Lenovo ThinkPad X13s Review

The Lenovo ThinkPad X13s is the best Snapdragon-based laptop we’ve seen thus far that hits where it matters

The Lenovo ThinkPad X13s is Lenovo’s first Snapdragon ThinkPad, built in close collaboration with Qualcomm. It is the best Snapdragon 8Cx Gen 3 we’ve seen to date, and its design revolves around a few pillars: productivity, connectivity, experience, and security.

It has good performance for an office productivity computer, and even though it can play some games, that’s not what it was built for. For office work, it keeps you productive without worrying about battery life or WiFi availability, thanks to its built-in 5G.

Pay attention if your computing life revolves around web apps or the Microsoft 365 ecosystem. This laptop could change your mobile PC experience forever.

Configuration

All versions of the ThinkPad X13s come with a 13.3” FHD display and a Snapdragon 8Cx Gen 3 computing platform. Our unit has the following configuration: 16GB, non-touch display, and 512GB of storage. That said, there are various options you can choose from.

Three FHD display variants are available; two are non-touch with 300 NITs or 400 NITs brightness. The 400 NITs version has better overall image quality according to the specs. There’s one 300 NITs, touch-enabled variant, which we would choose for usability reasons.

The RAM is soldered and comes with 8, 16, or 32GB of LPDDR4X at order time. 16GB should work for most people, but it’s awesome to be able to push it to 32GB if you know why you need it. The storage option includes at least 512GB and 1TB of NVMe SSD.

These are the significant differences between models. Other ones might include the availability of 5G mmWave (or not) or power supply SKU (2x45W models and 4x65W models), for example.

Pricing starts at $1300+ at Lenovo.com

Industrial Design

The Lenovo ThinkPad X13s design comes with the iconic ThinkPad black matte color, and from a distance, it could pass for something in-between the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 and the ThinkPad X1 Nano Gen1.

At 13.4 mm (.53”) thin weighing only 2.35 lbs (1.06kg), it is an ultralight, ultracompact computer with the following dimensions: 298.7 x 206.4 x 13.4 mm (11.76 x 8.13 x 0.53 inches)

A closer inspection shows a design language tweak with curved surfaces and rounded edges. The paint has a rubberized texture that makes it seem like a “suede” surface, softer to the touch than the typical ThinkPad paint.

Under the paint, the chassis is built with 90% recycled magnesium alloy. Lenovo is upped its sustainability game, and there’s a lot of recycled plastic too. There’s certainly enough plastic around, but not enough companies willing to make this effort.

At the top of the back display cover, there’s a prominent “camera bar,” which makes it possible to house a larger, higher-quality camera module. We’ll get back to that a bit later.

The bottom cover can be removed for servicing (IT loves this), and the SSD can theoretically be swapped. However, it is located under the cooling plates, perhaps one step further than the average user might want to take.

The Qualcomm X55 5G modem is also accessible if it needs repair. It is located where the SIM slot is but supports eSim as well. For a computer, this modem (and the Qualcomm WIFI/BT hardware) represents a world-class connectivity option that should work worldwide.

One can’t help but notice there are no cooling vents at all, and for a good reason: this is a passively cooled computer that will never annoy you with fan noise. Yet, it is extremely tough and passed a bunch o fMIL-STD-810H (military transport certification) like other ThinkPads.

Keyboard Trackpad

The ThinkPad X13s features a full-size, spill-resistant keyboard that is visually similar to other ThinkPad computers. Because of its size, the travel key seems to be around 0.9-1mm. The keys aren’t clicky like the ThinkPad X1 Nano Gen 1. Instead, they are very soft and extremely quiet.

The Mylar trackpad is very smooth and feels like glass. Its 56 x 115mm size makes it a big touch surface, a great use of the available space. It could have been larger if it wasn’t for the two physical Left/Middle/Right buttons, which we think are much more precise than trackpad “taps.”

Of course, the legendary TrackPoint is present and works like any other ThinkPad. There are two backlight levels in dim lighting conditions to keep the keyboard readable.

Ports

There are two USB-C 3.2 Gen2 10 Gbps ports to the chassis’ left. Both can be used to charge the laptop as well. There’s no Thunderbolt (TB) support because TB is an Intel technology that reaches 40 Gbps of data transfer.

That said, USB-C 3.2 Gen2 is decent and allows connecting two 4K displays to this tiny laptop. If using a dock, you should be able to have a one-cable setup to turn the ThinkPad X13s into a desktop computer.

The classic 3.5mm audio and Kensington anti-theft connectors are on the right side.

Sound Quality

This laptop has two 2W top-firing speakers, which is definitely the optimum placement. It’s always impressive to see such compact computers having this feature while larger ones can’t quite pull it off.

The audio quality is great for a computer this size, and voices are very clear while watching movies. The bass could be improved, but given the internal volume available, we can’t fault Lenovo for not having a sub-woofer until someone else does it.

The sound quality would work very well for conference calls and watching movies at your desk or hotel room. By the way, the small size makes this computer ideal for airline tray tables.

