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Lenovo’s ThinkPad 13 Review!

Lenovo’s ThinkPad 13 Review!
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Finally! After having to suffer a shipping delay of about a month or so, my new Lenovo ThinkPad 13 laptop has arrived at my doorsteps! To add insult to injuries, Lenovo forgot to add my apartment number on the shipping label! I will always remember to now put my apartment number on the same address line! Luckily, the UPS delivery personnel was nice enough to ask a neighbor of mine and got things sorted out. Anyways, I’m just glad that the laptop is finally in my hands! In today’s crowded market of Ultrabooks, tablets, smartphones and HDTVs, companies from all over are doing their absolute best to get you to plop down your hard earned cash in exchange for using their products. Just what made me choose the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 over the many other rivals of portable laptops? It certainly isn’t the best looking out of the bunch nor does it allow you to customize it to your hearts content. It definitely isn’t the lightest Ultrabook on the market nor does it have a crazy screen resolution to drool over. Being such a picky individual myself, just what was I thinking?! Well, after having weighed all of my options, I came to the conclusion that this laptop was indeed the perfect companion that hopefully will stay with me for the next couple of years as my daily driver and I will go over all the details here in this honest review.

First off, I hate when people waste my time and therefore, it would be a shame if I did the same to you! Here I will briefly go over the intended audience for this laptop and who should stay away from it. First, let’s go over the latter. If you find many of the below applying to yourself, then it is my recommendation that you stop right here and look for another laptop besides the ThinkPad 13!

DO NOT consider this laptop if these apply to you:

  • Must have the latest and greatest hardware possible
  • Looking for the thinnest and lightest Ultrabook on the market
  • Require a touchscreen
  • Require a backlit keyboard
  • Being able to play the latest video games on a high resolution
  • Requiring a high resolution screen along with a sharp and color accurate display

DO consider this laptop if these apply to you:

  • On a budget with anywhere from $600-$800
  • Do a lot of typing and require a good and comfortable keyboard
  • Need to perform your everyday basic tasks without hiccups
  • Prefer a matte display over glossy
  • Laptop upgradability is important
  • Require a sturdy and rugged device

From what you can judge so far based on that list, the ThinkPad 13 seems like any other mediocre laptop out there on the market. How is it able to separate itself from the rest of the pack and does it even deserve to be a candidate in your next laptop purchase? Let’s begin!

My Configuration

My ThinkPad 13 consist of the following configuration: 13 inch FHD IPS panel, Intel Core 15 6200U, 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD and Windows 10 Pro. There’s not much options to choose from when configuring your ThinkPad 13 on Lenovo’s website. Options such as upgrading to a bigger battery, dedicated graphics, touch and glossy screen are all nonexistent. Two no-brainer upgrades include upgrading to the FHD IPS display panel for $50 extra and the fingerprint reader for $10 extra. Although this is a budget laptop where you’ll normally want to forgo all the fancy options, you’d never forgive yourself if you opted for the lower resolution screen. Yes, a fingerprint reader is definitely not necessary but it’s a damn luxury to not have to retype your password each and every time!

Update (7/28/16) – I can 100% confirm that the Lenovo Thinkpad 13 can handle more than the manufacturer suggested maximum RAM of 16GB! I have purchased and installed a 16GB DDR4 SODIMM memory module and the system recognized all 20GB of RAM without any need for BIOS upgrade! Technically, it should therefore handle 32GB. However, do realize that Lenovo may refuse support to a laptop that is configured with more than 16GB of RAM.

Price Factor

I was one of the many fortunate souls to have been able to snag this laptop up from Lenovo’s website during their Memorial Day sale of 2016. Final price for my ThinkPad 13 came out to $663 after tax. I believe the base price started at around $570 or so. Having been a ThinkPad fanboy for some time now, I always knew that they didn’t come cheap! They were built mainly for the enterprise sector. ThinkPad laptops scream business and anyone caught using one meant they were getting serious work done. Well, Lenovo definitely branched out and have tried to capture the consumer market. They made products that tried to pretend or pass off as a ThinkPad but real users knew that nothing out there compares to the real one. Yet the one thing that haven’t changed in so many years still was the price. Although ThinkPad’s are now more consumer friendly than ever, their price tag usually was anything but that. Until now.

