Monday, May 27, 2024

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 Review: Flagship Business Laptop Now Ultra Expensive

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Pros

  • Incredibly compact and lightweight yet durable
  • Beautiful OLED display
  • Excellent ThinkPad keyboard

Cons

  • Incredibly expensive
  • Battery life isn’t great
  • Baseline touchpad is undersized and lacks haptics

Lenovo took its flagship business ultraportable and made it even more ultra-portable with this year’s model while updating its internals to Intel Core Ultra processors. However, it’s now also ultra-expensive. 

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 is trimmer and lighter than last year’s Gen 11 model — which was already pretty trim and light — and still maintains its excellent overall build quality. The biggest cosmetic change is the lip that protrudes from the middle of the top of the display. This extra room around the webcam allows for a thinner display bezel elsewhere above the display and a more compact chassis. The mechanical touchpad is slightly larger on this year’s model but still feels undersized. 

Even among premium business laptops that are always more expensive than premium consumer models, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 is ridiculously expensive. Lenovo has increased pricing from previous Gen 11 to Gen 12 models to where we’ve reached a point where the latest ThinkPad X1 Carbon is no longer our recommendation for business execs unless your organization is large enough to qualify for volume pricing. For individual buyers, it’s simply too expensive for the performance and battery life it provides. 

The previous ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 or the AMD-based ThinkPad Z13 Gen 2 are more reasonably priced and better buys. We also like HP Dragonfly G4 for business buyers, even though HP has yet to update it with Core Ultra parts.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12

Price as reviewed $2,322
Display size/resolution 14-inch 2880×1800 120Hz OLED display
CPU Intel Core Ultra 7 155H
Memory 32GB LPDDR5 6400MHz RAM (soldered)
Graphics Intel Arc
Storage 1TB SSD
Ports 2x Thunderbolt 4 USB-C, 2x USB-A 3.2 Gen 1, HDMI 2.1, combo audio
Networking Wi-Fi 6E AX211 (2×2) and Bluetooth 5.1
Operating system Windows 11 Home 23H2
Weight 2.4 pounds (1.1 kg)

Our test system checks in at a hefty $2,322 for a configuration with a Core Ultra 7 155H, 32GB of RAM, integrated Intel Arc graphics, a 1TB SSD and a 14-inch, 2.8K OLED display. The laptops we usually see with prices north of $2,000 are high-end gaming and content creation systems with expensive RTX graphics that help justify their high price. It’s unusual to see a laptop with integrated graphics at this price, even if the performance is noticeably improved. Our X1 Carbon Gen 12 model is priced too high, even taking into consideration its ample allotment of memory, high-resolution OLED display and ThinkShield security features. The baseline model starts at $1,624 and is also overpriced for what it supplies: a Core Ultra 5 125H, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and a 1,920×1,200-pixel IPS panel. 

And these prices are with Windows 11 Home. If you want Windows 11 Pro as most business users do, it adds an extra $60 to the bill.

A final note on Lenovo’s pricing: it’s constantly changing. The discounts on Lenovo’s site are always revolving, so the prices you see on any given day will likely be different from the prices quoted in this review. For example, our test system had a smaller discount when I first started working on this review, and it cost a preposterous amount of more than $2,800.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 starts at £1,565 in the UK and AU$2,491 in Australia

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 turned to show lid and camera bump Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 turned to show lid and camera bump

Matt Elliott/CNET

Compact and light and tough

Other than thinner display bezels and a bump-out for the camera, little has changed from last year’s Gen 11 to this year’s Gen 12. It still looks and feels like a ThinkPad X1 Carbon. That is to say, the aluminum-and-carbon-fiber chassis offers an optimal blend of sturdiness and portability. Last year’s Gen 11 weighed only 2.5 pounds, which is impressively light for a 14-inch laptop. This year’s Gen 12 is lighter still at just 2.4 pounds. For comparison, Apple’s 13.6-inch M2 MacBook Air weighs 2.7 pounds. The 13.5-inch HP Dragonfly G4 is the closest competitor to the Gen 12 we’ve tested in terms of portability in a business laptop, weighing in at a scant 2.5 pounds.

In addition to being slightly lighter than last year’s model, the X1 Carbon Gen 12 is also a bit more compact. Lenovo trimmed off each side to reduce the width from 12.4 inches to 12.3 inches while making a bigger reduction in size from front to back by adding the bump-out tab for the camera and shrinking the top and bottom display bezels. The Gen 11 was 8.8 inches from its front to rear edges, and the Gen 12 is only 8.5 inches. This is about as light and compact as a 14-inch laptop can get.

The keyboard feel remains unchanged, with keys that offer the trusted ThinkPad blend of plush feedback and snappy response. Lenovo did make one small change that all but long-standing ThinkPad fans will applaud: it finally swapped the Control and Function keys in the lower-left corner so the Ctrl key is on the left and the Fn key is on the right — the same arrangement as you’ll find on every other Windows keyboard.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 keyboard Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 keyboard

Matt Elliott/CNET

The other change to the keyboard is the power button has been moved to the right edge, and the fingerprint reader now resides on the bottom row to the right of the spacebar. To make room for it, the PrtSc button was moved to the function row at the top of the keyboard. The webcam can also be used for logins via facial recognition. The 1080p camera produces sharp, well-balanced images, and you can use Windows Studio Effects, such as automatic framing and background blurring. Both AI-assisted effects are impressive and can aid your video calls.

ThinkPad fans still get the pointing stick with the X1 Carbon Gen 12. Yes, the little red nub in the center of the keyboard lives on in another generation of ThinkPad. Lenovo made the mouse buttons above the touchpad slightly narrower than those on the Gen 11 in order to increase the size of the touchpad, but it still feels undersized. 

