Small, thin, and light
Excellent battery life
Sub-par processor performance
Disappointing display for the price
Limited physical connectivity
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About the Lenovo ThinkPad X13s
Here are the specs of the laptop we tested:
- Processor: Qualcomm 8cx Gen3
- Graphics: Adreno 690
- RAM: 16GB LPDDR4
- Storage: 512GB SSD M.2
- Display: 1920 x 1200 IPS touchscreen
- Wireless connectivity: WiFi 6E, Bluetooth 5.1, 5G mobile data
- Wired connectivity: 2x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2, 3.5mm audio jack, SIM slot
- Webcam: 5MP camera with IR, physical privacy shutter
- Battery: 51 watt-hours
- Weight: 2.35 pounds
- Size: 11.8 x 8.1 x 0.53 inches
Pricing for the Lenovo ThinkPad X13s starts around $1,000 for a configuration with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of solid state storage. This model also lacks 4G/5G mobile data. My test system had mobile data and was upgraded to 16GB of RAM, with 512GB of storage. That ups the price to about $1,350.
What we like
It’s compact and portable with a great battery life
The ThinkPad X13s’ meager 2.35 pounds of weight, alongside its half-inch thickness and width of just under one foot, makes it wonderfully easy to lug around town. It easily slips into a small Timbuk2 messenger bag, large purse, or cloth tote bag. The ThinkPad X13s is similar in size to the Dell XPS 13, but a bit lighter and thinner, and noticeably smaller than the MacBook Air M2.
The ThinkPad X13s has a textured, soft-touch exterior with a grippy surface, which makes the laptop easy to pick up and handle. It also won’t slide off most inclined desks and tables. This is a practical benefit since it helps keep the laptop in place while typing and prevents drops.
The matte soft-touch finish, which has a chalky feel and charcoal color, isn’t attractive. It also tends to show fingerprints and scratches more easily than a bare metal finish. I don’t have a problem with this, as it’s in line with the ThinkPad X13s’ all-business attitude. Still, those who want a fashionable computer will be better off with a MacBook Air.
Frequent fliers will find the laptop’s portability is more than skin-deep. The ThinkPad X13 lasted 18 hours and eight minutes in our standard battery test, which loops through open web browser tabs to simulate a light-use workload. This defeats the Dell XPS 13, which endured 16 hours and 13 minutes, and the MacBook Air M2, which managed 17 hours and 10 minutes.
Wireless connectivity includes WiFi 6E and 5G
The Thinkpad X13s is among the rare few laptops available with 5G mmWave mobile data (my test sample arrived with service from Verizon). This promises fast Internet connection speeds when used in areas with 5G mmWave service. 4G LTE is also supported.
Contrary to what Verizon’s maps claim, my local area does not receive 5G mmWave coverage, so my results don’t represent the best available. But I was able to regularly download files at speeds of 10 to 15 megabits per second, and latency was often less than 50 milliseconds. It was enough to provide a reliable, seamless experience across a variety of websites, and to stream video at 1080p resolution.
WiFi 6E is also supported and, when available, much quicker than mobile data. Bluetooth 5.1 rounds out wireless support. It’s a slight disappointment to see Bluetooth 5.1 instead of the newest Bluetooth 5.2 standard, but the changes brought to Bluetooth 5.2 are relatively minor.
The keyboard is excellent, despite its small size
Lenovo has a reputation for solid keyboard quality, but a good keyboard in a small laptop is never a foregone conclusion. Fortunately, the ThinkPad X13s over-delivers with an excellent, comfortable keyboard.
The key travel and feel are great for a laptop just a hair more than half an inch thick. I found it right on par with the Dell XPS 13, which is also excellent, and only a tad behind the MacBook Air M2. There’s a good sense of movement and a solid, definitive bottoming action. The layout is sensible, too, which should please touch typists. There’s just one quirk: like all ThinkPads, the X13s flips the placement of the left-side Function and Control keys.
The classic red ThinkPad TrackPoint is present. I’m a fan of TrackPoint and continue to prefer it over most Windows touchpads. With that said, there’s nothing about this incarnation that will change any past opinion you have about using the TrackPoint. It’s still small, twitchy, and extremely precise.
The TrackPoint is joined by three physical buttons at the top of the touchpad. These slightly restrict the touchpad’s size, but it remains reasonably large at 4.5 inches wide and 2.25 inches tall. The touchpad’s surface is responsive, and its borders are well-defined, so multitouch gestures felt fluid despite its modest height.
It’s silent and (usually) cool
The Lenovo Thinkpad X13s has a Qualcomm 8cx Gen 3 SC8280XP processor. It’s designed for Windows laptops, but still derived from the company’s smartphone chips and, as such, fits in a small power envelope. The chip has a thermal design power (TDP) of just 7 watts. By comparison, the Intel Core i5-1230U in the Dell XPS 13 has a base design power of 9 watts and maximum Turbo power of 29 watts.
