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Lenovo ThinkPad 13 review: This ThinkPad is built tough for travel, but easy on the wallet

For essential office or school work, this full-HD 13-inch notebook is ready for your daily grind.

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman

Managing Editor / Advice

Josh Goldman helps people find the best laptop at the best price -- from simple Chromebooks to high-end gaming laptops. He's been writing about and reviewing consumer technology and software for more than two decades.

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4 min read

Budget laptops get no glory and ones made for business, even less so. But, they're the ones a lot of us buy for day-to-day tasks at the office, at home or at school, so when a good one comes around, you know it because it stands out from the crowd. The Lenovo ThinkPad 13 is just that: a budget-friendly standout.

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7.9

Lenovo ThinkPad 13

The Good

The thin-and-light Lenovo ThinkPad 13 offers a lot for a little, including a great keyboard, a matte 1080p screen, useful port assortment, a fair amount of upgrade options and a lightweight, but rugged build quality.

The Bad

The touchpad can be a little jumpy and the trackpoint can be hard to find without looking. The keyboard isn't backlit.

The Bottom Line

A travel-friendly, tough business laptop, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 delivers essentials for work or school.

Starting at around $600 (AU$900, £360), the ThinkPad 13 might not go above and beyond for performance with its entry-level components. It's really the overall design -- including an excellent ThinkPad keyboard -- and features are better than you might expect, giving you something more than "good enough."

The ThinkPad 13 is also available as a Chromebook starting at less than $400, but around $550 configured with the same Core i3 processor and full HD display as the Windows system reviewed here.

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Lenovo's ThinkPad 13 might be inexpensive, but it's built to pass 12 military specification tests for durability.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Available in black or silver, the ThinkPad 13 isn't super thin or light, but at 0.8-inch thick (19.8 mm) and 3.2 pounds (1.4 kg), it's hardly a burden to travel with to and from the office or around campus. The top is covered with metal, but the rest is a durable plastic, and Lenovo says it's built to pass 12 military specification tests including humidity, high and low temperatures, vibration and shock. This is ruggedness you don't typically find in laptop at its price.

The full HD-resolution display (1,920x1,080 pixels) is also nice to have on a laptop at this size and price. However, if you opt for the black version, you get an HD 1,366x768-pixel resolution screen, the bonus being that it comes with a fingerprint reader absent from the silver version.

A big selling point for the ThinkPad 13 is it's keyboard which is one of the best keyboards you'll find on a budget business laptop. Or probably any budget laptop, really. If you spend much of your day typing, you want a keyboard that's comfortable and responsive and this is it. Laptops this thin usually don't offer much key travel and can feel mushy. But that's not the case here, with every key giving you a firm response with each press. The only drawback is that it's not backlit, but at least the keys are marked well.

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The ThinkPad's keyboard is one of the best you can find on a budget laptop.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The little red nub that is the ThinkPad TrackPoint works well for guiding your cursor around the screen, but is nearly flush with the keys. That makes it hard to find by touch alone, which had me looking down at my keyboard a bit more than I'd like. The TrackPoint does have its own left, center and right mouse buttons below the spacebar. The center button can be programmed for scrolling or as a middle click.

There is a small touchpad, too, with support for multitouch gestures. You might end up turning some of the gestures off though, in particular pinch to zoom. All too often I would accidentally resize whatever I was working in.

If you're planning to connect to external displays or hard drives, a keyboard and mouse or anything else, it won't be a problem. There are three USB 3.0 ports (one on the left, two on the right), a full-size HDMI port and a USB-C port that can be used for peripherals as well as power. There's also a Lenovo OneLink+ port for use with the company's $180 dock with support for two external displays and much more, though the reviews on the product page are mixed.

PC Geekbox Lenovo ThinkPad 13
Price as reviewed $611 (AU$900, £360)
Display size/resolution 13-inch, 1,920 x 1,080 display
PC CPU 2.3GHz Intel Core i3-6100U
PC Memory 4GB DDR4 SDRAM 1600MHz
Graphics 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520
Storage 128GB SSD
Networking 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system Windows 10 Home (64-bit)


The silver base model in the US includes a Core i3-6100U processor, Intel HD Graphics 520, 4GB of memory (DDR4-2133) and a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD). You can customize the ThinkPad 13 on Lenovo's site adding more memory or storage, or a Core i5 processor.

This configuration is capable of playing web-based games and streaming video, but it'll struggle with anything graphically intensive. You can do some light photo editing and can be used to put together a presentation, but it's underpowered for anything more. It's made for getting essential work tasks done and for that it is just fine.

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A lot of ports for all your peripherals.

Sarah Tew/CNET

And if you're looking to do those tasks all day long away from an outlet, you should be able to pull it off. In our demanding battery rundown test, it was able to reach about 6.5 hours before shutting down. Lenovo rates the battery life at up to 11 hours, though. In my experience with mixed use -- streaming video or music while web surfing in Google Chrome and working in Microsoft Word -- I was able to reach 8 hours. If you're just working in Office, it should be able to run even longer.

With the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 you're paying more for the durable build, the excellent keyboard, 1080p-resolution screen and the useful port assortment than you are for performance. It's made for handling the essentials and it does just that -- no more, no less -- making it a good deal for the office or for school.

Multitasking Multimedia Test 3.0 (in seconds)

Dell Inspirion 15-7559 290HP Envy 13 626Lenovo ThinkPad 13 666Samsung Galaxy TabPro S 856
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 3 Multi-Core

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 5192Samsung Galaxy TabPro S 4722
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Online Streaming Battery Drain test (in minutes)

Samsung Galaxy TabPro S 435Lenovo ThinkPad 13 388Dell Inspirion 15-7559 374HP Envy 13 358
Note: Longer bars indicate faster performance

System Configurations

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i3-6100U; 4GB DDR4 SDRAM 1600MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 128GB SSD
HP Envy 13 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 128GB SSD
Dell Inspirion 15-7559 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6300HQ; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 4GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 960M; 1TB 5400rpm HDD
Samsung Galaxy TabPro S Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel m3-6Y30; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 515; 128GB SSD

Multitasking Multimedia Test 3.0 (in seconds)

Dell Inspirion 15-7559 290HP Envy 13 626Lenovo ThinkPad 13 666Samsung Galaxy TabPro S 856
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance

Geekbench 3 Multi-Core

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 5192Samsung Galaxy TabPro S 4722
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Online Streaming Battery Drain test (in minutes)

Samsung Galaxy TabPro S 435Lenovo ThinkPad 13 388Dell Inspirion 15-7559 374HP Envy 13 358
Note: Longer bars indicate faster performance

System Configurations

Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i3-6100U; 4GB DDR4 SDRAM 1600MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 128GB SSD
HP Envy 13 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 520; 128GB SSD
Dell Inspirion 15-7559 Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6300HQ; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 4GB Nvidia Geforce GTX 960M; 1TB 5400rpm HDD
Samsung Galaxy TabPro S Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.2GHz Intel m3-6Y30; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 515; 128GB SSD
lenovo-thinkpad-13-04.jpg
7.9

Lenovo ThinkPad 13

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 7Battery 7
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