The second I took the ThinkPad Z13 out of its eco-friendly packaging, I instantly knew I was going to enjoy using it. This laptop, announced back at CES 2022 as one of the first entries in Lenovo’s new Z series, is one of the most striking in terms of design for a ThinkPad. It boasts a much more modern take on the familiar ThinkPad clamshell we’ve come to expect with flat edges, shiny accents, and incredibly solid build quality. I’m a huge fan of it.
The ThinkPad Z13 also gives some new specs a whirl, including AMD’s latest Ryzen Pro 6000 series processors. You can also configure the device with up to 32GB of LPDDR5 RAM and 1TB of PCIe SSD Gen 4 storage. The model I’ve been testing comes with a Ryzen 7 Pro 6850U processor, 16GB of RAM, and 512GB of storage. It’s currently priced at $1,851.85 on Lenovo’s website, which slots it right in the same premium category as many popular competitors from Dell and HP.
It’s clear that the ThinkPad Z13 is geared toward the same crowd as most other ThinkPads: business users. With its specialized security features, Lenovo-branded Communications Bar, and classic hardware bonuses like the nub, it’s a ThinkPad through and through, this time with a classy design. If you’re after a ThinkPad that’s a little classier than the rest, you’ll love this laptop. You’ll just have to be okay with performance and battery life that, for lack of better words, are kinda weird.
Beauty hurts sometimes
The Z13 is one of most beautiful laptops you'll ever come across, with a luxurious leather lid and chamfered edges. But performance and battery life are all over the place, which makes this laptop unreliable for a good amount of people.
AMD Ryzen™ 7 PRO 6850U Processor (2.70 GHz, up to 4.70 GHz Max Boost, 8 Cores, 16 Threads, 16 MB Cache)
16 GB LPDDR5 6400MHz (Soldered)
Integrated AMD Radeon 680M Graphics
512 GB PCIe SSD Gen 4
51.5Whr w/ 65W adapter
2 x USB-C 4, headphone/mic combo jack
Wi-Fi 6E 802.11ax (2 x 2), Bluetooth 5.2, optional WWAN Fibocom L860-GL-16 4G CAT16
IR & 1080p FHD Hybrid
Windows Hello IR cameras, fingerprint scanner in keyboard, chip-level AMD Memory Guard, Microsoft Pluton chip-to-cloud technology, discrete Trusted Platform Module (dTPM), camera e-shutter kill switch
13.99mm x 295mm x 200mm / .55″ x 11.59″ x 7.86″, starting at 1.26kg / 2.78lbs
Let’s get one thing straight. I said it at the top of this review before the picture and the scoring widget, and I’ll say it again: I love the design of this laptop. The ThinkPad Z series is new for Lenovo, where the company is exploring more premium form factors and offering alternative specifications to suit the needs of different customers. With any first-gen product it’s easy to screw up design, yet the Z13 is the complete opposite of that.
Lenovo hit it out of the park with this laptop. I was sent the Vegan Leather Black model which has brushed copper-colored accents, vegan leather on the lid, and a deep black aluminum chassis that looks every bit as premium as it sounds. The sides are completely flat and buck the trend of sloping to make the machine seem thinner than it is, and it weighs under three pounds so you barely notice it in your backpack. Lenovo even managed to minimize its impact on the environment with recycled materials, like 75 percent recycled aluminum and vegan leather made of water bottles.
The footprint of this laptop is also delightful. Since the screen is 13.3-inches and isn’t surrounded by huge bezels, Lenovo was able to shave down the Z13 a considerable amount so that it could be as small a rectangle as possible. It’s definitely one of the most portable laptops I’ve used in recent years.
IO is pretty limited, with just two USB-C 4 ports and a headphone jack. This probably won’t be a big deal for most users since so many gadgets have switched to USB-C at this point, but if you’re someone still using USB-A or full-fledged HDMI, you’ll need to pick up some dongles. On the bright side, you can charge the Z13 from either side of the laptop, which is always really convenient.
