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Lenovo ThinkBook 13s review

Successfully blurring the line between business and mainstream

(Image: © Laptop Mag)

Our Verdict

The Lenovo ThinkBook 13s delivers solid performance with a comfortable keyboard and nearly 9 hours of battery life.

For

  • Above-average SSD speeds
  • Good performance
  • Comfortable keyboard
  • Solid battery life

Against

  • Lacks Thunderbolt 3
  • Uninspired design

Lenovo has always had their eyes set on the business side of laptop production, with the classic ThinkPad line serving to shape the professional laptop standard. While laptops like the Yoga and Carbon seek to bridge the gap between professionals and consumers by slimming down and introducing 2-in-1 features. Lenovo’s newest laptop, the ThinkBook 13s-IWL, continues this search for a middle ground through a more traditional, budget-friendly laptop experience.

There’s nothing fancy about the ThinkBook 13s - no touch screen, a mid-tier processor, muted aesthetics - but it’s a surprisingly solid, all-around machine when factoring in price and similar laptop comparisons. A long battery life, fast SSD and good display make the ThinkBook 13s a great option for those searching for value in a business/consumer laptop hybrid.

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Price and Configurations

Lenovo offers a few options for their ThinkBook 13s-IWL line, with pricing starting at $629 for an Intel Core i5-8265U CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. Our $713 model features the same CPU as the base configuration but with a workable 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD. The upper model at $905 swaps in an Intel Core i7-8565U and a 512GB SSD, and you can tack on $84 for 16GB of total RAM.   

Lenovo also offers a 14-inch iteration for those looking for more screen real estate. Those models include the same specifications with marginal price increases.

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Design

Aesthetically, there aren’t any revolutionary strides in design for the ThinkBook 13s. The simple and uniform exterior, however, will attract many professionals looking for a low-profile, business laptop appearance. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

With a traditional clamshell chassis that folds back 180 degrees, the ThinkBook 13s design compares more closely with Lenovo’s durable ThinkPad line while maintaining a light, small profile of 2.9 pounds,12.1 x 8.5 x 0.6 inches. That’s on a par with competing systems like the Asus ZenBook 14 UX433 (12.6 pounds, 12.7 x 7.8 x 0.6 inches), HP Envy 13 (2.8 pounds, 12.1 x 8.3 x 0.6 inches) and the MacBook Air (12 x 8.4 x 0.2~0.6 inches).

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The Mineral Gray color is a silvery hue that adds to the ThinkBook’s clean aluminum look, but it would have been nice to have a darker color option. 

Ultimately, there’s not much to say about this design. It’s simple, clean and blends into the background, and whether that’s attractive is entirely up to you. 

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Durability and Security 

Lenovo offers a few durability features with the ThinkBook 13s design. These include an anti-spill protection for water, extreme temperatures and vibrations, as well as a hinge that’s rated for 25,000 open-and-close cycles. However, we did not test these claims. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

As far as security, Lenovo offers several features for the ThinkBook 13s such as an integrated fingerprint reader built into the power button. It includes data encryption and works together with other Windows 10 security features. . 

Kensington locks are becoming increasingly rare on business laptops. However, some may be disappointed in the lack of one on the ThinkBook 13s. Many Lenovo laptops still include a Kensington lock slot, and it’s an easy security feature left out - possibly because of laptop thinness or budget constraints.

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Ports

While the ThinkBook 13s does offer an HDMI port, dual USB 3.1 Type-A ports and a USB Type-C port, the lack of Thunderbolt 3 in a 2019 laptop is unfortunate. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The continued use of a large proprietary charging connection also sticks out like a sore thumb, especially when similar laptops like the Acer Swift 7 and MacBook Air charge exclusively through thinner Thunderbolt 3 ports.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Still, while laptops like the Swift 7 and MacBook Air completely ditch traditional ports, it’s refreshing to see the ThinkBook 13s keep multiple USB Type-A ports and an HDMI port. 

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Display

There aren’t any bells and whistles attached to the 13.3-inch, 1920 x 1080 non-touch IPS screen on the ThinkBook 13s. The display has a matte finish and provides a pleasant web-browsing and video watching experience free of glare. However, the bezels on the ThinkBook 13s are noticeably larger when compared to rivals like the Asus Zenbook UX433 and MacBook Air. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The ThinkBook 13s display delivered a crisp, colorful picture when viewing a trailer for Ford v. Ferrari. Sunlight reflecting off the white-and-red paint of old ‘60s race cars was richly conveyed on the panel. Even when direct sunlight in Central Park hit the display, the picture quality was hardly affected. This is far from a 4K HDR display - details on Matt Damon’s face and debris on a racetrack pavement weren’t perfectly clear - but for a 1080p screen on a $700 laptop, it provided a great viewing experience. 