With the arrival of the ThinkPad 13, Lenovo is making an attempt to lure consumers once again into the ThinkPad brand of laptops and smartly enough, they are targeting them where it has the most effect: their wallets. By pricing the ThinkPad 13 at a low starting price point, they are hoping to attract consumers such as myself into being able to get their hands on a laptop that finally has the ThinkPad branding on it. Make no mistake about it. The ThinkPad 13 is truly a ThinkPad laptop for all intents and purposes and is not some sort of imitation or offshoot. Yes, it is the lowest ThinkPad model you can get but as you’ll see during this review, this is perfectly fine for average users that just want a semi premium laptop but without wanting to spend a fortune in doing so. In fact, there are actually two things I’ve noticed about the ThinkPad 13 in that although it is the cheapest in the ThinkPad family lineup, it actually includes a couple of things that its older and more expensive siblings don’t have!

Weight and Feel

The ThinkPad 13 comes in at a very respectable 3.2lbs. That may sound like a lot when you start comparing it to other Ultrabooks and that was certainly what I thought to myself at first. However, I can confidently say that this is practically a non-factor. I am still able to hold the laptop with one hand via the bottom right corner and it is still extremely light when I have to carry it around either in my backpack or via the more traditional method of just carrying it from place to place in my arms. I believe part of this has to do with the quality of the laptop build itself. While holding the laptop with one hand with the screen opened, I didn’t feel too much flex or bending. The ThinkPad 13 does feels very rugged and durable yet it doesn’t weigh you down too much because of that. In fact, the ThinkPad 13 passed the Mil-SPEC standards and can withstand harsh punishment such as temperature changes and vibration tests. Lenovo simply could have dismissed the ThinkPad 13 when it came to these durability and reliability tests due to its price point but I’m very glad that they didn’t! This again drives home the fact that the ThinkPad 13 is very similar to its more expensive siblings.

Thinkpad 13 Opened View
Thinkpad 13 Opened View

The front lid of the laptop definitely is made of better materials than on the bottom cover, which is plastic. I also love that the front lid has a matte/rubbery like finish and feel to it. However, there’s obviously going to be some screen wobble but I had hoped it wasn’t as pronounced as what I have experienced here. It’s not earth shattering but I just wished there would be less of it. The ThinkPad 13 is not one of those laptops where you can open the lid with just one hand. You’ll have to hold the body down before being able to flip open the screen. Definitely not a deal breaker for me as most of my previous laptops operated in a similar fashion but it’s just something worth mentioning nonetheless. Overall, I am quite satisfied with the weight and feel of the laptop. The main important fact is that it is definitely travel friendly. Do not let the 3.2lb weight factor put you off unless you really are looking for something that weights next to nothing.

Closed Lid
Closed Lid
Bottom View
Bottom View

Aesthetics

When it comes to the look of the ThinkPad lineup of laptops, you’re either going to hate it or love it and this was always the case for as long as I can remember. Being that this is still meant to be a business/educational laptop first and foremost, the ThinkPad 13 continues the tradition of having that “boring” look as ThinkPads of old. However, you have many users, myself among them, that believes the ThinkPad is actually very sleek looking! The ThinkPad was never in my opinion a laptop you’d want show off to while in public and to me, that in itself has its own allure. Being that this is actually my second ThinkPad, I knew exactly what I was getting into as soon as I heard about this model. Lenovo has been quite consistent in making their ThinkPad lineups all have that business look to it and I think they have achieved that goal. Why change?

To spice things up just a tiny bit though, Lenovo made the LED for the letter I on the Thinkpad logo both on the back lid and on the bottom right corner light up red when the laptop is powered on. This is a simple yet much welcome change and I like it a lot! Other than that though, the ThinkPad 13 resembles very much like all other ThinkPads before it in that it is a black rectangular device. But hold up. The ThinkPad 13 actually comes in two different colors! You can either get it in black or silver. Personally, I think a silver ThinkPad is just plain wrong and makes the laptop look cheap. The interesting point here is that Lenovo offered this color choice on their lowest ThinkPad model. Silver is not a choice on higher ThinkPad models and I don’t believe it ever was. Although I personally don’t like silver, I’m sure many out there do. So, for Lenovo to offer that option on its lowest model only can be quite infuriating to users who wanted that same choice but was denied even though they spent almost twice if not more on a higher end ThinkPad model!

