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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.

So far, so great. But that's where the company should have left well enough alone. Lenovo's ballyhooed Natural User Interface — which incorporates gesture controls and voice recognition — is largely a useless gimmick.

Speak up!

You don't have to use voice or gesture control, but it's like going to a very expensive prix fixe restaurant where three of the first four courses are hoity-toity delicacies you find revolting: Escargot, Beluga caviar, and Fugu, for instance. You know you don't have to consume any of it, but dammit, you paid for it! And with the X1 Carbon's list price at $1529, you're most definitely paying for those features.

The X1 Carbon's voice recognition is the more useless of the two. It's powered by Nuance's Dragon Assistant, so its voice recognition capabilities are exceptionally good. But unless you work at home or in an enclosed office, it's unlikely you'll try it. And if you do, there's a big gap between the software's ability to recognize your utterances and its ability to do something useful with them.

You can set Dragon Assistant to run in the background and activate it by saying "Hello Dragon," or you can extend the X1 Carbon's already mediocre battery life by leaving it off and activating it from the adaptive function row (the button is there in three of its four configurations). It will return to sleep on its own, or you can say "Go to sleep" to stop it from listening.

The thing is, there's nothing you can do with your voice that you can't do faster with a mouse and keyboard. To send an email, for instance, you must tap the voice-recognition button on the function row (assuming you don't first need to tap the Fn button to call up one of the three modes in which it's present) and then say "Send email." Now wait for Dragon to respond "Who should it go to?" and then speak the person's name (let's use John Smith as an example). If you have more than one John Smith in your contact database, or one John Smith with multiple addresses, Dragon will respond "You have several contacts named John Smith. Which one?" Dragon will then display a numbered list of all the John Smiths it found.

At that point, you must physically select the addressee, because Dragon won't understand "number two," "the second one," or even "John Smith number two." You also can't use Dragon Assistant to navigate to the cc/bcc or subject lines. Its dictation mode is useless for writing the body of your message, because it goes to sleep every time you pause to compose your next thought.

 

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