Lenovo’s (and previously IBM’s) ThinkPads are some of the most popular ultraportable notebooks of the last decades. But what if you need a solid all-day ultrabook and don’t like the sober black looks or don’t have the budget to go with a ThinkPad?
Here enters the ThinkBook series, a new addition to Lenovo’s lineup of ultrabooks starting from the second part of 2019.
Don’t get carried away by the rather misleading naming, though, ThinkBooks and ThinkPads have very little in common. In fact, they’re rather rebranded and slightly tweaked IdeaPads, hence the lack of certain Thinkpad-reserved features and the more affordable price-tag.
We’ve spent the last weeks with a retail version of the smaller ThinkBook 13s 13-inch ultrabook, and gathered all our impressions below, with the solid parts and the quirks. The laptop came from Lenovo for us to review, but as always, that doesn’t impact our thoughts about it in any way.
Specs as reviewed
|Lenovo ThinkBook 13s-IWL|
|Screen||13.3 inch, 1920 x 1080 px, IPS, non-touch, matte|
|Processor||Intel Whiskey Lake Core i5-8265U CPU, quad-core|
|Video||Intel UHD 620, optional AMD Radeon 540X 2 GB|
|Memory||8 GB DDR4 2666 MHz (1x DIMM)|
|Storage||256 GB SSD (WDC PC SN520 – M.2 PCIe x2 80 mm)|
|Connectivity||Wireless AC (Intel AC 9560), Bluetooth 5.0|
|Ports||2x USB-A 3.1 gen 2, 1x USB-C gen 2 (with DP and data, power-share), HDMI 1.4b, mic/headphone|
|Battery||45 Wh, 65 Wh charger|
|Size||308 mm or 12.12” (w) x 216 mm or 8.5” (d) x 15.9 mm or 0.5” (h)|
|Weight||2.91 lbs (1.32 kg), + .8 lbs (.35 kg) charger, EU version|
|Extras||white backlit keyboard, HD webcam, stereo bottom speakers, finger sensor|
Lenovo offers the ThinkBook 13s in several configurations, built around the same barebone with Core U hardware, an IPS matte screen, and a 45Wh battery. You can opt between Core i5 or i7 processors, various amounts of storage and memory, as well as an optional Radeon 540X dedicated graphics. Our review unit is a base-level configuration, excellent for daily use, but not that well suited for more demanding loads that could benefit from the i7 CPU, the dGPU and more RAM.
There’s also a ThinkBook 14s variant, which is pretty much the same laptop, but with a 14-inch display, dimmer 250-nits panel and increased weight of 1.5 kg – 3.3 lbs. There’s better value in the 13-inch variant imo.
That aside, a ThinkBook 15s is also scheduled for the near future, and that should be an interesting 15-inch ultraportable with 10th gen Intel hardware, a larger battery and improved IO. We’re looking forward to give this a spin in a future review.
Design and construction
Aesthetically, the ThinkBook borrows plenty from the Ideapad lines. The laptop comes in a dark-grey color scheme and looks professional, but is also friendly to use and hides smudges and scratches well.
Metal is used for the entire outer chassis, with the only visible plastic being around the display. Lenovo didn’t skimp on the quality, opting for thick pieces of aluminum for the lid, interior, and underside. That’s why the laptop feels durable and more premium than you’d perhaps expect at its price range.
The ThinkBook 13s is not very compact by today’s standards, though, and you can tell that from the thick top and bottom bezels around the display. It’s still a slim and sleek computer, but the larger footprint and the solid metal construction add up to a total weight of just shy of 3 lbs (1.3 kg). You’ll find smaller and lighter 13-inch and even 14-inch ultrabooks out there, but the increase in weight is not something that bothered me in actual use. In fact, the extra weight is compensated by the build quality and the lower pricing here.
I would have, however, expected a more spacious palm-rest and clickpad with this taller design, but that’s not the case. Lenovo pushed the keyboard towards the middle of the chassis, leaving a fairly thick part above and eating into the palm-rest.
