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Lenovo ThinkBook 13s review: Affordable Ultrabook suited for home and small businesses

Lenovo announced its new ThinkBook lineup near the start of 2019 as an extra option for small and home businesses. Available in 13- and 14-inch options, these laptops are a bit of a mix of IdeaPad and ThinkPad lineup, with fewer business features and a more stylish aluminum chassis. I've been using the 13-inch ThinkBook 13s for about a week to see what it's all about, and whether or not it's worth the relatively affordable price.

Lenovo ThinkBook 13s at a glance

Lenovo supplied Windows Central with a review unit of the ThinkBook 13s, complete with 8th Gen Intel Core i5-8265U "Whiskey Lake" processor (CPU), 8GB of DDR4-2400MHz RAM, a 256GB M.2 PCIe solid-state drive (SSD), and 13.3-inch FHD non-touch display with a matte finish.

The price for this exact configuration is about $773 before any extra coupons are applied — Lenovo often has deep discounts — making it a bit of a bargain. Here's a closer look at the specs within.

CategorySpec
Display13.3 inches
1920 x 1080 (FHD)
IPS, matte, non-touch
Processor8th Gen
Intel Core i5-8265U
Up to 3.90GHz
RAM8GB DDR4-2400MHz
Single channel
Storage256GB M.2 PCIe SSD
GraphicsIntegrated
Intel UHD 620
PortsProprietary Lenovo charging
HDMI 1.4
USB-C (Gen 2)
Two USB-A 3.1 (Gen 1)
3.5mm audio
KeyboardBacklit
TouchpadPrecision
AudioDual 2W speakers
Dolby Audio
CameraFront-facing 720
ThinkShutter
WirelessIntel Wireless-AC 9560
802.11ac (2 x 2)
Bluetooth 5.0
BatteryFour-cell
45Wh
Dimensions12.11 x 8.52 x 0.63 inches
(307.6mm x 216.4mm x 15.9mm)
WeightFrom 2.95 pounds (1.34kg)

What you'll love about the Lenovo ThinkBook 13s

The ThinkBook line is strictly centered around the idea of a quality mid-range notebook, eschewing any sort of convertibility like the Yoga line and toning down some of the business features you'd find in a ThinkPad. Lenovo particularly noted its goal to attract "young tech-savvy execs with cool-looking yet cost-effective devices," and in that sense, I'd say the ThinkBook 13s succeeds.

The aluminum chassis is a step up from the plastic you often find in a laptop this price, and at a starting weight of 2.95 pounds (1.34kg), it's easy to carry around with you when you leave the office. It's just more than an inch thick but has a tapered design to make it appear much thinner at the front, and there's lots of room for relatively generous port selection. Along the left side, there is Lenovo's proprietary rectangular charging port, HDMI 1.4 for video out, USB-C for connecting more modern accessories and docking stations, and a 3.5mm jack for audio. On the right are two USB-A 3.1 for your older devices.

The ThinkBook 13s makes a strong argument for its place between IdeaPad and ThinkPad lineups.

The display operates on two small hinges that are stiff enough to keep the lid steady, and it's surrounded by a plastic bezel. The sides are thin enough, but the top and bottom are thicker and differing sizes, which might annoy some. In any case, the colorful FHD display will no doubt catch your eyes. I tested 99% sRGB and 78% AdobeRGB color reproduction, and it's evident each time you open the lid. Brightness maxes out at about 300 nits, but the matte finish makes it much easier to work in a well-lit room. Outdoors might be a stretch, at least on a sunny day.

Although there are not as many security features here as you'd find in a ThinkPad, the ThinkBook 13s includes a ThinkShutter slider for its 720p front-facing webcam above the display. I love this addition and want more laptops to include something similar so I can do away with sticky notes and other home remedies. On the security note, the ThinkBook does also include a dTPM 2.0 chip, FIDO authentication, and a fingerprint reader built into the rather attractive power button that's ringed with a white LED. You won't have facial recognition available, but the fingerprint reader works with Windows Hello and is speedy and accurate.

Lenovo did a good job of making the best of space below the keyboard for a Precision touchpad. It has a shiny machined bevel around it that adds to the premium look of the device, and the smooth mylar surface makes for easy pointing. The keyboard is by no means a flop, but it certainly doesn't stand up to most ThinkPads. Key travel is decidedly shorter and overall not as comfortable as many other Lenovo laptops we've recently tested, but after a day of typing, I got used to it. A three-stage backlight is included to help with working after hours.

Battery life is often affected when the price goes down, but the ThinkBook's 45Wh battery allowed between about seven and eight hours of life before needing a charge. This was on a balanced battery plan with brightness at the halfway point, and I kept the work to a casual pace. Web browsing, word processing, some video streaming were all included. Rapid Charge capabilities are included if you need a quick top-up before leaving, and I saw about 80% regained in just more than an hour.