Keyboard, trackpad, speakers, and ThinkPad bonuses
Opening the laptop (which easily can be done with one hand), you’re greeted by an edge-to-edge keyboard and pressure-sensitive trackpad. Lenovo has been transitioning a lot of its more premium laptops to trackpads with haptic feedback, which let you click pretty much anywhere opposed to the lower-half like on moving trackpads.
This next-generation Haptic ForcePad doesn’t have any significant issues, but it’s still not as fine-tuned as something like Apple’s haptic trackpad on the MacBook. Two-finger right clicks would occasionally take a couple of tries to register, and trying to select text with my pointer and middle fingers would often lead to the cursor somehow slipping out of my control and selecting more text than I wanted.
On the other hand, the keyboard is phenomenal. I’ve never used a ThinkPad with a bad keyboard, and the Z13 is no exception. Lenovo includes 1.35mm of travel on each key, which makes typing incredibly satisfying and comfortable. It stretches to each edge of the deck of the laptop to maximize the typing surface, and it’s simply delightful to use. There’s even a fingerprint scanner conveniently hidden in the lower portion of the keyboard which helps it blend in with the rest of the design.
You’ll find frosted glass as the palm rest on the Z13 which isn’t any more or less comfortable than another hard surface, but it makes the laptop essentially impossible to keep clean. The speakers are flanked on either side of the deck of the laptop on the bottom, and they sound… fine. They’re tuned with Dolby Atmos so they have good clarity at high volumes, but I noticed that bass is a bit lacking and everything sounds a bit tinny when you start cranking them up. Regardless, they’re not bad for ThinkPad speakers which notoriously are pretty rough.
Returning from past ThinkPads are the signature TrackPoint in the middle of the keyboard, three-button mouse controls at the top of the trackpad, and the Communications bar above the display. The TrackPoint gets some extra functionality with the Z13 thanks to a new quick settings menu that appears by triple-tapping it. It’s full of a handful of different controls like brightness and contrast for the webcam, microphone adjustments, and quick access to Microsoft Dictation. The Communications bar also gets upgraded, this time with a 1080p webcam and dual microphones. Then there’s the triple mouse buttons that are pressure-sensitive and work just like the old physical version. If you don’t want to use them, you can disable them and take advantage of the full surface of the trackpad.
When paired with the row of special Function keys at the top for things like answering calls, disabling the webcam, and flicking on airplane mode, these features round off a unique ThinkPad experience, one that Lenovo is known for and any business user will appreciate. It’s especially nice to see on such a portable form factor like the Z13 has, so you can really take it wherever you go (even if that means plucking down on a small table at a coffee shop or sitting in the middle seat on a plane).
Despite all the positive things I have to say about everything around the display on the Z13, I was unfortunately not very impressed by the screen Lenovo includes here. It’s a pretty standard 13.3-inch 16:10 IPS panel with a 1920×1200 resolution and 400 nits of brightness. In the world of premium laptops, it really doesn’t get much more basic than that.
Indoors, I can’t say that I had many problems with the display, beyond just how dull and unexciting it was to look at. Colors are vibrant enough to look good, but black levels are pretty disappointing.
The second you take it outside, however, things take a turn for the worst. Because it’s only 400 nits, you can pretty much forget about using this laptop in any setting that doesn’t have an ample amount of shade. Even then, you have to crank the brightness up so that you don’t have to squint to see what’s on the screen. There are plenty of laptops in this price range with brighter screens, so if you do a lot of work outside or just want that flexibility, you’ll have better luck elsewhere.
There is a nicer screen option for the Z13, where Lenovo uses an OLED panel instead of IPS and a higher 2.8K resolution. I didn’t get to test that one, but I assume it looks much better than the one I have. That being said, it too is 400 nits, so maybe not all that much better.
Performance and battery life
My ThinkPad Z13 came with an eight-core AMD Ryzen 7 Pro 6850U processor clocked at 2.5GHz, with up to a 4.7GHz boost clock speed. It’s paired with 16GB of LPDDR5 RAM and 512GB of PCIe Gen 4 SSD storage, as well as Windows 11.