Front LED Light
Front LED Light
Lid LED Light
Lid LED Light

The Ports

The ThinkPad 13 comes with a very decent amount of ports. If you’re a bit of an old timer like myself, then you still believe in the idea that a laptop should have a good amount of ports built-in for connectivity rather than relying on external adapters like how many other laptop manufacturers are trying to do nowadays due to the increasing need to build a laptop with a slim profile. If you’re a road warrior, I’m sure you’d want your laptop to be as flexible as possible out of the box. Purchasing and using external adapters is fine in my eyes only if it is considered as a secondary option. Besides, I doubt you’d want to lug around another item in your bag while you are travelling. The tradeoff though will usually be a slightly heavier laptop like what we see here. Choose wisely.

On the left side of the laptop, you have your power port, Lenovo’s OneLink+ connector, a USB 3.0 port and a fan grill. Personally, I’m not a fan of their OneLink+ connector. It’s a proprietary port so the only docking products you’ll be able to use it with are Lenovo’s own. I doubt I see myself purchasing one ever and so I would have liked it if we were given the option of either having the OneLink+ port for those that do want it or for those who don’t, opt for another common port in place of it such as another USB port or even a dedicated Ethernet port if possible!

Left Side Ports
Left Side Ports

On the right side you have your standard Kensington lock port, a USB-C Gen 1 port, a full size HDMI port, two USB 3.0 ports, combo headphone/microphone port and finally, a 4 in 1 card reader ( SD, SDHC, SDXC and MMC). I did wish for the headphone/mic port to be located on the left side instead. What’s interesting to note here though is the USB-C port. It is a Gen 1 port so the speed is going to be slower than the newer Gen 2 but the fact that the ThinkPad 13 even comes equipped with a USB-C port at all is amazing! Why? Because like the silver color option, Lenovo chose to not equip this port on their more expensive and popular product lineup! This includes the X-1 Carbon which is their slimmest form factor laptop, the T series which is their main bread and butter when it comes to the enterprise sector and even their Yoga lineup which is their popular 2-in-1 convertible laptop model! Weird right?

Right Side Ports
Right Side Ports

I really don’t understand why Lenovo would do this because although USB-C is not that much of a big deal at the moment, it most likely will be down the road and having this port makes a laptop that much more future proof. Some users may brush this off as they believe no one really needs to transfer data at such high speed to a local device anyway since so much of our data is stored online nowadays but USB-C is much more than just a high speed data transfer port. It can also serve as a video out display port and can also provide the capability to charge your laptop as well! I do believe the ThinkPad 13’s USB-C port can serve as a video out port but I’m not sure on whether it can provide the charging capability and Lenovo doesn’t make this clear on their product web page. Having this charging capability means you no longer have to bring along your power brick adapter when you travel (although you’d still need to bring along a USB charging adapter, obviously) and more importantly, you no longer need to purchase a proprietary charger when your original one is dead or lost. Not only do they usually cost more but they can be hard to track down once your laptop model gets discontinued down the road.

UPDATE: I can confirm that I am able to charge the Thinkpad 13 via the USB-C port. I was able to snag this Targus USB-C laptop charging adapter for just $20 on Amazon and it works like a charm!

Overall, port availability is not too shabby on the ThinkPad 13. A full size HDMI port is very nice as you no longer have to worry about you or someone needing to have a mini to full HDMI cable. Finally, the addition of the USB-C connector feels very much like an added bonus to us special ThinkPad 13 owners even though it is only Gen 1!

The Screen

The ThinkPad 13 gives you the option of either a 13.3″ TN 1366×768 display or a 13.3″ IPS 1920×1080 display. For about $50 more, get the full 1080p display! It makes absolutely no sense to go for the base option unless you truly were trying to save every single dollar possible. The matte display is much welcomed over the glossy type since it doesn’t have touch screen capabilities, although I do remember seeing a laptop that has both from Lenovo. The glare reduction is a true blessing and I usually throw on a matte screen protector on my personal devices as well just for this very purpose. Running at the native resolution, I had to set the Windows DPI scale to about 115% otherwise texts were just a tad bit difficult to see. To my eyes, I believe the colors on this screen are decent and vibrant for a matte display. Lenovo however are not really known for their prowess in producing gorgeous screens on laptops so I doubt a true graphic designer would choose a ThinkPad laptop as their main workhorse anyway. But if you are, then I really don’t think this laptop is for you. You’ll most likely also need something with a much higher resolution and pixel density than this 1080p display. Being that there is no touch screen option at all, you’ll have to resort to using either your good ‘ol trusty mouse or the trackpad. Personally, this is fine for me and most likely anyone else who probably wouldn’t use the touch screen feature in the first place on a laptop that isn’t a 2-in-1.

