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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon – a modern laptop that embraces tradition and defies description

I first used a ThinkPad in 1994 when I was with IDC in Hong Kong and had immediately taken a liking to the distinct red TrackPoint, color and feel of the laptop. I even had a docking station. It served me extremely well during my numerous overseas trips. In 1995, I switched to ThinkPad 701 with the butterfly keyboard. And when I accidentally placed my luggage on the laptop the shattered screen devasted me. I continued to use a ThinkPad till the time I joined Gartner which gave me a non-ThinkPad laptop. In my subsequent jobs I usually requested and received a ThinkPad from my workplaces.

Slightly more than a decade ago when I founded Techaisle I bought a Sony Vaio. It was a big mistake. Within a few months I switched to a ThinkPad Carbon. Why this obsession with ThinkPad? Quality, reliability, elegance.

Since early October I have been using Lenovo’s latest 7th Gen ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The minute I unboxed and picked-up the ThinkPad I realized I was holding a classic yet modern design. Everything from the sharply defined etched grey-red X1 logo on the chassis cover to the rubbery plastic carbon fiber weave with a textured pattern defies description. It is incredibly light, at 2.4 pounds and combined with a thin design at 0.58 inches (14.95mm) with no visible taper gives my shoulder-back combo a much-needed respite. I have found myself frequently using the leather ThinkPad X1 Ultra Sleeve (which delivers a premium feel to the X1 Carbon experience) without the need to carry a backpack when I am within a conference venue. The keyboard travel, although reduced to 1.5mm (from 1.7mm in previous models), to accommodate redefined thinness still provides familiar comfort and feedback for which ThinkPads are known for. The switched placement of Ctrl and Fn keys, as compared to most other keyboards and laptops, does throw me off.

The model that I am using is fully-configured with 16 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD, Intel core i7-8665U CPU 1.90GHz and UHD Graphics 620 with 3840 X 2160 display HDR400 with 500 nits brightness. Lenovo promises 18 hours of battery life for a lower resolution screen but the 4K screen that I am using obviously drains battery fast. Fortunately, Lenovo’s RapidCharge technology charges the X1 Carbon up to 80% within an hour. Lenovo’s “eye care” mode reduces blue light on the screen. Lenovo also has a PrivacyGuard but is not available for 4K screens. The screen does hinge 180 degrees to sit flat on a desk but I have never really found the need to use the capability.

A key evaluation criterion for me is a laptop’s ability to contribute and enhance productivity. The screen resolution enhances the experience for sifting through huge spreadsheets of analytical information, scrolling through rows of survey data, creating data-rich PowerPoint slides, reviewing infographics and working on Power BI dashboards. When I connect the ThinkPad to an external display (Dell UltraSharp 27 Monitor - U2719D) through Lenovo Thunderbolt™ 3 Dock, the productivity and experience are amplified.

thinkpad x1 carbon

ThinkVision M14 (sold separately) is a mobile display for on-the-go productivity. I usually bring it along with me. It easily connects through USB-C, provides a tremendous utility when working on my data spreadsheets and PowerPoints on the road. The ThinkVision M14 is only 0.4mm think and weighs next to nothing and easily slides into already crammed backpack space. And yes, I have also used ThinkVision M14 with a Dell XPS 13 and Dell Latitude 7390 2in1. Even my son has used it for his work and games and brought it with him during his travels.

I may be one of the few who still use the TrackPoint. Right above the touchpad are three mouse buttons to be used in conjunction with the TrackPoint which allow me to fully rest my fingers on the laptop itself without having to repeatedly lift my palms. Although I must say I miss the touchscreen in my ThinkPad X1 Carbon configuration (4K does not have touchscreen).

