Lenovo ThinkPad Z16 review: Is this a look at the business brand's future?

The first-gen ThinkPad Z16 impresses with its contemporary look, huge battery life, and strong AMD performance.

Lenovo ThinkPad Z16
(Image: © Windows Central)

Windows Central Verdict

Lenovo's first-gen ThinkPad Z16 is geared toward users who want a business laptop that stands out from the ThinkPad series. Its design, features, and performance also make it better geared toward creators than its smaller Z13 sibling, and it backs it all up with impressive battery life.

Pros

  • +

    Phenomenal audio, voice, and camera support

  • +

    Speedy UHS-II SD card reader

  • +

    Strong performance on AC and DC power

  • +

    Outstanding battery life

  • +

    Optional UHD+ OLED display with Dolby Vision

Cons

  • -

    No Thunderbolt or USB-A

  • -

    Keyboard and touchpad take some getting used to

  • -

    FHD display options are fairly plain

  • -

    Expensive

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Lenovo announced the new ThinkPad Z16 and Z13 earlier this year at CES 2022 as a brand new series of business laptops for the modern, environmentally-conscious consumer. The laptops launched in May a few months later. My colleague, Senior Editor Chuong Nguyen, reviewed the smaller ThinkPad Z13 recently, handing it a Windows Central "Best Award" and 4.5 out of 5 stars. 

I've now been using the Z16 for a couple of weeks, testing the AMD Ryzen Pro CPU platform, larger display, and slightly different design made of recycled materials. Is the ThinkPad Z16 as good as its smaller sibling, and can it hold up against other 16-inch business laptops? Let's find out.

Lenovo ThinkPad Z16: Price, availability, and specs

Lenovo supplied Windows Central with a review unit of its first-gen ThinkPad Z16. My specific model has inside an AMD Ryzen 7 Pro 6850H processor (CPU), 16GB of soldered LPDDR5-6400MHz RAM, integrated AMD Radeon 680M graphics, a 512GB M.2 PCIe 4.0 NVMe solid-state drive (SSD), and a 16-inch FHD+ non-touch display.

This exact model is currently not an option at Lenovo's official website, though there are plenty of other configs up for grabs, starting at about $1,976. Newegg also has a bunch of pre-configured models starting at about $2,025. My review model is available at Amazon for about $2,258, though it's from a third-party seller with an enthusiastic price. You can grab a ThinkPad Z16 with Ryzen 9 Pro 6950H CPU, 32GB of RAM, 1TB SSD, touch display, and discrete Radeon RX 6500M GPU for about $2,025 at Lenovo.

Here's a closer look at the hardware specs that make up my review unit. 

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Lenovo ThinkPad Z16
OSWindows 11 Pro
ProcessorAMD Ryzen 7 Pro 6850H
Row 2 - Cell 0 8 cores, 16 threads, up to 4.7GHz
RAM16GB LPDDR5-6400MHz
Row 4 - Cell 0 Soldered, non-upgradeable
GraphicsAMD Radeon 680M
Row 6 - Cell 0 Integrated
Storage512GB M.2 PCIe 4.0 NVMe SSD
Row 8 - Cell 0 Samsung PM9A1
Display16 inches, non-touch, IPS, 16:10 aspect ratio
Row 10 - Cell 0 1920x1200 (FHD+), AG, low power, TÜV Low Blue Light
KeyboardSpill resistant, backlit
TouchpadHaptic ForcePad, 2.64 x 4.72 inches (67mm x 120mm)
PortsTwo USB4, USB-C 3.2 (Gen 2), SD card reader, 3.5mm audio combo, Nano-SIM slot (optional)
AudioDual 2W speakers, Dolby Atmos
Row 15 - Cell 0 Dual array microphones, Dolby Voice
WirelessQualcomm Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.1
Row 17 - Cell 0 4G LTE, 5G (optional)
CameraFHD + IR, camera shutter
SecuritydTPM 2.0, Microsoft Pluton, Kensington Nano lock slot, fingerprint reader, IR camera, camera shutter, Mirametrix Glance
Battery72Wh, 135W AC adapter
Dimensions13.95 x 9.35 x 0.62 inches (354.4mm x 237.4mm x 15.8mm)
Weight3.99 pounds (1.81kg)
ColorArctic Grey (top), Black (bottom)
MaterialAluminum

Lenovo ThinkPad Z16: Design and features

(Image credit: Windows Central)

The ThinkPad series turned 30 this year, and Lenovo chose to mark the anniversary in part by launching the new Z series. The Z16 is the first of its generation, and it's quite a departure from the usual ThinkPad design. Its body is made primarily of 75% post-consumer recycled aluminum instead of the more common carbon fiber and magnesium alloy, giving it a heavier but sturdier feel. Despite the change in material, the laptop still hits MIL-STD 810H durability certification. 

