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Bill Loguidice / How-To Geek

Windows-based desktop PCs and laptops, especially those targeted for business use, are often accused of being boring. The Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 Touchscreen Notebook aims to change that perception with a high-definition display, powerful performance, and a vegan leather exterior.

Here’s What We Like

  • Compact with no wasted space
  • Business-like design without being boring
  • Faux leather exterior perfect for gripping
  • Windows Hello security with IR camera and fingerprint reader
  • Good performance

And What We Don’t

  • Only ports are 2 USB4 Type-C, 1 3.5mm audio
  • Features come at a premium price

Although also available in a more traditional Arctic Grey & Black, the Black & Bronze with Black Vegan Leather (as reviewed) is the real stand-out when it comes to looks. Clearly, Lenovo put a lot of effort into the physical design of this compact laptop, but did it leave in the performance features that business users crave?

With a few exceptions, like its dearth of ports, the answer is yes. Even if you’re not a businessperson, this laptop gives you a lot to consider over other consumer-oriented models.

First Impressions: Business in the Front, Party in the Back

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Bill Loguidice / How-To Geek

  • Processor: AMD Ryzen 7 PRO 6850U Processor (2.70GHz, up to 4.70GHz Max Boost, 8 Cores, 16 Threads, 16MB Cache)
  • RAM: 16GB LPDDR5 6400MHz (Soldered)
  • Graphics: Integrated AMD Radeon 680M
  • Operating System: Windows 11 Pro 64
  • Hard Drive: 512GB PCIe SSD Gen 4

As soon as I took the ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 out of the box, I was struck by its unique look and feel with black and bronze accents. With an exterior less like a traditional laptop and more like a premium leather portfolio case, the ThinkPad Z13 stands out by blending in more with classic business accessories than other functional technology.

The polyurethane-based black vegan leather exterior on the back of the display won’t fool anyone into thinking it’s real leather. For one thing, it’s missing the distinct leather smell. For another, it’s not particularly soft. However, thanks to its slightly textured surface and other material properties, the faux leather exterior succeeds in providing a sufficiently grippable surface.

Paired with its distinctive look and mostly recycled aluminum body, Lenovo has created a laptop that begs to be carried around the office or coffee shop with little fear of accidental drops. Of course, even if you do drop the laptop, it’s MIL-STD-810G tested, so it can hold up to a variety of harsh environments and should do a decent job of avoiding significant damage from most accidents.

Even with a good-sized 13.3-inch display, the ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 is still incredibly compact. The bezels around the monitor are only 4mm wide. Similarly, the keyboard goes fully to the left and right edges of the laptop body, while the trackpad reaches nearly to the bottom. There’s no wasted space here, contributing to the solid-feeling build quality.

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Bill Loguidice / How-To Geek A single USB-C port on the left side.Next Slide Previous Slide
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Bill Loguidice / How-To GeekThere’s 1 USB-C and 1 3.5mm audio port on the right side. The power button and “i” in “Thinkpad” feature white and red indicator lights respectively.Next Slide
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Of course, some of this compactness comes at a cost, with only three total connector ports. There are 2 USB-C ports, with each port fully compatible with both USB4 and USB 3.2 Gen 2 requirements, including power delivery and use of external displays. The third and final port is a legacy 3.5mm combination headphone/microphone jack for those who don’t want to make use of the excellent built-in speakers or microphone, or the laptop’s wireless Bluetooth 5.2 capabilities.

Besides the ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 itself, the only other items in the box are some paperwork and Lenovo’s standard 65W USB-C AC adapter. A full manual, which covers both this model and the Z16 Gen 1, is available on the Lenovo website.

Design: Mostly Great

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Bill Loguidice / How-To Geek

  • Dimensions: 11.59 x 7.86 x .55in (295 x 200 x 13.99mm)
  • Weight: 2.76lbs (1.25kg)
  • Ports: 2x USB-C 4, 1x Headphone/microphone combo (3.5mm)

The Lenovo ThinkPad lineup is generally well-regarded for the quality of its keyboards, and the ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 is no exception. The keys are well-balanced and a joy to use with a precise 1.35mm travel distance. Unlike some other laptop keyboards, you don’t have to hit the keys dead center to avoid wobble. Edge-to-edge backlighting helps with key visibility when lighting conditions are poor.