Lenovo Vantage, an app that keeps the device up and running and allows for custom settings, has grown in stature and capabilities substantially in the last one year. I have enabled WiFi security, Intelligent cooling with Quiet mode, battery charge threshold to prolong battery life and always-on USB to charge even when the computer is in sleep mode or off. To turn on WiFi security I had to enable location tracking, there seems to be no way around it. So far, it has worked well despite some occasional false notifications. The ThinkPad Carbon X1 is quiet and I rarely hear the fans spinning. I am the type of person when my iPhone battery drops to 70 percent, I look for an outlet to charge. Hence, enabling always-on USB has helped me keep my devices (iPhone, AirPods Pro, Bose headphones, Ultraportable Bluetooth speaker, backup power adapters and others) connected and charged. There are more than enough ports - 2 x USB-C, 2 x USB-A and 1 x HDMI - for my obsessive-compulsive need to keep all devices charged and connected.

Needless to say, collaboration is a key aspect of any work, especially in my job profile where most collaboration is video-enabled. Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Zoom, Hangouts and Go-to-meeting are most used. When I am not using headphones or portable Bluetooth speakers for conference calls, the 4 x 360-degree far-field microphones are useful. Nobody has complained to me so far about audio quality. The webcam has had no issues and the included camera shutter is a much-needed bonus as long as I remember to slide open or close.

I must confess that I have not setup Windows Hello - neither fingerprint nor facial recognition.

It is a mistake to compare ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 7 with a MacBook. Instead, it should be compared and contrasted with Dell Latitude 7400. But comparison is not the objective of my review. Both are well-positioned and have their defined target market segments. It is however important to note that PC is where work gets done. It is still the centerpiece of business productivity and buying a new laptop is likely to have a more significant impact on productivity than any other technology. Modern PCs deliver more than an incremental improvement in performance and features. ThinkPad X1 Carbon is a modern business laptop that embraces tradition and after so many years still defies description.

 

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Dell and Lenovo addressing SMB PCaaS purchase intent

Techaisle’s global survey of 3,996 SMBs shows that 9% of SMBs have adopted PC-as-a-Service (PCaaS) but another 32% who are aware of PCaaS are planning to adopt such. Acquisition of latest technology, potential to reduce IT support workload, and predictable costs are key reasons for using PCaaS. Awareness of PCaaS increases from a low of 21% (unweighted) among small businesses to a high of 64% within 500-999 employee size segments. Research also indicates that the dominant reasons for adopting PCaaS varies vastly by size of business. For example, the two most important reasons for small businesses to move to a PCaaS model are “move from CAPEX to OPEX to free up capital” and “allow PCs to be refreshed faster.” For the larger SMBs, typically upper to midmarket firms in the 500-999 employee size segment range, there are three important reasons to adopt PCaaS – “reduction in IT support and procurement workload,” “option to acquire latest technology faster,” and “reduction in cost of PC deployment.” Interestingly, “predictable costs” is one of the least important reasons for midmarket firms to move to PCaaS as compared to other SMBs.

Survey research also shows cloud SMBs are more likely to adopt PCaaS and refresh PCs than SMBs with an ad hoc cloud approach. Similarly, SMBs with an organization-wide mobility strategy are more open to PCaaS than those with siloed mobility initiatives.

PCaaS or DaaS is a service in which PC hardware, software and lifecycle services are offered on a price per seat per month basis for a fixed term. PCaaS usually includes configuration, deployment, support/maintenance, asset management and end-of-life decommissioning. It provides a predictable monthly pricing for the entire PC lifecycle. The service is an attractive option for the refresh of aging PCs when SMBs do not have sufficient capital for outright PC purchases, choose to use capital elsewhere, or when IT budget is diverted to other more urgent or more strategic projects.

Both Lenovo (WW top PC OEM by unit shipment) and Dell (WW top 3rd PC OEM with 25 quarters of PC unit shipment market share growth) have taken the lead on the PCaaS offering. Lenovo’s service, called Device-as-a-Service (DaaS), has been available for SMBs for over a year; whereas Dell’s service, named as PCaaS for Business, a purpose-built SMB offering, was announced in August of 2018.

techaisle dell lenovo smb pcaas snapshot

The market for PCaaS is currently at an early stage – but there is a market. The total proportion of PCs provisioned/delivered via PCaaS is still relatively small, but this is not a pure development market – an adoption beachhead has been established. Both Dell and Lenovo are creating differentiating factors.

