The ThinkPad X13s ($1,085.40 at launch, $1,385.40 after testing) is the first ThinkPad to feature an Arm processor, specifically the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3. That’s one of the keys to the laptop’s primary strength: long battery life. Combine that with 5G network support, and you have a fantastic road warrior.
Perhaps not a warrior. More of roadside assistance. Windows 11 adds a lot to the Arm ecosystem, including 64-bit app-emulation, but some apps still don’t work. While the 8cx’s year-over-year performance is solid, Qualcomm has yet to catch up to the Intels and Apples of the world, which are frequently found in the best ultrabooks.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X13s in our review had a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 processor with integrated Qualcomm Adreno 690 graphics. For $1,385.40, the laptop also included 16GB of memory and 512GB of SSD storage, along with a 13.3-inch, 1920 x 1200 non-touch display and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon X55 5G modem.
Lenovo’s ThinkPad X13s bridges the gap between the past and the future. ThinkPads have traditionally been black and boxy, with a single ThinkPad logo in the corner of the lid. However, some recent designs, such as the AMD-based Z13, have challenged the notion of what a ThinkPad can look like, with rounded corners, a rounded lip to accommodate cameras and microphones, fewer ports, and different materials.
This laptop falls somewhere in the middle. The X13s has some of those newer design elements, such as rounded corners as well as a slight reverse-notch above the display for cameras and microphones. The X13s is “thunder black,” which looks more like dark grey than the deep raven black we associate with most ThinkPads.
Ports are limited, which is becoming increasingly common in thin, light notebooks. Two USB Type-C ports are located on the left side, while a 3.5 mm headphone jack, SIM card slot, and Kensington lock slot are located on the right side. I wish Lenovo had included a USB-C port on each side of the laptop so that I could charge from either side and ensure that accessories always fit.
The bezels on the 13.3-inch display are visible but unobtrusive. Snapdragon-powered laptops, such as the ThinkPad, must be thin and light. There are numerous Intel laptops with LTE or 5G support, but Qualcomm emphasizes the point. The screen on the ThinkPad X13s is colorful but not particularly bright. The blues in Atlantis’ oceans were vibrant in the trailer for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” as were the orange fires creeping up the darkened walls of the Wakandan throne room. I did, however, feel compelled to turn the brightness all the way up.
However, the ThinkPad X13s measured 300 nits of brightness, trailing the Elite Folio (390 nits) and MacBook Air (390 nits) (489 nits). The Inspiron came in last with 251 nits.
Productivity and Performance
We put the ThinkPad X13s through its paces with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 processor, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. What distinguishes our testing on the X13s from previous Windows on Arm laptops is that Windows 11 supports 64-bit app emulation.
This enabled us to run Handbrake and our Cinebench R23 stress test, which we were unable to do previously. However, emulation can be a double-edged sword in terms of performance. On the one hand, the apps function properly. On the other hand, you’re testing the emulation rather than the hardware. Still, it gives you an idea of the performance you’ll get, which is usually a trade-off when emulating software.
Keyboard, Touchpad, and Trackpoint
The keyboard on the ThinkPad X13 may be familiar to longtime fans of the brand, with its scalloped keys and space for a number of buttons that are rarely found on laptops, such as Home, End, Delete, Page Up, and Page Down. The power button incorporates a fingerprint reader. The keyboard is adequate, and I typed at 120 words per minute on the Monkeytype typing test. However, I felt it lacked the tactile feedback I’d seen on many premium ThinkPads in the past, as well as at least one colleague who tried the laptop found it to be a little flat.
The touchpad measures 2.3 x 4.5 inches, which is just right. It’s wide, but it’s a little short for my liking. Lenovo has included dedicated TrackPointPoint buttons just above the keyboard, but I wish it had used the full 2.8-inch height for the trackpad to make using gestures more comfortable. (TrackPoint fans, like our editor-in-chief, will vehemently disagree, but Lenovo chose a hybrid approach with the ThinkPad Z13.)
TrackPoint does the job for those who prefer to move the mouse without taking their hands off the home row. The short answer is that it is effective. It required more pressure than I preferred out of the box, but this is easily adjustable in settings.
The ThinkPad X13s’ top-firing speakers are loud and clear, but they’re nothing special. However, because there is virtually no low-end, you miss out on the effects of bass and percussion. The X13s don’t come with a lot of audio software. Commercial Vantage’s settings are primarily for the microphone, which makes sense when you’re on the phone but not when you’re filling out spreadsheets.
Lenovo equipped the ThinkPad X13s with a 5MP camera, which should be standard for business laptops. You have to look your best during those conference calls. This fits because Lenovo has added a bump to the AMD-based Z13 called the “Communications Bar,” which has plenty of room for that as well as an infrared sensor to log in with Windows Hello.
You should be able to get through a full workday on the X13s, whether in the office or on the road. It lasted 15 hours and 2 minutes on our battery test while streaming video, browsing the web, and running OpenGL tests while connected to Wi-Fi and with the screen set to 150 nits. With cellular enabled, that time was reduced to 13:39. That’s not quite the 28 hours that Lenovo claims “up to” on its website, but it’s still quite impressive in practise.
Although it may not seem like much, the ThinkPad X13s is the best Windows-based Arm laptop I’ve reviewed thus far. Granted, much of that is due to the increased software compatibility introduced by Windows 11, but the fact that it has a long battery life, a solid webcam, and a lightweight design doesn’t hurt.