By default, keyboard shortcuts are active on the top row function keys. With a press, you can mute/unmute the speakers, decrease/increase volume, enable/disable the built-in microphones, darken/brighten the display, manage external displays, enable/disable airplane mode, and turn the built-in webcam on or off. You can also set the functions of additional shortcuts through the included Lenovo Commercial Vantage software, which allows you to easily adjust nearly all Power, Audio, Display & Camera, and Input & Accessories options.

Sitting beside the left arrow key is a fingerprint reader, which, like the built-in infrared camera, works with Windows Hello to streamline logins and security checks. While I personally prefer facial recognition for security, having a fingerprint-based alternative is great, especially when certain lighting conditions can confuse the camera.

Smack dab in the middle of the keyboard is the famous red rubber TrackPoint pointing stick, which is a unique alternative to the trackpad. The more pressure applied with your finger on the TrackPoint, the faster the mouse pointer moves. When using the TrackPoint, the upper portion of the trackpad is used to perform left and right mouse button pushes.

A double-tap on the TrackPoint quickly brings up a useful display overlay that lets you set the camera brightness and contrast, mute detection, microphone effects, and a Microsoft Dictation option. Microsoft Dictation is a wonderful quick launch feature that lets you quickly dictate your speech into a Notepad document, and it works well with the ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1’s microphone array.

A large 4.7in (120mm) wide trackpad is located below the left center of the keyboard. It’s coined a “ForcePad” because it features haptic feedback like a smartphone or tablet, providing a slight vibrating sensation when performing certain actions. It’s definitely a step up from what you find in most other laptops. However, I found the ForcePad’s surface wasn’t as smooth as other trackpads I’ve used on recent MacBooks or Lenovo’s own Yoga 7i 14-Inch laptop, so the upgraded functionality is something of a wash.

Whatever you think of the TrackPoint or ForcePad, Lenovo needs to be given credit for providing an additional mouse control choice without impeding keyboard quality. Along with the included touchscreen, which also works well, there’s no lack of control options in what is, again, a notably compact package.

For those who want even more control, Lenovo offers the Mod Pen and Precision Pen 2, although neither were available for review to determine compatibility and performance. In any case, the utility of a pen is limited considering the display only tilts backward about 45-degrees, so this is not the best option for artists.

Performance Review: High Marks

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  • W-iFi 6E 802.11AX (2 x 2)
  • Bluetooth 5.2
  • Battery Type: 4-cell Lithium-ion polymer (integrated), 50WHr
  • AC Adapter: 65W, USB-C

Battery life clocks in at around 9 hours of light usage and is rated for as long as 15 hours according to testing with MobileMark 2018. Naturally, the more intensive activities you perform, the lower the battery life, but you’re still looking at a solid workday of usage without needing to find a power outlet. Thanks to its rapid charge capabilities, you can charge the battery to 80% in as little as 1 hour, so even if you do need to charge, you won’t have to wait too long to be fully mobile again. The included 65W USB-C-based AC adapter can easily be swapped with a more versatile multi-port 65W or 100W USB-C charger.

Thanks to its combination of a high-performance processor, speedy SSD storage, and generous amounts of RAM, Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, and a whole range of other demanding productivity apps were a joy to use. Of course, perception and reality can be two different things, so I also ran benchmarks where the ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 could more objectively show off its full performance potential when run off of AC power.

Using PCMark 10, the ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 scored 5,659, which is better than 61% of all results. This is significantly better than the average Office laptop from 2020, which is rated at 4,611, but below a Gaming PC from 2020, which is rated at 6,739.

With 3DMark‘s Time Spy V1.2, which is a DirectX 12 benchmark for gaming PCs, the ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 scored 2,436, which is nothing unusual for a non-gaming system. You won’t be able to play even modest performance-intensive games like Apex Legends, Battlefield V, Fortnite, or GTA V at the laptop’s native resolution with playable framerates, but you can have a fairly enjoyable experience at 30FPS and a more humble 1920×1080 resolution.

3DMark’s CPU Profile V1.0, which provides CPU benchmarks for modern processors, came up with a result of 5,597 max threads, which represents the full performance potential of the CPU when using all available threads. The better the number, the more heavy-duty, multi-threaded workloads, such as 3D rendering, audio and video production, and software development can be performed. The impressive 5,597 thread count for the ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1’s AMD Ryzen 7 Pro 6860Z processor bests the 4,257 max threads from the Intel Core i7-1255U processor found in Lenovo’s highly-rated Yoga 7i 14-Inch laptop.

