Twenty years ago the first ThinkPad laptop was released. It was 2.2 inches thick, weighed 6.5 pounds, had a red nub smack in the middle of the keyboard so people didn't have to plug in a mouse on an airplane, and cost $4,350. It was the be-all, end-all business laptop of its time.
The ThinkPad X1 Carbon ultrabook, which starts at $1,399, has just been released to celebrate the brand's 20th birthday. One the one hand, it has very little in common with the original -- it weighs only about half as much as the first ThinkPad and costs one third as much. (Hey, 20 years have passed!) On the other, it still has that red pointing stick and it might be the be-all, end-all business laptop of its time.
Lenovo has been careful not to abandon the minimalist look of the ThinkPads over the years, and the X1 Carbon keeps up the tradition. The laptop is all black and is also one of the toughest ThinkPads ever made. Per its name, it's crafted entirely of carbon fiber, which Lenovo claims is as strong as aluminum. (The laptop itself passed eight of the military's durability spec tests.)
Yet it still only weighs three pounds and measures 0.31 to 0.71 inches (from its thinnest point to its thickest). Lenovo claims it is the thinnest and lightest 14-inch laptop, and from a look at the competition that seems to be true. Using a thinner screen frame, it was able to fit a 14-inch screen in a chassis that's the size of an average 13-inch laptop . Either way, the result is a trim, lightweight laptop that was easy to pull from my bag at airport security with one hand. The flared edges make it easier to grasp and give it a more modern look than boxier ThinkPads. Those edges also accommodate two USB ports, a DisplayPort, headphone jack, and an SD card reader. Unfortunately, there isn't an Ethernet port or adapter included.
Under the lid, Lenovo has done a remodeling job that even the hosts of "This Old House" would be proud of. The keyboard, which is still home to the signature red pointing stick, has been redesigned with a chiclet-style layout, meaning there is space between each of the keys. But even better is the design of the keys themselves: they have rounded bottoms to be more forgiving as you type and they are curved to feel as though they have been molded to your fingertips. The keyboard is also backlit and it will adjust the brightness based on the lighting of the room. If you spend your day typing, this is just the type of keyboard you want to be typing on.
In addition to the red pointing sitck, there is a large glass trackpad centered below the keyboard. And Lenovo is the first ultrabook maker to include a trackpad with integrated buttons that doesn't require an entire paragraph so one can describe its frustrations.
The smooth, trackpad is what many other pads on Windows laptops aren't: responsive and quite accurate. Unlike the trackpads on the Vizio 14-inch Thin + Light and the Dell XPS 13 ultrabook, I had no problems keeping by thumb over the left mouse button area and navigating the desktop with an index finger. It's also responsive to gestures: swiping four fingers up brings up Windows 3D Flip and you can swipe through your open apps. Two-finger scrolling was also smooth, at least in Chrome. (It was jittery in the laptop's PDF viewer.) It's still not as silky as the experience on an Apple laptop, but it is the best trackpad I've tested on a Windows laptop in the last couple of years.