Lenovo Thinkpad X1 hands-on: A meatier, more useful update

They'll feature HDR screens, built-in webcam privacy shutters and be constantly connected to the internet.

Chris Velazco/Engadget

Last year, Lenovo refreshed its popular Thinkpad X1 line of flagship laptops by adding a new color option, slimming down the profile and using the latest-generation Intel chipsets. This CES, the company has more substantial changes to reveal. The Thinkpad X1 series now comes with microSIM card slots and e-SIM technology, so it'll remain "always on, always connected," per Microsoft's marketing language. The X1 Carbon laptop and X1 Yoga convertible are also the first PCs announced to sport screens with Dolby's Vision HDR technology and feature built-in privacy shutters for the webcam.

All three X1s are also equipped with twin far-field microphones that can hear you from up to 4 meters (about 13 feet) away, so you can shout at Cortana from across the room if you wish. At my demo here in Vegas, the Thinkpad X1 Yoga was able to hear me and Lenovo's reps from at least 12 feet away. Those who don't like using Cortana will be glad to know Lenovo will be including the Amazon Alexa app for PCs on the new Thinkpad X1s by the end of January, so you could be saying "Alexa" instead of "Hey Cortana".

At last year's CES, I mentioned that the Thinkpad X1's screens weren't as colorful as the competition. Lenovo must have noticed, because the new Thinkpad X1 Carbon's and Yoga's screens are sumptuously vibrant. Dolby's Vision HDR standard is not commonly used in the consumer-tech industry, which is still struggling to agree on a common definition for displays. In cinema, however, Dolby is well-established and the Thinkpad panels rendered rich colors, with nuanced gradients, deep blacks and high-contrast. I especially dug the matte coating on the screen, which helped minimize glare and didn't affect the generous viewing angles.

Cosmetically, the black models of the X1 Carbon and Yoga have a smooth soft-touch coating that makes the systems feel more premium. Both laptops feel as sturdy as their predecessors, despite being just 2.49 (Carbon) and 3.08 pounds (Yoga).

Of course, the new devices are all equipped with the latest (eighth-generation) Intel Kaby Lake R chipsets, with up to quad-core options. You can get up to 1TB of SSD storage, and 16GB of RAM. I also liked the generously spaced keys and 1.8mm travel on the Carbon and Yoga keyboards, and even though I'm not a fan of pointing sticks, I found it responsive.

On the X1 Tablet, Lenovo stiffened the companion keyboard to make the whole system feel more like a typical laptop. This is one of my favorite detachable keyboards so far, thanks to the comfortable keys with 1.5mm key travel and roomy touchpad with dedicated left and right mouse buttons.

The X1 Tablet also has a new 3:2 screen aspect ratio on its 3K panel, which looked bright and produced vivid colors when I saw it. I prefer the Dolby Vision HDR displays on the Carbon and Yoga, as they were more colorful, but the tablet's screen is a lovely canvas in its own right.

Speaking of canvases, you can draw on the X1 Yoga and Tablet with included styluses. The Yoga's slides into a slot built into the underside of the laptop, while the Tablet comes with a holster attachment that snaps onto the slate. I like that Lenovo offers a way to keep your pen with your computer so you won't lose it. The tablet's stylus is thicker than the Yoga's, by the way, and feels more like a real pen. It detects up to 2,048 levels of pressure so you can get more precise with your drawings.

All told, the 2018 Thinkpad X1 refresh appears to be more substantial than last year's and offers a few useful new features like the Think Shutter and eSIM capability. This is one of the first Intel systems with eSIM we've seen, too -- HP just unveiled the Intel version of its always connected Envy X2 convertible at CES as well. The new Thinkpad X1s will be available this month, starting at $1,709 for the Carbon, $1,889 for the Yoga and $1,599 for the Tablet, so if this preview already has you convinced you have to buy one, you don't have to wait much longer.

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