At 3.99 pounds (1.81kg) the laptop isn't exactly light, but it's well balanced and slim. It measures 0.62 inches (15.8mm) thin, with a beveled bottom that makes it seem smaller than it really is. The lid can be opened with one hand (always a sign of careful engineering), though it can't sit back flat.

The lid has an Arctic Grey color scheme, something that we've seen on few ThinkPad laptops in the past. It's considered almost sacrilege to alter the usual flat black finish on a ThinkPad, but the Z16 is all about making changes. The top finish does a good job hiding fingerprints. 

(Image credit: Windows Central)

The main portion of the chassis has an aluminum band running around the front three sides, separating the black keyboard surround and black bottom panel. These areas are the usual smudge factories, but they wipe down easily. There are no rounded edges here, but the aluminum band gives way to a plastic lip that protects your wrists and palms from getting marked up while typing or pointing.

Opening the laptop, my first impression is that it looks a lot like Dell's XPS 15. It has a wide keyboard, top-firing speakers flanking the keys, a huge touchpad, and a display that seems to stretch further than it should thanks to the slim bezels. It makes for an overall sleek look.

(Image credit: Windows Central)

Part of the Z16's magic is a new haptic touchpad with full glass palm rests (what Lenovo calls a ForcePad). It's worth noting that this is not the same sort of Sensel touchpad we used in the ThinkPad X1 Titanium or Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio. It's very likely made by Elan who also supplies the drivers. 

This entire area is separated from the rest of the keyboard surround, and you can immediately feel the difference. Instead of having the usual moving parts inside when you click, the haptic sensors mimic a click wherever you push. This feedback can be adjusted to your liking, and I found that cranking it up when I was first getting used to it helped the transition from a traditional pointer.

While the surface is smooth and tracks well, I did have some issues with accuracy and ghost touches. There were many times while navigating a Word document that I saw the cursor jump to random areas, even with the touchpad's sensitivity turned all the way down. I made sure to keep my palms away from the edges of the pad, but trying to type fast naturally drew my hands in. The off-center orientation of the touchpad could also be cause of some aggravation. I love the move to haptics, but I feel like it could be implemented a bit better in the second generation.

(Image credit: Windows Central)

If there was ever an opportunity to ditch the TrackPoint system, this would be it. Lenovo did remove the physical buttons due to the new haptic setup (they're now integrated into the top of the touchpad), but the red pointing nub is still present for the hardcore ThinkPad fans. It works as good as ever, though not really being able to feel where your thumb is resting (saving for a few small bumps on the touchpad) could take some getting used to.

The keyboard looks a lot like any other ThinkPad offering, but its key travel has been cut down to something a lot closer to what you'll find in the ThinkPad X1 Nano. It makes sense for a laptop that's trying to be as thin as possible, but those coming from something like 1.5mm will notice the change. The cupped keys have a fairly mushy feel as well.

My Dell XPS 13 (9300) has just 1mm key travel but switching back to it after the Z16's keyboard makes it feel like it has more movement. It could be the crisper actuation on the XPS model. In any case, I typed thousands of words on the Z16 without experiencing any discomfort. Keys are well spaced, most nav inputs (save PgUp and PgDn) have dedicated keys, and the Ctrl and Fn keys are swapped around to the more traditional layout used by just about every make but ThinkPad. These can, of course, be swapped again with onboard software. A fingerprint reader is built into the keyboard with a dedicated spot.

(Image credit: Windows Central)

The ThinkPad Z16's loud, bass-heavy speakers and high-end FHD camera array are a potent combination.

The speakers in the Z16 are phenomenal. Despite only being 2W each, they deliver some of the loudest audio I've ever heard from a laptop. They're placed on either side of the keyboard, so sound remains unmuffled at all times. Listening to Colter Wall's deep gravel singing voice is a pleasure, and video calls with colleagues come in clear. There's no distortion even with volume at its peak, there's a ton of bass, and the highs don't get lost. Dolby Atmos is onboard for further tuning, with five presets with three different tunings each. 

