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Grow Your Business Technology

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook Review: Is It Good for Business?

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook Review: Is It Good for Business?

Chromebooks are better for work than you might think, and that's particularly true of the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook. The laptops — which run on Google's simple Chrome OS operating system — are secure, simple to deploy and easy to use. Lenovo's ThinkPad 13 Chromebook might be the most business-friendly model yet, pairing a top-notch keyboard with long battery life and a durable design that can easily withstand a daily commute. 

Not every worker can get by with this $704 system, which can't run Windows or Mac programs (at least not without fussy virtualization software), but the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook still makes an excellent secondary system for workers with basic computing needs.

The ThinkPad 13 Chromebook sports the same stark design as other laptops in the ThinkPad line. The sturdy, plastic frame has a matte black finish, with few design flourishes other than a Chrome logo stamped on the top-right corner of its lid.

The system is light enough to carry on your commute without much strain. It weighs 3.2 lbs., which is about the same as the Acer Chromebook 14 for Work and the Dell Chromebook 13. If you're looking for a Chromebook you'll barely feel in your work bag, though, HP's 2.6-lb. Chromebook 13 G1 might be a better pick.

Commuters will also appreciate the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook's tough design. The system reportedly meets the MIL-STD 810G durability standards, which means it can withstand vibration, shocks and extreme temperatures. It's not rated to survive drops, though. If you want that kind of durability, Acer's Chromebook 14 for Work is the better pick.

At a glance, the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook's selection of ports seems a bit lacking. On the left edge, you'll find an SD card reader and a USB 3.0 port, and on the right, there's a second USB 3.0 port and two USB-C ports. 

The most glaring omission is the lack of an HDMI port or DisplayPort for connecting to monitors or projectors. That's because the system's two USB Type-C ports can be used for that purpose, with the downside being that your existing video cables aren't compatible. Regardless, I'm glad to see Lenovo embracing the USB Type-C format, which is quickly becoming the new standard.

Keep in mind that the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook charges via USB Type-C, so one of those ports will be occupied by the power cable when you have it plugged in.

The Chromebook 13 sports a sharp 13.3-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel display that pumps out sharp images and crisp text. It struggles a bit with color accuracy, though, particularly on the darker end of the spectrum. Overall, the panel is actually a bit dimmer than the average laptop, though it's more than bright enough for typical indoor use.

The ThinkPad 13 Chromebook offers better security than your average consumer Chromebook. Most notably, it comes equipped with a Trusted Platform Module, which enables hardware-based encryption to keep your sensitive work data private. 

While most Windows-based ThinkPad models provide a fingerprint reader for day-to-day security, you won't find that feature on the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook.

I've come to expect top-notch keyboards from ThinkPad laptops, and this one doesn't disappoint. It provides a very generous 2 millimeters of key travel on each stroke, which is good for workers; a deeper keyboard makes for a more comfortable, desktop-like typing experience. The ThinkPad 13 Chromebook's keyboard also delivers a satisfying level of tactile feedback on each stroke.

ThinkPad die-hards might lament the lack of the red TrackPoint nub, a trademark feature of the brand that lets you control the mouse without moving your hands away from the keyboard. At least the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook offers a nice touchpad, which has a smooth texture that let my finger glide easily. Mouse movement felt responsive and accurate during my testing period.

No need to fret about forgetting your charger at home. The ThinkPad 13 Chromebook ran for 9 hours and 8 minutes on our battery test, which simulates continuous web browsing over Wi-Fi. That's pretty good, outlasting the average laptop's time of 7 hours and 51 minutes, as well as rivals such as the HP Chromebook 13 (6:48) and the Acer Chromebook 14 for Work (8:33). Dell's Chromebook 13 is still the battery-life champ in this category, though; it ran for an incredible 13 hours and 25 minutes on the same battery test.

Chromebooks aren't usually thought of as work machines, mostly because they run on Google's lightweight Chrome OS operating system. The platform has some big limitations, starting with its inability to run software made for Windows or Macs. Instead, you'll have to rely on web apps accessed through the Chrome browser. Don't worry about losing your internet connection; most of these apps can be enabled to work offline.

OK, technically, it is possible to run Windows software on the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook, with the help of virtualization apps such as Citrix or VMware. It's a clunky solution, but it's there if you need it. You might not have to, though, considering how many great web apps are available these days. For instance, Microsoft offers full-featured online versions of its Word, Excel and PowerPoint programs through Office 365. And if you can hold out for a few months, you'll soon be able to run all Android apps on the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook, though the date of that feature's rollout hasn't yet been announced. 

One advantage of the no-nonsense Chrome OS platform is that it's extremely stable, fast and easy to use. After logging in to your Google account, you'll find a desktop that looks like a simplified version of Windows, with a taskbar, a pseudo-Start button for launching apps, and a system tray with the time and date in the bottom-right corner. 

Businesses should keep in mind that Google promises to support OS updates for individual Chromebook models for only five years. That's an important consideration for companies planning to deploy laptops for longer than that.

As a business-focused device, the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook provides a few features you won't find on consumer models; for instance, it's configured to work with the Google for Work ecosystem out of the box. The main advantage of that is that your company's IT staff can easily configure, deploy and remotely manage the laptop.

The ThinkPad 13 Chromebook is more than powerful enough to handle typical work tasks. The system featured in this review came with a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5-6300U processor with 8GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage. That configuration was good enough to handle serious multitasking, though it did occasionally hang for a second or two while switching between tasks.

In fact, the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook edged out rival laptops on the Jetstream JavaScript test, racking up a very solid score of 171.3. That beats the similarly configured Acer Chromebook 14 for Work (167.5) and the HP Chromebook 13 G1(164.2).

Lenovo sells the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook in a handful of hardware configurations. The superaffordable baseline model comes with a low-power Intel Celeron 3855U processor with 4GB of RAM, 16GB of storage and a 1366 x 768-pixel display, for just $322.

The midrange model is a much better sweet spot for the average worker. It comes with a zippier Intel Core i3-6100U processor and a 1080p display, which makes multitasking much more comfortable, for $502.

For this review, we looked at the top-end model, which has an Intel Core i5-6300U processor and 8GB of RAM and raises the price to $704.

Compared to your average Chromebook, Lenovo's ThinkPad 13 Chromebook is a real workhorse. The system offers faster performance, longer battery life, stronger security and a tougher design than consumer-focused models. It also boasts the best keyboard you'll find on any Chromebook, hands down.

That said, there are a couple of enticing alternatives. Acer's Chromebook 14 for Work is even more durable than the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook, but it doesn't last quite as long on a charge and costs $50 more. Meanwhile, Dell's Chromebook 13 lasts an incredible 13 hours on a charge, but it lacks business-class security and durability features.

All of that adds up to make Lenovo's ThinkPad 13 Chromebook a great pick for workers who want a capable, no-fuss business companion.

Brett Nuckles

Brett Nuckles has been a working journalist since 2009. He got his start in local newspapers covering community news, local government, education and more before he joined the Business News Daily staff in 2013. He graduated from Ohio University, where he studied Journalism and English. Follow him on Twitter @BrettNuckles.