Dell and Lenovo PCaaS differences

With great market awareness, especially in the Asia/Pacific region and globally within enterprise customers, Lenovo offers DaaS from “the pocket to the data center,” that is, from smartphones (Lenovo owns Motorola) to servers, including PCs. One of the key Lenovo differentiators is flex-pause which is specifically suited for SMBs that are subject to seasonal cycles. These SMBs can shut off their PCs, put them on the shelf for a three-month period and not be billed for when the PCs are not in use. Flex Pause is typically offered to larger SMBs who require more complex solutions and not typically available through the SMB pro store or channel. However, Flex down and Flex up is available through the channel. A second and very important differentiation is that SMBs can start with Lenovo DaaS with only one PC as compared to Dell’s minimum requirement of 20 PCs.

Another differentiation between Lenovo and Dell is Lenovo’s offering for SMBs to purchase DaaS via SMB pro store on Lenovo.com by selecting any of six pre-defined bundles that best suit SMBs’ needs. Lenovo’s bundles are very different from HP’s three - good, better, best - bundles. If an SMB’s requirements do not fit specifically into one of the three HP bundles, SMBs end up paying for more than what they would use, or they are forced to choose a “lesser” bundle thereby missing some services they really would like to have. Dell does not have any pre-configured bundles and allows SMBs to select from its full catalog of commercial PCs.

Self-purchase through Lenovo’s eCommerce SMB pro store is ideal for SMBs in the PCaaS market for 1 to 100 PC units. For SMBs considering more than 100 units Lenovo Financial Services has established a platform with its larger channel partners that allows SMB customers to purchase directly from the channel. This empowers channel partners to either resell services that Lenovo provides or add their own deployment and recovery services thereby giving the channel an opportunity to layer on their high-margin services and still receive benefits from LFS (which is able to convert the entire solution into a subscription service). Dell provides its channel partners with two options – resell PCaaS or Co-Deliver. In the resell option, partners sell but Dell delivers services that includes deployment, support and asset recovery; where as in the co-delivery option, partners must have a Service Delivery Competency before they can deliver ProDeploy Plus and ProDeploy as part of the PCaaS solution.

Both Dell and Lenovo are taking leadership positions in the PCaaS solution offering for SMBs. Lenovo has a flexible offering with many different routes to purchase but has been relatively quiet in its SMB marketing efforts. Dell has a structured yet adaptive offering with two specific routes to purchase and has begun a purposeful push into the SMB market segment.

PCaaS is quite new and both Dell and Lenovo have focused on the enterprise segment that requires deeply complex and bespoke solutions which has resulted in a relatively slower than forecast adoption by many research firms. All major PC OEMs – Dell, Lenovo and HP have gotten ahead of their skis on a slick slope. True market opportunity lies within the SMB segment, yet it is not the easiest business sector to navigate, with or without skis. “Land and expand” is an overused term in today’s IT market, but it is an appropriate description of the PCaaS opportunity. PC OEMs that can establish initial relationships with leading-edge IT mature SMB buyers can both expand within these accounts and benefit from longer-term adoption intent from less IT mature SMBs who will come to see the benefits enjoyed by their peers/competitors.

PCaaS - an answer to PC refresh deficit

With the move towards multiple screens – smartphones and/or tablets in addition to PCs – businesses have a more complex and expensive device portfolio. One effect of the increased number of devices has been that PC refresh cycles have become longer, or have faded away altogether, as SMBs react to demands for acquisition and upgrade of other devices.

The consequence of this ‘refresh deficit’ is an aging PC population. Techaisle global survey data shows that between 70% to 85% of SMBs, depending upon mature or emerging market country, have 4+ years’ old PCs and 32% to 35% of PCs are 4+ years’ old. Although between 64% to 85% of SMBs may replace older PCs, only 18% to 24% of older PCs may get replaced. The magnitude of the “older PC problem” is most pronounced in countries such as South Korea, Japan, Australia, UK, Germany, Indonesia and Brazil. Many of these countries, including the US, are ready for increasing PCaaS awareness and adoption. Increased experience and comfort with multiple types of cloud services and ability to off-load PC deployment and support workloads will enable SMBs to be more proactive in seeking PCaaS solutions by capitalizing on their understanding of cost benefits.

