Two of the hottest Ultrabooks on the market right now, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and Apple MacBook Air 2012, happened to be in my hands at the same time, so a comparison was irresistible. What better medium than to use video to do that:
For those who have YouTube blocked at work or prefer the written word we also offer good old plain text summary discussion below.
The Apple MacBook Air is constructed of aluminum while the ThinkPad Carbon X1 uses – surprise, carbon fiber. Apple has a unibody design so the exoskeleton is really what provides the overall rigidity, think of it as a crab – the hard protective layer on the outside and then all the important juicy (components) inside. The ThinkPad X1 Carbon meanwhile uses an internal carbon fiber built roll cage to help protect internals. Carbon fiber is known for its light weight yet rigid qualities, it’s not the first time it’s been used in a laptop, Sony in the past has used it in several premium VAIO laptop models. Thanks to the rigid materials used in both the MacBook Air and ThinkPad X1 the feel is rock solid for both. There’s really no give to the case in any area for either laptop. The one downside to the aluminum on the MacBook Air is that it’s prone to scratching. If you have a metal wristband watch for instance you might want to be careful, I’ve put a few nicks in the casing when I’ve forgotten to remove my metal banded watch while typing. For this reason I prefer the Carbon Fiber used in the ThinkPad X1 Carbon – it’s not only very durable feeling, but also more resistant to scratches.
With regards to overall design, it’s tough to call one more attractive than the other as the ThinkPad appeals more to business types while Apple is more prosumer targeted (though Apple is making inroads into enterprise computing settings). The MacBook Air definitely set the precedent for minimalist design and an industrial look. While no one would accuse the ThinkPad X1 of copying the MacBook Air design, Lenovo has definitely been affected by Apple with the design. The “cleaner” six-row chiclet style keyboard on the X1 Carbon is certainly Apple-esque. The oversized glass touchpad on the X1 is a page out of the Apple playbook too. Finally, the fact that Apple started standardizing the backlit keyboard across its notebooks has forced PC manufacturers like Lenovo to follow suit. That aside, I think you’ll turn more heads when using the MacBook Air as the design is more recognized along with the brand. The ThinkPad Carbon X1 from a distance looks like any other ThinkPad, it’s black and boxy, I doubt it would impress a walker by in an airport unless they looked hard to see how thin it is. Sure carbon fiber is impressive, but you can’t ogle it exactly.
The ThinkPad Carbon X1 has a 1600 x 900 resolution 14” screen while the Apple MacBook Air 13” has a 1440 x 900 resolution screen. Both have nice and bright screens with vivid colors. However, neither use the IPS technology you get in the Apple iPad that offers very wide viewing angles. For that reason, if you tilt the screens back you get distorted coloration such as you see in the below picture (ThinkPad Carbon X1 on the left and Apple MacBook Air on the right in all pictures):
The best viewing angle is of course straight on for a laptop, but you can measure the quality of a screen by seeing how colors appear from wide angles. Here’s how the screens look on both when tilted forward and then from off to the side:
Overall the screen quality and viewing angles are pretty much even on these laptops, neither offers a clear advantage in quality. However, the Lenovo X1 Carbon does have a higher resolution enabling you to fit more on the screen so it could get a slight advantage nod here. Other reviews have mentioned some graininess to the ThinkPad X1 screen, but we didn’t notice such a thing on ours.
Weight and Thickness
The Apple MacBook Air is slightly thinner than the X1 Carbon:
The MacBook Air is 0.68” at its thickest point while the ThinkPad X1 Carbon is 0.74” thick. Side by side you can notice this slight difference, in practical terms though both are so thin that you won’t notice much of a difference in day-to-day usage.
The weight of these machines is about the same. The MacBook Air 13” weighs in at 2.96lbs while the ThinkPad X1C is 2.99lbs, you’ll hardly be able to notice that difference. So for all intents and purposes what you have is a tie here, but if you sweat the minute details then the Apple MacBook Air would win the contest of thinnest and lightest between the two.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard on both models are chiclet style, I’m not sure there’s any new laptop that isn’t these days. Both keyboards are nice, but the legendary ThinkPad keyboard feels better to type on. The MacBook Air doesn’t offer quite the same amount of key travel. Furthermore, the X1 Carbon offers a pointing stick, the MacBook Air does not. Both offer an oversized glass surface touchpad with multi-gesture abilities that are great to use, I’d still say the MacBook Air touchpad is a bit more responsive and nicer to use. My preference is with the ThinkPad X1 Carbon for the keyboard, but the touchpad on the MacBook Air is still tops – though just barely.
Here’s a comparison of the ports you get on each laptop:
|ThinkPad X1 Carbon||Apple MacBook Air|
The MacBook Air gets a slight edge here for the fact it has a faster ThunderBolt port and two USB 3.0 ports compared to just one on the X1 Carbon. Here’s a look at where each port is located:
Left side MacBook Air is a USB 3.0 and headphone port, the X1 has a USB 3.0 port
Right side the MacBook Air has an SD card slot, USB 3.0 and ThunderBolt port. The X1 has an SD card reader, headphone jack, Mini DisplayPort and USB 3.0 port.
And here’s a look at the front sides and back sides where there are no ports on either. Notice how thin the MacBook Air gets at the front, it’s got a very sloped profile compared to the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.
The configuration abilities for components is almost exactly the same for both the X1 Carbon and MacBook Air. You can get up to a Core i7 Ivy Bridge processor (undervolted), 256GB SSD and up to 8GB of RAM. For this reason there’s no real huge performance advantage for either related to components, the OS will be a bigger factor in how fast you get things done. Mac OS X generally gets the nod for being faster than Windows and more secure. If you’re just using a laptop for things like web surfing or spreadsheet work it’s not going to really matter what processor you have or which machine you’re using, both will be more than powerful enough for all business and school productivity tasks.
The ThinkPad Carbon X1 gave me 5 hours and 43 minutes of battery life with screen brightness set to 5/15 and just surfing the web. The MacBook Air can get up to 6 hours 30 minutes under similar usage so the Apple machine wins in this category.
If you watched the video, my conclusion here is the same as there. There is no winner, both are great laptops and it really boils down to whether you’re a Mac OS X or Windows user. Of course the Windows Vs. Mac OS debate is not even touched upon, that’s a whole different debate and too vast to get into for this comparison of machines. In regards to design, build and overall features, there are areas where the MacBook Air wins and some where the ThinkPad X1 Carbon wins. You just have to look at what the pros and cons are and how they fit into your usage needs and go with one or the other based on that – you can’t go too far wrong as there’s a lot to like about both.
Pricing and Availability