For comparison, I’ve added some pics of the ThinkBook 13s next to my XPS 13, one of the top ultraportables on the market and also one of the smallest.
The ThinkBook 13s scores well when it comes to practicality, but it’s not without quirks. Two solid hinges keep the screen in place as set up, and allow it to lean back flat to 180 degrees. You will, however, need both hands to lift up the display and break past the initial resistance. That aside, the bottom feet are only averagely grippy and the front lip and corners are rather sharp and will bite into your wrists on cramped desks.
I’ll also add the fact that Lenovo decided that a bright always-on light around the Power button is something people would appreciate. What were they thinking? That light makes no sense to me and it’s extremely annoying when trying to watch a movie in a dark room. They should have cut it off completely, or at least tie it to the keyboard’s illumination so it could be somehow turned off.
As for the IO, there are two USB-A ports on the left side, and HDMI, USB-C, headphone jack and USB PD power-in on the other. The laptop lacks Thunderbolt 3 support and doesn’t charge via USB-C, but via the standard rectangular USB Power Delivery Lenovo plug of the past IdeaPads.
All in all, the ThinkBook 13s looks and feels a lot like a rebranded Lenovo Ideapad 730s. That’s not a complain, just don’t expect this to be some sort of a ThinkPad, it’s not. What it is, though, is a sturdily built and nice-looking everyday ultrabook with a versatile matte screen, full-size keyboard, and decent IO. Thus, despite its quirks, this ThinkBook has what it takes to be a competent travel companion or school computer.
Keyboard and trackpad
The ThinkBook 13s borrows its inputs from the IdeaPad and Yoga series.
That means the keyboard gets short-travel and rather shallow chiclet keys with a slightly rounded bottom shape and smooth coating. There’s little to complain about the layout, aside from the fact that the Up and Down keys are shorter than the others. Even the Ctrl and Fn keys are in the right place, unlike on other Lenovo laptops.
In fact, the inputs further prove that there’s little in common between the ThinkBook and ThinkPad lines. You’re not going to find the taller keyboard of the Thinkpad here, nor a Trackpoint or dedicated click buttons, but a simpler keyboard and a standard plastic clickpad.
I’ve typed this entire review on the ThinkBook 13s and got along fine with this keyboard. I didn’t find it particularly fast or accurate, but it’s OK once you get used to it and I also found it very quiet, perfectly adequate for library-use and other silent environments.
The keyboard is also backlit, with White LEDs and two brightness levels to choose from. Light creeps out from beneath the upper Function keys, but that aside, the illumination is even and well implemented. There’s even a physical Caps Lock indicator, and the lights turn on by swiping your fingers over the clickpad.
Speaking of that, the clickpad is a plastic surface of fairly small size, due to the small palm-rest mentioned in the previous section. It worked fine with daily use, though, yet the surface feels a bit cheap and rattles with taps. The physical clicks in the corners are also rather clumsy and loud.
Lenovo also added a finger-sensor on this laptop, integrated within the Power Button, and not placed on the palm-rest as on the older IdeaPads. That makes perfect sense and it works well with Windows Hello, but I still don’t get why they had to include that always-on bright light around it.
The ThinkBook 13s gets a 13.3-inch IPS screen with FHD resolution and matte non-touch finishing.
It uses a mid-level quality panel from AU Optronics, with a measured maximum brightness of 273 cd/m2, excellent contrast of above 1200:1 and deep blacks. The panel also covers 68% of the AdobeRGB color gamut, making it a fine choice for everyday use and even for occasional color accurate work, especially after calibration.
More details below, measured with a Spyder4 sensor:
- Panel HardwareID: Au Optronics AUO5A2D (B133HAN05.A);
- Coverage: 94.5% sRGB, 67.5% AdobeRGB, 71.4% DCI P3;
- Measured gamma: 2.39;
- Max brightness in the middle of the screen: 273 cd/m2 on power;
- Contrast at max brightness: 1268:1;
- White point: 7100 K;
- Black on max brightness: 0.21 cd/m2;
- Average DeltaE: 0.6 calibrated;
- Response time: 29 ms GTG;
- PWM: Yes, 25 KHz at <20% brightness.
