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Lenovo ThinkPad 13 review: A tough and affordable ultraportable workhorse

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  • Editors' rating
    7.9 Very good

Pros

  • Relatively light
  • Responsive keyboard
  • Good battery life
  • Plenty of ports, including USB-C

Cons

  • Disappointing screen
  • No keyboard backlight

Lenovo's ThinkPad 13 is designed to be an everyday workhorse offering a good balance between price, features and portability. Lenovo particularly highlights its light weight and day-long battery life, and is targeting this laptop as much at students as mobile professionals.

Although the ThinkPad 13 isn't as light as some 13.3-inch laptops, its starting weight of 1.4kg is notable. Set against Dell's high-end XPS 13 there are, of course, many differences, but in weight terms Dell only has a 200g advantage.

Bearing in mind the target market of mobile professionals and students, both of whom are likely to drop their laptop into a bag relatively unprotected, the fact that this notebook meets the MIL STD 810G ruggedness standard means it should survive the rough-and-tumble of everyday life pretty well.

That said, the chassis has a lot of plastic in the build and there's rather more flex in the lid than I'd like. Anyone who does plan to carry this laptop regularly might do well to invest in a padded bag or a separate case -- or both.

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The ThinkPad 13 comes in silver or black, meets the MIL-STD 810G ruggedness standard and weighs 1.4kg.

Image: Lenovo

Lenovo hasn't been able to keep the chassis very thin, with overall measurements of 322mm wide by 223mm deep by 19.8mm thick. Around 6mm of that thickness is in the lid. And while the base tapers towards the front, a maximum thickness of 19.8mm makes for a fairly chunky laptop by modern standards.

There are four ThinkPad 13 configurations available on Lenovo's UK website, with the two less expensive ones sporting a 1,366-by-768-pixel TN panel with a maximum brightness of 200 nits. My top-of-the-range review unit had a 1,920-by-1,080-pixel IPS panel with slightly greater maximum brightness of 220 nits. The screen has a matte finish, which will please those who don't like the reflectivity of many laptop displays. There are no touchscreen options for the ThinkPad 13.

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More expensive ThinkPad 13 models come with a Full HD (1,920x1,080) IPS screen. Budget buyers must make do with a 1,366x768 TN display.

Image: Lenovo

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If you opt for the less expensive configurations, you may notice compromised viewing angles on the TN displays. Things were better on my IPS review unit, although even here the vertical viewing angles were not great. And if you want to work outdoors, you'll find it difficult to view the screen well enough even at maximum brightness unless you find some shade.

The screen's woes don't end there: even on my high-end FHD-resolution model, text appeared fuzzy and was slightly uncomfortable to read; also, screen refreshes while scrolling through web pages were slow enough to cause notable ghosting.

The keyboard features Lenovo's usual style of keys with a curved belly -- a distinctive design that adds a tiny amount to each key's overall footprint. As usual, the Fn key row does not use this design, and keys on this row are shorter than the main keys. Lenovo has included a wide, double-height Enter key.

The keys are well sprung and bounce back with vigour after you hit them. If you like a spongy feel, you may find them a little too animated, but I achieved my usual touch-typing speed without difficulty. There's a definite 'clickety-click' noise while typing. There's no keyboard backlight, unfortunately.

Lenovo has incorporated its usual dual navigation system into the ThinkPad 13, so there's a small red TrackPoint between the G, H and B keys, with associated button keys just below the space bar and, between them, a scroll key. These all worked perfectly.

The trackpad has a narrower aspect ratio than the screen, so that a full sweep left to right takes the cursor about three-fifths of the way across the screen. Getting around is a little more labour-intensive than it would be with a wider trackpad. Two-finger zooming is a bit erratic: the screen responds in stepped stages rather than in one smooth zoom in or out, and there's a notable wait for it to catch up with instructions.

My review sample had a fingerprint scanner on the wrist rest, but this isn't available on all models.

As already noted, I was sent the top-end £679 (inc. VAT) ThinkPad 13 model to review. There are four off-the-UK-page configurations available:

Intel Celeron 3855U 1.6GHz, 4GB RAM, Windows 10 Home, 13.3-inch 1,366 x 768 screen, Intel HD Graphics 510, 128GB SSD, black chassis
£379.99 (inc. VAT)

Intel Celeron 3855U 1.6GHz, 4GB RAM, Windows 10 Home, 13.3-inch 1,366 x 768 screen, Intel HD Graphics 510, 128GB SSD, silver chassis
£389.99 (inc. VAT)

Intel Core i3-6100U 2.3GHz, 4GB RAM, Windows 10 Home, 13.3-inch 1,920 x 1,080 screen, Intel HD Graphics 520, 256GB SSD, black chassis
£559.99 (inc. VAT)

Intel Core i5-6200U 2.8GHz, 4GB RAM, Windows 10 Pro, 13.3-inch 1,920 x 1,080 screen, Intel HD Graphics 520, 256GB SSD, black chassis
£679.99 (inc. VAT)

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The ThinkPad 13 is well stocked with connections, including a USB-C port.

Image: Lenovo

It's nice to see a USB-C connector make the grade here. It sits on the right edge, alongside two USB 3.0 ports, a full-size HDMI port, an SD card slot and a 3.5mm audio jack.

The left edge has a further USB 3.0 port and a proprietary OneLink+ connector for the Lenovo's OneLink+ £193 (inc. VAT) dock, which adds a range of additional ports including RJ-45 Ethernet and VGA.

Lenovo says users should get up to 11 hours' life from the ThinkPad 13's 42Wh battery. My experience suggests it should be possible to keep going for a working day away from mains power provided you don't push the system too hard. For example, one 3.5-hour working session with the screen at full brightness and wi-fi on continually reduced the battery from full to 60 percent.

Conclusions

Lenovo's attempt to come up with a workhorse laptop for students and business users on a budget is only a partial success. Most of what's delivered here is perfectly acceptable, and battery life, while not overly impressive, should see people through the better part of a working day.

However, a keyboard backlight is pretty much a necessity these days, and it's a shame it is missing here. The biggest disappointment, though, is the screen: even the top-end FHD IPS display delivered fuzzy text and poor vertical viewing angles, and I had some difficulty working outdoors.

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Specifications

RAM
Installed Size 4 GB
Processor
Manufacturer Intel
Monitor
Diagonal Size 13.3 in.
Operating System / Software
OS Provided: Type Windows 10 Home 64
Video Output
Graphics Processor Intel HD Graphics 520

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