Windows Central Verdict
The Lenovo ThinkPad X13s is the company's best attempt yet at a Windows on ARM laptop, this time designed primarily for enterprise customers. In short, it's one of the best Windows on ARM laptops on the market, with excellent battery life and one of the best webcams and mics.
Thin and light
Excellent webcam and mic
Unoptimized apps can be slow
Speakers could be better
Design won't be for everybody
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- Should you buy it?
The ThinkPad X13s is Lenovo's latest offering running Windows on ARM, powered by Qualcomm's flagship Snapdragon 8cx Gen3 processor. By all means, a top-end enterprise laptop with a great display, excellent keyboard and trackpad, amazing webcam and mic, and 5G built-in.
Paired with how thin and light it is, the ThinkPad X13s might be one of the best "on the go" laptops to ever come out from Lenovo. Every CEO, high-level manager, or office worker should consider this laptop, especially if you often travel for work. I've been writing my Lenovo ThinkPad X13s review over the last few weeks, is it a contender for one of the best Windows laptops in 2023? Here's what I think.
Disclaimer:This review was made possible by a review unit provided by Lenovo. The company did not see the contents of the review before publishing.
Lenovo ThinkPad X13s: Price and availability
Price: $1,175 (starting); $2,169 (reviewed)
CPU: Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen3
Display: 13.3-inch 1080p IPS
Size: 0.53 x 11.76 x 8.13 inches
Weight: 2.35lbs. (1.06kg)
The Lenovo ThinkPad X13s retails for a starting price tag of $1,809 direct from the Lenovo online store, which nets you the model with 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. The top-spec model hits $2,399, featuring 32GB of RAM and 512GB for storage. That said, you can often find the ThinkPad X13s on sale at many retailers, including Lenovo, which currently has all configs for 35% off ($1,175) as of publication.
What's great about the ThinkPad X13s is that you can build a fully custom one to your spec directly on the Lenovo website. So if you want a model with 16GB RAM but only 256GB storage, with a touchscreen, you can spec that out and buy it direct from Lenovo.
Lenovo ThinkPad X13s Recommended Configuration
There's not much difference between the three pre-built configurations available with the ThinkPad X13s, but if we had to recommend a spec, we'd suggest the model with 16GB RAM and 512GB storage. It provides a nice bit of future-proofing with more RAM and storage, yet it doesn't break the bank. This is the configuration used in this review.
Lenovo ThinkPad X13s: Design & display
The ThinkPad X13s is unapologetically designed for the enterprise environment. It sports that classic ThinkPad aesthetic that looks excellent in a meeting room or on a desk in the office. The chassis is made of 90% recycled magnesium, which feels great in hand but does leave behind fingerprints relatively easily.
When closed, the laptop is incredibly minimalist and reminds me somewhat of the Apple MacBook Air when shut. The lid fits perfectly flush with the bottom, except for where the "reverse notch" webcam sticks out slightly, acting as an excellent grab point for lifting the lid and opening the device.
Sadly, the hinges on the ThinkPad X13s are very stiff, meaning you can't open the laptop with one hand. This is a minor inconvenience of course, and it's not helped by the fact that the laptop is incredibly light, coming in at just 1.09kgs. The lid features the ThinkPad logo, complete with the red status indicator that softly blinks when the laptop is asleep.
In regard to ports, we've got two USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 ports on the left side, paired with a headphone jack on the right side, next to a Kensington lock and SIM slot for 5G connectivity. The laptop is brutally minimalistic when shut, and this trend continues when the laptop is opened.
The 1080p 13.3-inch display is surrounded by thin bezels, with the top bezel housing a 5MP webcam with Windows Hello capabilities (more on the webcam later) in a reverse-notch design that Lenovo has been using on a handful of its products for the last couple of years.
This is my first time with a reverse-notched laptop, and I thought I'd hate it. In reality, you don't even notice it, and I've even come to appreciate the added grip it provides when opening the laptop.