Being that this a productivity laptop first and foremost, there will still be times when I use it for my anime/Netflix/YouTube/Amazon sessions over my iPad mini. So far, 1080p content on this screen looks very good! Being able to enjoy the video content on screen with minimal glare due to the matte display is just friggin awesome! Many believe matte displays aren’t good for consuming video contents but I’d have to disagree. It comes down to preference. However, if you do video or photo editing and need an accurate color display, I’m thinking this shouldn’t be your laptop. I’m not using any utilities to gauge or benchmark the screen like other more professional reviewers so you’ll definitely have to take my opinion with a grain of salt. I just like to use my own pair of eyes to do the judging! But of course, I do happen to have watched and read many reviews on the ThinkPad 13, many done professionally, and it does boil down to the fact that the screen on this laptop is not what you’d call the best. But you have to always keep in mind the price that you have paid for it in terms of the performance you are getting back.

Screen Display
Screen Display

Screen brightness was another issue I’ve read about concerning the ThinkPad 13. This screen is rated at just 220 nits of brightness. I have no idea what nits are but I just compared that number to other laptops I’ve seen before and compare them that way. The popular Dell XPS 13 is rated at almost 400 nits, a little less than double of the ThinkPad 13 here. To put it in laymen terms, if see yourself doing a lot of work while out in sunny areas, you’d typically want a screen with a high brightness level (high nit number). If you mostly see yourself using this laptop while indoors, the maximum brightness level is not much of a concern because normally under such conditions, you wouldn’t have a need to crank up the brightness. The brightness level was somewhat of a gamble for me because although I will mainly use this laptop indoors, I didn’t want to have to crank up the brightness level just get a decent view of the screen. This will ultimately lead to faster battery drain. Currently, I have my brightness set to about the 40% mark while typing this review in my room and it is plenty enough. My table is farthest away from the window where the sunlight is the weakest. Sitting outside my living room where there is more direct sunlight on my screen, I found myself cranking the brightness level a notch or two and everything was fine. The screen brightness now seems to be a non-issue for me and so you’ll just have to ask yourself under what conditions will you mostly be using this laptop in.

Bezel wise, it’s not too bad. Both left and right bezels measure in at about 1.2cm while top bezel is around 1.5cm. You have a standard 720p front facing camera smack in the middle of the top bezel. Bottom bezel is around 2.8cm with the word “Lenovo” etched on the left edge and the number 13 on the right.

The screen hinge is very important but I don’t believe Lenovo used aluminum or whatever material was used for the hinges on their Yoga lineup. It seems like some sort of hard plastic coated in silver was used but it does feel rigged and sturdy, at least for the time being. Here I will have to rely on Lenovo’s reliability factor and hope that it won’t fail me years down the road. There’s obviously going to be some screen wobble and I think it’s a bit ridiculous to expect a laptop to come with a screen that doesn’t. The real question is how well will it stand the test of time. Usually it will get worst over the years as you constantly open and close the lid but as long as it doesn’t come to a point where I need something to actually prop up the screen, it’s not too bad. The ThinkPad 13’s screen actually allows you to fold it backwards to the point it rests flat on the table and parallel to your keyboard. There’s only a couple situations I can think of that might require someone to do this such as in a meeting and you want to quickly show your screen to a bunch of surrounding people but other than that, it’s a nice feature to have but not much useful for me.

Keyboard and Trackpad

Ladies and gentleman, I will now present you one of the key reason on why I have decided to go with the ThinkPad 13 laptop: the keyboard (no pun intended). Yes, it is true on what you may have heard by now in that Lenovo ThinkPad’s have one of the best, if not the very best, laptop keyboard in the market today. It is just that damn good and until you’ve actually typed on one, you wouldn’t understand. If you’re going to be typing a lot on your laptop like I am, it stands to reason that you’ll want to get one with a good keyboard that have keys with a good amount of travel distance. Because so many laptop manufacturers are slimming their laptop to make it ever more portable and lightweight, the one tradeoff for that is flatter keys. Since the base of the laptop is so slim, it’s very hard to tack a keyboard on it with keys that travel deeply as there just isn’t enough room. Well, the ThinkPad 13 fortunately for me didn’t go that route! The 2mm key travel on the ThinkPad 13 is just heavenly to type on and will not tire out your fingers even during those long typing sessions.

