Hands on: Lenovo ThinkPad 13 review

An affordable, yet convincing new ThinkPad for business

What is a hands on review?
TODO alt text

Our Early Verdict

It looks and mostly feels like a ThinkPad - just beware of the lousy display on the entry-level configuration.

For

  • Affordable
  • Classic ThinkPad
  • Good battery life

Against

  • Poor display
  • Keyboard a missed opportunity

Lenovo is looking to break new ground with the ThinkPad 13, a laptop that looks and feels like a classic ThinkPad but comes with a much cheaper price tag than we’re used to. With a starting price of £379.99 (around $480), it’s the second-most affordable model in Lenovo’s current ThinkPad line-up, positioned just behind the company’s rugged ThinkPad 11e Series that’s aimed at students.  

The ThinkPad 13 could have turned out very different. It would have been easy for Lenovo to slap its iconic computer’s logo onto any old chassis, but instead the ThinkPad 13 feels like a stripped back version of its premium flagship T460s. Decked in matte-black, its aluminum-reinforced lid bears the classic ThinkPad logo positioned in the corner, complete with a glowing red letter ‘I’ that pulses even when the lid is closed. Lenovo’s own logo is etched into the opposite corner. 

The lid, which sports a good thickness and is steadfast on its two metal hinges, can easily be opened with a single hand. The movement is made easier by the tapered base that curves upwards toward the front of the machine. Everything housed under the lid screams ThinkPad – from the laptop’s AccuType-shaped keys to the red TrackPoint nestled between the ‘G’ and ‘H’ keys, to the black-and-red buttons housed above the trackpad. 

Lenovo had to make some compromises to achieve the ThinkPad 13’s low price point, and where our sample was concerned that came down to the display. With a pixel-resolution of 1,366 x 768, the ThinkPad isn’t best suited to working with multiple applications side-by-side simultaneously. For that, you would need to upgrade to the version with a full HD display that starts at £559.99 – a price that almost brings the ThinkPad 13 in-line with impressive consumer models such as the Asus UX305 and Dell XPS 13.  

The display uses a TN (Twisted Nematic), rather than IPS (In-Plane Switching) panel, so viewing angles are worse than what you’ll find on more expensive ThinkPads. They’re not too bad, however, which shows how far TN panels have come in recent years. Rated at just 200 nits, the display is far from the brightest you’ll see on a laptop and its colors lack vibrancy which further compounds its usefulness for multimedia-editing professionals.

Things are more promising under the hood. Even at the low-end, the ThinkPad 13 comes with a 128GB SSD which allows for reasonably fast boot and application loading times and file transfers compared to a traditional HDD. Less exciting is its maximum 4GB of RAM, which along the display’s low pixel-resolution makes the ThinkPad 13 less than ideal for multi-tasking.

There’s a healthy array of ports on the ThinkPad 13, including a headphone jack, two USB-A ports, a Kensington lock, HDMI, and even USB-C – a real bonus on a business laptop this affordable.

Benchmarks

  • Cinebench R15: OpenGL: 36.37 fps; CPU: 290 cb (points)
  • Geekbench 3 (Single-core): 2,878 points; (Multi-Core): 5,956 points
  • Battery test (1080p looped video streamed over Wi-Fi in Edge, 50% brightness): 5 hours 45 minutes

The ThinkPad 13 is powered by a sixth-generation Intel Celeron 3855U Skylake processor which also provides graphics duties via an Intel HD Graphics 510 solution. The combination of Intel’s sixth-generation Skylake processor and the display’s low resolution makes for impressive battery life.

The ThinkPad clocked up almost six hours in our looped video test and can go for up to nine hours under general use using Windows 10’s Battery Saver mode without needing to be juiced back up again. However, it still comes second to newer similarly-priced laptops that feature Intel’s seventh-generation Kaby Lake CPUs – such as the Dell Vostro 14 5000 – which ran for almost eight hours in the same looped movie test.  

ThinkPads are known for their comfortable keyboards, and the ThinkPad 13 doesn’t disappoint. Though, let’s be clear: it doesn’t offer anywhere near the level of comfort afforded by more expensive ThinkPads in the series.

While the large and well-spaced keys offer a generous 1.94mm of key travel and large, the cushioning found on flagship models simply isn’t there. The keyboard is still much better than many we have tested on similarly-priced laptops and makes the ThinkPad 13 an ideal choice for ardent typists on a budget.  

Meanwhile, the ThinkPad 13’s touchpad is small yet usable enough, capable of performing a variety of Windows 10 multi-touch gestures without too much trouble.

Early verdict

The ThinkPad 13 marks a convincing new entry into the line-up that looks (and mostly feels) like the real deal. From its color scheme to its red trackpoint, the machine makes you feel like you’re using a ThinkPad. Although not Lenovo's best, its keyboard offers deeper travel than most other laptops, and the inclusion of a USB-C port is a pleasant surprise.

The features most likely to remind you that you’re not using a more expensive model are the ThinkPad 13’s lackluster display, which is slightly on the dim and washed out side. If you’re OK with mainly using one application on the screen at any one time (in the absence of an external monitor) and don’t require oodles of horse power, checking out the ThinkPad 13 is something of a no-brainer.  

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kane has been fascinated by the endless possibilities of computers since first getting his hands on an Amiga 500+ back in 1991. These days he mostly lives in realm of VR, where he's working his way into the world Paddleball rankings in Rec Room.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.

Tags