Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 9 Review: Beautiful Design, A Keyboard Like Butter

Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 9 Review: Beautiful Design, A Keyboard Like Butter

Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 9

Design
Features
Value

Summary

One of the best notebook computers we have seen. From the gorgeous display to a best-in-class keyboard, excellent sound, and enough ports to keep most user experiences dongle-free. This is a thin, light, well-designed computer only gets slight markdowns for its legacy pointing stick and 3-button trackpad, along with its mundane power supply, and lack of SD slot.

4.7

I have seen a fair number of high-end notebook computers, either during in-depth reviews or when visiting a PC manufacturer at CES. Of all the laptops, the Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 9 currently takes the top spot. The review unit includes an amazing 3840 x 2400 glossy IPS display and a keyboard to make content and writers swoon.

What we like

Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 9 hero

Design

The Intel® Evo™ platform Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 9 requires superlatives. I have already used beautiful, gorgeous, best-in-class, and excellent. The only negative would be expensive (but that is relative these days when compared to similar devices, and perhaps mitigated by deep discounts during sales).

The X1 sports a carbon fiber pattern lid that leans toward edgy, but more toward cool. The exterior covers a magnesium alloy chassis that keeps the 0.59″ x 12.38″ x 8.72″ X1 stable but light (about 2.5 lbs).

The HP Spectre x360 with its chamfered edges and sleek accent colors comes across as more sporty than the X1, but different vibes for different people.

The display

Did I already say the display was gorgeous? First of all, my review unit included the 3840 x 2400 glossy IPS 14-inch Dolby Vision™ display. I’m sure the various 1920 x 1200 displays are nice, but not this nice. The only downside, for some, but not for me, would be the lack of touch. This screen doesn’t need fingerprints. If you need touch or PrivacyGuard, those options are available in the lower resolution options.

As is the trend, the X1 adopts a more traditional notebook aspect ratio (16:10), slightly above HD’s 1080 horizontal pixels. The display offers just enough additional space to make working on documents more palatable, even if that means letterboxing 16:9 video. This aspect ratio proves a solid productivity design choice.

Built-in Intel Iris® Xe graphics drive on-screen action.

The keyboard

While some reviewers focus on CPU speeds and screen responsiveness, for most business users, a good screen is good enough, as is a decent CPU—but collaboration and content work requires a great keyboard. The nice thing about the X1 Carbon, regardless of screen or CPU everyone gets an outstanding keyboard. Travel. Bounce. The smooth sound of just the right mechanics. I love typing on this machine.

The keyboard also includes collaboration keys for phone and video conferencing and a dedicated function key for entering flight mode.

The processors

My review unit arrived with an 11th Generation Intel® Core™ i7-1185G7 Processor. 4 cores and 8 threads. The processor clocks in at 2.8GHz. Higher-end chips hit 3.00 GHz. My M1 Mac likely outpaces this Intel CPU, but for most general business use, including video conferencing, the i7 and accompanying 16GB of RAM offer plenty of power (for now).

Battery life

Battery life claims via MobileMark report in at 16.7 hours. I did not run battery stress tests but found no issue with all-day use.

The ports

Notebook makers are getting the message: when buyers shell out big bucks for a top-of-the-line notebook computer, they don’t want to turn around and get a dongle to transform limited USB-C slots into useful ports. USB-C is the ideal technology in an all USB-C world, and Thunderbolt kits it to the next level, but we don’t live in a USB-C world.

Thus, the X1 Carbon includes 2 USB-A ports to complete its 2 USB-C ports—one USB-C targeted for power, but it can be used for other things when not charging. A full-size HDMI port, a headphone jack, a Kennsington lock slot, and an optional Nano SIM Slot complete the port configuration. Surprisingly, the unit does not include SD support, which means those uploading from cards will require an SD to USB adapter.

Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 9 ports
Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 9 Port List
  1. Thunderbolt™ 4 power input
  2. Thunderbolt 4
  3. USB-A 3.2 Gen 1
  4. HDMI 2.0
  5. Headphone / mic combo
  6. Optional Nano SIM slot
  7. USB-A 3.2 Gen 1
  8. Kensington lock slot

Connectivity

I had not seen a pop-up before that recognized my new Wi-Fi 6 network explicitly. When I first powered up the X1, it quickly reported to me that it had access to Wi-Fi 6.

