Great build quality
Large, comfortable, tight keyboard
Smooth and functional trackpad
Another USB Type-C port, for charging.
Washed out display has poor viewing angles
Audio is quiet and hollow
Battery life is good, but not the best Chromebook
Too expensive for the specifications
Another product to come out of Lenovo this fall is the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook. The growing popularity of Chrome OS powered devices is resulting in manufacturers taking the platform and their hardware seriously, and this Chromebook proves it, almost.
Packing more ports and features than most ultrabooks at twice the price, not to mention a solid build on this lightweight laptop, the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook is a compelling Chromebook offering, but is it the Chrome OS powered device you are looking for?
Let’s see what it’s all about in our Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook review.
Hardware and Overview
From the top down, lenovo’s new Chromebook offers about as good of a plastic build as can be. Military grade testing for ruggedness and durability implies a long lasting device, and that long lasting applies to battery life as well, but that’s not news for a Chromebook.
Looking around the device you’ll find two USB Type-C ports, two normal USB ports, a headphone jack and an SD Card reader. Two LED lights embellish the ThinkPad logos on the device, one on the top cover, the other on the wrist pad area to the right of the touchpad. These little red dots blink and glow to inform you of the power status of the device.
Different models of this Chromebook clock in with different specifications. All models offer a 13.3-inch display, with the entry level panel clocking in at 1366 x 768 resolution, producing 200 nits of brightness, the next model up running at 1920 x 1080 resolution for 220 nits, and the yet unavailable third tier adding touchscreen capabilities.
Power our unit, the entry level model, is an Intel Celeron 3855U processor, but the Intel Core i3-6100U and Intel Core i5-6300U are also available. 4GB of RAM gets you started, 8GB of RAM is available. Likewise, the entry level unit offers 16GB of internal storage with 32GB available.
The promoted 10 hours of battery life is thanks to a 3-cell 42WHr battery, while a 720p front facing camera, Bluetooth 4.0, Intel Stone Peak2 7265 WiFi and Intel Integrated Graphics sip away at that juice.
The keyboard is robust, large keys with impressive travel offer a stiff typing experience and the multi-touch, gesture enabled trackpad provides a smooth, yet familiar Chrome OS experience.
Unlike the Yoga 900S we just reviewed, the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook does not offer a full flip around display, but it does go almost a full 180 degrees, letting the screen face straight up on the table.
A common question and concern for many first time Chromebook users, or at least those considering the product, is about performance. The latest and greatest ultrabooks and laptops offer powerful processors, but your average Chromebook uses a slower or even last gen chipset. We’ll talk about software later, but know this, Chrome OS is a different beast than Windows, requiring far less hardware to perform similar tasks at speed.
If you are still new to this whole Chromebook thing, there is more to it than just a web browser, not much more, granted, but a few programs such as a media player, file manager and more are on deck.
Speaking specifically to the performance, there are no global benchmarking apps to put to use here, but I can tell you that you can consume 1080p YouTube videos with ease. File transfers are a tad on the slow side, but not unreasonable and web pages load as fast as you’d expect from any computer. I say all this while running the lowest available processor on my demo unit, it is almost a guarantee that the higher spec’ed models.
Taking thing to the outside, the additon of two USB Type-C ports changes the game a little. One of the ports doubles as your charging port, but unlike many USB Type-C powered tablets and laptops out there right now, I can use my normal old USB chargers to pump juice into this Chromebook. It reports as being a slow charge, possibly unable to keep up when you are actively using the device, but if you forgot the dedicated charging brick at home, you’re not out of luck.
I even used my portable power packs to charge this thing, for which I must admit I am impressed. Thankfully, this was done for testing not out of necessity. I will not agree with the claims for 10 hours of battery life on mixed usage, but if you’re like me, with mostly plain websites and just a handful of videos in your day, a solid 6-8 hours is not unreasonable.
With little more to actually say here, yes, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook performs well.
In contrast to the beautiful, if dark, display on the Yoga 900S that arrived with this Chromebook, the display of the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook is a little less impressive. It is brighter to look at, but the Chromebook has rather narrow clean viewing angles and colors are washed out. There is decent black/white contrast, but the green of the Android Authority logo is very pale looking. You can see the display at decent angles, but the color and picture quickly mutes and distorts if you are not looking dead on.
Great for use in public, keeping things a little more private, I find myself constantly re-adjusting the display so to improve the view. Tilt down and the colors wash out, tilt up and the dark colors take over the display, get that shiny look that is hard to see. Not a bad display, all in all, just a little finicky.
Our review unit has that 1366 x 768 display, we hope the 1080p panel is improved.