The panel’s brightness and color coverage are uniform, and we didn’t notice any obvious light bleeding on black backgrounds either. You’ll want to calibrate the panel in order to address the Gamma, Colors and White Point imbalances, or you can use our calibrated profile available here.
Hardware, performance and upgrade options
Our test version is a base-level configuration of the Lenovo ThinkBook 13s, with the Core i5-8265U Whiskey Lake processor, Intel UHD 620 graphics, 8 GB of RAM, and a 256 GB PCIe x2 SSD.
Higher tier variants can be specced up to a Core i7-8565U processor, 16 GB of RAM, 1 TB PCIe x4 storage and an AMD Radeon 540X dedicated graphics.
The CPU and GPU are soldered on the motherboard, but the RAM and storage are upgradeable. Getting inside is easy and requires to remove the back-panel, hold in place by a handful of Torx screws. Once inside, you’ll notice that the DIMM is further hidden beneath a metallic cover that you’ll have to pull out, and the M.2 slot supports both 2242 (like on our sample) and 2280 SSD standards.
Overall it’s nice to see the ability to still upgrade the memory and storage on a 2019 ultraportable, with most other options going with soldered RAM and even storage these days. That means you can buy a base-level variant and upgrade it yourself, which allows for flexibility and will also cost you less than buying the upgrades from the OEM.
This base-level configuration is perfectly adequate for everyday use: browsing, movies, music, text-editing and such.
Based on this implementation, the i7 processor is not required even if you plan to multitask and run occasional demanding software, but in these cases, more RAM would help. Finally, the i7 will show its strength in taxing chores, but don’t expect more than 10-15% boost over the i5. As for the Radeon 540X dGPU, we’ll touch on its value further down.
For now, though, we test the CPU’s behavior in demanding loads by running Cinebench R15 for 10+ times in a loop, with 2-3 sec delay between each run, which simulates a 100% load on all the cores. Normally, portable implementations of this CPU return high scores for the first run, but lower ones once heat builds up and the processor needs to clock down to cope with the thermal and power limitations.
The i5-8265U settled for frequencies of 2.4-2.5 GHz on our sample, a standard TDP of 15 W, temperatures of 77-78 degrees Celsius and roughly 525 points. That’s a standard implementation of this processor, and Lenovo doesn’t offer any Performance profiles like on some of their ThinkPads, which would increase the Power limit and allow the CPU to run at higher-clocks in this scenario.
Further performance can be squeezed by undervolting the processor (with Throttlestop, explained here). Our sample ran perfectly stable at -100 mV. In this case, the i5 settles for frequencies of 2.6-2.7 GHz, the same TDP of 15 W and temperatures of 77-78 degrees Celsius, but roughly 580 points in the Cinebench loop test. That puts it on par with stock 15W implementations of the Core i7-8565U. Of course, the i7 variants can also be further improved with undervolting, but as mentioned above, will end at roughly 620-650 points in the sustained Cinebench loop, so within 10-15% of the i5.
Our sample also performed very well while unplugged, as you can see in the logs and pictures below.
Next, we’ve included a set of benchmarks, for those of you interested in numbers, which we’ve run on the Best-Performance power profile in Windows, with default voltage settings:
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 1002 (Graphics – 1082, Physics – 9026);
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 411 (Graphics – 359, CPU – 2371);
- GeekBench 4.4.2 64-bit: Single-Core: 4264, Multi-core: 12318;
- GeekBench 5.0.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 977, Multi-core: 3117;
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 583 cb, CPU Single Core 152 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 1257 cb;
Then we reran some of the benchmarks on the -100 mV undervolted profile, which allowed a quite significant increase in CPU related tests and, as expected, pretty much no changes in GPU scores:
- 3DMark 13 – Fire Strike: 1002 (Graphics – 1078, Physics – 10167);
- 3DMark 13 – Time Spy: 414 (Graphics – 361, CPU – 2545);
- PassMark: Rating: 3340, CPU mark: 8540, 3D Graphics Mark: 1066;
- GeekBench 4.4.2 64-bit: Single-Core: 4213, Multi-core: 13095;
- GeekBench 5.0.1 64-bit: Single-Core: 968, Multi-core: 3347;
- CineBench R15 (best run): CPU 653 cb, CPU Single Core 151 cb;
- CineBench R20 (best run): CPU 1419 cb;
All these show the solid CPU/GPU performance with stock settings, and the slight boost once the processor in undervolted.