Bluetooth 5.2 connects the X1 to external keyboards, mice, and other devices.

The X1 also offers cellular-ready configurations.

As with most other features, Lenovo opted for the latest connectivity implementations on their flagship notebook.

Touch and pen

The review unit did not include touch or pen support, though touch is an available option on a lower resolution display.

Security

The power button doubles as a biometric sensor, supporting simultaneous log-in with power-on.

The front-facing camera supports Microsoft Hello protocols. Human motion-sensing locks the computer when it fails to detect a user, and the Hello facial recognition, supported by the optional IR camera, offers touchless logins.

A Discrete Trusted Platform Module (dTPM) 2.0 chip delivers hardware-based support for security features and encryption.

As noted above, a Kensington lock slot enables physical security options via 3rd-party locks.

Does the design offer a secure piece of hardware that can withstand rough travel? Lenovo says so. They say they put the ThinkPad X1 Carbon through a number of military tests. What they don’t say is if the unit passed enough tests to meet MIL-STD-810G.

To keep prying eyes from reading sensitive content the available PrivacyGuard display permits only forward viewing. The front-facing camera includes a privacy shutter.

A Quick Clean app locks the keyboard and trackpad for the obligatory disinfecting wipe down.

At the planetary security level, the Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 9 gained Entergy Star 9.0 and EPEAT Gold certifications.

Sound

Dolby Atmos® speakers along the edges, as well as downward-facing woofers, make for immersive view experiences, with enough oomph to fill a small conference room. 4, 360-degree far-field microphone support multi-user audio and video scenarios. Dolby Voice professional supports conference room scenarios.

Accessories

The only accessory in the box is a basic 65W AC power supply with a USB-C cable, which does thankfully, offer a long cord for reaching out of the way plugs.

What could be improved

To move beyond the superlatives, as good as the Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 9 is, it isn’t, as their marketing claims, future-proofed.

I would argue any device short of the highest-end platform will be challenged within the first couple of years to remain relevant. Apple and AMD continue to disrupt CPUs, so anything less than top-of-the-line Intel CPUs will likely not meet future performance expectations. The computers may still work, they may even run Windows 11, but they may not work as well as people expect, or deserve.

Other features, like Wi-Fi 6, will retain relevancy over a longer period of time, but good networking with an aging CPU will not future-proof a device. The increased reliance on remote collaboration will force the need for improved video and security. No configuration offers a 1080p or better front-facing camera. It is unclear if the dTPM 2.0 security chip will offer adequate protection given the ongoing evolution of attack vectors.

And as good as the screen is, new technologies and experiments in form factor may leave even the best screen options behind sooner than later. Some mini-LED and OLED screens already challenged the X1’s IPS screen in brightness and color.

On a more tactical level, the Lenovo’s X1 Carbon Gen 8 does arrive with one disappointment, the power supply. HP and Dell spend time on power supply design for high-end notebooks. I would like to see Lenovo do the same.

I have read complaints about the size of the trackpad. Given that I’m always happier with a mouse, an adequate trackpad doesn’t reflect negatively on a device—but I do find the 3-button mouse superfluous, along with the ThinkPad stick.

I’m sure Lenovo did their research on how many people still adore the stick, but even if it is well-loved and enhances some people’s productivity it represents a duplicate feature that ultimately complicates the design, making navigation more difficult to master.

Given the other legacy ports, an SD port would also add value (and make X1 even more dongleless).

Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 9: The Bottom Line

With the Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 9, Lenovo delivers what is perhaps the best laptop on the market. The highest-end model should keep owners happy for several years. The X1 isn’t without its issues, however, which includes the lack of an SD slot, a 720p front-facing camera, and dual mouse alternatives that might confuse some users.

But I will leave with superlatives: the gorgeous screen and outstanding keyboard will be enough to win over well-healed content developers and executives who want the prettiest and lightest laptop in the room.


Lenovo provided the Lenovo X1 Carbon Gen 9 for review. Images courtesy of Lenovo.

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Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.

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