Notebook manufacturers are in an unenvious position these days, what with the ubiquity of tablets, so introducing the Ultrabook sub-faction was a smart move as they’ve gotten thinner and lighter while still maintaining their edge in performance over their challengers. The question, of course, is one you’ve probably asked yourself before: what brand should you go with, since there’s no shortage of choices on the market?
ThinkPad 13 review unit
Though the answer is never simple, there’s a good, if not overwhelming, case for you to side with the Lenovo ThinkPad 13. It’s not a top of the line model by any means, but for your money and in spite of its drawbacks, it still has quite a bit to offer. Read this ThinkPad 13 review to learn about its pros and cons.
Build and Design
For an Ultrabook, whose raison d’etre is to be sleek and lightweight, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 is a bit on the heavy side. Obviously, in the grand scheme of things it’s going to be lighter than your average work laptop, but weighing in at 3.2 pounds and measuring 12.68 x 8.78 x 0.78, it’s not about to beat out many other Ultrabooks or tablet/keyboard combos in the portability category. To put things in perspective, Ultrabooks typically weigh in at less than three pounds are usually at least a fifth of an inch thinner, with models on the lighter end like Samsung’s Notebook 9 coming in at 1.85 pounds 0.57 inches thick.
That said, part of what gives the ThinkPad 13 Ultrabook its heft is the quality of its build. Lenovo boasts that it passes 12 military specification tests for durability – though it failed to elaborate any further in its spec sheet – and while it sports a polycarbonate body, our silver model had a stylish aluminum casing on the back of the lid that gave it a sleeker feel. There is even a light the dot on the i of the ThinkPad logo on the outside and inside of the machine that lights up when the machine is on or in hibernation. There’s no doubt that this is a still beautiful piece of hardware, its portability just took a bit of a hit in the process of making it pretty darn tough.
Ports and Features
The Lenovo ThinkPad 13 offers a wealth of ports and functionality, including a USB Type C port on the right side of the machine, which helps futureproof it a bit and allows you to share a single charger with other USB Type C devices. Also along the right edge are a full-sized HDMI port (one of the benefits of having a thicker build), two USB 3.0 ports, a headphone jack, and a 4-in-1 SD card reader. The left side, meanwhile, plays host to one more USB 3.0 port, the proprietary charging port, and a port for Lenovo’s OneLink+ docking station. For the uninitiated, the OneLink+ station imbues laptops like this one with added functionality, including a litany of ports and the ability to output video to up to three monitors (or at 4K resolution), all while charging the machine.
Screen and Speakers
The 13.3-inch display of the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 is decent, but it’s not about to make anybody’s eyeballs bleed with its sharpness or its brightness. Our model sported a resolution of 1366 x 768, which was serviceable but presented a picture that was noticeably soft around the edges. Lenovo didn’t help itself with a middling brightness that maxes out at 200 nits, either. Higher end models at least reach a true HD resolution (1920 x 1080) on an IPS display with a brightness of 220 nits, but you’ll obviously have to pay extra for the privilege.
The speakers are about what you would expect for a notebook. Though they can actually get surprisingly loud, everything sounds like its being played inside a tin can and the sound tears easily, so there’s really no point in cranking it up as high as it can go. I don’t really fault the ThinkPad 13 for this too much though, because anybody who’s using a laptop and is looking for quality sound is going to plug in some real speakers.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The keyboard of the ThinkPad 13 Ultrabook is excellent, with no sort of give or flex to it, not even towards the center. Additionally, the keys have a certain heft to them that most Chiclet keyboards lack. Though obviously still a membrane keyboard, each key seems to require a little more actuation force than most and offers satisfying feedback with each press. It feel a little clunky at first since the heaviness of the keys feels a little different than with most laptop keyboards, but it’s preferable to a mushy, low-quality keyboard.
As for the touchpad, it’s neither bad nor good; it’s very much a standard affair and nothing special. There is also a rubber nub in the center of the keyboard that offers a secondary means of navigation, complete with its own set of left, right, and scroll mouse buttons below it (directly above the touchpad). Though the touchpad itself is buttonless, its left and right buttons thankfully still offer clicky feedback rather than the unsatisfying squish that some laptop models sport.
This Ultrabook comes in a couple of different processor flavors, but our ThinkPad 13 review unit was the most basic build, which is powered by an Intel Core i3-6100U processor clocked at 2.3 GHz. It’s not particularly speedy and you won’t be playing any of the latest games on it – the integrated HD graphics 520 makes sure of that — but this is meant to be a business notebook after all, and it’s certainly good enough for that. There are also a few options for what operating system it comes preloaded with, and ours came with a 64-bit version of Windows 10 Pro.
Other specs include 4 GB of RAM and a somewhat meager 128 GB SSD, though upgrade options include 192 GB, 256 GB (OPAL2), and 512 GB. Despite the fact that the model we tested wasn’t exactly rolling in spare storage space, the speed benefits of the SSD were noticeable. Boot times were mere seconds, and files being read off the disk opened instantaneously.
One other point worth mentioning is that the cooling of the ThinkPad 13 review unit was quite impressive. While it would warm up slightly over periods of sustained usage, it was the sort of temperature increase you really had to go feel around for in order to notice. It never got unmanageably hot like, say, another brand’s laptop that’s currently burning a hole in my thigh.
wPrime processor comparison results (listed in seconds – lower scores mean better performance):
PCMark8 Home (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for general activities from web browsing and video streaming to typing documents and playing games (higher scores mean better performance):
PCMark8 Work (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for work-related productivity tasks (higher scores mean better performance):
3DMark 11 is a benchmark that measures overall graphics card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
The battery life of the Lenovo ThinkPad13 is excellent, especially for an Ultrabook, where the low-profile designs sometimes come at the sacrifice of longevity. To give you an unscientific idea of just how good it is, I was able to squeeze about three days out of a single charge, by using it multiple times throughout the day(s) in short sessions for low-intensity tasks like web browsing and occasional media streaming.
More specifically, however, I juiced up the ThinkPad13 review unit to a full charge and immediately set it to stream video on full brightness and 50 percent volume (with headphones plugged in so I didn’t have to listen to it all day) until it died. The final numbers? It lasted for 6 hours and 27 minutes before finally calling it quits. If you were doing something that is less intensive (and more productive) than streaming bizarrely long YouTube videos with the brightness cranked up, like word processing or sending emails, you’d likely get even a little more than that out of a single charge. Those are numbers that road warriors are sure to love.
In terms of performance, the base model of the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 will get enterprise users where they need to go, so long as their line of work doesn’t involve particularly heavy lifting (e.g. graphics or video editing). And while that not sound like a ringing endorsement, that’s about as much as you can expect to get out of a machine that’s priced relatively modestly on Lenovo’s website at $611.10 MSRP. At that price, there’s a little bit of room to make an upgrade or two where you think you might need it.
It also doesn’t hurt that it brings a litany of ports for increased functionality and a stylish – albeit somewhat heavy – design to the table too, giving you a little more bang for your buck. It’s certainly not perfect, but if you’re looking for an Ultrabook and can’t spare the money for the high-end models, the ThinkPad 13 is a solid affordable option.
- Affordable for an Ultrabook
- Tough, attractive, quality build
- Super speedy SSD
- Performance skews to the lower end
- Mediocre display
- Heavy for an Ultrabook
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