Lenovo's ThinkPad 13 is a nearly perfect productivity companion for small business owners. It's hard to find fault with this midrange notebook, which effortlessly ticks just about every box on its way to becoming my favorite midrange work laptop. For starters, its keyboard isn't just good — it's the best I've ever tested. The notebook also has long battery life, excellent security and durability, a sharp 13-inch display, and a lightweight design that won't weigh you down on your commute. And starting at just $611, it's a steal.
Commuters will appreciate the ThinkPad 13's portable design; the system measures 0.78 inches thick and weighs about 3.14 lbs., which is pretty sleek for a $611 machine. It's easy enough to tote back and forth between home and the office, anyway.
But the ThinkPad 13 is more durable than either of those systems. Lenovo says the system offers military-grade toughness and was tested to withstand short drops, dings, vibrations, extreme temperatures and humidity. Despite its midrange price, the ThinkPad 13 feels just as rigid and sturdy as pricier models such as the ThinkPad T460 — which is a big perk if you need to lug the system around on business trips.
Most of the ports that a worker could want are present on the ThinkPad 13. The system's right edge sports two USB 3.0 ports for connecting to existing accessories; a full-size HDMI port for linking the notebook to a desktop display or projector; and a USB Type-C port.
On the left edge, there's an additional USB 3.0 port and a Lenovo OneLink docking port that will let you connect to older docking stations.
Buyers can choose between two colors for the ThinkPad 13. I tested the silver model, which sports a handsome matte-silver lid and keyboard deck. There's also a black model, which looks more like a classic ThinkPad.
ThinkPads are known for their top-notch keyboards, but this is the one I'd pick for a marathon typing session. In fact, the ThinkPad 13 has the nicest-feeling keyboard I've ever used on any laptop, bar none. It offers an extremely generous 1.94 millimeters of key travel, which is well above the 1.5 mm we look for in a laptop. Deeper keys are better because they provide a more comfortable, desktop-like typing experience. Plus, the keys offer crisp, snappy feedback on each stroke.
The system isn't your best bet for typing in low light, though, because the keyboard lacks backlighting. That's typical for laptops in this price range, though.
While I absolutely love the ThinkPad 13's keyboard, I'm less thrilled by the notebook's 3.5 x 2.1-inch touchpad, which has slightly too much friction on its surface. That means my finger wasn't always able to glide smoothly, and I noticed the cursor sometimes jumped a bit when I clicked icons and highlighted text. Multifinger gestures, such as two-finger scrolling, felt quite responsive, though.
For just an extra $10, an optional fingerprint scanner can be added to the ThinkPad 13, which provides a nice security boost during everyday use. The scanner is only available on the black model; my silver review unit didn't have one, so I didn't have a chance to test it out. I do know that the scanner is an older swipe-based reader. It may work fine, but I've found that swipe-based readers aren't quite as reliable as the one-touch fingerprint readers on premium models like the ThinkPad T460s.
Otherwise, the ThinkPad 13 offers security credentials good enough to please corporate IT departments. It offers standard security features, such as hardware encryption via a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chip. And all models with a Core i5-6300U processor or better are equipped with Intel vPro technology, which allows the system to be managed remotely.
The ThinkPad 13's 13-inch, 1080p display is a good size for on-the-go productivity, offering enough real estate for split-screen multitasking and other work tasks, such as editing spreadsheets and documents. The full-HD panel has a resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels, which is a good sweet spot for a notebook this size. Text looks crisp, but colors could be more vibrant.
The display is really bright, too, topping out at 241 nits of brightness. That outshines rivals like the Toshiba Tecra C40 (205 nits), though the ZenBook UX305C (319 nits) is even brighter.
The ThinkPad 13 will last through your longest work flights with ease. The system ran for an impressive 9 hours and 13 minutes on our battery test, which simulates continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi. That handily beats the category average of 8 hours and 13 minutes, and it wallops the Tecra C40 (6:49). Asus' ZenBook UX305C lasted slightly longer on our battery test, finally dying after 9 hours and 48 minutes.
The ThinkPad 13's specs aren't very impressive on paper, but the system's performance is more than sufficient for daily work tasks. My review unit came with a 2.3-GHz Core i3-610pU processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage. It sped along quite well during moderate multitasking, and I didn't notice any slowdown while I edited a large spreadsheet with about 10 tabs open in my Firefox web browser.
The system racked up a respectable score of 5,230 on the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance. That middle-of-the-road score beats the Core m3-equipped Asus ZenBook UX305C (4,810), but it lags behind the Core i5-6200U-powered Toshiba Tecra C40 (5,783). Remember that the ThinkPad 13 is also available with several different Core i5 CPUs, which are better for tackling demanding workloads.
The ThinkPad 13 also did pretty well on our spreadsheet test, matching 20,000 names to their addresses in 5 minutes and 33 seconds. That handily beats the category average of 7 minutes and 12 seconds, though the ZenBook UX305C (6:01) and the Tecra C40 (4:29) were speedier.
Lenovo sells the ThinkPad 13 in a handful of hardware configurations. The baseline model comes with an Intel Core i3-6100U processor with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage, for $611.
You can opt for a variety of upgrades when you buy the system through Lenovo.com. I highly recommend getting at least the Core i5-6200U processor, a $70 upgrade that will significantly improve the system's multitasking capabilities. Intel vPro functionality is available only with the Core i5-6300U processor, a $150 upgrade. You can also upgrade the RAM by up to 16GB (8GB is recommended for most workers) and the storage by up to 512GB (256GB is a good sweet spot for a business machine).
Despite its midrange $611 starting price, the ThinkPad 13 goes head-to-head with laptops that cost hundreds of dollars more. Workers will love its bright, crisp 13-inch display and its zippy performance, as well as its strong security and durability credentials. Commuters, meanwhile, will appreciate its lightweight design and long battery life. And if your job involves clacking away on a keyboard for hours, there's no better laptop anywhere.
The ThinkPad 13 is not perfect, though. Its slightly jumpy touchpad is a bit of a letdown, and other systems are more portable, including the pricier Dell XPS 13 and Asus ZenBook UX305C. But workers looking for a business-class laptop at an affordable price won't find a better productivity companion than the ThinkPad 13.