Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 overview: Strong performer at a sound value

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Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Gen 2

“The Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 is a solid performer at a sound price.”

  • Speedy productivity performance
  • Good battery life
  • Solid build quality
  • A few welcome security extras
  • Attractive aesthetic
  • Shallow keyboard
  • Touchpad could be larger
  • Poor graphics performance

Lenovo’s first attempt at building a laptop specifically for small businesses — the ThinkBook 13s — fell a little flat. It was a serviceable 13-inch machine but didn’t offer many tangible benefits for its target market. Now it’s round two, with the company pushing out the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 that aims to bring the laptop up to contemporary standards.

I reviewed a mid-range configuration of the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 priced at an attractive $819, with an 11th-gen Intel Core i5-1135G7, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB PCIe solid-state drive (SSD), and a 13.3-inch 16:10 IPS display running at WQXGA (2560 x 1600) resolution.

Lenovo has managed to iron out some of the glaring flaws with the original, making the ThinkBook 13s a solid option for buyers shopping for a laptop under $1,000.

Design

The original ThinkBook 13s was a very conservatively designed laptop that lacked any standout aesthetic features — and it looks much more like Lenovo’s consumer line than its business-oriented ThinkPads. The Gen 2 model has a similar look, but Lenovo made a couple of meaningful changes. First, the bezels are much thinner, giving a more modern appearance with the lid open. Second, the lid now has an anodized aluminum portion that creates a light two-tone effect on the top. It looks good and spices up what’s otherwise a common-looking silver laptop. It’s not as sharp as non-business laptops like the Dell XPS 13 or HP Spectre x360 14, but it has its own laid-back charm.

Those thinner bezels make for a laptop that manages to be smaller in all dimensions than its predecessor despite its taller display, which tends to make a laptop deeper. It’s not as small as the XPS 13, which has even smaller bezels, but it’s nicely sized for a 13-inch class laptop. It’s also thinner this time around at 0.59 inches compared to 0.63 inches and lighter at 2.78 pounds compared to 2.9 pounds. That’s almost identical to the XPS 13’s 0.58 inches and 2.8 pounds. The ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 does feel larger in hand than the XPS 13, but it’s still a reasonably small and light laptop for the class.

Another improvement over the previous model is the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2’s feeling of durability. Both passed through Mil-spec 810G testing, but the newer model has less bending in the lid and flexing in the keyboard deck. It’s also all aluminum this time around, while the original used aluminum in the lid and an aluminum-magnesium alloy in the base. I find the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 to feel just as robust as the XPS 13, which is high praise given that the latter has been a standard for well-built laptops.

lenovo thinkbook 13s gen 2 review gen2 3

lenovo thinkbook 13s gen 2 review gen2

Finally, connectivity is a strength, with one caveat. There’s only one USB-C port with Thunderbolt 4 support, and while that’s good to have, it’s also used to power the laptop and so can’t be used to attach a peripheral without a dock of some kind. You can, though, connect an external display thanks to the full-size HDMI 2.0b port, also along the left-hand side, and next to that is a 3.5mm audio jack. On the right-hand side are a Kensington lock port and two USB-A 3.2 ports.

Overall, that’s an improvement over the XPS 13’s two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4 support. Conspicuously missing is an SD card reader, which is a surprise given such a surplus of connectivity. Wireless connectivity is up-to-date with Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1.

Performance

The ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 equips an 11th-gen Intel Core i5-1135G7 quad-core CPU with eight threads. It’s been a solid performer the few times we’ve tested it, and the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 keeps up that tradition.

Starting with GeekBench 5, the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 falls right where you would expect, slightly below laptops with the faster Core i7-1165G7 and well below both the Ryzen 7 5800U and the Apple M1. Note that all the results here are with any performance tuning utilities set at “normal” mode. None of the laptops in the comparison group benefitted much from their “performance” modes where such a utility was available (except for the XPS 13 in one test), a common trait that, in many cases, makes me wonder why such utilities exist at all.

Looking at our Handbrake test that encodes a 420MB video to H.265, the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 scored very well for a Core i5, beating out the Core i7-equipped Dell XPS 13 (which matched the ThinkBook’s score in performance mode). The Asus ZenBook 13 UM325UA was the leader in this test thanks to its Ryzen 7 5800U, which is incredibly fast at processes that utilize multiple cores. In Cinebench R23, a test that pushes the CPU for a longer stretch, the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 again punched above its class, outperforming the XPS 13 and the Porsche Design Acer Base RS that was another speedy Core i5 machine.

