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Lenovo ThinkPad Z16 review: Disappointing webcam, great everything else

Lenovo's ThinkPad Z16 sports a premium build, impressive performance, and above average battery life, but its webcam falls short.
Written by Michael Gariffo, Staff Writer on
lenovo-thinkpad-z16-lifestyle.jpg

Lenovo ThinkPad Z16

4 / 5
Very good

pros and cons

Pros
  • Build quality feels ultra-premium
  • Typically excellent ThinkPad keyboard
  • Performed above expectations across all tasks
Cons
  • Webcam was a major disappointment
  • Battery life wasn't anything special
  • Touchpad haptics are awful out of the box

Lenovo's ThinkPad line has lasted for decades in constantly evolving product category. That impressive feat was achieved through a combination of consistently great build quality, impressive specs, and a weird little red nub that almost no one uses, but ThinkPad die-hards still love. 

Today, we're looking at Lenovo's ThinkPad Z16, 16-inch model that boasts impressive power in a thin and light chassis. While its build quality is impeccable, and performance was blazing fast, it was held back from scoring even higher by a surprisingly mediocre webcam. 

Sure, webcams are more important than ever in our remote work and learning world, but the Z16's premium construction and raw power might still make it the ideal travel PC for you. 

Read on to see if this new ThinkPad from Lenovo should be your next laptop.

Also: The best laptops: Does Apple take the crown?

Specifications

Processor AMD Ryzen 9 PRO
Display 16-inch 1920x1200 IPS panel (4K OLED option available)
Memory 32GB DDR5 RAM (soldered)
Storage Up to 2TB PCIe NVMe
Webcam FHD 1080p f/2.0 camera, fixed focus
Battery 72Wh, rated for up to 20.5 hours
Ports 2 x USB4 40Gbps, 1 x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2, 1 x combo audio jack (3.5mm), SD Card Reader
Connectivity Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2
Weight and dimensions 3.99lb | 354.4 x 237.4 x 15.8 mm (13.95 x 9.35 x 0.62 inches)

Build 

The Lenovo ThinkPad Z16 with its lid closed, on a desk.

The sleek, well-built lid screams quality, but also includes a few more badges than may have been strictly necessary.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

It should be clear right from the start that Lenovo's ThinkPad Z16 isn't a budget model. The cheapest configuration we found was $1,800. So, it definitely needed to feel premium in every way possible. 

Thankfully, it does. 

I've long enjoyed Lenovo's build quality, and this is one of the most impressive-feeling entries in that stored line.

From its full textured metal enclosure to the smartphone-esque band around its edges, this laptop feels more carefully designed than any other Windows portable I've used recently, including premium models.

Also: The best Windows laptops 

The ThinkPad logo on the lid of Lenovo's ThinkPad Z16

You've got to admit, the glowing dot is a lot more creative than your average power indicator.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

Little touches like the "breathing" LED on the dotted in "i" in ThinkPad also continue to endear me to the line by showing just a bit of playfulness in this serious machine. 

The keyboard of Lenovo's ThinkPad Z16

The well-spaced keys provide an excellent, comfortable typing experience.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

The Z16 also feels great in use. It's typically excellent keyboard includes the trademark TrackPoint. But, unlike some recent models, the unit relies on a non-moving glass trackpad, without discrete left and right click buttons.

The trackpad of the Lenovo Z16

The trackpad is completely stationary, using haptic feedback to simulate clicks, like recent MacBooks.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

I was initially disappointed by the new trackpad. By default, the haptic feedback it uses to replace mechanical clicks was very weak, almost undetectable near its edges. Thankfully, once I'd raised the haptic feedback level in the laptop's settings, it improved dramatically, and was hard to discern from mechanical clicks. 