Wi-Fi performance was similarly excellent. I ran three consecutive Wi-Fi speed tests to the same server using the Speedtest Windows Store app close to an eero Pro 6 extender on my Xfinity Gigabit service. Connected over the 5GHz network band with a maximum theoretical receive and transit link speed of 1201Mbps, I averaged 219.51Mbps download speed and 22.23Mbps upload speed.

This compared favorably to the wireless performance of other devices like a Samsung Galaxy Tab S7+ and Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max under the same approximate conditions, and roughly half the speed of a desktop hardwired via Ethernet into the eero Pro 6 extender.

Display and Audio: Are We Sure This Is a Business Machine?

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  • Display: 13.3in WUXGA (1920×1200) IPS, anti-reflective, anti-smudge, touchscreen, low power, 400 nits
  • Camera: IR and 1080p FHD Hybrid
  • Audio: 2x speakers

The ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 boasts a greater-than 91% screen-to-body ratio, but that wouldn’t mean much if the display itself wasn’t colorful and sharp. The 1920×1200 WUXGA resolution is certainly not the highest, but both that and the 16:10 aspect ratio work well with the 13.3-inch screen size, allowing you to comfortably place two portrait-oriented windows side-by-side.

The screen’s default 80% brightness is plenty bright, even for someone who often prefers 100% brightness on other laptops. Of course, 100% brightness with 400nit capability looks super on this display, but I was able to go as low as 60% before I found the screen a bit too dim for my liking. Depending on your external lighting conditions and your own preferences, going as low as 50% or so is certainly reasonable if you’re looking to maximize battery life.

Even from an extreme side, the viewing angles of the display are excellent, with no discernable drop in brightness or clarity. Surprisingly, I even found the display perfectly usable outdoors, even in relatively sunny conditions. The screen is slightly glossy and reflective, but its anti-reflective properties work well in all but direct sunlight.

Finally, the display is Eyesafe certified, meaning it reduces blue light while maintaining the color of the screen. That’s good because it would be a shame to lose out on the display’s 100% sRGB color gamut.

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As this unedited webcam image shows, even in unbalanced and contrasting lighting conditions, the built-in webcam performs well despite some color and sharpness issues. Bill Loguidice / How-To Geek

The built-in webcam, which creates a slight bump at the top of the display and also works as a lip to more easily open the laptop, supports a 1920×1080 native resolution and does a good job in a variety of lighting conditions. However, without tweaks, the camera does lose some color and detail in the images it produces. There’s no physical privacy shutter either, but the webcam shortcut on the F9 key provides a quick way to disable the functionality in a similar manner.

The ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1’s display is a stand-out among competitors, and thanks to a Dolby Atmos Speaker System, the sound is also surprisingly good, besting many consumer-oriented laptops. Testing music playback was a pleasure, providing a rich sound field and excellent bass you can really feel within the laptop itself.

This audio depth is particularly shocking since the two speakers are found underneath the laptop. As usual, for best results with the default sound profile of Dolby Atmos for built-in speakers, I like the Enhance audio checkbox set to on, particularly when playing back music.

Tip: In Windows 11 Pro, the Enhance Audio checkbox can be found under System > Sound >  Properties.

The two built-in microphones, one on each end at the top of the webcam, are Dolby Voice certified, which is meant to optimize for audio and video conferencing. Although using a good headset is always recommended, the built-in microphones provide great clarity and background noise reduction.

Should You Buy the Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1?

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Bill Loguidice / How-To Geek

With the business-oriented ThinkPad line going back 30 years and amassing more than 100 million units sold, it’s nice to see Lenovo take steps to innovate on the classic black and boxy design. It would have been easy to maintain the status quo or to experiment in another product line. The company chose to do something else entirely with the ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1, maintaining the classic business-centric performance while creating a new type of compact shell with rounded edges and a striking vegan leather backing.

If you want a powerful and compact general-purpose business laptop, the ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 should be at the top of your list. Thanks to a standard 1-year onsite warranty, the premium price point is further justified and makes this machine a great choice even for serious personal use.

Here’s What We Like

  • Compact with no wasted space
  • Business-like design without being boring
  • Faux leather exterior perfect for gripping
  • Windows Hello security with IR camera and fingerprint reader
  • Good performance

And What We Don’t

  • Only ports are 2 USB4 Type-C, 1 3.5mm audio
  • Features come at a premium price

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