User Interface, Display And Audio Quality

User Interface

I was in love from the moment my fingers touched the keyboard of the Carbon. Lenovo has conjured some magic, sewn a bag of holding inside this laptop, or successfully opened a portal to some alternate reality. This must be true, because I otherwise can’t fathom how the company has managed to provide excellent key feel in a laptop this thin. It’s not just good for an ultrabook. It’s good for any laptop, period.

The excellent key feel is helped along by a good layout, Lenovo’s traditional function-key weirdness aside. All keys are large and there’s plenty of space between them. This laptop does pack a 14-inch display, so there’s also tons of space for your palms. As a whole, this is the best typing experience I’ve had since I reviewed the ThinkPad T420.

Backlighting is standard and can be activated with a function hotkey. There are two brightness settings. Unlike previous ThinkPads, there’s no ThinkLight – you have to rely entirely on the backlight for use in dark environments.

Users of the touchpad will notice that it doesn’t quite live up to the keyboard’s high standard. It’s large enough, offers excellent multi-touch scrolling, and reasonably good zoom. However, tapping the surface results in an unsatisfactory hollow sound, and the integrated buttons don’t provide much travel.

You’ll be better off learning to love the little red nub in the keyboard. The trackpointer works very well, as it does on other ThinkPads, and is certainly the more efficient input option. I was disappointed to see that Lenovo offers no function key combination that will turn the touchpad off while you use the trackpoiner. You have to delve into the settings for that.

Display And Audio Quality

All Carbon models ship with a 1600×900 LED backlit “MaxBright” display. It is not IPS (unfortunately), and provides only average quality overall. The laptop does use a matte coating which, combined with the display’s decent maximum brightness, makes the Carbon usable in almost any lighting condition. With that said, this display’s maximum is not blow-you-away bright. It is at most "good," not great.

Black levels aren’t bad, which provides decent perceived contrast. Gradient banding test images were smooth in most areas but showed banding in the darkest quarter. There was also a sliver of the test image that rendered unusually bright. I believe this, as well as some speckled patterns in darker areas of the image, to be the result of aggressive dithering.

The 1600×900 display is extremely sharp, but it suffers from a high dot pitch (gap between pixels). This results in the “screen door effect.” If I concentrated on it, I could notice it even with the display several feet away. I don’t find it bothersome–it melts into the background if I don’t focus–but it is disappointing to see this in an expensive laptop.

I was shocked by the Carbon’s superb audio quality. Music is clear, crisp, and has depth even at maximum volume. Audio tracks sound smooth and are easy to understand. I did notice that certain frequencies of bass can cause something in the chassis to vibrate, which could become an annoyance, but I had this problem in a small portion of one track. Travelers hoping to rock out in a hotel room will find the Carbon a willing partner.

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