I’ve never tried a Chromebook before, let alone owned one. But while in the hunt for new gadgets to test out, I was offered to try the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook from Lenovo. Announced back at CES 2016, Lenovo’s Chrome OS offering for this year looked pretty stellar. I always thought having a little computer I could just type up an article or two on the go would be great, so I was highly interested in checking this machine out. In short, it’s a really great laptop for the money you spend. However, it’s got its fair share of quirks. Let’s jump into MBEDDED’s full review of the Lenovo ThinkPad13 Chromebook!
The design of the ThinkPad 13 is pretty nice. It only comes in one color (that’s matte black) and features a business/enterprise look and feel. The entire body is plastic, but it’s a soft touch plastic so it feels a bit more premium than it actually is. By no means is the design something like the HP Spectre, but it gets the job done with nice slopes here and there alongside a relatively slim form factor.
For those of you wondering, here’s the dimensions and weight.
Dimensions: 12.69″ x 8.77″ x 0.78″; 322.4mm x 222.8mm x 19.8mm
Weight: 3.1 lbs. / 1.41 kg
As you can see, the ThinkPad 13 is pretty small and compact while not weighing much at all. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed just how portable this machine is, so props to Lenovo.
On the top of the ThinkPad 13 you’ll find the ThinkPad branding, a Chrome logo, and an Energy Star sticker. This is easily removable with a pull of the attached tab, but I left mine on for the purpose of this review.
On the left, you’ll find a full-sized SD card slot, a USB Type-A port, and ventilation for the fans. On the right, there’s two USB Type-C ports (one for charging and the other for data transfer), another Type-A port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Found on the bottom and top edges of the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook is nothing (there’s a slight slope on the top edge in order for the user to open the lid easier, however). All in all, I think Lenovo did well with the amount of IO they loaded onto this laptop as it’s not too little and not too much. I find it a good mix and think it’d be extremely helpful if I were reviewing the Windows version of this computer.
When you open the lid of the ThinkPad 13, you’ll be immediately greeted by the 13.3-inch IPS display. It’s a matte display, so this means there’s almost zero glair in bright rooms or outside. It’s worth noting that there’s two screen resolutions available for the ThinkPad 13, with one being 1336×768 and the other 1920×1080. I was sent the 1920×1080 model for my testing, and I find the picture displayed very sharp and high in quality (at least in this department). Overall, I’ve found this screen to be pretty good. Colors aren’t as vibrant as I’d like (my mid-2010 MacBook Pro actually displays better colors), while the brightness is only at 200 nits (in other words, it doesn’t get very bright), but it’s definitely useable. In no way will you probably dislike this display, but there’s a good chance you’ve seen better.
Getting into what else you’re greeted by when opening the lid of the ThinkPad 13, a full-sized keyboard and trackpad are present for interaction. I’ve been highly satisfied with the keyboard as it has a very good amount of travel while typing, the keys are relatively large for easy striking, they don’t wobble around and are very stable, and the overall feel of the keys is nice since they’re made of a textured plastic, granting users a grippy-type vibe and comfortability factor. You’ve got your fair share of keys dedicated to Chrome OS like the search key that replaces Caps Lock and the system controls that replace the Function keys, so interaction with the laptop via just the keyboard is excellent.
On the other hand, getting into the trackpad, it’s a much different story. The trackpad is made of plastic with a soft touch layer on top. If you weren’t aware, part of the reason for a soft touch back on smartphones is to provide extra grip so the device doesn’t slip out of your hand (take the Vernne Thor I reviewed a few weeks ago for instance). This design doesn’t work on a trackpad, and I’m saddened to report this trackpad is pretty much awful. There’s almost too much grip on the trackpad for it to be useful, while the plastic just feels cheap and not very sturdy. One highlight of the trackpad, however, is the fact that it supports gestures like a two-finger scroll/right-click, but this doesn’t make up for its overall low quality. I actually disliked it so much that I finally got my Apple Magic Mouse to connect via Bluetooth just so I wouldn’t have to use it. All in all, if you’re gonna pick this computer up, you might wanna grab an external mouse of some sorts.