Let’s touch on the graphics aspect for a bit. Our configuration comes with Intel’s UHD 620 iGPU, and there’s only so much it can do. We gave it a try in Need for Speed: Most Wanted, which is an older but still fairly taxing game. The log below shows constant GPU clocks and excellent thermals, but paired with the processor clocking down to and below its 1.6 GHz base-frequency. That means the implementation pushes power onto the iGPU in order to improve the gaming performance as much as possible within the combined 15W TDP shared by the CPU and GPU.
If you opt for the Radeon 540X variant, which is merely a $50 upgrade on Lenovo’s website but might not available worldwide, the CPU will benefit from the full 15W, while the graphics will be pushed onto the dGPU. The thermal module inside this ThinkBook looks capable of cooling the i7 + 540X models, but we haven’t actually tested that in order to confirm it.
As far as the performance goes, the 540X is an entry-level dGPU and should fare just a little better than the Nvidia MX150/MX250 chips. It’s a rebranded RX 540 that’s been included in lower-tier ultraportables over the last year. It gets more CUDA cores than the Nvidia options, but slightly slower memory. AMD offers variants with either 2 or 4 GB of GDDR5 memory, and the former is bundled with the ThinkBook 13s.
All in all, the 540X will help with games, allowing decent performance in simpler titles at FHD resolution and medium settings. It’s not going to make a gaming laptop out of this ThinkBook 13s, but it’s enough to make it an alternative for the Core i/MX250 ultrabooks out there.
On the other hand, if you’re primarily looking for an everyday ultrabook, the Radeon chip is not a necessity and the base level Core i5 models are perfectly suitable for mundane tasks and multitasking.
Noise, Heat, Connectivity, speakers, and others
Our i5/UHD 620 configuration is for sure underpowered for the thermal module inside the ThinkBook 13s, which is designed to handle more power and heat. It gets two fans and just a single heatpipe, with the components grouped on one side. I’m not a big fan of this approach, but it does fine for this kind of hardware.
Back to our review unit, it runs cool with daily use and with gaming, with the CPU averaging 70-78 degrees in even the most demanding loads, and the casing barely going past 40 degrees on the underside.
The fans remain silent with basic everyday use, when watching Netflix for instance, but they do kick on with multitasking, which I find unnecessary. It’s even more annoying due to the fact that they have a particularly audible hum. Our sensor only recorded noise levels of around 35-37 dB at head-level with daily use, but that hum makes the fans more present then the sensor suggests. The same sensor measured noise levels of 42-43 dB while running Need for Speed.
We haven’t noticed any type of electronic noise or coil whine on our unit, which is great news but doesn’t mean you won’t necessarily get any on yours.
*Daily Use – running Netflix in EDGE for 30 minutes, fans 35-37 dB
*Load – playing Need for Speed: Most Wanted for 30 minutes, fans 42-43 dB
For connectivity, there’s an Intel 9560 wireless module inside this laptop, with Bluetooth 5.0. In performed OK on this implementation, both near the router and further away with obstacles in between, but you will find faster wireless on other ultrabooks.
As far as the speakers go, there’s a set of them firing through cuts on the lateral sides of the underbelly, and they’re pretty poor. Finally something in common with ThinkPads :( We measured fairly low maximum volumes of about 70-72 dB at head level, without any distortions, but the sound is bass deficient, with lows only noticeable from around 150 Hz. As a result, these speakers sound hollow and tinny.
