Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Review (2017)

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Business laptops need to be reliable and that’s exactly what the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 is. Mirroring much of the design elements of its predecessor, the second generation ThinkPad 13 focuses on the fundamentals. The ThinkPad 13 doesn’t boast razor thin bezels, a slim profile, or a QHD display. However, the ThinkPad 13 does feature a solid durable design, with strong specs, comfortable peripherals, amazing connectivity, and a long lasting battery. Add in the reasonable $700 and you have an attractive business-grade laptop.

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Build and Design

Not much has changed when it comes to the second generation Lenovo ThinkPad 13’s design. The company is still playing it safe with a tone down clean professional aesthetic. The laptop is available in both silver and plastic and sports a sturdy plastic body design. The silver option also offers a premium aluminum display lid. Lenovo’s “ThinkPad” logo with the illuminated red led “i” sits along the top left-hand corner of the display lid. Lenovo lettering is also etched on the lower right-hand side of the lid.

 

The same “ThinkPad” logo sits on the inside right side of the deck. The black plastic offset nicely against the silver plastic chassis. The bezel surrounding the screen is a bit on the thick side, especially for an ultrabook. In fact, the entire device is rather thick for an ultrabook measuring 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.75 inches. Luckily the notebook is still relatively lightweight at only 3.17 pounds, making it a comfortable enough travel companion.

While the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 isn’t ultra thin, it is built to last. The laptop boasts MIL-STD 801G durability rating, which tests a number of factors including extreme temperatures, shocks, vibrations and sandblasts. Along with impact tests such as dropping the laptop on its corners, lifting the device by its display, and spilling liquid on the deck and in the keyboard. The Lenovo ThinkPad 13 isn’t the flashiest ultrabook, but it will hold up in just about any environment. 

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Ports

The laptop’s slightly bulky frame does have one major upside, tons of room for ports. The left side of the ThinkPad 13 features a power connector, a OneLink+ dock port, and a USB 3.0 port. The right side houses a Kensington lock slot, a USB Type-C port, an HDMI connector, two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, and a headphone jack. The only thing missing is the inclusion of an ethernet connector. Not many ultrabooks offer an ethernet port — so it’s absence isn’t surprising — but it would have been a nice feather in the Think 13’s cap if it offered one. Luckily with the OneLink+ port users will be able to further augment the machines connectivity with Lenovo’s ThinkPad dock which offers an ethernet connector. Users could also take advantage of the USB Type-C port to connect to a wide variety of docking stations and displays, so you’re not tethered to Lenovo’s branded docking station, which is a bit pricey.

Lenovo ThinkPad Screen 13 and Speakers

The Lenovo ThinkPad 13 features a 13.3-inch full HD (1920 x 1080) resolution touchscreen. The panel offers sharp images with solid color accuracy. Functionally speaking, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13’s display is more than satisfactory, but it isn’t exactly ideal for media consumption. While the color accuracy is solid, saturation is a bit muted and the brightness is somewhat lackluster at 243 nits. This isn’t really a new story though when it comes to ThinkPad displays. The Lenovo ThinkPad 13 panel is excellent for productivity and it will serve you well enough when watching movies or the occasional youtube clip in a pinch, but it won’t match the quality of the some of the more premium ultrabooks on the market.

Despite the dim display, the ThinkPad 13 affords solid viewing angles. Images hold up past 90 degrees without any color loss. Unfortunately, the screen does not hold up as well in direct light, as the screen appears washed at its corners and reflections can easily be seen when viewing a dark backdrop. The Lenovo ThinkPad 13’s screen should perform well enough under normal conditions, but don’t expect perfect visibility outdoors on a sunny day.

The Lenovo ThinkPad 13 houses a pair of front mounted speakers that sit on the curvature underneath the chassis. The small laptop is quite boisterous as the pair of speakers is capable of easily filling a modest sized room with audio. Audio quality is solid, though the laptop did struggle to fully articulate highs at max volume. However, turning the volume down ever so slightly (to around 90 percent capacity) seemed to alleviate this issue almost completely. The speakers may not have the depth or range needed to please an audiophile (nor would we expect them to), but they are incredibly well suited for presentations and everyday use.