While the design of the ThinkPad 13 is plastic and may look a bit unappealing to some, it’s worth noting that Lenovo designed this laptop so it could pass MILSTD 810G military certification tests. This means that you can drop this thing from 4 feet high, spill something on it, use it in extreme temperatures, or do whatever else kind of havok you want to the machine and it would survive. I personally didn’t test this, but it was worth a mention nevertheless.
Overall, I’ve found the design and IO availability on the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook fair. If I could change some elements of its design (for instance that God awful trackpad) I would, but I can definitely live with it. Lenovo made a well-built machine that’s targeted toward business users (and at the same time average consumers), and I think they did a good job. In all reality, it’s just that trackpad that kills me in the end. But hey, that’s why we’ve got external mice, right?
Specs & Performance
For reference, here’s the specs of the ThinkPad 13 I reviewed.
- 2.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 processor w/ Intel HD Graphics 520
- 8GB RAM
- 32GB storage
- 720p webcam
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi
- Bluetooth 4.1
Since this machine is running Chrome OS (which we’ll go farther into depth with in the next section), it’s not a necessity to load a computer with high-powered specifications for good performance. In fact, if you loaded something like a Snapdragon processor or MediaTek chipset instead, Chrome OS would still run fine, possibly better than something like Android. However, it appears this didn’t affect Lenovo’s decision to load the ThinkPad 13 with an Intel Core i5. And all in all, I’m crazy about it. I’m able to fly through different applications, open multiple tabs constantly, and the entire system just feels like butter. As previously stated, you really don’t need something as powerful as an Intel chipset inside a Chromebook, but boy do I enjoy it.
Regarding the RAM, 8GB isn’t necessary either for Chrome OS. In fact, most of the time it’ll suffice just fine on popular Windows and macOS machines. It’s worth noting that the standard ThinkPad 13 comes with 4GB that would be enough to meet anyone’s needs whether they’re demanding or not, but having the extra 4GB available is totally awesome. I can literally have 20-25 different tabs open at once inside Chrome OS without any redraws of any site I visit. Long story short, 8GB of RAM inside Chrome OS is really nice.
I also find the storage amount to be a tad excessive inside the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook. Since Chrome OS is cloud-based and everything is usually backed up in Google Photos and Drive, you really don’t need a lot of physical storage space. However, since I do tend to take a lot of screenshots and save pictures for later use with MBEDDED, I find the 32GB of available space handy. The base model of this laptop comes with 16GB, but I recommend getting the 32GB since you never really know what you might need it for, especially down the road (and believe me, Chromebooks can go down the road since they’re so efficient). So far, I’ve used about 11GB of my available space, so if I don’t delete or back up anything, I’ll need that extra space eventually.
Tearing through the rest of the specs, the 720p webcam looks fine for a quick Hangouts session or selfie with someone addicted to selfies, while the 802.11ac Wi-Fi compatibility and Bluetooth 4.1 make all wireless connections super fast and stable (it’s worth noting that my Magic Mouse does lose connection sometimes, but I blame this on the sole fact that this isn’t a Mac-branded machine). All in all, the specs packed into the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook are while highly excessive for a laptop of its kind, very quick, handy, smooth, and overall enjoyable. Therefore, if you’re looking to pick up this laptop, get this configuration.
As you’ve been made aware of by now, the ThinkPad 13 runs Chrome OS. There’s a Windows option available, but I opted to review the Chromebook edition since this was new territory for me. I found it only necessary for myself as a technology journalist and enthusiast to learn the ins-and-outs of what Google offers on the desktop, so here I am writing about my experience. And unsurprisingly, I really like it.
Before I go off praising everything about Chrome OS, I’ll have to say there’s plenty of limitations that have caused me to resort back to my 6-year-old MacBook Pro. For starters, there’s really no way to edit pictures as well as you can do in Preview on macOS, while desktop-class apps don’t run on this machine like a proper movie editor or full-fledged email client. But with that aside, everything throughout Chrome OS is just simple, for better or for worse. The file manager is simple, Chrome is simple to begin with, the search pain is dead simple, and even the settings are simplified for even the most computer illiterate. I’m not very familiar with such simple interfaces to interact with as I find myself comfortable navigating Windows’ various menus and functions alongside macOS’ ever-growing list of features, but for something different, I did enjoy using Chrome OS overall.
