Lenovo has always focused 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 try to bridge the gap between professionals and consumers by downsizing and introducing 2-in-1 features; Lenovo’s latest laptop, the Lenovo ThinkBook 13s-IWL, continues this search for a middle level through a more traditional, budget-friendly laptop experience. This is our Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Review.
There’s nothing special about the ThinkBook 13s – no touch screen, a mid-tier processor, muted aesthetics – but it’s a surprisingly reliable, all-around machine when you consider the price and similar laptop comparisons. Long battery life, fast SSD, and an excellent display make ThinkBook 13s a superb option for those looking for value in a business/consumer laptop.
Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Review – Design
Aesthetically, there are no revolutionary steps in the design of the ThinkBook 13s. However, the uniform and straightforward exterior will attract many professionals looking for a low-profile, professional laptop look. The Mineral Gray color is a silver-tone that contributes to the sleek aluminum look of the ThinkBook, but it would have been nice to have a darker color. In the end, there’s not much to say about this design. It’s simple, sleek and fits into the background, and whether that’s attractive is entirely up to you.
Lenovo offers a few durable features with the ThinkBook 13s design. These include spill protection for water, extreme temperatures and vibrations, and a hinge that holds up to 25,000 open-and-closed cycles. However, we haven’t tested these features. When it comes to security, Lenovo offers several features for ThinkBook 13s, including an integrated fingerprint reader built into the power button. It includes data encryption and works in conjunction with other Windows 10 security options.
Kensington locks are becoming rare on business laptops. However, some may be disappointed by the lack of a lock on ThinkBook 13s. Many Lenovo laptops still have a Kensington lock, and it’s a simple security feature that’s been omitted – possibly due to the laptop’s limited size or budget. While ThinkBook 13s has an HDMI port, two USB 3.1 Type-A ports, and a Type-C port, the lack of Thunderbolt 3 in a laptop is regrettable these days.
The continued use of a large dedicated charging port also sticks out like a sore thumb, especially when similar laptops such as Acer Swift 7 and MacBook Air are only charged via thinner Thunderbolt 3 ports. While laptops like Swift 7 and MacBook Air leave traditional ports altogether, it’s refreshing to see ThinkBook 13s have multiple USB Type-A ports and an HDMI port.
Keyboard and TouchPad
Lenovo has always been a leader in the best keyboards and touchpad support, and for the most part, ThinkBook 13s continues this tradition. The keys are fun to type on with an enjoyable travel and a satisfying “thunk” sound: features that are harder to get on increasingly thin ultraportables.
However, the standards set by the ThinkPad lineup are not fully met in this laptop. The overall build quality and flexibility of the ThinkBook 13s keyboard is good, but not great, which may only be noticeable for a lifetime Lenovo fan. The classic red Lenovo Trackpoint is also missing from the ThinkBook 13s keyboard, which will disappoint those who like to use the keyboard as a replacement for a touchpad. As someone who isn’t used to Lenovo laptop keyboards, I found the ThinkBook 13s keyboard accurate and fast.
The ThinkBook 13s touchpad is equipped with Windows Precision drivers and offers a pleasant experience. For me, the size of the 2.5 x 4.2-inch touchpad was perfect for this laptop because it’s not too big to touch my palms but not too small to make gestures. The left and right clicks are okay, but don’t feel or sound as good as a MacBook Air or Dell XPS. Multi-touch gestures are there and work well with Precision drivers, but if you’re familiar with Mac gestures, you’ll notice that the response is not as sharp and smooth.
Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Review – Display
There are no bells and whistles on the 13.3-inch, 1920 x 1080 non-touch IPS screen on ThinkBook 13s. The screen has a matte finish and provides a pleasant web browsing and video viewing experience without glare. However, the edges of the ThinkBook 13s are significantly larger than those of the Asus Zenbook UX433 and MacBook Air.
The ThinkBook 13s screen provided a bright, colorful image when viewing a trailer for Ford v. Ferrari. The sunlight reflecting the white-red paint of the old 60’s racing cars was abundantly transported on the panel. Even when the direct sunlight in Central Park hit the display, the image quality was hardly affected. This is far from an Ultra-HD 4K HDR display – details on Matt Damon’s face and debris on a race track weren’t entirely clear – but for a $700 laptop 1080p screen, it provided a great viewing experience.
Color accuracy and sharpness are not the most reliable features of this screen. However, for everyday tasks and entertainment, the colors on the ThinkBook 13s are surprisingly bright. With an sRGB coverage of 104%, the ThinkBook 13s is better than the Apple MacBook Air (100%) and the average of the regular laptop (82.7%) but lags behind the Asus Zenbook UX433 (121%). A screen brightness of 314 nits for the ThinkBook 13s is quite suitable for its class, beating the average of 284 nits and the Asus Zenbook UX433 (217 nits). The MacBook Air and HP Envy 13 were slightly brighter with 343 and 397 nits, respectively.
