz RAM; 128MB Intel Iris Xe graphics; 512GB SSD
HP Dragonfly Pro Microsoft Windows 11 Home; 2.7 AMD Ryzen 7 7736U; 16GB DDR5 6,400MHz; 512MB AMD Radeon graphics; 512GB SSD
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 10 Microsoft WIndows 11 Pro; 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-1265U; 16GB DDR5 6,400MHz; 128MB Intel Iris Xe graphics; 1TB SSD
Asus ZenBook S 13 OLED UX5304V MIcrosoft Windows 11 Pro; 1.7GHz Intel Core i7-1355U; 32GB DDR5 RAM; 128MB Intel Iris Xe graphics; 1TB SSD
Apple MacBook Air 15 Apple MacOS 13.4.1 Ventura; 3.4GHz Apple M2; 16GB DDR5 RAM; Integrated 10-Core GPU; 512GB SSD

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