Because of Chrome OS's strong security and simplicity, many companies are embracing the web-centric platform for their employees. In the past few months, we've tested a number of laptops that are part of Google's Chrome for Work initiative, which adds security and manageability features to operating systems. Lenovo's $704 ThinkPad 13 Chromebook ($322 to start) is the best of these, thanks to its wonderful keyboard and long battery life. If you want a productivity-centric Chromebook that's great for business, the ThinkPad 13 could be your best choice.
The ThinkPad 13 Chromebook unsurprisingly borrows almost its entire design from Lenovo's regular ThinkPad 13, which runs Windows 10. You'll find the ThinkPad and Lenovo's logos in the same locations on the lid, along with a Chrome logo. Opening the laptop reveals a 13.3-inch, a 1080p display, an island-style keyboard, a touchpad and the ThinkPad logo printed on the deck. But where the Windows version has both a silver and black option, the Chromebook is only available in the latter hue.
The Chromebook is the same size and weight as its Windows 10 cousin, a sleek 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.8 inches and 3.2 pounds. The Dell Chromebook 13 (12.9 x 9 x 0.7 inches) and Acer Chromebook 14 for Work (13 x 8.9 x 0.9 inches) are 3.2 pounds as well, while the HP Chromebook 13 G1 (12.6 x 8.6 x 0.5 inches) is lighter at 2.6 pounds.
The ThinkPad 13 Chromebook has ports to support your business's current and future peripherals. The left side of the notebook features an SD card reader and a USB 3.0 port, while the right side is home to the headphone jack, another USB 3.0 port, two USB-C ports and a lock slot.
The ThinkPad 13 Chromebook is the first ThinkPad laptop (the X1 Tablet is the first tablet) that charges exclusively over USB Type-C, so you'll have to use one of the two ports to juice your laptop. By using this standard connector instead of Lenovo's proprietary power port, the laptop can take advantage of a number of third-party docks and charging solutions, including the Plugable Type-C dock (which we tested with it) or the Innergie USB-C charger.
Security and Durability
The ThinkPad 13 Chromebook may be light and thin, but it can take a knock or two. According to Lenovo, the Chromebook is MIL-STD 810G tested, which means it should survive vibrations, shocks and extreme temperatures. The keyboard is not spill-sproof. Unlike the Acer Chromebook 14 for Work, which can survive a 4-foot drop, Lenovo doesn't offer a specific drop height for the ThinkPad 13.
Lenovo also included TPM to check for unauthorized changes and to store secure data, such as passwords.
I wouldn't want to watch movies or TV on the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook's display. The 1080p screen on our review unit was detailed, but it struggled mightily with dark colors. When I watched the Justice League trailer, the Flash's crimson suit and the light blue waves engulfing Aquaman were vivid and clear. However, when Bruce Wayne's face was cast in a slight shadow (this is a DC movie, after all), it simply looked pitch-black, making it near impossible to make out any details.
The panel on the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook reproduces only 63 percent of the sRGB spectrum, far less than the ultraportable average of 91 percent. However, it was fairly better than the Acer Chromebook 14 for Work's 60 percent. The HP Chromebook 13 (106 percent) and Dell Chromebook 13 (96 percent) were far superior, at 106 and 96 percent, respectively.
The Chromebook 13 earned a Delta-E color accuracy score of 1.1 (zero is best), beating the category average of 2.27. The Acer Chromebook 14 for Work was the closest to zero of the bunch at 0.98, while the HP Chromebook 13 and Dell Chromebook 13 slightly trailed at 1.4 .
MORE: Best Lenovo Laptops
The screen isn't particularly bright, at an average 257 nits, especially compared against the 303 nit average. However, no Chromebook in the mix managed to cleared that bar with the HP Chromebook 13, the Dell Chromebook 13 and the Acer Chromebook 14 for Work scoring 294 nits, 270 nits and 231 nits each, respectively.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Lenovo is known for its excellent keyboards, and the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook delivers. The keys have a comfortable 2 millimeters of travel and require 62 grams of force to press. I blazed through the 10fastfingers.com typing test at 113 words per minute. That's faster than my average of 110 words per minute while maintaining my standard error rate of 2 percent.
Lenovo aficionados will be disappointed to discover that the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook doesn't feature the company's TrackPoint nub. We've long been fans of the pointing stick, which appears on most other ThinkPads, including ThinkPad 13 with Windows, because it allows you to navigate around the desktop without lifting your hands off the home row.