Thinkpad 13 Awesome Keyboard!
Thinkpad 13 Awesome Keyboard!

Although I’m still not fan of the chiclet/island style keyboards of today, it’s almost impossible to find a laptop today that doesn’t employ one. The one exception to this rule is of course the ThinkPad laptops because they are just so comfortable! Being that this is a ThinkPad branded laptop, it stands to reason that Lenovo decided to put its famous keyboard found on higher end models right here on their budget version as well and not cut corners. This continues to reiterate the fact that this is a true ThinkPad laptop through and through and not a imitation or knockoff. The smiley shaped keys not only have a deep travel distance but it also provides very good feedback as well. Also, there is very little keyboard flex. Although I loved my old ThinkPad R61 which had the older styled key layout (not chiclet), their keys had a “mushier” feel to it unlike the ThinkPad 13 here, which is much more tactile. I am still able to pump out about 103 WPM when typing on this keyboard. As far as key placement goes, I only wished that the Fn and Ctrl keys at the bottom left corner were swapped with each other. By default, the keyboard function keys on top allow you to quickly access/toggle settings such as volume and screen brightness levels. However, you could press the Fn+Esc combination to enable function lock mode. This turns the function keys into the normal function keys of F1, F2, etc. The one problem I am having is related to the power button. I can forgive the fact that it looks and feel out of place due to the glossy plastic material used for the button itself but I can’t forgive something if it doesn’t work as expected. Multiple times now, I have experienced an issue where pressing the power button down does not power on the laptop. I initially thought that I haven’t fully pressed the button but that simply wasn’t the case. The laptop obviously would eventually power on after a few more tries but this is really one of the only concerns I have at the moment. I believe I have read elsewhere that a user also experienced this very same symptom so it is definitely something I will have to monitor more closely.

Power Button
Power Button

At this point, I need to point out that the keyboard on the ThinkPad 13 is not backlit! After reading many user comments on this product, I’m surprised to see that many of them actually require this functionality on a keyboard otherwise they won’t even consider purchasing it. I obviously believe that having a backlit keyboard is better than not having one but I personally can live without it. Besides, even in a completely dark room, I am still able to make out the keys due to the light emitting from the screen, if only barely.

A ThinkPad laptop is not truly a ThinkPad laptop unless it has the iconic stiff little red joystick nub between the G and H keys! Personally, I’ve never used it in the past on my old ThinkPad as I found it to be a bit difficult to control and that continues to be so on the ThinkPad 13. However, I do have to say that it can help you save lot of hand movement when you do need to quickly control the mouse pointer. Not having to lift my right hand to either reach for my external mouse or the touchpad is definitely a time saver in certain situations. Right below the spacebar and above the touchpad itself are dedicated left, middle and right click buttons to use with the joystick nub. I’m really starting to think that I should learn to use this feature more to save time! As for as the actual trackpad itself, I’m not sure how else to put it but that it just works. Some users thought it was a bit jumpy or not as responsive but I honestly don’t see anything wrong with it. It could be that instead of the usual Synaptic driver/technology being used, the ThinkPad 13’s trackpad is powered by Elan. The couple of mouse gestures I use work as expected so I have no real complaints.

The fingerprint reader so far has worked flawlessly. It has rarely failed to read my fingerprint despite it using the older swiping method. The reader fully integrates with Windows Hello and the initial laptop setup upon first power on helped registered my fingerprint for use with Windows 10. From there on, I was just a short finger swipe away from being logged in to Windows. For a measly $10, I highly suggest you get this add-on item!

Trackpad
Trackpad

Performance & Sound

I didn’t perform any benchmarks because quite frankly, it is not necessary on such a  mediocre device that has pretty much the same internal parts as every other laptop on the market. I’m also positive you’re not going to be purchasing this laptop expecting to see breakthrough numbers in any benchmark tests. If you’re interested though, definitely check out other more professional reviews of the ThinkPad 13 floating around on the Internet.

