Review Roundup: Lenovo ThinkPad 13 (Windows)

Way back in the first episode of the podcast I talked about several laptops announced at the Consumer Electronics Show that looked promising. Among them, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13, a low-cost notebook with what I hoped would be an amazing keyboard. If you’re a regular listener you know that I think the ThinkPad T Series is the best laptop for writers. However, it is an expensive machine. Is its low-cost cousin a good alternative? The reviews may hold the answer.

Laptop Magazine: 4.5 Stars of 5

Avram Piltch, Laptop’s Thinkpad expert, is the first person I turn to for opinions on these machines. And he really likes the ThinkPad 13.

A near-perfect choice for small businesses, students or anyone who needs to be productive without breaking the bank…

  • “Typing on the [spill-resistant] Lenovo ThinkPad 13 made me feel like Billy Joel tickling the ivories on a grand piano. Lenovo’s laptop has one of the five best keyboards I’ve ever tested on a laptop…”
  • “…the ThinkPad 13 provides the same kind of durability you’ll find in its more expensive siblings.” It’s also lightweight.
  • “…plenty of full-size ports, including a USB Type-C connector that you can use for data, video output or charging.”
  • “Our base-level review configuration of the ThinkPad 13 was more than powerful enough to handle serious multitasking, despite rather pedestrian components…”
  • “The laptop lasted a full 9 hours and 13 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test… longer battery life than all of its siblings, at least with their standard batteries.”
  • It’s configurable. Add more RAM, a more powerful processor, a larger SSD, and get it with Windows 7.

The All Right:

  • No backlight on the keyboard.
  • “…full-HD display offers sharp images, solid viewing angles and colors that are mostly accurate, though not particularly rich.”

The Bad:

  • The touchpad is “usable but not great. …the Elan-branded, buttonless pad was sometimes a little jumpy, moving the pointer when I tried to double-click icons on the desktop or close a window.”

Business News Daily: 4.5 Stars out of 5

…a nearly perfect productivity companion for small business owners. …[It] effortlessly ticks just about every box on its way to becoming my favorite midrange work laptop.

  • “…the ThinkPad 13 has the nicest-feeling keyboard I’ve ever used on any laptop, bar none.”
  • “Despite its midrange price, the ThinkPad 13 feels just as rigid and sturdy as pricier models such as the ThinkPad T460 — which is a big perk if you need to lug the system around on business trips.”
  • “[The laptop] sped along quite well during moderate multitasking, and I didn’t notice any slowdown while I edited a large spreadsheet with about 10 tabs open in my Firefox web browser.”
  • “The system ran for an impressive 9 hours and 13 minutes on our battery test…”

The All Right:

  • On the display: “Text looks crisp, but colors could be more vibrant.”

The Bad:

  • “I’m less thrilled by the notebook’s touchpad …my finger wasn’t always able to glide smoothly, and I noticed the cursor sometimes jumped a bit when I clicked icons and highlighted text.”

Digital Trends 3.5 Stars out of 5

There’s a lot to like about the ThinkPad 13. The form factor manages to be simultaneously lightweight and sturdy, the input devices are top-tier, and the battery life is great. The ThinkPad 13 proves you can buy a good laptop for around $600.

  • “…we quite like the silver model, which gives a modern look to a classic design.”
  • “But don’t let the color, or the size, fool you. This is still a ThinkPad — and like most ThinkPads, the case is tough. There’s no detectable flex, even if you go out of your way to abuse it.”
  • “The keys are generously sized and curved at the bottom to make each key easier to define at a touch. The result? Every keystroke is crisp and recognizable, with just the right amount of feedback. Typing on the keyboard is a joy.”
  • “The [touchpad] texture is smooth, with just the right amount of feedback, and inputs are recognized consistently. We just wish it was a little bigger.”

The All Right:

  • “Browsing the web and word processing was buttery smooth, provided you didn’t open too many tabs and applications. Intensive tasks take a while, though.”
  • “The read speed is comparable to most SATA SSD drives on the market right now, but the significantly lower write speed leaves a lot to be desired. …The read speed means things like opening apps and booting up your ThinkPad 13 will be relatively fast, especially if you’re coming from a computer with a mechanical drive. But the write speed is very low… it could become an issue for demanding users who move large files to and from the laptop frequently.”
  • “Our Peacekeeper test, which runs a number of browser benchmarks on a loop until the battery dies, gave us four hours and 54 minutes of battery life. That’s not outstanding, but acceptable. Our video loop, which plays a trailer until the battery dies, gave us nine hours and 39 minutes.”

The Bad:

  • On the display: “At best it’s mediocre, and in some ways it’s downright bad. Resolution is a positive, at least, as it offers 1080p. But we weren’t wowed overall. Everything looked a bit off… The maximum brightness is 243.8 lux, which is good but not great. You probably won’t be able to use the ThinkPad 13 outside on a sunny day, but it should be fine for most indoor use and acceptable near a window. If you’re watching a movie on the ThinkPad 13 with a lot of dark scenes, you’re likely to miss out on a lot of shades of grey. The big weak point is the color. Colors do not pop on this display, and it shouldn’t be used by anyone who needs to do color-critical work with photos and videos.”

As far as the promise of the keyboard, Lenovo delivered! And though the touchpad isn’t that great, it looks like the performance and display are decent for the cost. If you’re looking for a new laptop for a low price and the main thing you’ll do with it is write, the ThinkPad 13 appears to be a worthy contender.

The base price for the ThinkPad 13 varies depending on Lenovo’s sales of the moment, but right now it’s about $550 and will probably not get much above $625. You can buy pre-configured models or you can configure one yourself on Lenovo’s website.

If you buy one, or own one now, share your experience in the comments!

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