Fortunately, the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook's 3.9 x 2.3-inch touchpad is smooth and responsive; it was easy to navigate Chrome and perform gestures, such as swiping between tabs and using four fingers to show all of my open windows.
The speakers on the ThinkPad 13 work better as white noise machines than as a stereo. When I listened to David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream," the vocals, piano and guitar were full and clear, but the bass was nearly nonexistent and the drums were weak.
The ThinkPad 13 can handle some moderate multitasking, but it's not a heavy hitter. The model we tested included a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-6300U CPU, 8GB of RAM and 32GB of flash memory. I had 12 tabs open in the web browser (one of which was streaming 1080p video from YouTube) before I noticed lag while switching tabs and scrolling.
On the WebGL Aquarium test for graphics performance, the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook showed off a tank of 2,000 fish at 60 frames per second. The Dell Chromebook 13 stuttered at 48 frames per second, while the HP Chromebook 13 dropped to 46 fps.
Google for Work
If you've used the Chrome browser, you'll be used to Chrome OS in no time. The main difference is that the majority of your data will be stored in the cloud with Google Drive. Though most of Google's apps, such as Gmail, Docs, Sheets and Slides, offer some sort of offline mode, they work best when you're online.
The ThinkPad 13 Chromebook is a part of the Google for Work program. You can buy it and use it just like your own device, but as part of this program, your IT department can manage the devices easily, apply security software and deploy virtualization software like Citrix or VMWare to use Windows apps.
The majority of Chrome OS's apps, including Gmail, Google Docs and even Microsoft Office, are Chrome extensions or sites. Some of that will change soon; the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook is scheduled to work with Android apps from the Google Play Store, though no exact date for that compatibility has been announced. That means your Chromebook will soon have a whole new ecosystem of offline software. If you're planning on using Android Apps on your Chromebook, you may want to hold off on purchasing a ThinkPad 13 Chromebook until a model with a touch screen comes out later this year.
The ThinkPad 13 Chromebook can survive your 9-to-5 without a charge and still have a bit of juice to spare. It lasted 9 hours and 8 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuously surfing the web over Wi-Fi. That's longer than the ultraportable average of 7:51, though just short of the regular Chromebook 13, which endured for 9:13. It outlasted the HP Chromebook 13 (6:48) and the Acer Chromebook 14 for Work (8:33), but the Dell Chromebook 13 survived for an epic 13:25.
The 720p webcam on the ThinkPad 13 takes adequate photos, but you may want to consider an external camera for videoconferencing. A photo I shot in our office was color-accurate, capturing my blue-and-white shirt exactly, as well as the orange of the wall behind me. The image wasn't terribly detailed (my beard looked messily drawn on my face) and it was a bit noisy.
The ThinkPad 13 stayed nice and cool during our testing. After streaming 15 minutes of HD video from Hulu, the bottom measured 94 degrees Fahrenheit, just shy of our 95-degree comfort threshold. The center of the keyboard and the touchpad stayed comfortable at 88.5 degrees and 84 degrees, respectively.
Configurations and Warranty
The ThinkPad 13 Chromebook we reviewed was a $704 configuration with 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-6300U CPU, 8GB of RAM, 32GB of eMMC storage and a 1080p display.
The $322 base model comes with an Intel Celeron 3855U CPU, 4GB of RAM, 16GB of storage and a 1366 x 768 display.
Adding an Intel Core i3-6100U CPU adds $130 to the price while the i5-6300U raises the price by $350. Upgrading the screen to full HD will cost you an extra $50. You can only get 8GB of RAM and 32GB of storage with the Core i5 option.
Lenovo says a model with a touch screen will be coming later this year.
The ThinkPad 13 is a light, portable Chromebook with an excellent keyboard and a battery that lasts throughout the workday. Its big weakness is its screen, which simply isn't vivid. If you're looking for a better display and don't need the business features, go for the Dell Chromebook 13 (starting at $429), which also has even more endurance than Lenovo's offering, with battery life over 13 hours long. The Dell, however, isn't as solid a performer. If durability is your top concern, Acer Chromebook 14 for Work is rated to survive 4-foot drops, which the ThinkPad 13 is not.
Whether you don't need a ton of apps, do most of your work in the cloud or just want an affordable, secure machine for your small business, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 is a great Chromebook with enough power and endurance to handle most tasks.