Finally, we’ll mention the included 720p camera. It’s placed at the top of the screen, where it should, is flanked by microphones and gets a physical Shutter cover, but the quality is mediocre at best.
There’s only a 45 Wh battery inside the ThinkBook 13s, which is smaller than on most current ultrabooks. The implementation is, however, very efficient, one of the most efficient I’ve tested lately, so you’ll end up with pretty good runtimes.
Here’s what we got on our review unit, with the screen’s brightness set at around 120 nits (~40 brightness).
- 4 W (~10+ h of use) – text editing in Google Drive, Better Battery Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 3.5 W (~12+ h of use) – 1080p fullscreen video on Youtube in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 3.3 W (~13+ h of use) – Netflix fullscreen in Edge, Better Battery Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON;
- 9.8 W (~4 h 30 min of use) – browsing in Edge, Better Performance Mode, screen at 40%, Wi-Fi ON.
Yeah, I was just as impressed by those video runtimes. With daily use don’t expect more than 4-6 hours of use, but that’s still about on par with competitors that get 50ish Wh batteries.
The laptop comes with a 45W charger that plugs-in via the rectangular-plug we’ve seen on multiple past Lenovo devices. It’s a two-piece design with a standardly sized brick, and a full charge takes about 2 hours. However, there’s RapidCharge included so the battery charges from 10 to 80% in about an hour. This can’t charge via USB-C though.
Price and availability
The Lenovo ThinkBook 13s is available in stores in most regions as of October 2019.
The base-level variant reviewed here, with the Core i5 processor, 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB SSD goes for under $800 in the US, around 750 EUR in Germany and around 850 GBP in the UK.
Upgrades are rather expensive. You can create your own configuration on Lenovo’s website, where an i7 / 16 GB / 512 GB configuration jumps to around $1150, with $50 extra for the Radeon graphics, or you can find pre-configured models in most online stores. $1100-$1200 for this kind of configuration in a portable shell is still fairly competitive, but you will find solid-alternatives around the same price-point, including the Asus ZenBook 13 and ZenBook 14 or the HP Spectre x360 convertible.
The same higher-tier variant goes for about 1000 GBP in the UK and 1100 EUR in Germany.
Prices and configurations will vary over time, so follow this link for updated info at the time you’re reading this article. We earn a small commission if you choose to buy via our links, which allows us to keep doing what we do.
I think there’s great value in this ThinkBook 13s as a mid-priced ultrabook for everyday use, for multitasking and school/office work.
It’s a versatile product: looks nice and it’s well built, gets a good matte screen and a decent keyboard, handles daily chores without chocking and lasts for quite a while on a charge, despite its fairly small battery. It’s also competitively priced and one of the few ultrabooks that still allow users to easily upgrade RAM and storage, which means you can get a lower-tier variant and then upgrade it once the time comes, and once your budget allows it.
On the other hand, this is not as compact or as light as some of the other options out there, it doesn’t get a touchscreen option, settles for crappy speakers and doesn’t get all the latest features and software options of the higher tier ultrabooks, either from Lenovo and the competition. Among those, there’s no IR camera, no front-speakers, no Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C charging and no customizable Power profiles that would allow for better management of performance/thermals and noise, based on your actual needs.
This also lacks some of the business-grade features you’re getting with the Lenovo ThinkPads. And here’s where I find the naming confusing and I feel it sets the wrong expectations. This is a ThinkBook, and you’d expect it to share most of its traits with the ThinkPad line, but in reality, it’s actually a rebranded and tweaked IdeaPad. I believe you’ll end up happy with the ThinkBook 13s if you’re aware of this aspect and get it with the right expectations, but you might not if you’re expecting ThinkPad quality and traits and a fraction of the cost.
We’ll wrap up our review of the Lenovo ThinkBook 13s-IWL here. the comments section below awaits your thoughts and questions, so get in touch, we’re around to chat and help out if we can.
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