Lenovo’s ThinkPad X1 models have long been a favorite of those looking for high-performance laptops suitable for workhorse use but with a touch of style. Its new 6th generation X1 Carbon and 3rd generation X1 Yoga continue with that trend. Both are equipped with the latest in CPU, display, and storage technologies, but have some important differences. I’ve been switching back and forth between the two of them for the past few weeks getting a good sense of how they compare in regular use.
ThinkPad X1 Specs
Both YogaSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce and CarbonSEEAMAZON_ET_135 See Amazon ET commerce models feature 8th generation Quad-core Intel CPUs (up to an i7-8650U with vPro) and integrated Intel UHD Graphics 620. Memory is LPDDR3 and both systems can be configured with up to 16GB. System drives are PCIe-NVME SSDs and are available in sizes up to 1TB. Both models also feature a 720p webcam with shutter, fingerprint reader, and Dolby Audio Premium.
Display configurations are also fairly similar, including options for either a 1080p or 2560 x 1440 IPS display in both a 300 nit and brighter 500 nit version. However, the Carbon makes multi-touch an option, while it’s standard on the Yoga. Both units have a generous supply of ports — 2 USB 3.1 Gen 1, 2 USB 3.1 Gen 2 / Thunderbolt 3, HDMI, a headphone jack, and an SD card reader. There is also a connector for an external Ethernet dongle. LTE is a factory-installable option for both models.
The biggest difference in specs between the two is their size and weight. The Yoga, because of its full 360-degree hinge and active stylus support, is about a 1/2-pound heavier at 3.08 pounds versus 2.49 pounds for the Carbon. It is also a 1/2-inch deeper, as well as a bit wider and thicker. The Carbon sports a slightly larger battery at 57 Wh versus 54 Wh for the Yoga, but Lenovo claims a similar battery life of up to 15 hours for both models.
Using the Carbon and Yoga as Laptops
I really enjoyed using both of these units as travel laptops. Both have a slightly smaller display than my own Dell XPS 15, but that was more than made up for by the smaller size and two-pounds-lighter weight. For heavy lifting in Photoshop I missed the discrete GPU in my XPS, but for most usage, the integrated Intel 620 graphics provided plenty of power.
As you’d expect from a ThinkPad, the keyboards are solid and very usable, with plenty of key travel. Loyal Trackpoint users will enjoy the inclusion of this classic retro ThinkPad feature. Despite the similar overall specs, placed side by side you can easily see that the Carbon is smaller and lighter than the more-flexible Yoga. Somehow, even with the Carbon’s thin bezels, Lenovo manages to put the camera at the top of the display — even in the models equipped with a 3D camera compatible with Windows Hello. That said, I found the face recognition of Windows Hello to be hit-or-miss, even if I tried to train it both with my glasses on and off.
Running PCMark’s Work and Creative benchmarks showed my top-of-the-line X1 models to measure up really nicely compared with my own 2017 Dell XPS 15, with similar scores. Some of that is the newer CPU and SSD-interconnect in the X1, but some also appear to be because the XPS 15 did a lot more throttling, which affected both its overall CPU performance and probably the added benefit of its Nvidia GTX 1050 GPU. The screens also look every bit as good as the Dell, although they are not full 4K, and might have a slightly smaller color gamut.
Using the X1 Yoga as a Convertible
It’s the 360-degree hinge that makes a Yoga a Yoga. The design of the hinge has gone through a number of iterations, and the newest Yoga has one of the lowest profile versions so far. Despite that, it feels solid and makes it easy to use the machine in “tent” mode for presentations or watching videos. It is also easy to fold all the way over and use the Yoga as a tablet — albeit an ungainly one. The system does help out by making the keyboard disappear into the body of the laptop when you fold it over. The Yoga hinge isn’t strong enough to hold up the display while you write on it with the stylus, so if you want to have the system at a slant (the way you can with a Wacom Cintiq or many Surface models) you’ll need to prop it up yourself.
Lenovo ThinkPad Extras
Business users will appreciate the integrated fingerprint reader, ThinkShutter for the camera, and TPM chip. Lenovo also provides its Vantage app, a system utility that does a good job of helping you diagnose and update the system. I was easily able to update the BIOS on both systems using Vantage. In the past, Lenovo has been criticized for including bloatware and worse on some of its laptops, but I didn’t find any evidence of that with these models. There are some shortcuts to FTP games, but they don’t seem to be pre-downloaded, so they can simply be deleted as desired.
Is a ThinkPad X1 the Right Laptop for You?
If you don’t need a monster screen like you can get in a 4+ pound 15-inch laptop, or searing gaming performance from a discrete GPU like you can get with a Razer or similar models, the ThinkPad X1 covers just about everything else you could want: top-of-the-line current CPUs, excellent displays, tried and true ThinkPad keyboards, Windows Hello support, and up to 16GB of RAM and 1TB of high-performance SSD. Of course, if you need even more memory or storage, then you may want to start looking at portable workstations.