Features and ports

The ports on the right side of the Lenovo ThinkPad Z16

The right side of the laptop includes a power button, a combo 3.5mm jack for headphones and microphones, a single USB-C port, and a Kensington lock port.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

Like many recent premium laptops, the Z16 relies almost entirely on USB-C. Its USB-C connections includes one 3.2 Gen 2 port and two USB4 40Gbps ports that offer data transfer, Power Delivery (PD) 3.0, and DisplayPort 1.4. 

The ports on the left side of the Lenovo ThinkPad Z16

And on the left side we've got two more USB-C ports and a full-sized SD card reader.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

The only other connectivity options are a 3.5mm combo audio jack, and a full-sized SD card reader. The latter will likely please photo and video editors working on the go. 

Also: The best 5 laptop docking stations

I won't delve into the heated debate over what ports a high-end laptop should have. However, this one requires users to lean heavily on dongles for connecting non-USB-C peripherals and displays. If you're lucky enough to have USB-C storage, monitors, and peripherals, great. Otherwise, you'll need adapters in your bag for cameras, screens, and so on. Make sure you're comfortable with that before choosing this model.

Lenovo ThinkPad Z16's display.

The 1920x1200 display uses an IPS panel with some ultra-slim bezels.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

The included display on my review unit runs at 1920x1200 pixels. You can see individual pixels if you sit close. Still, I found the overall quality and clarity excellent. If you want the best display available on the Z16, Lenovo offers a 4K OLED panel. But, 4K resolutions are overkill for displays under 24 inches. 

Color accuracy and saturation were solid, although some brighter shades (like our trademark ZDNET color) looked slightly anemic at lower brightness. With brightness turned up, the display was gorgeous, albeit power hungry.

The "Communications Bar" on Lenovo's ThinkPad Z16

The lid-mounted "Communications Bar" houses both the included webcam, and the Z16's dual array microphones.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

The last item in this section was the most disappointing part of the laptop. Located in the "Communications Bar" on the lid are the unit's webcam and microphones. 

The webcam and IR camera on Lenovo's ThinkPad Z16

The inside of the bar shows a traditional-looking webcam lens, and an IR camera to help you login via facial recognition with Windows Hello.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

While I found the dual microphones to be great for any likely task, I couldn't say the same for the webcam. I've recorded a video (below) using the built-in camera and microphones, so you can judge for yourself. 

As mentioned in the video, I've given the webcam the best chance to perform well by using the setup I employ for my videos on ZDNET's YouTube channel. But, even with ample light, the camera still looked noisy. The video above seems more like something recorded using a generic 720p webcam, not the highly-touted "FHD f/2.0" cam the Communications Bar lists. 

Also: The best webcams

It's still better than most budget-laptops. But, the Z16 is a premium model, and you should expect its camera to rise to that designation. Unfortunately, it didn't. 

Performance and battery life

Lenovo's ThinkPad Z16 laptop sitting on a desk

The unit was essentially silent throughout my testing, even when I was actively pushing it to its processing limits. Bonus preview of what a several-year-old ThinkPad starts to look like in the top left corner.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

When you spend nearly $2,000 for a laptop, you're likely a power user. This means performance is paramount for you. 

My review unit came equipped with a Ryzen 7 Pro CPU and 16GB of DDR5 RAM. The combination deftly handled everything I threw at it, even some light gaming. 

Basic tasks like browsing and accessing network files were near-instant, thanks to Wi-Fi 6E connectivity. Meanwhile, more complex, processor-intensive tasks like rendering videos showed processing times on par with my recently-built 12th-gen Core i7 desktop. 

Also: Looking for the best computer? Here are the top desktops, laptops, and more

Between the ample performance headroom and above average display, I'd wholeheartedly recommend this model to content creators that want a mobile workhorse for processing photos, video, and audio. 

Speaking of audio, the built-in speakers outperformed most laptops I've used recently. They could get very loud while maintaining clarity and excellent fidelity. They're not the best laptop speakers I've ever heard (that crown still goes to the past couple MacBook Pro models), but they're unquestionably good enough for music listening while you work, or movie viewing on the road. 

