Living with the Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon Touch

Since Windows 8 first made its way into my life it’s fair to say that we haven’t always been on the best of terms. My desktop machine, replete with non-touch controllable screen, felt hampered by the OS and took me back to those grand old times when people would swear loudly at their computers with gay abandon. Even after spending time with the Lenovo Yoga 13, a purpose built machine that literally bent over backwards to make Windows 8 work, I was still left cold by the whole experience. Thus, it seemed, I was destined to leave behind the progeny of Redmond and head back to the safer lands of OSX.

But, well, I’m kind of the stubborn sort. You see although Windows 8 does cause me to gouge my eyes and scream out in wild frustration, I do like some of the things that Microsoft are trying. It’s new for starters, which is always interesting, and as we become more attuned to the idea of touch on a laptop, possibly it will actually click into place. I have to admit that these are more idealistic rather than confident ponderings, but maybe it could just came down to a matter of decent hardware in the end.

1024x768_bestfit

The Lenovo Thinkpad X1 Carbon Touch carries on the long tradition of utterly dependable, workhorse Thinkpad machines, albeit with styling that looks more like it came from the thoroughbred stables. From the very first moment you set eyes on the matte, rubber-like coating over the carbon shell you know that this is a serious machine. Not in the stuffy, pink shirts with white collars type serious, rather the ‘let’s stop mucking about and get stuff done’ version instead – and that’s something I like. Opening up the case reveals the glorious keyboard, which in short order became probably the favourite surface to type on that I’ve encountered in ages. The keys are spread apart by more than I’m used to on my old MacBook, but they feel chunky and solid under the fingers, almost old school.

One of the Achilles heels of many Windows machines is the trackpad. All too often they drive users to despair with their unresponsive and somewhat random behaviour. Thankfully the generous and smooth offering here just gets on with it, while displaying a good deal of palm cancelling intelligence. The Windows 8 gestures did become a problem though, as far too often I’d move the cursor only to see the Charms bar appear, or the background app leap to the front. Disabling these features in the settings swiftly cured me of these ills, while still retaining two finger scrolling and general pointy duties.

20130619_140255

This led me into the previously painful territory of actually having to use the touchscreen. Well, I have to report that the implementation of these features on the X1 is excellent. Navigating via touch felt smooth and far more tempting than anything laptop based that I’d used before. The 14″ screen provided decent sized touch targets, responding quickly and accurately to the majority of hits. Glory be! Finally Windows 8 is beginning to make sense, in no small part due to the X1.

It’s not all roses and unicorns though. The touchpad was very hit and miss when I used the tap function to select anything, usually making me resort to the clickable section of the pad to execute commands, and although the screen is good it’s also not full HD (1600×900 instead), which is something of a surprise when you see the price tag that Lenovo have hung upon the X1.

20130619_122542

The model I have here, which boasts an i5 processor, 4GB RAM, and 128GB SSD retails for a wallet trembling £1479 including VAT. That really is quite a price. Compare that with the MacBook Air, which is the dominant player in this part of the market, and for about £100 less you could build a 13″ model to order which would sport an i7 (Haswell chip), 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, and the remarkable 13 hour battery life that has taken the tech world by storm. That’s not an easy comparison to keep.

Maybe the touchscreen does add quite a bit to the cost? Carbon fibre is also certainly an expensive material for construction. At the end of the day though the price is just too much of a hurdle for most of us to get over. The machine itself is absolutely gorgeous, and I think looks far better than the rather boring ‘any colour as long as its grey’ that Apple currently offer. There is a non-touchscreen version of the X1, which retails on the Lenovo site for £1,119, but it would seem a shame to have the machine that finally solved the Windows 8 conundrum revert back to a standard, albeit very lovely, laptop. Of course a Windows 7 version would be a very tempting alternative.

Do I want one? Absolutely. Can I afford one? Absolutely not, at least not the touch version.

Makes sense really. I find the laptop that can make Windows 8 work for me at last, one that has killer styling, a great keyboard, and is a joy to use. Then it gets undercut by Apple. Still, if the Microsoft path is the one you walk then this laptop is about the best there is.

It’s not me, it’s you…

It wasn’t always this way.