A spec blend like this, at least for my workload, is typically a recipe for good performance. My day-to-day consists of not much more than writing things in Google Docs or Microsoft Word, managing my calendar, editing photos in Lightroom, playing music, and joining the occasional Zoom meeting. But to my surprise, this was oddly all a bit of a struggle on the Z13.
Out of the box, the machine is set to “Balanced” in the performance mode section of settings. This throttles performance to increase efficiency, and it’s the setting you have to have on if you want the battery life Lenovo says you’ll get with this laptop. But when it’s on, performance is almost intolerable.
Simple tasks like opening Chrome and typing into the WordPress block editor is tedious. It takes a hot second just to get to my dashboard on WordPress.com, and as I typed, I could notice a fraction of a second delay between when I’d strike a key and when its corresponding character would pop up on the screen. That’s not all – running a few apps like Spotify and Lightroom with Chrome open is enough to make the device choke, to a point where I feel the need to shut it down and restart it.
When I crank the Z13 up to “Best performance,” a lot of those weird issues go away. Typing is a lot easier, and I can keep the apps I need open without feeling the need to kill them all just to get work done. However, even when it’s not being throttled, the 6850U is still flighty. Sometimes things can get super choppy, sometimes they’re smooth as butter, sometimes they’re a strange hybrid.
I’m not blaming Lenovo exclusively for these issues, but I am blaming them for picking this chip. AMD’s recent processors have been plagued with issues where they perform better when connected to an external power supply and less reliant on a laptop battery. This obviously makes the chips less ideal for a laptop compared to a chip from Intel. On a charger, performance was much more consistent, and I was able to tear through a few Lightroom edits while my Spotify playlist played in the background. Granted, it still wasn’t a perfect experience since anything heavier than Lightroom is able to slow the Z13 down (AMD Radeon 680M graphics are way less powerful than a dedicated GPU), but it was suitable nevertheless.
I also noticed that the Z13 has a tendency to get hot very quickly. Not a few minutes into a writing session recently, I noticed that the bottom of the device was getting oddly warm to the touch. All I had open was Chrome and Spotify, with music playing over the speakers. About 10 minutes of this type of usage can make the fan kick in without hesitation, especially if you’re in an environment that’s not particularly cool.
If you’re a business-oriented user who will be using this laptop for common office tasks like managing spreadsheets and sending emails, you won’t have any major problems with performance, but you have to anticipate what you need to do in order to maximize performance to minimize interruptions. “Balanced” needs to be switched to “Best performance” from the second you take it out of the box, and you’ll want to keep your charger handy because it means you’ll be dealing with shorter battery life as a result.
Oh yeah, battery life. There’s a 51.1Whr battery inside the Z13, and it’s as unpredictable as performance can be.
With “Balanced” on, I was getting about six to seven hours of battery life on a full charge, while “Best Performance” lead to more like five. For context, Lenovo says the Z13 is capable of up to 18.3 hours of battery life, which is just pure insanity. I honestly have no clue how someone could achieve that on this laptop (unless they ran some low-res video on airplane mode at 10 percent brightness on a loop). Luckily, charging is quick, with the machine going from zero to 100 percent in just over an hour thanks to the included 65W charger.
Is the ThinkPad Z13 worth buying?
This laptop is tough to recommend to anyone who’s regularly on the go. Performance and battery life are really hit or miss, and depending on your workload, you could choke this laptop after just a few minutes.
Still, the ThinkPad Z13 is one of my favorite ThinkPads I’ve ever used, and it’s all thanks to the design. It’s the starkest change Lenovo has made to its ThinkPad portfolio in years, and they totally nailed it. Honestly, the vegan leather version of the Z13 is the only model you should consider if you’re gonna pick it up – it’s stupendous.
So long as you’re near a power supply more often than not, you’ll like the Z13. Hell, maybe you can live with middling performance and less-then-stellar battery life, which in that case you’ll love it.
It’s a shame you have to make these sacrifices at all, but I suppose beauty hurts sometimes. Hopefully, the next-gen Z13 patches things up in the performance and battery life departments. Until then, I’ll be admiring this laptop and using it strictly for writing in Microsoft Word.