Are you looking for the perfect laptop to share movies with a friend, or just serve music around your home? You could use the 3.5mm headphone jack to hook this Chromebook up to larger speaker, or you could consider using something else.
The down firing speaker on the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook are, frankly, some of the quietest speaker we’ve heard on a mobile device in a long time. In a quiet setting, I have had to crank the volume up to about 75 percent in order to make out what Josh is saying in his iPhone 7 coverage on our YouTube channel. If I crank up much higher, however, the speaker begin to distort.
I had not the time to slowly break-in the speaker on this Lenovo Chromebook, assuming that would make a difference. As is, the sound is hollow and low, you’ll be able to hear a video, but discerning ears will not be suing this device to listen to music.
Chrome OS is a maturing minimalist operating system, running now version 53.x.x.x on the stable channel. Beginning its life as little more than just a bowser, nearly any of the apps in the Chrome Web Store can run natively and offline on your Chromebook. At least that is how it will seem.
Later Chromebooks have a new trick up their sleeve, the Google Play Store. That’s right, the near entire catalogue of Android apps have been supported, however, this device is not one of the ones that can do this.
Without the power of Android apps, you can still expect the basics of Chrome OS, that is the built-in file explorer, that is able to handle your Google Drive files offline, a media player for video, separate photo viewer with slideshow functionality and more.
Straight out of the box, the Lenovo Chromebook has 24 installed apps, excluding the few that are actually just web links, you have access to your stuff on various Google services like Music, Movies, Books, Photos and more.
All of these programs are windowed, so go ahead and re-size them and move them around. To make all these tasks easier, don’t forget that you can hook up to an external display and almost all of your USB peripherals, your Chromebook can become a workstation, if that is your needs.
|Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook|
|Display||13.3-inch, 1366 x 768, TN, 200 nits
13.3-inch, 1920 x 1080, IPS, 220 nits
13.3-inch, 1920 x 1080, IPS, Touchscreen (coming soon)
|Processor||Intel Celeron 3855U
Intel Core i3-6100U
Intel Core i5-6300U
|Internal Storage||16GB or 32GB SSD|
|Operating system||Chrome OS|
|Connectivity options||WiFi a/b/g/n/ac
|I/O ports||2x USB 3.0 Type-A
2x USB 3.0 Type-C
SD Card reader
|Battery life||Up to 10 hours|
|Dimensions & weight||12.68 x 8.78 x 0.78 inches (322 x 223 x 19.8 mm)
3.2 lbs (1.4 kg)
Pricing and final thoughts
I can think of a use-case where this Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook would be superb, basic business usage or in the classroom for general learning exercises. Good thing that is the key demographic for the Chromebook.
With a somewhat unpleasant display and low audio quality, this is not an ideal media consumption device. It can become a media hub, if that is your plan, but I would not recommend this Chromebook for any sort of extended use situation or for precise content creation needs. This is one of those extra devices you have floating around, ready to rock your basic web surfing needs for hours away from a charger.
Before we talk value, let me just say one thing: I put this new Lenovo Chromebook up against my 3 year old HP Chromebook 14, just for fun. Thing is, the older HP Chromebook is still running strong, not nearly as fast as processing tasks, but nearly double the battery life, better audio experience and a nice, bright display with great color reproduction. While I prefer the keyboard on the Lenovo unit, nearly all other features on the less expensive HP unit stand out for me. I was hoping for so much more.
|Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook||Price:|
|Intel Celeron 3855U, 4GB RAM, 16GB SSD, 1366 x 768 display||$429.00
on sale $386.10
Add $50 for 1080p display
|Intel Core i3, 4GB RAM, 16GB SSD, 1366 x 768 display||$559.00
on sale $503.10
Add $50 for 1080p display
|Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 32GB SSD, 1366 x 768 display||$889.00
on sale $800.10
Add $50 for 1080p display
With a starting price as low as $386.10, the fully decked out version of the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook will run you about $900. I will not suggest that this is unreasonable, you are getting a high quality machine that will last for years here, but if you cannot operate on Chrome OS for all of your needs, this is certainly too expensive at the top, regardless the processor and extra storage space.
It pains me to do this, as I have greatly enjoyed the build quality, customer experience and the rich feature set of the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook, but I do not recommend this product.
The sub-par battery life, combined with the poor viewing angles and hollow sounding audio experience are drawbacks enough to simply not warrant the price. If the starting price were more in line with competing Chromebooks, an entry level device at around $200, I would change my tune, but $400+ is too rich for this level of computing experience.
Having said this, the build quality is second to none and the convenience of USB Type-C can be a game changer for many. If your needs are for a rugged device, and you can live with the few flaws mentioned, this Lenovo Chromebook will last through your tumbles.
With the many Chromebooks on the market today, does this Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook appeal to you?