Now I can’t say I love Chrome OS since it’s really only good when you’ve got Wi-Fi or need to type up a quick document on the go, but that doesn’t go without saying I enjoy Chrome OS. Look, I can be considered a power user (someone who needs accessibility to various powerful functions at a moment’s notice), so using Chrome OS on a main machine isn’t ideal whatsoever. However, rather taking something like my MacBook Pro to a Starbucks or to the couch to relax, I’d much prefer a Chromebook since I’ll only be doing light tasks like reading email, writing articles, or video chatting with someone and I don’t need all that clunkiness on my lap. So to me, having a Chromebook (especially a smaller one like the ThinkPad 13) as a secondary computer is ideal rather having it as my main machine. Of course, I can do most of my work daily since it’s mainly done inside Chrome anyway (there were even days when I didn’t touch my MacBook Pro), but there’s nevertheless the occasional need for more from the OS. Hence, if I bought a Chromebook, I’d use it as a secondary laptop and that’s it.
In a nutshell? I enjoy Chrome OS. Like I said, I can’t replace my MacBook Pro with it, but for one the go purposes or catching up on YouTube in my favorite chair, it’s great. And if it comes down to it, I can do my day’s work on it. You know, as long as I don’t have to edit a photo or something…
The battery life of the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook is probably the best part of the entire experience. Lenovo advertises 10 hours of screen-on time, and I can’t say that’s inaccurate because I get at least that on a daily basis starting at 10AM and finishing at 11PM. Really, they should say all-day battery life because no matter how you use this computer, you’re bound to either get through one or two days with a full charge.
So what’s the cause of more-than-stellar battery life on this machine? Well, obviously Chrome OS plays a major role thanks to its efficiency, however that 42Wh cell Lenovo packed in makes a difference as well. And thanks to the slick cooling system inside that’s so quite you never actually hear it, the battery life and heat distribution is on-point. It’s worth noting that while using the ThinkPad 13 for an extended period, the top area where I’m assuming the battery is located gets a tad warm but you’ll likely not notice this if you aren’t looking for it (which I was since I’m a reviewer).
Overall, I think the battery life of the ThinkPad 13 is excellent. It’s so good, in fact, that if I have a 50% charge and are a little extra careful with my number of tabs, I can get through a full day of work. Therefore, if you’re looking for a laptop with great battery life, I definitely recommend this machine.
I felt like I had to address one particular area of this machine before I went on with my final thoughts, and that’s the sound system. In a nutshell? Thank god there’s a headphone jack…
Okay, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. The speakers of the ThinkPad 13 are located on the bottom left and right of the laptop and are carved out of the shape of two extra-long pills. Moving on to the quality, every piece of sound I played sounded too tinny, while there’s almost no bass or depth to music or videos. And since they’re bottom-firing, you can barely even hear what you’d like to listen to (especially if you’ve got the laptop on your lap. You know, where laptops are supposed to go). I don’t wanna go too far down this rabbit hole because I could spend all day doing so, but if you’re looking for great speakers on your laptop, don’t buy this laptop because the ThinkPad 13 offers the exact opposite.
I’ve really enjoyed one of Lenovo’s latest options in the world of laptops. The ThinkPad 13 Chromebook gives you plenty for what you pay for ($704), while the overall experience of using the machine day-to-day is pretty great. I enjoy the display, the speed is excellent, the simplicity of Chrome OS is really nice, battery life has exceeded my expectations, and even typing on its keyboard is great. Of course, with the awful trackpad, speakers, productivity factor, and that price which is far too much for something like a Chromebook, some may steer clear of this machine if they need more from their laptop at a cheaper price. But for those of you who need an ultra-portable that can be used for simple tasks each day and navigated by the most computer illiterate while also offering plenty of speed, the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook is a solid option.
Pricing and Availability
Right now, you can grab the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook with less powerful specs like an Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM, and 16GB of storage for $321.75 at Lenovo’s online store. This model will likely be enough for those who just want a decent laptop running Chrome OS. I’ll update this review when you can begin buying the model I reviewed here.