Next, I ran the PCMark 10 Complete benchmark, where the ThinkPad 13s Gen achieved a good total score. The XPS 13 wouldn’t complete this test, and the ThinkBook fell behind the Acer Swift 3X with its Core i7-1156G7 — however, the Acer Swift 3X also equipped Intel’s Iris Xe Max graphics that gave it a leg up on machines with the standard Intel Iris Xe graphics (including the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2). As with many Tiger Lake laptops, the ThinkBook did much better on the Essentials and Productivity portions of the PCMark 10 suite than it did on the Content Creation portion. The ZenBook 13 UM325UA with its Ryzen chip was the champ here.

Geekbench
(single/multi)
Handbrake
(seconds)
Cinebench R23
(single/multi)
PCMark 10 3DMark Time Spy
Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Gen 2
(Core i5-1135G7)
1406/5379 178 1357/5502 4668 1511
Dell XPS 13 (Core i7-1165G7) 1540/5432 201 1449/4267 N/A 1589
Lenovo Yoga 7i (Core i5-1135G7) 1357/4246 207 N/A 4565 913
Asus ZenBook 13 UM325UA
(Ryzen 7 5800U)
1423/6758 124 1171/7824 6034 1342
Porsche Design Acer Base RS
(Core i5-1135G7)
1415/5364 181 1380/4973 4682 1504
Acer Swift 3X (Core i7-1165G7) 1551/5847 158 1485/5944 5117 1889
Apple MacBook Air M1 (Apple M1) 1727/7585 N/A 1479/6880 N/A N/A

Overall, the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 is a fast productivity workhorse that should keep up with all but demanding creative workflows. Lenovo meets the performance needs of small business owners and then some.

In terms of gaming, the ThinkBook scored well on the 3DMark Time Spy benchmark. However, that didn’t translate to my real-world test using Fortnite. Running at 1920 x 1200 (I couldn’t get 1920 x 1080 as an option), the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 managed just 18 frames per second (fps) in high graphics and 14 fps in epic graphics. Most Tiger Lake laptops hit at least 30 fps and 23 fps, respectively. I ran the test a few times to confirm my results, and I have no idea why the ThinkBook performed so poorly in this game.

Display

The original ThinkPad 13s used a 13.3-inch 16:9 Full HD (1920 x 1080) IPS display that was below average in brightness, colors, and contrast. For the second generation, Lenovo upped its game with a taller 13.3-inch 16:10 IPS display at a WQXGA (2560 x 1600) resolution that’s more functional for productivity and quite a bit sharper, and it improves on the original in a few other key areas.

Brightness wasn’t great at 274 nits — we prefer 300 nits or more to ensure good viewability in any indoor environment. The Dell XPS 13 4K display comes in at 420 nits, for example. The ThinkPad 13s Gen 2 enjoyed wider colors than the original, at 77% of AdobeRGB (about five percentage points above average) and 100% of sRGB. The original came in at 70% of AdobeRGB and 93% of sRGB, while the XPS 13 4K was a little better at 79% of AdobeRGB and 100% of sRGB. The ThinkBook 13s Gen 2’s color accuracy was good at a DeltaE of 1.65 (less than 1.0 is excellent), compared to the original at 1.4 and the XPS 13 4K at 1.21.

The new model also enjoyed a higher contrast ratio at 920:1, close to our preferred 1000:1. That beats out the original’s 710:1, which was disappointing and well below average, but the Gen 2 models still couldn’t match the XPS 13 4K’s 1360:1. Gamma came in at 2.1, just a little bit brighter than the perfect 2.2.

All in all, this was a pleasant display. It’s taller and better for long web pages and Word documents, and its colors were enjoyable without being oversaturated. The contrast was high enough that black text on a white background popped, and watching the excellent Dolby Vision HDR support vastly improved Netflix’s high dynamic range (HDR) content. This isn’t a display for creative pros who need wide and accurate colors, but it’s great for everyone else.

The audio was surprisingly loud, with the dual downward-firing speakers pumping out some serious volume. Unfortunately, at 100% there was some distortion that detracted from the experience. Turn things down a bit, and you can still get sufficient volume for watching Netflix without the distortion, and you’ll enjoy solid mids and highs but zero bass. A pair of headphones or Bluetooth speakers are recommended.