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 touchpad and mouse buttons Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 touchpad and mouse buttons

Lenovo offers an option for a larger touchpad with haptic feedback, but it only adds to the already elevated price. The haptic touchpad provides a larger mousing area because it integrates the mouse buttons. And if it’s anything like the haptic touchpad I experienced with the ThinkPad Z13 Gen 2, then the X1 Carbon Gen 12’s haptic touchpad will offer a superior click response to that of the mechanical touchpad on our review unit.

Our test system features a display upgrade to the 2.8K, non-touch OLED panel. With the 2,880×1,800-pixel resolution, text and images looked incredibly crisp. Its color performance was strong; it covered 100% of the sRGB and P3 color spaces and 97% of AdobeRGB. It reached a peak brightness of 409 nits, which slightly exceeded its 400-nit rating. And its 120Hz refresh rate resulted in smoother movement than that of a standard 60Hz panel.

The OLED option is worth the $104 upcharge from the baseline IPS panel. And for an extra $149 from the baseline display option, you can get the same OLED panel with touch support. The Gen 12’s hinge opens 180 degrees, so the display lays flat, but it does not have two-in-one functionality where the display can rotate fully around into tablet mode.

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 display Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 display

Matt Elliott/CNET

The downside of choosing the OLED display? Battery life. This is a common trade-off and one you’ll need to make with the X1 Carbon Gen 12 for the OLED display’s higher resolution, better color accuracy and superior contrast. The Gen 12 lasted 8 hours and 38 minutes on our online streaming battery drain test. That’s far shorter than the nearly 13-hour runtime we got with the X1 Carbon Gen 11, which featured the baseline 1,920×1,200-pixel IPS display. The HP Dragonfly G4 also features a similar IPS panel to the Gen 11’s and lasted 14.5 hours on our battery test. Other OLED models also lasted longer than the Gen 12. The HP Spectre x360 14 features a 2.8K OLED display and ran for nearly 10 hours in battery testing.

On our application and graphics benchmarks, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 produced results that were in line with other Core Ultra laptops. Its largest advantage over the previous Gen 11 model was on our graphics tests, where its Intel Arc graphics proved more capable than Intel’s previous Iris Xe integrated GPU. Still, the AMD-based ThinkPad Z13 Gen 2 outclassed the X1 Carbon Gen 12 on both our Cinebench and 3DMark Wild Life Extreme tests.

The ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 offers an unquestionably alluring package for traveling executives, but only those with big budgets or who are part of an organization large enough to qualify for volume discounts will be able to stomach the price. It’s just too high, given that you can get similar performance and features for hundreds less. A similarly configured ThinkPad Z13 Gen 2, for example, costs less than $2,000. And the HP Dragonfly G4 with a 3K2K OLED display powered by admittedly previous-generation Intel silicon is a much more reasonable purchase at $1,549. 

Speaking of previous-gen Intel chips, Lenovo still sells the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 based on 13th-gen Core processors at more approachable prices. When I configured a Gen 11 model with similar specs to those of our Gen 12 test system, it priced out to just over $2,000. That still feels high, but not in comparison to the Gen 12, which costs $300 more.

The review process for laptops, desktops, tablets and other computerlike 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 6, Cinebench R23, PCMark 10 and 3DMark Fire Strike Ultra

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

Geekbench 6 (multicore)

HP Spectre x360 14 (2024) 12897Apple MacBook Pro 14 (M3, 2023) 12049Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 7440 11996Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 11919Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 2 11671HP Dragonfly G4 8709Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 8528

Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

PCMark 10 Pro Edition

HP Spectre x360 14 (2024) 6893Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 2 6890Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 7440 6551Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 6178Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 5639HP Dragonfly G4 5131

Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench R23 (multicore)

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 2 13825Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 7440 13243Apple MacBook Pro 14 (M3, 2023) 10487Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 9319HP Spectre x360 14 (2024) 8656Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 8237HP Dragonfly G4 5956

Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark Wild Life Extreme Unlimited

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 2 16918HP Spectre x360 14 (2024) 6026Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 7440 5813Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 5579Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 3563HP Dragonfly G4 3332

Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Online streaming battery drain test

Apple MacBook Pro 14 (M3, 2023) 1129HP Dragonfly G4 870Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 7440 811Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 775HP Spectre x360 14 (2024) 595Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 2 539Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 518

Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

System Configurations

Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 12 Microsoft Windows 11 Home; Intel Core Ultra 7 155H; 32GB DDR5 RAM; Intel Arc graphics; 1TB SSD
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 11 Microsoft Windows 11 Pro; Intel Core i7-1355U; 16GB DDR5 RAM; Intel Iris Xe graphics; 1TB SSD
Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 2 Microsoft Windows 11 Pro; AMD Ryzen 7 Pro 7840U; 32GB DDR5 RAM; AMD Radeon 780M graphics; 1TB SSD
HP Spectre x360 14 Microsoft Windows 11 Pro; Intel Core Ultra 7 155H; 32GB DDR5 RAM; Intel Arc graphics; 2TB SSD
HP Dragonfly G4 Microsoft Windows 11 Pro; Intel Core i7-1365U; 16GB DDR5 RAM; Intel Iris Xe graphics; 512GB SSD
Dell Inspiron 14 Plus 7440 Microsoft Windows 11 Home; Intel Core Ultra 7 155H; 16GB DDR5 RAM; Intel Arc Graphics; 1TB SSD
Apple MacBook Pro 14 (M3, 2023) Apple MacOS Sonoma 14.1; Apple M3 (8-core CPU, 10-core GPU); 16GB unified memory; 1TB SSD

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