Lenovo ThinkPad L380 review: Quality build for less

Windows Central Recommended Award

Lenovo's L-series of ThinkPad laptops attempts to bring a mix of power, size, and cost that appeals to those who don't want to drop quite as much — sometimes upwards of $2,000 on X- and T-series models — on a business-oriented device. The ThinkPad L380 configuration I have here costs about $950, with low-end models starting at about $585, and it acts as a successor to the ThinkPad 13.

Sure, there are some compromises made to keep the price down, but it's still a ThinkPad with a lot of the features, like TrackPoint system, MIL-STD 810G durability testing, and upgradeable hardware, that we can appreciate. Let's take a close look at whether or not the L380 would be a good fit for your next business companion.

What you'll love about the Lenovo ThinkPad L380

Lenovo's cost-effective 13.3-inch ThinkPad is built well, with an aluminum lid and glass fiber reinforced polymer (GFRP) bottom. There's not much flex in the lid or chassis, and it feels sturdy to pick up. It's gone through MIL-STD 810G tests for everything from temperature to humidity to vibration. The dual hinges allow the lid to fold back flat (no convertible function here), and you get a sturdy display that won't shake around too much if you're using the laptop while in a moving vehicle or train. It's available in black and silver colors.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Form factorClamshell notebook
Display13.3-inch FHD (1,920 x 1,080)
IPS, non-touch, anti-glare
Processor8th Gen Intel Core i5-8250U
GraphicsIntel UHD Graphics 620
(Single stick)
Storage256GB SATA M.2 (Samsung PM871b)
CameraFront-facing 720p
SpeakersDual 2 watt
BiometricsFingerprint reader
Battery45Wh (USB-C charger)
WirelessIntel Dual Band Wireless-AC 8265 (2 x 2)
Bluetooth 4.1
PortsTwo USB-A 3.1
Two USB-C 3.0
HDMI 1.4b
Mini Ethernet
microSD card reader
3.5mm audio
Size12.67 inches x 8.83 inches x 0.74 inches
(321.8 mm x 224.2 mm x 18.8 mm)
OSWindows 10 Pro
WeightFrom 3.22 pounds (1.46 kg)

After ensuring the laptop booted properly, I powered it down and took off the back cover. Nine screws and a lot of clips hold it in place, but once removed, you have access to the M.2 solid-state drive (SSD), two slots of RAM, and Wi-Fi card. These can all be easily replaced down the line, so you can save a couple hundred dollars now on smaller storage and less RAM and wait for a third-party deal to come your way. Unfortunately, there's no hot-swappable battery, but I did get about eight hours from a charge when going about usual tasks. When in dire straits, the USB-C charger can get it back up to about 75 percent life in an hour.

The laptop is respectably thin at 0.74 inches (18.8 mm), and you still get a wide selection of ports that can handle older and newer devices. There's no Thunderbolt 3 or Ethernet, but you do get two USB-C and a Mini Ethernet port that's compatible with Lenovo's extension cable. HDMI 1.4b makes it easy to hook up a display, and two USB-A 3.1 ports mean you won't be looking for a dongle for your older accessories.

A fingerprint reader for Windows Hello is set into the palm rest, and while it looks like it would hit your palm while typing, it's placed strategically to avoid any rubbing. It logged me in quickly and easily every time, with no need for a password. A discrete Trusted Platform Module (dTPM 2.0) security chip is also included for added security, and you can upgrade to a Core i5 vPro processor (CPU) for remote management.

Lenovo's ThinkPad L380 is a quality (and cost-effective) business notebook with upgradeable hardware, plenty of ports, and great battery life.

In everyday usage, the L380 seems like a competent worker. I didn't notice any hiccups from the 8th Gen Core i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM, and testing with Geekbench and PC Mark came back with standard results. I saw a single-core 3,945 and multi-core 9,775 score with the former test, and a score of 2,762 with the latter test. These are average results, and while you won't beat the more expensive ThinkPad models, you shouldn't be disappointed with what you get here.

Finally, the keyboard, touchpad, and TrackPoint system are what you'd expect from a ThinkPad. The keys are slightly cupped, they have a lot of travel, and they make a satisfying click. The appropriately-sized touchpad uses Precision drivers for the full range of Windows 10 gestures, and the TrackPoint system remains intact, with three physical buttons and red pointer. It all works as it should, and comfortably at that.

What you'll hate about the ThinkPad L380

Like a lot of Lenovo's cheaper laptops, the ThinkPad L380 suffers from a display with low brightness and poor color reproduction. The brightness issue is a bigger deal here, with the display hitting just under 250 nits. It has a matte finish that helps cut down on glare, but in a well-lit room you'll probably find yourself wishing for a few more increments of brightness. Testing color accuracy, the L380 hit 66 percent sRGB and 49 percent AdobeRGB, both pretty low results. This isn't a huge deal on a business-oriented laptop — as long as you don't plan on any photo or video editing — but it's still something to keep in mind.

The other main grievance I have is with the SATA SSD. Here Lenovo's gone with a Samsung PM871b, with a faster PCIe option available. In testing, I got a 545 MB/s read speed and a 528.9 write speed, which is average for budget devices. The great thing, though, is the ease with which you can swap out the SSD down the line for something far faster.

Lenovo ThinkPad L380 bottom line

Other than the dim display with poor color reproduction and the slow SSD (which can be upgraded at checkout or easily swapped out after purchase), Lenovo's ThinkPad L380 has a lot to like. Its 13-inch size hits the sweet spot for many people, there's a good selection of ports that will cover accessories for the next few years, and it's built well, true to the ThinkPad line. It's also priced competitively, opening it up to a large audience that can't splurge on the higher-end X- and T-series ThinkPads. All-day battery life and versatile USB-C charging ports means most days you can leave your charger behind when heading to the office.

Who should buy this laptop?

If you're in the market for a business companion and don't mind a display without great color reproduction, the ThinkPad L380 is a cost-effective laptop for students and professionals. It's durable, it's the right size to carry around, and it has great battery life to get through a work (or school) day.

Cale Hunt

Cale Hunt brings to Windows Central more than eight years of experience writing about laptops, PCs, accessories, games, and beyond.