Keyboard and touchpad

Another area where the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 won’t be mistaken for a ThinkPad is in its keyboard. You’ll find a version here that’s much closer to Lenovo’s consumer-class machines like the Yoga line, in that it has far less travel and a bottoming action that’s rather jarring. Its key switches are very light, so if you prefer not to exert so much pressure to depress a key, you’ll like it, but it’s almost too light a touch for me. I didn’t find it nearly as precise as the much better keyboards on the Dell XPS 13 and HP’s Spectre line of 2-in-1s. The keyboard has a couple of special keys, including buttons to start and stop video calls and a dedicated button to call up support options. You can also hit a button to turn off the microphone, a plus for privacy.

Despite its taller display and relatively small bezels, the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 doesn’t have quite as much space on the keyboard deck as the XPS 13. That’s because Lenovo took more space above the keyboard for the hinge and the power button. Even so, the touchpad is a decent size, about the same as the XPS 13, and it’s a Microsoft Precision touchpad providing reliable and precise Windows 10 multitouch gesture support. It’s a good touchpad that matches up with the best you’ll find in premium laptops — which is a plus since the ThinkPad 13s Gen 2 is priced considerably less. In addition, my review unit had a responsive touch display that was welcome.

Windows 10 Hello support is provided by a fingerprint reader built into the power button, and it worked well. That’s a much better solution than standalone fingerprint readers — on the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2, you can simply press the power button to wake up the machine and log in. You’ll also find Lenovo’s ThinkShutter privacy panel for the webcam for some added privacy.

Battery life

The ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 has a 56-watt-hour battery, significantly larger than the 45-watt-hour battery in the previous model that demonstrated just average battery life. Our benchmarks have changed since we reviewed the original, but we can make a couple of comparisons.

First, in our web benchmark that loops through a series of popular websites, the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 managed just over nine hours compared to the original’s eight hours. The newer model’s score is above average and trounced the Dell XPS 13 4K’s 6.3 hours. The Asus ZenBook 13 with the Ryzen 7 5800U managed almost sixteen hours, and that’s with an OLED display. In our video test that repeats a Full HD Avengers trailer until the battery runs out, the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 hit almost 13.5 hours, which is slightly above average and 2.5 hours longer than the original. The XPS 13 4K lasted for 10.5 hours while the Asus ZenBook 13 made it to 15.5 hours.

I’d rate the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2’s battery life as very good.

I also tested using the PCMark 10 Battery test, which stresses the CPU and GPU (we did not use PCMark 10 with the original model). The ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 barely made it past two hours, which is below several other Tiger Lake laptops including the XPS 13 4K that almost made it to three hours. We didn’t run the Asus ZenBook 13 through this test. Finally, I ran the PCMark 10 Applications test, which is the best indicator of productivity longevity, and the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 lasted for 11.5 hours, the fourth-highest score we’ve seen. The XPS 13 4K managed about 8.5 hours, and again we didn’t test the Asus ZenBook 13.

I’d rate the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2’s battery life as very good. It will last a full business day of productivity work if you don’t stress the CPU and GPU, and you might have some time left over for some work in the evening. That’s a marked improvement over the original ThinkBook 13s and makes the newer model much better suited for small business owners who might need to work remotely.

Our take

The ThinkBook 13s offers much of the same security and support as the original model, which are definite plusses for its small business target market. In addition, though, it’s also faster, offers better battery life, and feels better built, making it a more compelling business option.

It’s not thin and light enough to beat out rivals like the Dell XPS 13, but it’s also significantly less expensive — another boon for cash-crunched small business owners. In fact, it’s a compelling option at this price point for any laptop buyer, including consumers who might benefit from a durable, fast, and long-lasting machine.

Are there any alternatives?

The Dell XPS 13 is the obvious alternative, offering the same 16:10 display in a smaller package. Performance is similar between the two, and you’ll get better battery life out of the ThinkBook thanks to its lower-resolution display — but Dell does offer a Full HD option that’s more competitive here. But the XPS 13 is also hundreds of dollars more expensive.

If you want to consider a 2-in-1, then the HP Spectre x360 14 is a great choice. It’s faster, better-looking, just as well-built, and it offers a spectacular OLED display with incredibly deep blacks, high contrast, and wide and accurate colors. It, too, is significantly more expensive than the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2.

How long will it last?

The ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 is plenty robust to give confidence of years of productive service. It helps that the components are all current as well. You get a 1-year warranty out of the box, but Lenovo offers enhanced services for the small business owner who needs longer coverage and more handholding.

Should you buy it?

Yes. The ThinBook 13s Gen 2 isn’t necessarily stocked with more business-oriented features than the original model, but it makes improvements in important areas that small business owners will appreciate.

Editors’ Recommendations




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