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Keyboard and Touchpad

To the surprise of no one, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13’s keyboard is top notch. The only disparaging thing that we can say about it is the lack of LED backlighting, but here at NBR we’ll take great performance and feel over flashing lights any day of the week. The black plastic keys are rounded at the edges and raised on the top. Each key curves inward to cup your fingertips providing a solid grip and friction while typing. Travel is satisfyingly deep with strong consistent feedback that makes it easy to get into a comfortable and consistent typing rhythm.

Located just above the “B” key is is a red braised TrackPoint pointing stick. The pointing stick nails the sensitivity making it easy to traverse the entire screen with ease, while still offering precision. Like most ThinkPads, the top of the touchpad accommodates the TrackPoint pointing stick with three physical mouse buttons. The action and travel of each of the buttons are fantastic.

The modest size touchpad pad feels great to use. The smooth surface allows for smooth frictionless travel, allowing for excellent control and precision. Equipped ELAN drivers the pad also offers top notch performances, as swipes, clicks, and multi-finger gestures all read flawlessly.

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Performance

The Lenovo ThinkPad 13 review unit that we tested featured a 2.4GHz Intel Core i3-i7100U CPU, with 4GB of RAM, Intel HD Graphics 620, and a 128GB SSD. The Lenovo ThinkPad 13 is a bit expensive at $700 considering the machine’s innards are closer to entry level specs.

That being said the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 isn’t a complete pushover. The 4GB of RAM and Intel Core i3 will handle basic productivity and computing tasks with ease. While testing the device NBR was able to run 12 active Google Chrome tabs, with an HD video stream and Spotify music player running in the background without any noticeable drop in performance. Another element to the Lenovo ThinkPad 13’s well-rounded performance is it’s responsive 128GB SSD. With solid read and write speeds the ThinkPad 13 offers consistent performance and fast load times.

Users that want more competitive specs may want to consider scaling up to the Intel Core i5 model with 8GB of DDR4. The augmented model will result in a nice boost to over performance and it hits a pretty nice sweet spot between performance and price at around $1,000 (depending on where you purchase it).

The Lenovo ThinkPad 13 review unit that NBR tested had the following specifications:

  • Windows 10
  • 13.3-inch FHD (1920 x 1080)
  • Intel Core i3-7100U 2.4GHz
  • Intel HD Graphics 620
  • 4GB of DDR4
  • 128GB SSD
  • 802.11 b/g/n/ac
  • Bluetooth 4.1
  • Dimensions: 12.69 x 8.77 x 0.75-inches
  • Weight: 3.17 pounds
  • Price: $700

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Benchmarks

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 Fire Strike measures the overall gaming performance of the GPU (higher scores mean better performance):

CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Battery Life

To test battery life, we used Futuremark’s PowerMark benchmark in balanced mode. The test consists of a combination of automated web browsing, word processing, gaming and video playback workloads. The test is far more strenuous than typical web browsing alone, measuring the machine under a litany of scenarios to better simulate high-stress usage. With the test being far more demanding the scores are understandably lower than what you’ll experience just checking Facebook or watching Netflix.

PowerMark “Balanced” battery life test results listed in minutes (higher scores mean better life):

In our tests, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 ran for six hours, five minutes before shutting down. Besting six hours in the PowerMark benchmark is pretty impressive for this test, considering how demanding it is. That means users should be able to expect close to a full day charge with the Lenovo ThinkPad 13, with batteries lasting well over eight hours.

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Conclusion

The Lenovo ThinkPad 13 is well put together machine, but it isn’t about flash. There isn’t much to differentiate the ThinkPad 13 from other ultrabooks on the market when it comes design. In fact, the device is thicker than many of them. But it is still relatively lightweight at just over 3 pounds and the MIL-STD tests ensure that the device will hold up to the wears and tears of the road. Add in the excellent keyboard and touchpad, with reliable performance, along with acceptable price tag and you have a very attractive productivity notebook.

Pros:

  • Durable Design
  • Long lasting battery
  • Excellent Keyboard

Cons:

  • Display is a bit dim
  • No Ethernet port  
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