The ThinkBook 13s display delivered a crisp, and colorful picture when viewing a trailer for Ford v. Ferrari.

Color accuracy and sharpness aren’t this display’s strongest feature. However, for every day tasks and entertainment, colors on the ThinkBook 13s are surprisingly vivid. With an sRGB coverage of 104%, the ThinkBook 13s bests the MacBook Air (100%) and the mainstream laptop average (82.7%) but falls short of the Zenbook UX433 (121%). 

A display brightness of 314 nits for the ThinkBook 13s is fairly good for its class, beating the 284-nit average and the Zenbook UX433 (217 nits). The MacBook Air  and \ Envy 13 were somewhat brighter at 343 and 397 nits, respectively.

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Audio

The speakers on the ThinkBook 13s fire from underneath the palm rests and generally provide a decent audio experience. For a business presentation or for watching a YouTube video, the Harman-branded audio will get the job done. I found the sound can reach across a large room and doesn’t become too distorted until around 70-80% of maximum volume.  

For more attuned audiophiles, you should probably look elsewhere if you plan on not using headphones. Listening to softer music like Simon and Garfunkel or Andrew Bird is adequate but hollow and one-dimensional, mostly because the ThinkBook 13s lacks any bass definition. Don’t expect hip-hop or electronic music to translate well in any way. 

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Keyboard and Touchpad

Lenovo has always been a leader in quality keyboards and touchpad support, and for the most part, the ThinkBook 13s continues this trend. The keys are pleasant to type on with good travel and a satisfying “thunk” sound: characteristics that are harder to come by on increasingly thin ultraportables. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

With that said, the standards set by the ThinkPad lineup aren’t entirely upheld in this laptop. The overall build quality and flex for the ThinkBook 13s keyboard is good, but not great, which may only be noticeable to a lifelong Lenovo fan. Also, the classic red Lenovo trackpoint is missing from the ThinkBook 13s keyboard, which will disappoint those who enjoy using it as a touchpad replacement.

Lenovo has always been a leader in quality keyboards and touchpad support, and for the most part, the ThinkBook 13s continues this trend.

As someone who isn’t accustomed to Lenovo laptop keyboards, I found the ThinkBook 13s keyboard to be accurate and fast. I typed at 120 words per minute with 99.5% accuracy on the 10fastfingers.com typing test, which is a definitive increase in speed from other keyboards I’ve used recently on the Dell XPS 15 and MacBook Air.

The touchpad for the ThinkBook 13s is equipped with Windows Precision drivers and offers a good experience. For me, the 2.5 x 4.2-inch touchpad dimensions were perfect for this laptop, as it’s not too big to touch my palms but not too small to make gestures difficult. The left and right clicks are OK, but don’t feel or sound as premium as a MacBook Air or Dell XPS. Multi-touch gestures are here and work well with Precision drivers, however if you’re familiar with Mac gestures, you’ll notice the response isn’t as crisp and fluid. 

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Performance

Real-world tests for the ThinkBook 13s’ 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-8265U processor with 8GB of RAM yielded good results. With 20 Google Chrome tabs open and multiple YouTube videos playing simultaneously, the ThinkBook fans turned on but no slowdown in speed or video quality was observed. With all tabs and videos still open, downloading the same 1080p trailer of Ford v. Ferrari didn’t cause much difference in speed. However, some tabs would occasionally need to be reloaded due to memory management. Overall, I noticed the CPU easily handled a variety of tasks but was potentially bottlenecked by the single-channel RAM. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

For metrics, the ThinkBook 13s had a Geekbench 4.3  multi-core score of 12,485. This multi-core score falls below the mainstream laptop average of 13,178 and the HP Envy 13 (Core i7-8565U CPU) score of 15,738 while blowing away the MacBook Air’s (Core i7-8565U) score of 7,880. 

The ThinkBook 13s’ 256GB PCIe SSD  performed well, duplicating 4.97GB of mixed-media files in 13.5 seconds at a transfer rate of 376.9 megabytes per second. The HP Envy 13 (512GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD) achieved a transfer rate of 363.5 MBps, while the Zenbook 14 UX433 (smoked both systems with 508.0 MBps - all well above the class transfer speed average of 251.1MBps.