The ThinkPad Z16 is in no way marketed as a gaming laptop, but I was curious how it could handle some lightweight titles. The answer was shockingly well. 

A screenshot from Overwatch 2 with the FPS counter highlighted

You can see the FPS counter in the top left. It would drop after leaving the spawn room, and during big battles, but not by much.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

Running the recently-released Overwatch 2 (a relatively easy-to-run title for a first-person shooter) on "Best Performance" power management settings resulted in frame rates well past the 60 frames per second the included display supports. Even upping the game's settings considerably only resulted in the occasional dip into the mid-40s. 

Ultimately, I found the ThinkPad Z16 can handle anything short of AAA gaming titles with absurd graphical requirements (think Cyberpunk 2077).  I wouldn't worry about dragging my team down while getting in a few rounds of multiplayer games on the road. 

Also: The best gaming laptops

This level of performance was particularly impressive given the thinness and light weight of the unit. At under 4 pounds and barely over 1/2-inch thick, I'd expect anything pushing this many pixels and bits to be a fire hazard. But, the system ran incredibly cool and quiet throughout my testing. 

The battery data in Windows 11 for the Lenovo ThinkPad Z16

An average session with 3 hours, 12 minutes left at about half battery power. I was browsing websites and streaming music in Best Power Efficiency mode, for reference.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

All of that power does, of course, impact the laptop's battery life. Lenovo rates the unit's maximum lifespan at 20.5 hours. I have never seen an estimated battery life higher than about 12 to 13 hours, according to Windows 11, even in Battery Saver mode. 

During more intense tasks, that estimate typically landed around 5 to 7 hours. Mind you, that's still impressive for multiple, simultaneous jobs like recording video, playing streaming media, and moving large files across my home network. 

More: The 5 best USB-C laptop chargers

I doubt you'll have trouble getting through a full day of work with a single charge, unless you're rendering high-def video throughout. Going through what I believe is a typical user's mix of browsing, watching, emailing, and writing, I averaged 10 to 12 hours of use before I had to plug in. For a fairly lightweight laptop with a 16-inch display, that's pretty great. 

The Lenovo ThinkPad Z16's charger

The handily-labeled 135W charger that's included in the box.

Michael Gariffo/ZDNET

If you do need to top up mid-day, the included 135W charger makes quick work of refilling the included battery via its USB-C connection. 

Bottom line 

I opened by noting that the ThinkPad Z16 is very much a premium laptop, with the high expectations that designation carries. From the build quality, through the performance, to the battery life, I was consistently impressed. The only negative standout was that pesky webcam. If Lenovo hadn't branded the lid with its specs and created a dedicated "Communications Bar" to house it, I might have shrugged at its mediocre performance. But, if you're going to make something a showpiece of a $2,000ish laptop, it had better be a highlight. It wasn't.

If you want a do-it-all, desktop replacement notebook that will last just about all day, look no further. There are systems that perform just as well for hundreds of dollars less, but none that offer the same level of wow-inducing build quality or the attention to detail that's made Lenovo's ThinkPad line a favorite of business travelers for 30 years. 

Alternatives to consider 

MacBooks are often seen as the gold standard for what laptops should be. The most similar model, in form and price is Apple's latest 16-inch MacBook Pro. It sports an M1 Pro processor and all the blazing-fast performance and epic battery life that includes. 

Review: 16-inch M1 Pro MacBook Pro review

LG isn't known as a laptop maker, but its Gram series has produced been well-reviewed, lightweight entries for several years. The 2022 model is no exception, offering ones of the thinnest and lightest laptops out there with a 16-inch display.

Review: LG Gram 16 review

If you want something a bit smaller with the same ultra-premium vibes as Lenovo's ThinkPad Z16, Dell's brand-new XPS 13 could be the way to go. The design looks like a laptop from the future, while the configuration options skew high enough to help you create a beast of a mobile workstation. 

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