Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 (Gen 1) review: Is it ThinkPad enough?

The first-generation ThinkPad Z13 tries some different ideas, but will diehard ThinkPad fans like this new take? Here's our review...

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 review
(Image credit: Future)
T3 Verdict

While it doesn’t have all that much of the classic ThinkPad feel, the Z13 is an excellent travel laptop that crams long battery life and great performance into a small footprint.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Very light and portable

  • +

    Aluminium casing feels good

  • +

    Long battery life

  • +

    Great CPU performance, good GPU power

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Keyboard and touchpad feel insubstantial by ThinkPad standards

  • -

    Webcam bulge looks a bit weird

  • -

    Very limited connections

  • -

    Super expensive

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The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 is a fancy-pants portable business laptop. I typically like these laptops in spite of their business credentials, not because of them. And I like this one. 

However, many will wish it were a bit more "ThinkPad". The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1's keyboard is a bit shallow, the touchpad isn't that substantial, and the two lonely USB-C connectors feel restrictive. 

This is a super-small lifestyle laptop above all else. But if you're down for that style it's excellent, leaving just one problem: the price. Like all ThinkPads, the Z13 Gen 1 costs a lot. So is it worth it?

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13: Price & Availability

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 review

(Image credit: Future)

The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 was announced at the beginning of 2022, but took a good long while to reach stores.

Its base version starts at £1713/$1823/$2807AU according to Lenovo’s website. It is pricey but, to be fair to Lenovo, there’s no weak version of the ThinkPad Z13.

Check out our Lenovo discount codes for the latest offers from the retailer. 

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 review: Design

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 review

(Image credit: Future)

Lenovo makes this small-footprint laptop with either an aluminium or vegan leather lid, and the rest of the shell is aluminium. As you can tell from the photos, this is the metal Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1.

It's all pretty plain and sensible other than in a couple of areas. That lozenge of metal on the lid looks pretty odd right? It seems to be there to hide the fact the rest of the lid isn't thick enough to accommodate the webcam and its mics.

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 review

(Image credit: Future)

The sides of the casing have a brushed finish too. All of this is quite a departure from other top-end ThinkPad models, which often use carbon fibre reinforced polymer and magnesium. Those materials are lighter, but don't feel immediately as hard or cool as the aluminium here.

In other words, the Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 could probably be lighter. But does it need to be? Absolutely not. It weighs 1.25kg, not exceptionally light for a small laptop these days, but still light enough to make this computer ideal as a travel companion.

The feel seems to matter a lot to Lenovo and its ThinkPad customers. The screen is stiff, and while you can get the centre of the Z13's keyboard to flex if you try, this doesn't happen with normal typing.

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 review: Display 

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 review

(Image credit: Future)

The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1's 13.3-inch screen has a 16:10 aspect ratio, which is what you want for work apps like those of Microsoft's Office suite. It feels a bit more roomy than 16:9 widescreen for productivity apps like these, and that’s all the more important with a 13.3-inch rather than 14-inch or larger screen. 

I have the mid-tier spec of this laptop, and it has a 1200p LCD panel, not the 1880p OLED one used in the most pricey version. 

It's a very solid screen, if not nearly the best you can get in a laptop that costs almost two grand. Colour is good, but this is just a nicely saturated display, not a true wide colour gamut one. You'll need the OLED version if that's what you want. 

Maximum brightness of 415 nits is good, but no less than you'd hope for in a laptop this price. 

Contrast is excellent for an LCD panel, though, at 1763:1. Some panels struggle to crack 1000:1, and it makes the display appear richer, particularly in less well-lit rooms. 

The screen also has a matte surface and no touchscreen. These are very "ThinkPad" characteristics, making the Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 easier to use in challenging lighting. But, yeah, bear it in mind if you want a touchscreen. 

The screen cannot bend back very far either, cementing the truth this is very much “just” a laptop, not remotely a hybrid. 

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 review: Touchpad & Keyboard

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 review

(Image credit: Future)

A few aspects of the Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 suit the business laptop mould perfectly. The keyboard looks like it does too, bearing the almighty nipple that is the hallmark of this series - one likely to baffle folks who have not encountered one before. 

A little rubbery nubbin sits in the middle of the keyboard plate. It's a super-sensitive mouse-replacer that can be used for slight cursor movements, or to fly from one side of the screen to another with simply a more aggressive finger motion of a millimetre or two. 

I've never been a fan of the mouse nipple, but it clearly has its acolytes out there still. I am a long-term fan of the ThinkPad keyboard, though. It's known for its substantial keys, with deep action and pronounced feedback. 