Equipped with a Core i5 Skylake processor, 4GB of RAM with the built-in Intel HD 520 onboard graphics, the ThinkPad 13 was able to handle any chores I threw at it. Keep in mind however, that I am treating this laptop for what it is and that is a productivity workhorse first. Therefore, everyday tasks such as web browsing, PDF reading, Word document editing, Outlook for work email, FTP duties, watching educational videos, and OneNote all performed without any hitches simultaneously. In fact, all modern laptops on the market today should be able to perform the above mentioned tasks without any real issues. Even with a lowly equipped Core i3, you should be able to breeze through any productivity tasks that comes your way. Just make sure you’re also equipped with an SSD hard drive too. With that being said, it is also of my opinion that you should never, ever pick up any computing device today with anything less than 4GB of RAM. The price difference between 2GB and 4GB of RAM should be very miniscule. This is a moot point considering the minimum the ThinkPad 13 allows you to configure is 4GB but if you ever do run across a laptop that gives you 2GB, avoid it like the plague unless you are able to upgrade the RAM yourself. I’m also happy to report that the laptop never really got hot during normal usage. This was a big difference compared to my HP Envy m6. I do plan on also running a couple of virtual machines simultaneously using VMWare Workstation although I haven’t installed 16GB of RAM just yet. Running just one Windows 10 VM with 2GB of RAM on it though was fine and I don’t expect the laptop to give me any problems when I do run a couple more after the ram upgrade in the near future.

When it came to media consumption, I again have no complaints. HD video streaming was on point and stutter free over my home Wi-Fi. The one thing I noticed was the poor performance of the Google Chrome browser when it came to not only 4K video playback but also in terms of battery life, which I will get to in a while. Streaming sample 4K video content on YouTube produced quite a bit of stutter and lag. I was absolutely positive that buffering was not the issue here while on my home Wi-Fi. Streaming 1440p (QHD) and 1080P (Full HD) content was not a problem. So, I next downloaded a 4K video rather than streaming it. Clocking in at around 1.5GB, the laptop also had issues with getting it to play stutter free. I thought it had to be with the way the video was encoded that was at fault here so I next tried streaming again but this time, with the Microsoft Edge browser instead. To my surprise, the same 4K videos on YouTube played back flawlessly without any noticeable hiccups or frame stutter. Shame on you Chrome.

One of the other main reasons on why I opted for the ThinkPad 13 was due to its expandability. Although laptops are getting ever slimmer, a common headache or tradeoff is the inability to expand/upgrade the laptop’s internal hardware. In many situations, what you purchased in the store or have configured to order on the manufacturer’s website is final. What that usually means is that the amount of RAM and hard disk space you go for as well as the internal laptop battery is all non-upgradable unless done professionally since they are soldered onto the motherboard. With the ThinkPad 13 however, I was shocked to see that this was not the case! You are able to upgrade the RAM on the ThinkPad 13 to 16GB on two slots. Some have said that this was upgradeable to even 32GB. The M.2 SSD hard drive and laptop battery are also replaceable. Why is this important to me? First, I save money. By not being forced to configure the laptop to its maximum configuration at purchase, I don’t get gouged by the higher prices set forth by the manufacturer for those parts. For example, I configured my laptop with the absolute minimum of 4GB of RAM and a measly 128GB hard drive. However, I am now able to purchase two 8GB SODIMM sticks along with a higher capacity hard drive from Amazon and save a bunch of money by purchasing and installing them myself. The second advantage for being able to upgrade your laptop internals is to extend the life of your laptop itself. By having the RAM, hard drive and battery soldered directly onto the motherboard, if any of these parts go bad in the future, you better hope that you had purchased that extended warranty. I plan on keeping this laptop with me for at least a minimum of 5-6 years so being able to upgrade these internal parts is a blessing. The one bad news I’ve read so far about the ThinkPad 13 is the difficulty in removing the bottom cover to get access to its internals due to the barrage of clips that you’d have to pry off. Because of that, I will be upgrading both my RAM and hard drive in one sitting rather than separately!

As far as the audio goes, it does as good a job as any other laptop. The speakers are actually placed on the bottom of the laptop towards you on both the right and left side. The odd placement I believe actually allows the sound to bounce off solid surfaces when the laptop is placed for example flat on a desk or table. However, the sound does get muffled a bit when the laptop is placed on your bed. I’m guessing they were trying to make these tiny speakers produce sounds that sound louder to the user than for what it really is. These speakers will never set your world on fire as they always lack the bass but for your average media consumption needs, they should serve quite adequate. Quite frankly, I’ve always used a good pair of headphones with my laptop but if you need something more, you can always pair the ThinkPad 13 with good external speakers via Bluetooth. As I briefly mentioned earlier, I sincerely wished that Lenovo placed the audio port on either the left side or even in the front instead of on the right. Being a right-handed person, my headphones often get in the way of my mouse movement. This was easily resolved by simply using a trackball but I guess this was also a sign to me to start getting used to using the trackpoint nub/joystick on the keyboard!