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Dell, HPE, IBM, Cisco competing for global SMB US$1 trillion IT Spend

Techaisle forecasts worldwide SMB (1-999 employee segment) IT spend will reach US$735 billion in 2021 and cross US$1 trillion in 2028, growing at 2X the global GDP rate and 3X the enterprise segment. With slightly over 72 million SMBs (excluding home-based businesses), the market segment presents itself as lucrative and yet incredibly difficult to penetrate. Within each employee-size category there exists segments by IT sophistication, cloud maturity, digital transformation strategy, SaaS adoption, cloud first to cloud selective segments. As per Techaisle survey digital transformation is on the minds of most SMBs who are expected to spend US$275 billion on DX in 2018. And 42% of SMBs have become more dependent on technology over the last 12 months for better business outcomes.

techaisle ww smb it spend forecast resized

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Dell XPS 13 – Straight from the heart

Since the last 3 years I have been listening to Jeff Clarke, Dell’s vice-chairman of Operations and president of Client Solutions, and his team talk about innovation within Dell and how XPS-13, Dell’s flagship, initially consumer-focused and now business-ready notebook, is one of the most innovative laptops in the market. I must confess that after every meeting I walked away with a bit of cynicism. Every single time I had questions but no answers. Did a borderless InfinityEdge display define innovation? Did premium materials explain innovation? Did high-performance describe innovation? What about the issues that small businesses really cared about – improve productivity, provide security, easy manageability, exceptional support and low price? These would certainly count towards innovation. But then many of these improvements are usually driven by underlying software and not the hardware.

I have been a ThinkPad user for most of my working life – from my IDC days in Hong Kong to present time at Techaisle. Except for the time period when I was at Gartner. I am not a case of old-habits-die-hard but I have had a genuine admiration for the IBM & now Lenovo ThinkPad series. It never needed any support, except for that one occasion when I foolishly crushed it that cracked the screen. There was also a period as an analyst when I maintained three different brands. HP notebooks to bring to meetings with HP, IBM/Lenovo for their respective meetings, and Dell for meetings with Dell. However, I realized that a ThinkPad brand was one of the most non-controversial notebook to bring to meetings & presentations without evoking any sarcastic banter.


Full disclosure - one day, two months ago, Dell sent me an XPS 13, fully-loaded with the Intel 7th gen Core i7 processor, 512GB PCIe Solid State Drive, QHD InfinityEdge Touch Screen, and 3 years of Premium Support services. Within a few days of using it I realized the meaning of innovation. Innovation in design. Innovation in support. Innovation in marketing.

Let us begin backwards. Innovation in marketing. XPS 13 has become synonymous with notebook much like MacBook or ThinkPad. I do not even know what brands of HP have the same level of desirability and emotional connect. Some may say HP Spectre, but I do not think so. And ThinkPads are not even targeted at consumer segment, they are not usually available in technology retail stores, so they miss out on the small business market. If price is not the only purchase criteria then XPS 13 is the brand to own. Dell’s marketing has also been bolstered by the numerous awards XPS 13 has been winning which feeds back into its marketing motions. XPS 13 also tends to be first to market with new technologies and gets more frequent refreshes than Dell’s business laptop products. And it also helps how the model is displayed in a retail store – makes it look real cool. So far, I have not experienced any complaints from PC OEMs when fishing out the XPS 13 from my bag for presentations.

I also experienced innovation in support. Not willing to take help from my IT to configure my new notebook to my exacting specifications I decided to call Dell’s premium support. A quick connect with technician, Brandon A, made me realize that my support request was very unique and was not included within the knowledgebase. I was ready to give up but the technician stayed on the call, spent the next two hours and successfully replicated XPS 13 configuration with that of ThinkPad. I also learned that Premium support includes a proactive support feature, SupportAssist, where Dell support experts actually contact the user if they detect an issue.