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 review

(Image credit: Future)

The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1's keyboard only has a slightly whiff of the classic ThinkPad style. While a bit deeper and more robust than a lot of other small and light laptops, this is ultimately a pretty normal, if nice, lifestyle keyboard. And it has a two-level backlight.

If you want something more like the traditional ThinkPad style, you'll have to get a ThinkPad X1 Carbon instead.

The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 touchpad is kind of light and shallow-feeling too because, like a bunch of its rivals, Lenovo has followed Apple in making a haptic touchpad. This means the click is generated by a motor, not a mechanical clicker.

While this touchpad has a lovely and smooth glass surface, there's just not that much meat to the feedback. You can edit its resistance and feedback in the Settings menu, but even after maxing these out it seems light.

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 review: Performance & Battery life

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 review

(Image credit: Future)

The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 has an AMD Ryzen 5 Pro 6650U processor, a 256GB SSD and 16GB RAM, in our review spec model. 

This being a ThinkPad business laptop, it's not really a great spec for the cash. For a couple of hundred less, for example, you can get 16GB RAM and a whopping 2TB of SSD storage from Dell's hardly-cheap-itself XPS 13 Plus. 

These laptops always seem priced for the limit of company credit cards rather than those of our lowly consumer pleb debit cards. However, this is one of the first laptops we've tried with AMD's 6-series chipsets, and it's great. 

This generation brings a massive upgrade in GPU performance because this generation uses graphics hardware from the same family as the Steam Deck's. You can play Control at a reduced resolution, low settings, and get around 30-40fps in this completely non-gaming laptop, for example.  

However, caveat time: where Intel's integrated Intel Xe GPUs are pretty comparable across the higher-end chipset models, the one here is way less powerful than that of the step-up Ryzen 6800U. That system-on-chip has double the GPU compute units. 

The result is the Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 is actually less powerful for graphics work than the rival Intel Core i5-1240P. 

But, let's be honest, who is buying a Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 for gaming or 3D modelling? The CPU performance here is fantastic, and the laptop runs silent until you challenge it with some reasonably hefty workloads. 

In the usual AMD fashion, performance almost halves on battery power, but this has the major benefit that the battery can last for a long time. When streaming video from YouTube we found it lasts around 14 hours 40 minutes. 

When using the Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 for everyday work, with a mix of browsing and writing documents, it can last around 11 hours. That longevity plus the small footprint is something of an airport hopper’s dream. 

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 review: Features

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 review

(Image credit: Future)

Long-lasting battery life is extremely important for travel use, but desktop-style use requires some thought because the Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1's connections are very limited. We get a 3.5mm headphone jack and two USB-C ports. 

These are not Thunderbolt sockets, as it's not an AMD-supported tech. However, they are USB 4 connectors with 40Gbps bandwidth - just as "fast" as Thunderbolt 4. You're highly likely to need some for of USB hub or dock here if you want to use the Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 as part of a desktop setup.

Will you want to use speaker or headphones? Probably. While the Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 sounds great for a buttoned-up work laptop, with even a hint of bass, we're not even close to the quality of MacBook Air or Pro speakers here. 

Lenovo has levelled-up the webcam compared to the last-gen models, though. We get a 1080p webcam, not the old 720p norm. It's fast looking like 1080p will be the standard for higher-end laptop webcams going forwards. Image noise handling is better in low-light conditions and detail better in good lighting than an old 720p cam. It's highly likely to be a noticeable upgrade over whatever laptop webcam you last used. 

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 review: Verdict

Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 review

(Image credit: Future)

The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 is a great ultra-portable laptop focused on minimising the footprint without sacrificing power. Its screen is good, the keyboard is solid, and battery life is excellent - beating what you'd get from an Intel-powered rival. 

The lingering issue is it's not that much of a "ThinkPad", unless you think that's all about having a nipple on show (yes, it has the series’s classic nipple mouse). 

You just can't come expecting the meaty-feeling keyboard and touchpad of older ThinkPad models. While both are good, they may seem insubstantial to fans of the series, in which case you may wish to look to the Gen 10 ThinkPad X1 Carbon instead.

Also consider

If you’re looking for the classic ThinkPad character in an ultraportable form, you should consider heading to the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 10. It has a better keyboard and a more substantial-feeling touchpad. And while its footprint is larger, it’s still super-lightweight.

When you strip the Z13 down to the essentials, its remit is not all that different to a MacBook Air’s. That laptop has a better touchpad and costs less for the entry-level model. If you can handle the different operating system, of course.

Or you could consider the Dell XPS 13 Plus, which costs less, is slightly lighter and uses Intel 12th Gen processors instead of the AMD kind.