The sound system on the ThinkBook 13s fire from under the palm rest and generally provide a decent audio experience. For a business presentation or to watch a YouTube video, the Harman audio gets the job done. I found that the sound can reach across an ample space and only gets distorted at around 70-80% of its maximum volume. For more tuned audiophiles, you should probably look elsewhere if you’re not planning on using headphones. Listening to music like Simon and Garfunkel or Andrew Bird is enough, but hollow and one-dimensional, especially since the ThinkBook 13s has no bass definition at all. Don’t expect electronic or rock music to sound well in any way.
The ThinkBook 13s has Intel UHD Graphics 620 GPU, so unless you plan to stream games over the cloud, you don’t expect AAA titles to run on this laptop. The classic Dirt 3 (2012) test on the Lenovo ThinkBook 13s yielded a frame rate of 26 frames per second, which is just below our 30 fps playability threshold. Similar Windows laptops scored well above this figure, such as the Zenbook 14 UX433 (UHD Graphics 620, 45 fps) and 2019 Envy 13 (Nvidia’s GeForce MX250 GPU, 92 fps). The 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited Test for the Lenovo ThinkBook 13s was quite a 72,037 for an integrated GPU. Other ultraportables such as the Zenbook 14 and HP Envy 13 scored 87,446 and 116,575, respectively.
Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Review – 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 open Google Chrome tabs and multiple YouTube videos playing simultaneously, ThinkBook fans were turned on, but no slowdown in speed, audio, or video quality was seen. With all the tabs and videos still open, downloading the same 1080p trailer from Ford v. Ferrari didn’t cause much difference in speed.
However, some tabs would have to be reloaded from time to time due to memory management. In general, I noticed that the CPU efficiently handled a variety of tasks, but that there might be a bottleneck due to the single-channel RAM. For metrics, the Lenovo ThinkBook 13s had a Geekbench 4.3 multi-core score of 12,485. This multi-core score is below the average of 13,178 and the Envy 13 (Core i7-8565U CPU) score of 15,738, while the Apple MacBook Air (Core i7-8565U) score is 7,880.
ThinkBook 13’s 256GB PCIe SSD performed well, duplicating 4.97GB of mixed media files in 13.5 seconds, registering a transfer rate of 376.9 MBps. The HP Envy 13 (512 GB PCIe NVMe M.2 SSD) achieved a transfer rate of 363.5 MBps, while the Asus Zenbook 14 UX433 (both systems smoked at 508.0 MBps – all well above the average transfer rate of 251.1 MBps.
Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Review – Battery Life
A highlight of the ThinkBook 13s is the battery life. In our battery test, which continuously scans the web with 150 nits of brightness, the laptop achieved 8 hours and 57 minutes of battery life. That’s much longer than the average of a 6:34 mainstream laptop and the Apple MacBook Air’s 8:51 level. The Asus Zenbook 14 UX433 lasted 8:37 hours through our test, while the FHD Envy 13 lasted 11:11 minutes.
The ThinkBook 13s manages the heat effectively enough so that it is barely noticeable during daily use. After playing a 15-minute, 1080p YouTube video, the bottom reached its peak at a warm 89 degrees Fahrenheit, with the hottest area (behind the vents at the bottom) peaking at 92 degrees. These numbers are close to the average for similar laptops in the thin and light class. Unless you push 15 Google Chrome tabs, a few YouTube videos, and a PowerPoint presentation at once, temperatures are more than manageable.
Price and Configuration Options
Lenovo offers several options for their ThinkBook 13s IWL line, with prices starting at $629 for an Intel’s Core i5-8265U CPU, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of SSD. Our $713 model has the same CPU as the basic configuration, but with a workable 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD. The top model costs $905 for an Intel Core i7-8565U and a 512GB SSD, and you can upgrade to 16GB RAM for an extra $84. Lenovo also offers a 14-inch model for those looking for a bigger screen. These models feature the same specifications with marginal price increases.
Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Review – Conclusion
Lenovo ThinkBook 13’s runs surprisingly well across the boundary between business and mainstream. At $713, it offers excellent multitasking performance thanks to its Core i5 processor and integrated graphics. It also has a reasonably fast SSD and a decent battery life. However, I wish the display was a little brighter and more colorful. And a longer battery life certainly wouldn’t hurt. Also, there is far from enough power in the low voltage i5 processor to run even professional basic applications like Adobe InDesign or Pro Tools.
While the rated model is suitable for $713, we recommend boosting the model with 16GB of RAM if you plan to multi-task heavily with this laptop. RAM is a common bottleneck for this class of notebooks, and my experience with the ThinkBook 13s suggested that 8GB might not be enough in all cases of use. In the end, Lenovo created a budget laptop that performs everyday tasks and basic professional computing well and then gets out of the way.
Lenovo ThinkBook 13s delivers solid performance with a comfortable keyboard and nearly 9 hours of battery life.
- Above-average SSD speeds
- Good performance
- Comfortable keyboard
- Solid battery life
- Lacks Thunderbolt 3
- Uninspired design