I’d recently emerged from a long term relationship with a sophisticated, but controlling, partner, and was looking for something fresh, different, and exciting. I knew that I’d had my fingers burned in the past, but the allure of change was proving too hard to resist. Then, almost by accident, it happened.

She was gorgeous, came from a wealthy background, and was trying hard to shed the difficulties of her past. It was a dangerous but intoxicating combination. Before long she was installed in the heart of my life and things seemed like they were finally looking up. But little did I know that there were two sides to her personality…two incompatible entities that would war internally to gain control of her…and that their ire would be turned upon me. Alas, Windows 8, you are a complex soul…

Oh you pretty thing…

Microsoft is three years short of it’s fortieth birthday and, as is not uncommon for those approaching this difficult age, seems to be going through a bit of a mid-life crisis. Normally you’d expect them to buy some young startup with cool features and little baggage. They’d be seen around town with their new muse, laughing a little too loudly and lavishing an embarrassing amount of physical affection on them in public spaces. In many ways that would have been preferable. A dalliance with Twitter or Steam would have provided column inches for the gossip sites and made those of us who remember their better days think ‘good on you, if I could pull that off I would too’. Sadly that’s not the case.

The Redmond giant instead decided to make its offspring live out the dreams that it never managed to attain. Each day they drove their sad-faced progeny to Bauhaus design rehearsals or Feng Shui workshops, when all the youngster really wanted to do was play games, instant message her friends, and crash at the weekends. Over time she was moulded into this new, beautiful vision, but inside deep fissures had formed which would become more evident when she left the overbearing clutches of her home and travelled out into the world.

Of course, as is usually the case, someone else has to pay for the sins of our fathers. That, grammatically incorrect, someone is you and I.

When I first installed Windows 8 I was quite taken aback with how visually delicious the layout was. Gone was the reliance on a cool wallpaper, replaced instead with multi-coloured blocks floating in a sea of pleasingly toned blue. Was this truly Windows? Clicking on the blocks, each replete with equally aesthetic icons, resulted in a fluttering box that expanded quickly to fill the screen and beguile the eyes. The design was consistent, different to any I’d encountered, and for the first time in living memory made Microsoft the ones with the coolest looking operating system. I checked my arms several times to ensure that I hadn’t, unbeknownst to myself, injected huge amounts of cocaine directly into my bloodstream, but the absence of any tracking only deepened my confusion. How could this be?

Closing down the app I’d opened proved something of a poser, and when I look back now I can see that it was a warning sign my amorously forgiving heart should have heeded. You see Windows 8 is somewhat coy and requires you to work a bit harder to reveal her charms. She’s an indomitable spirit that will not be tamed by any man…unless you have a touchscreen, then slowly her mysteries are opened to you.

The longer we were together the more it felt like she was using me rather than the other way around. It was as if I was living within a Philip K Dick novel but without the happy endings. I’d go to explore the web with her, only to find that she’d hidden the search bar at the bottom of the screen. Conditioned, as I have been, by nearly twenty years of looking up to the top of a screen to search this seemed a cruel deceit, like a cat freeing a mouse only to catch it again seconds later. Further exploration also revealed more intriguing possibilities that were soon brutally quashed. Contacts would promise an elegant solution to the perennial mess that they have increasingly become over the years, but when I sought to add images of others she flatly denied…hers would be the only face I would be allowed to see.

Frustration mounted, but her coquettish nature drew me back with the hope that things would improve…then it happened. I found her secret. Desktop. It was a simple tile among the many, but by selecting it I found that she wasn’t really a new creation. Here was her heart, and the stripped down, elegant facade gave way to the workhorse that lay under the surface. She had played her cards well, but now I knew how she was wired.

Behind the mask…

It became a subtle game from then on. I’d see her face, marvel at its beauty, then spend the rest of my time with her avoiding its offerings. Soon it faded to nothing more than memory, and while she often fought to drag my eyes into hers, I would not be moved. And that’s how I realised it was over. The thing that had captured me was the thrill of the new, but when the infatuation lost its lustre I discovered that what I really wanted was something that could run a decent email client without making me scream in pain at the screen for the fifth time that morning.

How many times have we heard that old story?