Face off: Apple MacBook Air vs Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 August, 2013, 10:04am

Ultrabooks promise to be the ultimate workhorse. But which of these heavyweights will best boost productivity?

Apple's metallic design and penchant for the super slim is well known, but at 17mm when closed, its MacBook Air is only 1.85mm slimmer than Lenovo's ThinkPad, whose soft-touch chassis is almost as appealing.

A key characteristic for a business-grade ultrabook is build, quality and weight. The industrial-looking MacBook Air weighs 1.35kg, just a gram or so less than the Lenovo, though their power adaptors differ hugely. Lenovo's is a cable-heavy affair and weighs 484 grams, while Apple gets away with a single, easily coiled cable and a slim transformer at the wall that's just 214 grams. Where the connector meets the MacBook Air is magnetic, too. One-nil to Apple.


Tired of carrying both a laptop and a tablet, many business travellers are waiting for a high-performing detachable product that neatly combines the two, but the X1 Carbon isn't the answer.

The Lenovo does have a responsive touch screen, something we expect Apple to offer in the near future, but there are other differences to these ultrabooks' LED-backlit displays. The 1600x900 pixels of the slightly larger Lenovo create a 16:9 shape identical to a high-definition television, while the Apple gadget remains with the old-fashioned 16:10 shape from its 1440x900 pixels, but the desktop area is larger and it feels less of a compromise.


Mac vs PC is a well-rehearsed ideological war in the tech world, but it's a key consideration nonetheless. Some long-time users of Apple's OSX - creative types and design houses (though that's changing fast) - couldn't use a Windows computer even if they wanted to, though the latest Mountain Lion version of OSX isn't as advanced as some would have you believe. Business users often think that they must remain with Windows to exchange files easily, though in practice that's no longer an issue.

The Lenovo here runs Windows 8 Pro, which hasn't been a success. In an ambitious move to meld keyboards and touch screen, the colourful, grid-based Windows 8 interface is alien and creates desktop software and apps that overlap.


Judged on core features under the bonnet, both are nearly identical. There are many variants, but it's possible to spec up a MacBook Air to sport a 1.7G-hertz dual-core Intel Core i7 processor, 8-gigabyte RAM and a 512GB solid state drive, while the Lenovo is identical save for a maximum of 240GB. Both have HD webcams in their lids for video calls, a couple of USB slots and a card reader, though the MacBook can only read SDXC cards. Both have Wi-fi and Bluetooth, but neither have wired Ethernet (adaptors are available). What might clinch it for some business users is that the Lenovo has a fingerprint reader, and optional SIM connectivity. That beats carrying a dongle.


Despite the Air's keyboard that illuminates when touched if ambient light levels are low, it's the Lenovo backlit, spill-proof keyboard that's comfiest for long typing sessions. However, it's the slimmer MacBook that somehow achieves a longer battery life, with 12 hours compared to the Lenovo's paltry eight hours.

We had much more fun using the gesture-driven trackpad of the Air than the more traditional cursor buttons and touchpad of the Lenovo, though we love the latter's bright red navigational button in the middle of the keyboard.


Prices vary according to which specs you go for, but both ultrabooks come in at around HK$14,000. Personally, we can't resist the MacBook Air's sleeker look and longer battery life - vital on long journeys - while the use of Windows 8 makes the Lenovo's touch screen far less attractive a feature than it should be. Both, however, are miles ahead of anything else on offer for road warriors.

Jamie Carter (48hours@scmp.com)