Speakers
Speakers

Battery

I’ve gotten pretty average results where battery life was concerned. I easily got an average of about 6.5-7.5 of hours doing my everyday normal tasks while listening to Spotify via speakers at about 40% brightness. This is with Wi-Fi on and Bluetooth off. I lost about 25% juice after streaming a full 1080p movie that was exactly 2 hours in length (40% brightness as well). What’s disappointing though is that my browser of choice, Google Chrome, is an absolute battery drainer. I actually couldn’t believe at first why my battery life was not on par with what Lenovo stated. I thought it was due to my plugins but it seems that this issue has plagued Chrome for quite some time now even though I’ve read that there was an update that fixed this issue. This ultimately lead me to using the Edge browser full time during my testing of the battery on the ThinkPad 13. The disadvantage is that although the browser has much potential, it is just too barebones at the moment with no plugin support. Also, I highly recommend trying out the Adguard software as not only does it block advertisements in Edge but it can do so for all your other browsers as well!

Another battery drainer was the process labeled “System and compressed memory”. Long story short, if you have little amount of RAM and have used it all up, Windows 10 will begin to compress unused memory pages rather than swap them to your hard disk to make room for the more active programs you are using at the moment. This is great but if you are on battery, this compression process takes up CPU cycles and that means faster battery drainage. Rebooting usually fixes the problem as you’ll start with a clean slate in regards to your RAM but I usually hibernate my laptop and rarely do I reboot. With only 4GB of RAM to work with at the moment though, I just may need to do so until I have the time to install my 16GB of RAM. With that being said, I’m satisfied with what I’ve got. Obviously we all want more battery life but 6-7 hours is respectable if not average. Like a lot of users, I expected the 6th gen Skylake processor to live up to its hype of giving us major energy savings but truth be told from what I’ve seen and read so far regarding this, it is a pretty big disappointment.

The good news is that the battery brick for the ThinkPad 13 is quite small and lightweight. This makes throwing the charger in your bag not seem that much of a hindrance as other bigger chargers do. If the USB-C port is able to charge the laptop, then this is even greater news as manufacturers begin to create USB-C charging adapters. These will most likely be even more lightweight and you’ll be able to purchase just standard USB-C cables to connect your laptop to it. Another great feature regarding your battery is using the built-in Lenovo Settings app to set a maximum charge threshold. This is useful for users who use their laptop mainly while plugged in all the time. The idea is that you don’t want to keep charging the battery at 100%. Therefore, the app will allow you to configure it so that instead of 100%, you can set it to a lower percentage such as 85-95%. By doing so, your laptop will actually stop charging once it reaches the threshold you have set. The obvious drawback is that for times when you do need to use your laptop while on battery, it would not be fully charged. The minimum threshold you can set is 40% but I think that’s being a bit too dramatic. I have mine currently set to 90%. Since the battery is replaceable, you could be of mind that you should just stop babying the battery and use it however you want to. Of course, there are others who wouldn’t feel comfortable replacing the battery themselves and so making it last for the longest possible time is a nice option as well.

Charging Adapter
Charging Adapter
Charging Threshold
Charging Threshold

Final Conclusion

I admit that the ThinkPad 13 was not my initial laptop of choice. I’ve had my eyes set on a couple of others and in fact, I actually purchased an HP laptop from the Microsoft store only to return it a few days later. Most of you have definitely heard, saw or have used the Dell XPS 13. It won many laptop awards and rightly so. I was very close to getting one myself. 2-in-1 laptops/convertibles have also piqued my interest (the HP I returned was actually of this type) due to its flexibility in being able to do work when needed but then turn it into a tablet at the end of the work day when you just want to relax and consume media. Many slim laptops were also considered. In the end though, I’ve finally made a clear headed decision to go with the ThinkPad 13 and the major reason for that is, the keyboard! It may seem silly at first, especially for those who’ve never typed on a quality laptop keyboard before but it was really the best choice given my situation. Not only do I love the keyboard but also the anti-glare matte screen, port availability, battery life, expandable internal parts, the price, the lightness of the laptop and not to mention the durability and reliability as well! It was one of the most well rounded laptops of all the one’s on my consideration list.

