12+ hours of battery life. MIL-STD 801G rated. USB-C port. Best keyboard among SMB laptops.
A bit pricey for an entry-level system. Ethernet connectivity requires an adapter.
- Bottom Line
The second generation of the Lenovo ThinkPad 13 is stylish, durable, and lasts more than 12 hours on a full charge. It's the laptop to get for your small business or home office.
For a small business or sole proprietorship, you need a business laptop that offers durability, reliability, and staying power. The Lenovo ThinkPad 13 (starting at $699; $745.99 as tested) does that, and does so with a timeless style. The second-gen model retains the light weight, solid connectivity, durability, and comfortable keyboard of the previous iteration, and adds a faster seventh-generation Intel Core i3-7100U processor, a fingerprint reader, and a battery that lasted more than 12 hours in our tests. It's our top pick for SMB-focused laptops.
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The latest ThinkPad 13 looks similar to the 2016 model it replaces, though this time it's matte-black instead of silver. The top lid is made of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) plastic rather than aluminum, though both models use plastic in the body. There's also a model available with a silver aluminum lid and updated components, sans fingerprint reader. The ThinkPad 13 measures 0.78 by 12.69 by 8.77 inches (HWD) and weighs 3.13 pounds, just a hair thicker than last year's version, to accommodate the fingerprint reader. It's approximately the same size as the Dell Latitude 13 3000 Series 2-in-1 (3379) convertible laptop, and less than a quarter-pound lighter.
Like most ThinkPad laptops, the ThinkPad 13 has passed MIL-STD 801G durability tests for factors like high altitude, humidity, high and low temperature, mechanical shock, rapid temperature change, blowing sand intrusion, and vibration. It also has to pass other tests, including dropping the laptop onto its corners, grabbing and lifting the system by its screen, and even pouring a bit of liquid on the keyboard. This rigorous testing and these certifications ensure that the ThinkPad 13 can handle most work environments, whether it be an office, a coffee shop, or outdoors on a hotel pool deck.
The 13.3-inch screen has full HD resolution, so it can show large spreadsheets, with numbers and text appearing razor sharp. It can also display 1080p HD videos during your downtime, like when you're relaxing during a cross-country flight. Screen brightness is good, and the anti-glare coating quells reflections.
One advantage that the ThinkPad 13 has over the similarly equipped Dell Latitude 13 3000 Series 2-in-1 (3379) is its keyboard, which is a joy to use. It's one of the best we've typed on with an SMB laptop, bar none. All the keys are full size and scalloped, so you'll be able to type all day in comfort. A one-piece touchpad and Lenovo's TrackPoint pointing stick give you a choice for cursor control. The pointing stick may be unfamiliar to you if you're a millennial, but some baby boomers and members of Gen X swear by them.
Bundled with Windows 10 Pro is Windows Hello, a one-step feature to log on to your system without having to type a password. After a quick two-minute setup procedure, you can log on to the ThinkPad 13 with just a swipe on the fingerprint reader located on top of the wrist rest. In practice, it only takes a second or two to log on, much faster than typing a long PIN code. This biometric method improves security on your computer, because you'll always have your fingerprint with you, and it is much harder to spoof than even the most convoluted password. It's the easiest way to keep your company's contact and financial data on your laptop safe on a daily basis. The much-more-expensive HP EliteBook x360 also offers Windows Hello login via fingerprint reader, as well as via facial recognition with its built-in IR webcam.
Connectivity is strong and includes both USB Type-A and USB-C ports, so you can connect both new and older peripheral devices, like thumb drives. The latter is important for sharing documents in person with clients and vendors. The power plug is on the left side of the laptop, along with a OneLink+ docking connector, and one USB 3.0 port. The rest of the ports are on the right side, including a headset jack, an HDMI port, an SD card reader, two more USB 3.0 ports, and the aforementioned USB-C port. That's more ports than thinner laptops like the Acer Swift 7 or the Apple MacBook can muster. You can use the USB-C port for charging the laptop, or to connect portable drives, a second display equipped with USB-C (or with an adapter), or Ethernet (with an optional $26.99 adapter). Wireless connectivity comes by way of 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1.
Our review unit has 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, both of which are the base capacities for the model. Both amounts are perfectly sufficient for a starting business or a home office, and you'll be able to multitask all day. When you order the laptop, you can upgrade the RAM up to 8GB (for an additional $80) or 16GB ($240), and upgrade the SSD up to 256GB ($160). Your IT techs can also upgrade the RAM, SSD, or both later. Thankfully, the SSD has plenty of free space: Windows 10 Pro and a few Lenovo utilities are the only pre-installed programs. The system comes with a one-year warranty.
The Power You Need for Real Work, All Day and Night
An Intel Core i3-7100U processor with Intel HD Graphics 620 drives the ThinkPad 13. It's the successor to the Intel Core i3-6100U found in the 2016 iteration. As such, the ThinkPad 13 is just a bit faster than its predecessor in the PCMark 8 Work Conventional (2,670 points), Handbrake (2 minutes and 52 seconds), CineBench (253 points), and Photoshop (5:55) tests. It's also a bit quicker than other laptops, like the Acer Swift 7 (on everything but Photoshop), the Dell Latitude 13 3000 2-in-1, and the HP EliteBook 745 G3. It will be many years before the ThinkPad 13 starts to feel slow on day-to-day office tasks, like making spreadsheets and writing reports. Predictably, 3D test results were average for all these systems, but you wouldn't be using any of these business laptops for 3D gaming.
Battery life is stellar. The ThinkPad 13 lasted 12 hours and 11 minutes on our rundown test, which is several hours longer than the 2016 ThinkPad 13 (8:46). It also bested all of the systems to which we compared it, including the Apple MacBook (11:37). With this laptop fully charged, you'll be set for a trip from JFK to Honolulu, with some time to spare. You can't replace the 42Whr battery, but that's common these days.
The Lenovo ThinkPad 13 is a prime choice if you're looking for a stylish, yet understated laptop for your startup, small business, or home office. It's comfortable to type on all day, it's durable, it has exemplary battery life, and at less than $750, it won't break the bank. It costs a couple of hundred dollars more than its previous iteration, but that price bump is justified by the addition of a fingerprint reader and a faster processor. If you need a convertible screen, the Dell Latitude 13 3000 Series 2-in-1 (3379) is a worthy alternative, though its battery life and keyboard comfort aren't as good. As such, the latest Lenovo ThinkPad 13 easily earns our Editors' Choice for small business laptops.
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Joel Santo Domingo is the Lead Analyst for the Desktops team at PC Magazine Labs. He joined PC Magazine in 2000, after 7 years of IT work for companies large and small. His background includes managing mobile, desktop and network infrastructure on both the Macintosh and Windows platforms. Joel is proof that you can escape the retail grind: he wore a yellow polo shirt early in his tech career. Along the way Joel earned a BA in English Literature and an MBA in Information Technology… More »
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