Back onto the display, which is an excellent IPS panel with good sRGB color accuracy and 300 nits of brightness. You can configure the ThinkPad X13s with a touchscreen, which comes with a slightly brighter 400-nit display, but for most customers looking at an enterprise laptop, the non-touch model's display is excellent enough.
Lenovo ThinkPad X13s: Performance & battery life
The Lenovo ThinkPad X13s is the company's latest Windows on ARM device, and while Windows on ARM itself got off to a rough start a few years ago, it's come a very long way in the last two years with the help of Windows 11 and the recent performance gains from Qualcomm in the Snapdragon 8cx Gen3.
I think for the majority of people, the performance of the ThinkPad X13s is more than enough for medium to heavy productivity workloads and multitasking. If you find yourself working hours on end in Microsoft Office, jumping in and out of Teams meetings, writing emails in Outlook, and browsing the web, the ThinkPad X13s won't break a sweat.
That said, our benchmarking suggests the Snapdragon 8cx Gen3 is running a touch slower in the ThinkPad X13s compared to the likes of the Surface Pro 9 5G, which uses a Microsoft SQ3 processor (based on the same 8cx Gen3 chip.) In Cinebench R23, the ThinkPad X13s earned 3,116 in multi-core and 565 in single-core compared to the Surface Pro 9 5G, which got 3,618 in multi-core and 608 in single-core.
As is the case with all Windows on ARM laptops, you'll only really notice a performance hit when running heavy, unoptimized legacy programs that haven't yet been updated to natively support Windows on ARM. This includes apps like Google Chrome and Slack.
On a Windows on ARM device, to get the best performance and battery life, you're going to want to use Microsoft Edge in place of Chrome and ideally not use Slack at all (or use the web app if you have to.) Those who are required to use Microsoft software for work will have no problem using Windows on ARM.
Battery life on the ThinkPad X13s will depend on your workload (and how many apps you're running in emulation vs. natively.) In a typical "productive" workload for the office, you're going to get through the day just fine. Battery life on this laptop is excellent, and while you might not get close to the 28 hours that Lenovo touts in its own testing, our testing with PCMark 10 got us an amazing 15 and a half hours, beating most Intel Ultrabooks with no sweat.
Lenovo ThinkPad X13s: Keyboard and touchpad
The keyboard and trackpad on this laptop are excellent. Beyond excellent even. The keys are tactile yet soft, providing a nice 1mm of key travel that's incredibly satisfying to type on. As this is an enterprise laptop from Lenovo, I should note that it does have the control (CTRL) and function (Fn) keys swapped on the keyboard, which does throw you off if you're not used to it. Luckily, you can swap the functionality of those keys in the BIOS settings.
The keyboard features three levels of backlight, and of course, we've also got a red TrackPoint neatly tucked in between the G, H, and B keys. There are people who can't live without this feature, and there are people who can. I'm in the former camp, but I can appreciate it's nice to have a more precise form of cursor control every now and then.
Moving onto the trackpad, we've got a nicely-sized one below the keyboard, though I will say it's a touch shorter than you might find on other laptops. This is because the TrackPoint requires dedicated left and right mouse buttons, which Lenovo has placed directly underneath the spacebar. So there's less room for the trackpad, but you won't notice it unless you're coming from a laptop with an absolutely gigantic trackpad like the Dell XPS 15.
The trackpad itself is great, with an incredibly satisfying clickiness to it that I can only describe as more of a "thunk" than a "click." It's so beefy that I actually thought this trackpad was a haptic one upon first use before realizing that it's actually just a really tactile physical trackpad with a deep click that feels so good.
Lenovo ThinkPad X13s: Cameras, audio & biometrics
If there's one thing that Windows on ARM laptops are great at, it's cameras and audio, and that's no different here on the ThinkPad X13s. Thanks to Snapdragon 8cx Gen3, which includes a dedicated neural processing unit (NPU) for enhancing audio and video peripherals, the ThinkPad X13s is capable of some of the best audio and video out there currently, matching devices like the Surface Pro 9 5G.