In the beginning, I raised a couple of interesting points on who this laptop caters to and who it doesn’t. I think I made a pretty strong argument that the ThinkPad 13 definitely caters to me! A weight of a laptop is definitely important but since I’ll be typing a lot more often than actually lugging the laptop around, it made perfect sense to get one with a more comfortable keyboard than one that weighed next to nothing at the expense of a flat keyboard. A beautiful 4K resolution screen definitely makes one drool but if I really think about it, I’d much rather watch a 4K movie on a bigger monitor instead. Being just 13 inches at 1080p, I have to scale the screen to 115%. At 4K, I’d have to go a lot higher and for what? The only time I would get to truly enjoy that high resolution is when I’d be watching 4K videos or viewing/editing super HD resolution photos. Since I watch videos more often on my iPad than on my laptop, that point is moot. I don’t edit photos at all so that’s another task I don’t have to worry about. Have an almost bezel-less screen is nice but is that a worthy tradeoff for not being able to swap out the RAM, HD and battery components of the laptop? This was a hard one as I was that much closer on pulling the trigger on the Dell XPS 13 but in the end, I remembered what was most important to me and the ThinkPad 13 is as perfect of a laptop as I could find for myself. There’s only a couple of sore points I have with it but nothing enough to make me regret the purchase.

Sadly, I have a feeling that the ThinkPad 13 will still go unnoticed to the general public despite it being a very solid overall laptop. Although the base price for the ThinkPad 13 is not too high, you’ll rarely order the base configuration model. After tacking on another $200 or so, you’ll begin to realize that you actually could get a much more nicer looking and powerful laptop than the ThinkPad 13 if you are willing to spend just a bit more. In the end, you’ll just have to decide whether the ThinkPad 13 is a worthy tradeoff. For me, it was a definitive yes!

 

Comments (10)

  • Awesome detailed review! I got the 6200u with 8 gb of ram, 256 gb ssd, fhd & fingerprint reader (which sucks and failed my first and only hello setup). It seems i have “acidity” at my fingertips and after only one day of use the touchpad seems a bit used at its surface.

    Reply
    • Hey Daniel,

      Awesome! Regarding the fingertip reader, I found that you do not need much pressure at all when sliding your finger across it. I can actually just smoothly glide it over and the reader will pick it up without any issues. Obvious issues I’ve come across is during times when I’ve just finished washing my hands. Regarding the touchpad, I believe it’s not just you. It irritates me to no end that I can see the oil from my fingers on the trackpad. It’s probably due to the material surface of the trackpad.

      Anyways, congrats on the purchase. I’m just still shocked to not see this laptop being advertised as it should be. It’s a great addition to the ThinkPad lineup and it’s a perfect combination of quality and price.

      Reply
  • Thanks Simon for the great review. I have been agonising over the thinkpad 13 silver because of the negative reviews about the display brightness. I haen’t seen them in store to see for myself and would have to order directly from lenovo. Nervous about pulling the trigger on it as there is a restocking fee.

    Reply
    • Sorry for late reply! Did you actually get the laptop? Yes, the brightness factor was something that had me worried as well and like you, I wasn’t able to test them out in a store. In fact, all we have is BestBuy and although they carry Lenovo laptops, they usually only carry the more fancier models such as the Yoga and Carbon. It’s a damn shame because this laptop really is a superb laptop for a daily driver for just about all casual users out there.

      If you read this comment and have bought the laptop, let us all know if you enjoyed it or not!

      Reply
  • Great review! Probably the best thorough review of the TP 13 I have read. I just ordered one because of this.

    Reply
  • That review said all the right things to me. I recently started working with a T440 and realised what a great keyboard the thinkpads have. The fact that you can upgrade the ram and ssd on the thinkpad 13 model means I dont have to worry about that. I am off to get me one

    Reply
    • Fantastic! Please remember that this laptop uses M.2 Sata SSD instead of the traditional 2.5 inch drives. Also, be careful on which you select. I made the mistake of purchasing a M.2 drive that had modules on the back side of the card. Because of this, the card was not able to sit flush on the motherboard and I had to return it.

      Hope you folks enjoy the laptop as much I as I do and please help spread the word on it if you know of others who are also looking for a budget laptop with a world class keyboard!

      Reply
  • If only many laptop review companies could write reviews like you did for Lenovo Thinkpad.

    Reply

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