Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 Review
A quality ultraportable, but loses too much of the ThinkPad series
A quality ultraportable PC with some top specs, but it loses too much of the ThinkPad series’s DNA, and the touchpad haptics need work.
- Fairly bright, practical matt screen
- Small footprint
- Decent performance
- Poor touchpad
- Keyboard lacks the classic ThinkPad feel
- UKRRP: £1909
The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 is a high-end laptop that blends in more elements of ultra-premium style laptops than other ThinkPads.
Where the ThinkPad X1 Carbon hones the ThinkPad blueprint to make it work as a super-portable luxury laptop, I get the sense the Z13 operates the other way around. It started off as a lifestyle laptop design and has Thinkpad elements pumped in.
It works to an extent, but as a long-term ThinkPad fan, I can’t help but feel a little too much of that original DNA has been lost, most notably in the laptop’s keyboard and touchpad. And that matters because, at £1909 for the entry-level model, this laptop is pricey.
Design and Keyboard
- Tough aluminium build
- Small footprint
- Middling keyboard and trackpad
The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 is a small-footprint aluminium laptop. Most of the other ThinkPads I’ve used recently don’t worry too much about feeling super-metallic, even if they use magnesium alloys, but it’s more of a focus here.
Each panel feels denser, and less flexible than those of the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. And you can lift the lid with a single finger, a classic trait of a top-tier laptop.
I don’t think this is the prettiest laptop out there though. There’s a slight boxiness to the contours of the lower part, and the lid has an odd-looking reinforced lozenge section. This is likely there to provide more room for the webcam without making the entire lid thicker and to facilitate easier opening, but I don’t think it looks that great.
The first-take impression of the Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 is that this is a laptop made largely without budget-related compromises, but it’s quirky rather than beautiful.
Its footprint is tiny, however, and this is a killer laptop for travel. Weight isn’t ultra-low considering this size, at 1.26kg. Lenovo could make a laptop this size under 1kg but you then wouldn’t get such a rigid and dense feel, which is a key draw of this laptop.
Some people think of it just as the “business laptop” series. However, it has also been something of a refuge for people who hated what Apple did to the laptop keyboard, making ultra-shallow keys trendy. Apple has thankfully walked back on that in recent years, but the effects were felt across laptop brands.
Lenovo has trimmed down ThinkPad keyboard a bit, but the X1 Carbon’s is still substantial. The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 device’s? Not quite as much.
This laptop has light and shallow keyboard, lacking the core character I associate with this series. Is the keyboard still better than most other shallow designs? Absolutely, but the ThinkPad mojo is lost in my opinion. And I think that is the best reason for someone not in business to buy a ThinkPad.
What we are left with is the ThinkPad look, thanks to the rubber nipple mouse nestled in the keyboard’s middle. Not used one before? It’s a pressure-sensitive joystick and a strangely high-fidelity control surface. Most people will not be instantly converted from using a touchpad or mouse, though.
The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1’s keyboard is disappointing but of good quality. Its touchpad is also not up to the standards of the best from the series, largely because it sees Lenovo experiment with a haptic design, rather than a mechanical clicker.
Pretty much every brand that has tried this, bar perhaps Apple, has gone through an adolescent phase with haptics, and this might be Lenovo’s. I find the Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1’s clicker feels a little disconnected. It’s tricky to describe, but it’s as if the click is happening across the pad rather than under your finger. The feel is also much stodgier, and less substantial than the relatively mellow and dark click of the lovely ThinkPad X1 Carbon pad.
Its surface is ultra-smooth textured glass and, in a nod to the ThinkPad series’s staple separated-out mouse keys, the bordered top area acts as a left/right mouse button zone. However, I think mouse and keyboard feel of the ThinkPad series is just too important to give these so-so efforts a clear pass. I will admit — plenty of you aren’t going to care as much as I do. There’s good news. Lenovo is apparently using a new haptics supplier for the Gen 2 Z13, due out in 2023.
The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1’s connectivity is also highly limited for a serious business laptop. It has two USB-C connectors and a headphone jack. One of the USBs is taken up while plugged in too, so you may need to get a dock if this laptop will end up part of a desktop rig.
Thankfully, the USB-Cs are specced to the 4.0 standard, giving them Thunderbolt-like bandwidth of 40Gbps. You wouldn’t find actual Thunderbolt connectors here, as it’s an AMD CPU laptop — Thunderbolt is an Intel/Apple initiative.
Let’s end with something a bit more positive. The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 has a 1080p webcam, one with noticeably better image quality than the old 720p norm. It can also be used for face unlock, alongside the fingerprint scanner that sits handily towards the bottom of the keyboard.
- A quality LCD panel
- Lacks the pop of a glossy display
- But matte is clearly the right option here
The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 is available with a few different screen types, including an impressive-sounding 1800p OLED panel. Mine is a more down-to-Earth 1200p LCD display.
As such you don’t get ultra-deep colour, just very good colour. It fulfils the sRGB colour standard, or at least 97% of it according to my colorimeter, and 79% of the DCI P3 standard super-deep colour displays usually aim for these days.