The ThinkBook runs cool, and the two fans don't get loud, even under considerable load. The aluminum chassis does an excellent job of dispersing heat, and I didn't find the bottom to get too hot to keep on my lap while working. The 8th Gen Intel Core i5 CPU handled everything I threw at it from a productivity standpoint, though it's not going to offer the power for specialized tasks, like video editing and heavy gaming. Integrated Intel graphics will provide a decent lightweight gaming experience, and you'll be able to partake in photo editing, but don't expect much more. As for RAM, there's just one slot inside the chassis, though it can be upgraded after purchase.

I ran some synthetic benchmarks to get an idea of how well the ThinkBook compares to other laptops we've recently reviewed.

CPU

Geekbench 4.0 Benchmarks (higher is better)

DeviceCPUSingle coreMulti core
Lenovo ThinkBook 13si5-8565U4,38712,833
Chuwi AeroBookm3-6Y302,6784,911
Lenovo ThinkPad T490i7-8565U5,43115,608
Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-1i7-8665U5,46915,800
Huawei MateBook 14i7-8565U5,32717,522
Lenovo ThinkPad X390i7-8565U5,47218,059
MSI PS63 Moderni7-8565U4,90914,466
Huawei MateBook X Proi7-8565U5,19216,757

PCMark

PCMark 10 Home Conventional 3.0

DeviceScore
Lenovo ThinkBook 13s3,468
Chuwi AeroBook2,140
Chuwi LapBook Plus961

GPU

Geekbench 4.0 CUDA (higher is better)

DeviceGPUCompute score
Lenovo ThinkBook 13sUHD 62019,527
Chuwi AeroBookHD 51513,641
Chuwi LapBook PlusHD 50510,326
Chuwi HeroBook 14.1HD 4004,007
Surface GoUHD 61516,490
Razer Blade StealthMX15049,982
Surface Book 2 13GTX 105075,665
Huawei MateBook X ProMX25045,365
Huawei MateBook 13MX15048,430
Surface Laptop 2UHD 62035,473

SSD

CrystalDiskMark (higher is better)

DeviceReadWrite
Lenovo ThinkBook 13s1,604.1 MB/s851.4 MB/s
Chuwi AeroBook530.1 MB/s476.2 MB/s
Lenovo ThinkPad T490s3,060.7 MB/s1,542.3 MB/s
Lenovo ThinkPad T4903,254.8 MB/s2,954.9 MB/s
Dell Latitude 7400 2-in-13,110 MB/s2,825 MB/s
Lenovo ThinkPad X3903,024 MB/s1,563.2 MB/s
Huawei MateBook X Pro3,0416 MB/s2,779 MB/s
HP Spectre x360 13t3,085 MB/s1,182 MB/s
LG gram 14 2-in-1558.1 MB/s523.1 MB/s
Lenovo Yoga C9302,596.2 MB/s806 MB/s

The M.2 PCIe SSD isn't at all bad for a laptop this price, and if you need better performance or a larger capacity — you can configure an SSD up to 512GB from Lenovo — you can upgrade after purchase with relative ease.

What you'll dislike about the Lenovo ThinkBook 13s

The ThinkBook is certainly a step up from some of the budget IdeaPad models on offer from Lenovo, but it's not quite going to offer as much as a true ThinkPad. Gone is the TrackPoint system in the middle of the keyboard for those who love the red pointer and physical button, there's no Kensington lock slot for securing the device in an office, and there's no option for a Smart Card reader. The lack of microSD or SD card slot will likely also irk some people. These laptops have not been subjected to the usual MIL-STD 810G durability testing that ThinkPads undergo, yet Lenovo has done its own share of testing for spill protection, temperature, and vibration.

The dual down-firing 2W speakers are about what you'd expect from a 13-inch laptop. They get the message across, but they're nothing special, and there seems to often be a bit of static included in the output audio. That's likely an issue with my model alone, but overall the speakers are just OK.

Should you buy the Lenovo ThinkBook 13s?

As a whole, Lenovo's ThinkBook 13s offers a lot for the asking price. The aluminum chassis is fetching and gives the laptop a sturdy feel, the Precision touchpad makes good use of available space, and the FHD display is well above average with precise sRGB color. There aren't as many security options as you'd find on a true ThinkPad, but you still get a webcam shutter, fingerprint reader, dTPM 2.0 chip, and FIDO authentication, which altogether make more sense for use outside of corporations with IT teams.

Performance and battery life go hand-in-hand, and you can expect about a full workday of productivity tasks without needing a charge. RAM and SSD can be upgraded to keep the laptop relevant longer into the future, and you can opt for an Intel Core i7 CPU if you need some extra power. For those who can benefit from some extra graphics power, the ThinkBook 14s is available with a dedicated AMD Radeon 540X GPU.

If you're searching for a cost-effective Ultrabook that can fit in at a coffee shop or a boardroom, the ThinkBook 13s should be considered.

Cale Hunt
Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. He focuses mainly on laptop reviews, news, and accessory coverage. He's been reviewing laptops and accessories full time since 2016, with hundreds of reviews published for Windows Central. He is an avid PC gamer and multi-platform user, and spends most of his time either tinkering with or writing about tech.