The ThinkBook 13s shined during our CPU-intensive Handbrake test, which measures the time it takes to transcode a 4K video into 1080p. At 20 minutes and 12 seconds, the ThinkBook readily outperformed the HP Envy 13 (23:38), Zenbook 14 UX433 (24:46) and overall class average (25:12). 

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Graphics

The ThinkBook 13s packs an Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU, so unless you’re planning to stream games over the cloud, don’t expect any AAA titles to run on this machine. The classic Dirt 3 (2012) test on the ThinkBook 13s yielded a frame rate of 26 frames per second, which falls just short of our 30-fps playability threshold. Similar Windows laptops scored well above this mark, like the ASUS Zenbook 14 UX433 (UHD Graphics 620, 45 fps) and 2019 HP Envy 13 (Nvidia GeForce MX250 GPU, 92 fps).

The 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Test for the ThinkBook 13s was a decent 72,037 for an integrated GPU. Other ultraportables like the Zenbook 14 and HP Envy 13 scored 87,446 and 116,575, respectively. 

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Battery Life

A highlight of the ThinkBook 13s is its battery life. On our battery test, which involves continuous web browsing at 150 nits of brightness, the laptop yielded a runtime of 8 hours and 57 minutes. That’s much longer than the 6:34 mainstream laptop average and the MacBook Air’s 8:51. The Zenbook 14 UX433 lasted 8:37 through our test while the FHD HP Envy 13 lasted 11:11 minutes.

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Webcam

The 720p webcam on the ThinkBook 13s follows the trend of lackluster cameras on popular thin-and-light laptops. The camera is decent enough for occasional video calls with family and friends, and is positioned nicely at the top of the screen. But in 2019, it would be great if laptop manufacturers agreed to include a workable 1080p camera similar to those found in flagship phones. Maybe in 2020. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Introduced last year in Lenovo’s ThinkPad lineup was the ThinkShutter, a glorified name for a sliding shutter that blocks the webcam when not in use. The ThinkShutter is included with the ThinkBook 13s and is a welcome addition to those looking for extra privacy. It’s a small change that sends a large message to Lenovo customers that the company has a focus on privacy and security.

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Heat

The ThinkBook 13s manages heat effectively enough for it to be barely noticeable during everyday use. After playing a 15-minute, 1080p YouTube video, the underside peaked at a warm 89 degrees Fahrenheit, with the hottest location (behind the underside vents) peaking at 92 degrees. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

These numbers fall close to average for similar laptops in the thin and light class, and unless you’re pushing 15 Google Chrome tabs, a couple YouTube videos and a PowerPoint presentation all at once, temperatures are more than manageable.

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Software and Warranty

Like many Windows laptops, the ThinkBook 13s comes with a number of custom apps and bloatware. However, there aren’t too many clogging the home screen, and most are easy to remove. Lenovo apps like Photos and Vantage help organize updates and images, but are redundant to better Windows alternatives. The third installation of Bubble Witch Saga is pinned to Windows Start alongside other bloatware like Spotify and Adobe Photoshop Elements but are easily removable. 

Overall, the ThinkBook 13s remains relatively uncluttered of bloatware and added software - consistent with the Lenovo brand. 

The Lenovo ThinkBook 13s ships with 1-year manufacturer’s warranty. See how Lenovo fared in our Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Laptop Brands annual special reports. 

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Bottom Line

The Lenovo ThinkBook 13s straddles the line between business and mainstream surprisingly well. Priced at $713, the laptop offers good multitasking performance thanks to its Core i5 processor and integrated graphics. It’s also got a fairly speedy SSD and decent battery life. 

However, I wish the display was a bit brighter and more colorful. And a longer battery life definitely wouldn’t hurt. Also, there’s nowhere near enough power in the low-wattage i5 processor to run even basic professional applications like Adobe InDesign or Pro Tools. 

While the reviewed model is good at $713, we’d recommend stepping up to the model with 16GB of RAM if you plan on heavily multi-tasking with this laptop. Memory is a common bottleneck for this class of devices, and my experience with the ThinkBook 13s confirmed 8GB may not be enough in all use cases.

Ultimately, Lenovo has made a budget laptop that accomplishes everyday tasks and basic professional computing well and then gets out of your way.