Maximum brightness of 412 nits does match the OLED display of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon I reviewed recently, though. This is pretty standard for a laptop this expensive but, in tandem with the matte display finish, it’s enough to let you work fairly comfortably outdoors.
The screen surface scatters reflections, which can become a real problem when trying to work on a train or, say, outside on a sunny day.
This is a non-touch display, and the hinge only lets it fold back to roughly a conservative 130 degrees. It’s no hybrid.
- Decent performance, but lacks a little graphics power
- Noticeable fan noise under pressure
The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 performs well, considering a big part of the goal here is to reduce the laptop’s footprint as much as possible. It uses the AMD Ryzen 5 PRO 6650U CPU with 16GB RAM and a 256GB hard drive.
These mid-tier specs make some, including myself, wince a bit considering this laptop costs £1909 direct from Lenovo. However, it does at least have a “Pro” series processor. And at the time of review, I was able to find the Ryzen 7 version with a 512GB SSD and OLED screen for less than this model’s RRP online.
According to my testing, it can beat a 13th Gen low voltage Intel Core i5 on both productivity jobs and graphics tasks. CPU performance is a bit better in an AMD Ryzen 7 6800U laptop like the Acer Swift Edge, but it’s the graphics power here that is more obviously lacking compared to what some AMD chipsets offer.
The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 achieves 1471 points in 3D Mark’s Time Spy test, which is pretty miserable by the standards of AMD’s best-integrated GPUs, and also beaten by a good implementation of Intel’s Xe chipset. Acer’s Swift Edge, with the 6800U, scores 2394 points in the same test. A huge gulf, from a cheaper PC.
However, I’d argue that if you are buying the Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 for its graphical prowess, you’re looking at the wrong laptop. This thing still makes Windows 11 sing, it has a fast PCIe SSD, coming at 3309MB/s read and 1908MB/s write in our testing – decent results for those who need to transfer plenty of files, but not mind-blowingly fast. It’s also reassuring to see that all configs of this computer have at least 16GB RAM.
Under pressure, the Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 doesn’t get all that loud, but its noise is quite noticeable thanks to the higher-pitch tone of its fans. In this sense, once again, it has a bit too much in common with the classic small-footprint ultraportable.
- 51.5Wh battery
- Can just about last a full day of light work
The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 doesn’t hit the fantastic battery life heights I’ve seen from some AMD Ryzen laptops over the last couple of years. According to the PC Mark Modern Office benchmark, it lasts nine hours six minutes off a charge.
As such, it reaches basic expectations for a productivity laptop. For light jobs it will last through a classic eight-hour day of work, but with mixed-use it may struggle a bit. It’s way off Lenovo’s claim of 18.5 hours.
The laptop has a 51.5Wh battery, which is a decent capacity for something of this size if significantly less than the 70Wh of the larger footprint Yoga 7 Slim models. I did a bit more testing to see how much the processor throttles on the battery. Its Geekbench 5 single-core score on the battery is just 62% of what is it on charge, the multi-core 67%.
We’re still seeing a very big lowering of the performance ceiling on battery, but the battery life is similar to what I’d expect from a decent Intel-powered alternative. It’s a little disappointing.
Should you buy it?
If you want a small footprint and quality build
The Z13 is great for portability, as is the moderately bright and highly practical matt display. We’ll take one for work on the go, sure.
Avoid if you value a top-quality keyboard and trackpad
The Z13 loses a little too much of what makes ThinkPad laptops stand out. In thinning out the keyboard, it becomes ordinary. And the haptic touchpad just doesn’t feel great — a significant knock if you need a laptop for all-day work use.
Lenovo ThinkPad devices need to ace the jobs they are made for, because they are expensive, and we approach reviews largely from the perspective of a person looking to buy a laptop. Not a CTO looking to outfit their workforce.
Lots of ThinkPads sail past these difficulties regardless, but the Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 hits a few snags. By aiming to make a PC more obviously influenced by the lifestyle competition, it loses important parts of the series’s identity. And, the most significant issue of all, the haptic touchpad just isn’t very good.
It’s likely to be significantly improved in the upcoming Gen 2 model, but think carefully about buying this first version unless you find the Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 selling well below its initial price.
ThinkPad fans should look to the more authentic experience on the X1 Carbon. Or, if you’re not tied to the business chops of the series, devices like the Acer Swift Edge (2022) and Asus Zenbook 13 S OLED (2022) provide strong ultraportable alternatives.
How we test
Every laptop we review goes through a series of uniform checks designed to gauge key things including build quality, performance, screen quality and battery life.
These include formal synthetic benchmarks and scripted tests, plus a series of real world checks.
We used as our main laptop for at least a week.
Tested the performance via both benchmark tests and real-world use.
We tested the screen with a colorimeter and real-world use.
We tested the battery with a benchmark test and real-world use.
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It has two USB-C shaped USB 4 ports and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
This is a Wi-Fi only laptop, not one with 4G or 5G mobile internet.
It uses a Radeon 660M integrated graphics chipset, which is OK for basic gaming only.