Officially, these are the special AI-powered features that the ThinkPad X13s is capable of:
- Voice clarity
- Voice focus
- Background blur
- Automatic framing
- Eye correction
A built-in NPU means these camera and microphone features are system-wide and can be applied in any app regardless of whether the said app has those features built-in. The effects are rendered off the main processor, which keeps the laptop running smoothly, whereas most PCs without an NPU are required to render these effects on a beefy GPU.
Even without a beefy GPU, the effects are very good. Voice focus is particularly fascinating, being able to cut out severe background noise and only focus on your voice. Whether that background noise is loud video, a crowd, or an office environment, the ThinkPad X13s is able to isolate just your voice in real-time.
Speaker performance on the ThinkPad X13s is just okay. It's not the best set of speakers I've ever heard on a thin and light laptop, but it's also not the worst. This is to be expected with a laptop designed primarily for business use. There are two speakers which flank the left and right sides of the keyboard deck. Lenovo says the Audio is Dolby rated, and it's at its best when in use in conference calls using Teams or Slack.
Lastly, we have both Windows Hello facial recognition and fingerprint unlock built-in to the ThinkPad X13s, which is excellent to see. I love a laptop that offers both forms of secure biometrics, both of which are incredibly fast and very accurate. The fingerprint reader is built-in to the power button.
Lenovo ThinkPad X13s: Competition
The Windows on ARM market is still pretty small compared to the likes of Intel and AMD laptops you can find, but that doesn't mean there aren't any. The closest competitor to the ThinkPad X13s is Microsoft's Surface Pro 9 5G, which features a custom Microsoft SQ3 SoC based on the same processor found in the ThinkPad.
Design-wise, the Surface Pro 9 5G is more of a tablet that can become your laptop if you want it to. It's an all-aluminum chassis that feels great and a super high-resolution 13-inch touchscreen that looks fantastic. The Surface Pro 9 5G has the Lenovo ThinkPad X13s beat in the display department, but we think the overall form factor of the ThinkPad X13s is better for enterprise customers.
There's also the Dell Inspiron 14, which uses an older Snapdragon 8cx Gen2 processor on the inside. This older chip will be less performant than the 8cx Gen3, and the Inspiron 14 itself is quite a bit of a downgrade as its targeting a more mid-range level. The benefit of going with the Inspiron is the price, which is under $500.
Say you like the look and size of the ThinkPad X13s, but you wish it had, you know, a "real" processor, aka Intel and x86. Lenovo has the excellent ThinkPad Nano Gen 3, which has a very similar chassis design and size. We reviewed the ThinkPad Nano Gen 1 model and were blown away by it for many of the same reasons we like the ThinkPad X13s. Of course, you're going to have a fan, more heat, and less battery life, but the Intel 13th Gen CPU will be much faster with many more cores, and you can get a really nice 2K display. You can also find it on sale starting at $1,200, making it competitively priced (without 4G LTE or 5G, however).
Lenovo ThinkPad X13s: Should you buy it?
You should buy this if...
- You want a thin and sleek laptop.
- You value a laptop with long battery life.
- You want a light and portable laptop.
You should not buy this if...
- You want a laptop with more power under the hood.
- You want a laptop with a less enterprise design and focus.
- You want to run non-ARM Windows apps.
The ThinkPad X13s from Lenovo is an excellent all-round Windows on ARM laptop. It's the first real enterprise-grade computer that's powered by an ARM processor, and I think it does an excellent job at being the business-first laptop it's designed to be, even with an Qualcomm chip powering things under the hood.
The ThinkPad X13s shines brightest in video calls, thanks to the included NPU, which takes the webcam and microphone to another level. It's also a great writing and Office machine, nailing typical office-based workflows with absolutely no problems. Plus, with the excellent battery life, you won't even need to take a charger to work.
Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows onPCs, tablets, phones, and more.Also an avidcollector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.
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