As a one-two punch, the dual-array microphones include Dolby Voice for better control over how you sound in calls. If you're in a public space you can set it to privacy mode to only pick up your voice and leave the rest behind. Want a more natural sound? It's set to collaboration mode by default.

(Image credit: Windows Central)

A 1080p webcam lives above the display in a communications bar that sticks out a bit from the bezel. The lip makes it easy to open the lid, and there's plenty of room for the extra IR sensor and dual microphones. The camera has an f/2 aperture size, and the picture overall deals quite well with different lighting. It's clear and seems to be able to focus at different depths.

Mirametrix Glance software is included, notably adding human presence detection, privacy alerts (should someone be looking over your shoulder), and smart pointer and smart window movement for multi-monitor setups. Overall, the comms bar adds a ton of value to the laptop, especially for those working with sensitive data. An e-shutter is included for extra privacy.

(Image credit: Windows Central)

The ThinkPad Z16 has a selection of ports more like the X1 Nano than the X1 Carbon. There are two USB4 ports on the left side joined by a speedy UHS-II SD card reader. There's no Thunderbolt 4 due to the AMD platform, but USB4 is a close second when it comes to performance. The right side of the laptop has a standard USB-C 3.2 (Gen 2) port, 3.5mm audio combo jack, Kensington Nano lock slot, and a recessed power button.

Lenovo lists 4G LTE support in some of its reference documents, though it doesn't seem to be available in all regions. I couldn't find any models available in the U.S. with the extra hardware. All laptops otherwise come with Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.1.

Lenovo ThinkPad Z16: Display

(Image credit: Windows Central)

My review unit has the base display included. It measures 16 inches, it has a 16:10 aspect ratio, and it's set at a 1920x1200 (FHD+) resolution. Lenovo says this is the highest screen-to-body ratio of any ThinkPad at 92.3%, and it does appear that way. The slim bezel extends to all four sides, larger only in the camera array portion.

The IPS non-touch panel is fairly basic, highlighted by a low power designation, anti-glare finish, and TÜV Low Blue Light certification to make it easier on the eyes. It's not washed out at all, contrast is good, and it gets quite bright. 

I measured exact numbers using a SpyderX Pro colorimeter, getting 100% sRGB, 78% AdobeRGB, and 81% DCI-P3 color accuracy. Brightness also peaked at 474 nits and got down to 20 nits at minimum. Combined with the anti-glare finish you shouldn't have problems working in well-lit spaces, and the 20 nits is low enough to work in the dark.

Lenovo offers two other displays for the Z16. One is a touch version of the FHD+ screen I tested with an anti-reflective finish, and the other is a UHD+ OLED panel with HDR, Dolby Vision, TÜV Low Blue Light, anti-reflective finish, and 100% DCI-P3 color. This should give most people the variety needed to get what they want. If you're working with color-sensitive content, you will likely want to spring for the UHD+ panel.

Lenovo ThinkPad Z16: Performance and battery

(Image credit: Windows Central)

Lenovo often splits its performance profiles between its included Vantage app and the standard Windows 11 settings, but not here. Power profiles are left to the OS, though Intelligent Cooling is still working in the background to balance fans and heat.

The dual-fan cooling system has four total heat pipes and seems to do a good job of keeping the Ryzen 7 CPU and integrated graphics cool. The bottom doesn't get hot, nor does the keyboard, unlike the smaller ThinkPad Z13. Under heavy load I measured just 49 decibels of fan noise from about a foot and a half from the screen. That's not going to cause any issues, even in a quiet office. 

The Z16's AMD Ryzen Pro 6000 platform doesn't suffer from a noticeable slowdown on battery power.

AMD's Ryzen Pro 6000 CPUs are available, with Ryzen 5, 7, and 9 options. I have the Ryzen 7 Pro in my review unit, complete with a number of security features ala Intel vPro. The chips are made for enterprise and small business alike, adding manageability features and Microsoft's Pluton security chip.

We've written in the past about how AMD slows down some of its systems on battery (DC) power to stretch battery life. This goes so far that some laptops even see their SSD transfer speeds nerfed when not plugged in. Thankfully, that's not really an issue with the Z16. The extreme SSD speed doesn't slow at all when running on battery power, and overall performance doesn't take nearly as much of a dip as in other AMD systems.

I included AC and DC benchmark numbers in these graphs to give you an idea of how the Z16 compares to other laptops we've recently tested. Note that I tested the Z16 using Windows 11's Best Performance setting.