Display

The 1080p/FHD resolution is a fine and appropriate choice, and we wonder what a 3:2 ratio would look like (see X1 Titanium Yoga), especially for an office productivity laptop. As we mentioned, there are a few options, with touch or not.

They all have excellent color reproduction with around 100% of the sRGB color gamut and between 300-400 NITs of brightness which is typical for laptops at this price level. The display quality is adequate for light Creative work (web dev, photoshop, art review…).

The top camera module is one of the significant improvements in the ThinkPad lineup, and so far, this 5MP camera (f/2.0 aperture) is the best webcam we’ve seen on any laptop.

Lenovo is going in the right direction, and we don’t mind the camera bump if the quality matches the extra size. There’s no reason laptops can’t catch up with phones’ cameras, and working with Qualcomm is the fast track to get there.

There’s no physical shutter but an electronic ON/OFF function (alt+F9) that works just as well. The only downside is there’s no physical blocker you can visually check. Perhaps a “red LED” (or something) could be a substitute in the future.

Our camera was compatible with Windows Hello, and that’s our primary way to log in securely. If you prefer the fingerprint reader, it’s located in the Power button.

Performance

The Qualcomm Snapdragon 8Cx Gen3 is an excellent ARM-based computing platform that is highly power-efficient. The ThinkPad X13s can beat pretty much any Intel-equivalent laptop regarding battery life.

From a pure computing power perspective through the lens of benchmarks, it is roughly equivalent to an AMD Ryzen 5 4500U or an 11th Gen Intel Core i5. If you need extra speed and are willing to sacrifice battery life in the same form factor, I’d recommend looking at the ThinkPad X1 Nano with the Intel i7-1160G7.

With Windows 11, the Snapdragon 8Cx platform is more relevant than ever because it can execute X86 32 and 64-bit applications. The apps’ compatibility is better than ever, and we have not bumped into any issues with our usual apps. They all ran, including Photoshop.

“Some” apps might still fail. For example, 3dMark Night Raid is the only one in the franchise that will work. DaVinci Resolve is not going to find a compatible GPU. There might be more like this, so we’d recommend doing some homework on these high-performance apps.

It would help if Microsoft had a compatibility database we could search. We’ll say it again: this is an office productivity laptop.

On the other hand, games like the recent GTA will run, although at a relatively slow 20 FPs. Your best bet for gaming is to use one of the game-streaming services, such as GeForce Now (and others), as any X86 emulation will have little impact on the streaming client’s performance.

Finally, any high-powered app will eventually bump into thermal throttling as the passive cooling does an excellent job for web browsing and office work but can’t move the heat fast enough for intense gaming. The system will eventually slow itself down to match the heat dissipation capabilities.

The ThinkPad X13s offers good performance for office work (set to “Balanced” performance) and can be set to extreme battery performance while watching movies or reading documents. Unlike previous ARM-based PCs, this one feels like a “normal” Core i5 laptop.Battery Life

The ThinkPad X13s offers exceptional battery life, and we’ve tested it during recent travel that included working on the go, using 5G for always-on connectivity, etc. At no time were we stressed with the battery level; chances are you’ll be exhausted before your battery is.

Its 49.5Wh battery capacity is enough to sustain the computer for what we estimate to be 14-16 hours of office work. If you work “only” 8hrs a day, it fits the “multi-day” battery life that both Qualcomm and Lenovo mention. When closed, the computer retains its charge better than conventional laptops.

According to Lenovo, the laptop can play local movies (an MP4 on your disk) for 22-28 hours at 150 Nits brightness, depending on your power settings (best performance, best battery life) if nothing else is running in the background, without active WIFI/5G that sounds believable.

It takes 1h20mn to reach 100% if you need to charge it. It would be fantastic if Lenovo could make this even faster in the future. We’ve recently tested phones that can be fully charged in 20mn, like the OnePlus 10T, and it’s very addictive.

Conclusion

The Lenovo ThinkPad X13s is the best Snapdragon-based laptop we’ve seen thus far that hits where it matters these days: ultra-long battery life, extreme connectivity, and superior webcam quality, which can make a massive difference for road warriors or work-from-home users.

It’s the first ARM-based PC we’ve tested that feels like an Intel Core i5 equivalent in the real world, and it seems like an inflection point for Qualcomm’s fray into the laptop PC market. Qualcomm has many ways to quickly ramp up the computing power once this segment goes vertical. Apple has demonstrated it.

For IT organizations, this laptop also comes with Lenovo’s Premier Support, ThinkShield, and secure manageability, making it easier to manage, thus actually saving time and money. It’s something you might not consider as a consumer, but I’ve seen many corporations that would only offer ThinkPads to their employees for this reason. SMBs might not have an IT department, so this support level might prove helpful.

Finally, it is a sturdy laptop that can survive shocks and spills better than most. There’s nothing worse than having a dead laptop in the middle of a business trip.

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Source: https://www.ubergizmo.com/reviews/lenovo-thinkpad-x13s-review/