Starting Configuration Price
- ProsSturdy construction. Processor and memory promote speedy performance. Full HD IPS display. Dual-band 802.11ac wireless.
- ConsVery expensive for a chromebook. No touch screen. Non-convertible.
- Bottom LineThe Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook is a powerful Chrome-OS laptop with military-spec durability, but there are plenty of less expensive, high-performing alternatives.
By Victoria Song
Love ’em or hate ’em, chromebooks derive their appeal from their simple focus on productivity and affordability. When you add a durable design, it’s easy to see why chromebooks have gained a foothold in classrooms and businesses alike. To that end, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook (starts at $321.75; $704.25 as tested) combines high performance with the durable design of the ThinkPad series to deliver a no-frills experience. The model we tested is significantly more expensive than our current chromebook Editors’ Choice, the Acer Chromebook 14, and lacks extras you’ll find in other models, like convertibility and a touch screen, but it adds a bigger, higher-quality display and more processing firepower. Whether these additions warrant the heftier price tag, however, is up for debate.
Design and Features
Measuring 0.78 by 12.69 by 8.77 inches (HWD), the ThinkPad 13 Chromebook is slightly larger, but thinner than the Lenovo ThinkPad 11e Chromebook (0.87 by 11.9 by 8.5 inches). But aside from its larger screen (and smaller bezel), the ThinkPad 13 doesn’t veer far from the 11e in looks. The body is black plastic with a matte finish that feels smooth to the touch, but easily shows fingerprints after a few days of handling. With a Mil-Spec–certified design, the chromebook is built to withstand the bumps and thumps of everyday commutes, as well as extreme environmental conditions such as temperature, pressure, dust, humidity, and vibration. At 3.1 pounds, the ThinkPad 13 is heavier than other rugged rivals like the Asus Chromebook C202SA-YS02(2.64 pounds) and the Dell Chromebook 11 Non-Touch (2.7 pounds). Still, it’s easy to slip into your backpack and light enough that it doesn’t weigh down your average train ride or impede mobility.
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The 13.3-inch In-Plane Switching (IPS) screen comes with antiglare coating, and its full HD (1,920-by-1,080p) resolution is a step up from the 1,366 by 768 most chromebooks opt for to keep costs down. In fact, among recent chromebooks, the ThinkPad 13’s screen size is bested only by that of the Acer Chromebook 14 (14 inches; its resolution is also 1,920 by 1,080). The higher resolution is definitely a strong point and not a bad investment considering its just an extra $50. It’s not necessary for basic productivity tasks, however, and if price is a concern, this is one area where you can reduce costs. The ThinkPad 13 doesn’t come with a touch screen and isn’t truly convertible, but like the Asus C202 has a hinge that opens up to 170 degrees so that it lays nearly flat. Presumably, this makes collaboration easier, and if this is an appealing feature, then the full HD IPS screen comes in handy as you don’t have to worry about limited viewing angles.
The chiclet-style keyboard is easy to type on and follows the standard chromebook layout, which replaces the top row of function keys with system controls, as well as the Caps Lock key with a Search key. The one-piece touchpad is also responsive and simple to use, and supports multitouch gestures. The speakers, located at the bottom of the chassis, are decent and can get loud enough for a medium-size room. At full volume, you’ll hear some distortion with extremely high or low pitches, but since you’re unlikely to use a chromebook for more than casual viewing, this isn’t really a major problem.
On the right side, the ThinkPad 13 has a Kensington lock slot, two USB-C ports, a USB 3.0 port, and a headphone/microphone jack. The remaining USB 3.0 port and a four-in-one card reader are located on the left. There’s also a 720p webcam in the top bezel. For connectivity, the ThinkPad 13 supports dual-band 802.11ac wireless and Bluetooth 4.0. Rounding out the features is 32GB of flash memory. That might seem low compared with what you get on traditional laptops, but because Chrome OS relies heavily on cloud storage and Web-based applications, most chromebooks come with either 16GB or 32GB. The Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook comes with a one-year warranty.
The ThinkPad 13 Chromebook runs on an Intel Core i5-6300U processor (with integrated Intel HD Graphics 520) and 8GB of memory. With this configuration, the ThinkPad 13 can smoothly stream YouTube videos and handle 15 tabs with no lag. Because chromebooks are intended for light browsing and productivity tasks, this extra processing power, while nice, is not completely necessary. As with the screen resolution, this is an area where, depending on your needs, you could opt for less-powerful components to reduce costs.
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In our battery rundown test, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 Chromebook lasted 9 hours, 46 minutes. That’s enough to get you through a full day of classes or work, and is a decent but not spectacular result among chromebooks. It’s more than we saw with the Toshiba Chromebook 2 (5:35), the Lenovo ThinkPad 11e (7:35), and the Lenovo 100S (8:09), but well behind the times of the Acer Chromebook R 11 (10:30), Asus Chromebook Flip (11: 15), Acer Chromebook 14 (11:50), Asus Chromebook C202SA-YS02 (12:05), and the CTL J5 Chromebook (12:21).
As far as chromebooks go, the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 is a solid performer on every level, but it simply costs too much for a Chrome-based laptop. That’s a big problem considering that affordability is one of the main reasons to buy a chromebook. (Not to mention that, for $700, you can definitely find a good midrange Windows 10 laptop like the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 or the Acer Aspire R 14.) While the base configuration price is more reasonable, there are many less expensive alternatives that perform well. For instance, our Editors’ Choice pick, the Acer Chromebook 14, packs in a larger full HD screen, speedy performance, a metal body, and almost 12 hours of battery life—and costs less than $300. So if you want some extra processing power and price isn’t a major consideration, the ThinkPad 13 may be the chromebook for you. Otherwise, you’re better served looking elsewhere.
By Victoria Song Analyst, Hardware
Victoria Song is an analyst on the Hardware team at PCMag. Since graduating from Temple University’s Japan Campus in 2010, she’s been found reporting and editing in every corner of the newsroom at The ACCJ Journal, The Japan News, and New York bureau of The Yomiuri Shimbun. In her spare time, she bankrupts herself going to theater, buying expansions to board games, and cleaning out the stacks at The Strand. Someday, she hopes Liverpool FC will win the league, but she isn’t holding her breath…. More »