Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 (2021): A Superlative Aspirational System
PC Magazine|September 2021
We won’t try to keep you in suspense. When we reviewed last year’s model, we called the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon the best laptop in the world—though we later decided it shared that title with the Dell XPS 13 OLED—and it hasn’t done anything in its latest revision to change that state of affairs. The X1 Carbon Gen 9 catches up with the Dell and other elite ultraportables by moving to an 11th Generation Intel “Tiger Lake” Core processor and a slightly taller 16:10 rather than 16:9 screen aspect ratio. Its premium price and lack of an SD card slot still knock half a star off what would otherwise be a perfect five-star rating, but it effortlessly collects yet another Editors’ Choice award as the most desirable executive notebook on Earth.
ERIC GREVSTAD

A MATTE-BLACK CLASSIC

Corporations that buy in bulk get discounts, but single-purchase pricing for the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is all over the map. Lenovo lists a base Core i5 model at $1,475. Meanwhile, $2,197 is the second-lowest price we found online for our test unit (model 20XW004DUS) with a Core i7-1165G7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB NVMe solid-state drive. But other retailers have it for $2,500 and up, and when we tried configuring one like it at Lenovo.com, it came to $3,169 with a temporary coupon cutting it to $1,901. When you look, the situation will likely be different still.

Lenovo gives you four-screen choices, all with IPS instead of OLED technology and backed by Intel’s Iris Xe integrated graphics. Three have 1,920-by-1,200pixel resolution: our review unit’s 400-nit non-touch panel, a touch screen with the same brightness, and a 500-nit touch display with a PrivacyGuard filter (meant to keep airline seatmates from snooping). The fourth is a 500-nit glossy panel with 3,840-by-2,400-pixel resolution. Lenovo says all but the PrivacyGuard screen feature reduced blue-light emission to ease eye strain.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 (2021)

PROS

Flawless design and engineering. World-class keyboard. HDMI and USB-A ports, as well as Thunderbolt 4. Available 4G or 5G mobile broadband. Clever, sanitizing-friendly Quick Clean function. Excellent battery life.

CONS

Expensive. No OLED screen option. No SD or microSD card slot.

BOTTOM LINE

There’s one ultraportable we admire as much (the Dell XPS 13 OLED), but there’s no business laptop we admire more than Lenovo’s latest ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

A slightly bigger battery makes the Gen 9 Carbon an ounce or two heavier than its predecessor at 2.49 pounds. Its matte-black carbon-fiber and magnesium-alloy chassis (the high-res screen has a carbon-fiber weave lid) has passed MILSTD 810G torture tests for shock, vibration, and environmental extremes and measures 0.59 by 12.4 by 8.7 inches. That is quite trim for a 14-inch laptop. The Dell Latitude 7420 is 0.68 by 12.7 by 8.2 inches and 2.7 pounds, though it’s possible to get trimmer at this screen size; the Asus ExpertBook B9450CEA is lighter at 0.59 by 12.6 by 8 inches and 2.2 pounds.

Some ultraportables, including the XPS 13 and Apple MacBook Air M1, have only Thunderbolt 3 or 4 ports, obliging you to use an adapter or dongle to plug in an external monitor or USB Type-A drive. The ThinkPad puts them to shame: There are two Thunderbolt 4 ports on the left side, but HDMI and USB-A 3.2 ports as well, and a second USB-A port joins an audio jack and security lock slot on the right. Also unlike the XPS 13, the Carbon offers optional 4G ($164) or 5G ($462) LTE for connectivity when there’s no hotspot for its Wi-Fi 6.

DISPLAY AND KEYBOARD: TREATS FOR EYES AND FINGERS

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