This type of support is ideal for SMBs. Latest Techaisle survey shows that smaller businesses use friends, internal non-IT personnel or channel partner for support, almost always reactive. Larger small businesses use internal IT but data shows that they would rather be focused on strategic IT issues than supporting PCs. 57% mention that managing newer PCs is significantly easier which allows unmanaged IT businesses to run their business without disruption and businesses with IT staff are able to efficiently reallocate the staff’s time to other initiatives. Interestingly, 56% also agree that new PCs reduce overall maintenance costs. And if SMBs opt for Dell's ProSupport and even ProDeploy they may gain even better advantages.

Design is an important element of a mobile device. But like every other SMB executive, the design should contribute to improved productivity and better mobility experience. I am one of those 39% of SMB employees who spend 20+% time away from primary workplace. Being an analyst and a data hound I constantly work on spreadsheets, data visualizations, analytics and presentations, typically seated in tight places – the airplanes, United Club lounges and occasionally in the back seat of ride-sharing vehicles. The placement of cursor in the precise location on the screen is very important to me. The XPS 13’s precision touchpad with integrated glass is much appreciated. It is responsive, not overly sensitive to slight movements and gets my work done without having to erase and retrace. In contrast, I have had to disable the touchpad on ThinkPad and only use the red trackpoint. By the way, has anyone tried using the trackpoint while munching on snacks in airplanes or with the laptop on the lap? The trackpoint assumes a track movement of its own.

The Dell InfinityEdge display also gives me a bright and clearly visible real estate to view and play around with massive amounts of data or create crammed-with-data PowerPoint slides. The chiclet keyboard with “just–enough” shallow depth also helps, although the too-narrow arrow keys are annoying. I really do not use the touch screen a lot but the few times I did use I found the display hinge to be stable enough to avoid exasperating shaking.

I consider myself to be a very organized person, but recently I did the unfathomable: I flew to the east coast for a 2-hour client presentation but forgot to bring my XPS 13 power adapter. By the time I returned the following evening from my coast-to-coast flight there was still enough battery power left in my notebook to reply to emails before plugging it back into the adapter for charging. By the way, one must buy the add-on Power Companion which extends the notebook’s battery life and also charges other mobile devices simultaneously. Living dangerously is not my calling so I made a note to get a spare charger. But if I ever make that grievous error again, then at least I can take comfort in the battery life of XPS 13 and the Power Companion.

XPS 13 is somewhat heavier than the ThinkPad I have been using, I can easily make out the difference as soon as I pick up the notebook in one hand. The Power Companion and the necessary Adapter to connect USB-C port to HDMI or USB 3.0 makes it a little bulky, occupies space and adds to the “carry weight”. But they are not inconvenient.

Collaboration is essential to me and video collaboration is integral when traveling. The placement of the webcam on XPS 13 throws me off but I understand that in the newly announced XPS 13 2 in 1 version the webcam has been put back in its rightful place, at the center.

All of the above experiences point to a device that improves productivity, especially mobility-enabled productivity. Techaisle’s survey also shows that 62% of small businesses experience better mobility with newer PCs thus empowering their workforce. Nearly identical percent say that newer applications run better, and more applications can be run simultaneously contributing to less frustration and improved productivity.

When purchasing a laptop, competitive benchmark comparisons are important but they are certainly not the deciding criteria. Millennials have a different selection criteria; I listen to them as well. After all, 51% of US SMB employees are millennials. Even within my household, when my son and daughter, both millennials, wanted to replace their respective notebooks, they were clear in not getting an HP brand. “No HP decision” was driven by – previous painful product experiences, prolonged and unpredictable support, not-so captivating design of recent products and unflattering word-of-mouth from my son’s fellow college friends.

I took my son and daughter, on different days, to the Microsoft Store and bought each one of them a Dell XPS 13. It was an easy decision for them. Last time I checked, they were very happy. I hope that my initial euphoria stays intact and there will not be any reason to retract and redact my new connect with XPS 13. As of now, I will retract my cynicism.

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