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Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon review: Slightly overdone, but plenty tasty

Michael Brown | April 3, 2014
Lenovo took its sweet time cooking up Haswell versions of its flagship business Ultrabook line. While there are signs the 2014 ThinkPad X1 Carbon spent too much time in the test kitchen, it's still the best notebook I've laid hands on.

A proprietary port links the notebook to Lenovo's new OneLink docking station, so you won't need to give up a USB port when you're deskbound. The OneLink Dock Pro ($180) uses a single cable for power, data, and uncompressed video over DisplayPort and DVI. It has four USB 3.0 ports (one with always-on charging), two USB 2.0 ports, gigabit ethernet, and a stereo mic/headphone jack. 

Mighty morphin' function row

Lenovo is justifiably proud of its replacement for the row of keys at the top of the typical keyboard. Its "adaptive function row" changes according to the application in use (you can also manually switch by touching the Fn key at the far left).

In place of mechanical keys that serve multiple functions depending on which other key you hold down, both the function keys and the icons representing them change in accordance with the app you're currently focused on: You get one set of function keys when you're using a word processor, a different set when you're using a web browser, and so on. According to Lenovo, this is made possible by combining the reflective properties of a layer of liquid crystal and the emissive properties of an electroluminescent layer beneath a Gorilla Glass panel to deter scratches.

There are four touch-sensitive rows in all. The Home row is the default and becomes active when you switch from another app to something like a media player. It includes controls for volume, display brightness, search, cloud storage, gesture control, and voice recognition (I'll go into more depth on those last two features later). The Web Browser row becomes active when you switch to a web browser (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari are all supported). This mode adds page-back (but not page-forward), refresh, and new-tab buttons to the row.

Launch a Skype, Google Talk or WebEx session, and the Web Conference row becomes active. This adds buttons for adjusting the focus of the built-in mic (to account for multiple people at your end of the call, for instance), changing camera settings, turning the camera on and off, and muting and unmuting the built-in mic. The Function row activates when you're using Microsoft Office apps. It restores the usual F1 through F12 function keys, along with dedicated buttons for projecting your display to another device (such as a video projector), and turning the keyboard backlight on and off. Oddly enough, you won't find buttons for media-player transport control (play, pause, rewind, fast-forward) in any of the four rows.

Lenovo wisely retained the excellent tactile feedback its laptop keyboards have always delivered. I also like the new clickpad, which is slightly larger because its right, left, and center mouse buttons are integrated into the pad. Traditionalists might balk at this design, but it is an improvement — and the old, familiar track stick is still there for true conservatives.

 

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