Less power consumed means less heat, so the ThinkPad X13s doesn’t require an active fan. It’s completely silent aside from the faint electrical whine most computers emit.
It runs cool in normal use, too, hitting a maximum external temperature of 31.7 degrees Celsius (89 Fahrenheit) near the center of the laptop’s underside. The keyboard, which is the most obvious touch point, is usually a few degrees cooler. I found the warmth barely noticeable, and my palms were pleasantly free of perspiration.
However, the ThinkPad X13s was hot in demanding workloads. Cinebench R23’s 30-minute stress test led to a maximum external temperature of 52.2 C (126 F). That’s nearly as hot as the scorching Dell XPS 13 Plus.
I see this as a less pressing issue because the ThinkPad X13s, unlike the XPS 13 Plus, is not intended for stressful, long-duration use. The performance, as I’m about to discuss, just isn’t there, so anyone looking to export 4K video or run 3D games should buy a different laptop. Still, these high-peak temperatures are worth consideration if you plan to use the ThinkPad X13s for demanding tasks.
What we don’t like
Performance can’t match AMD and Intel
The Lenovo ThinkPad X13s has something most Windows laptops don’t: a Qualcomm processor. All models come with the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3. This is an 8-core, 8-thread processor with a clock speed of up to 3GHz.
Can Qualcomm beat, or match, the competition? No, it can’t.
The ThinkPad X13s achieved a Geekbench 5 single-thread score of 1108 and a multi-core score of 5787. By comparison, the Dell XPS 13 with Intel Core i5-1230U achieved respective scores of 1240 and 4646, while the MacBook Pro 13 M2 hit scores of 1895 and 8983.
It’s a similar story in Cinebench R23 multi-thread, where the ThinkPad X13s scored 2722. The Dell XPS 13 achieved 4083 and the MacBook Pro 13 M2 hit 8696. Clearly, the Qualcomm Snapdragon chip can’t keep up in heavily multithreaded workloads.
The Qualcomm 8cx is paired with Adreno 690 graphics. It achieved a respectable 3DMark Night Raid score of 11167. The Dell XPS 13 only scored 4470. The Lenovo Yoga 6, with AMD’s integrated Radeon graphics, scored 12655. The Qualcomm chip isn’t a graphics powerhouse, but it can handle some 3D titles at lower settings and resolutions. Final Fantasy XIV, for example, was playable at 1080p and low settings.
While the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx does poorly in benchmarks, real world remains solid in less demanding workloads. Apps open quickly, web browsing is smooth, and streaming video is seamless. Even a moderate workload, like resizing photos taken with a DSLR in GIMP photo editing software, feels quick enough. It’s only heavier workloads, like rendering, 3D gaming, or video editing, that push the ThinkPad X13s beyond its limits.
App compatibility can be an issue
Those limits sometimes extended beyond performance. The Qualcomm chip in the ThinkPad X13s uses an instruction set called ARM, which dominates on mobile devices and is different from the x86 instruction set used by most PC processors over the last three decades.
There’s nothing wrong with ARM. It may even be superior to x86, though that’s a technical discussion well outside the scope of this review. Most Windows applications are designed for x86, however, so not all apps work properly.
Two applications that are part of Reviewed’s typical test suite failed to run: Blender and Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Tomb Raider did launch but crashed a few seconds into each benchmark test. These programs work on Apple laptops with ARM-based Apple M1 and M2 processors, so it’s disappointing to see them crash on the Windows machine.
All other applications launched and performed as expected, however, and I expect most owners won’t see major issues. Still, keep this quirk in mind before making a purchase. It couldn’t hurt to double-check whether your favorite apps are compatible with Windows on ARM.
Underwhelming display, weak audio
All ThinkPad X13s models come with a 13.3-inch display packing 1920 x 1200 resolution. The display uses an IPS panel and a conventional backlight. There’s no OLED, no Mini-LED, and no 4K.
That’s a big problem. The ThinkPad X13s is priced to compete with a variety of high-end laptops such as the Dell XPS 13 Plus, Apple MacBook Pro 13 and Pro 14, and Samsung Galaxy Book2 360, to name a few. Nearly all of these competitors offer some form of improved display technology. OLED, in particular, is popular even in mid-range laptops thanks to newer, less expensive OLED panels usable by laptops.
The IPS display falls short of OLED competitors by literally every measure. Contrast, brightness, color gamut, and color accuracy all fall behind a typical OLED alternative. Apple’s Mini-LED displays, found in the MacBook Pro 14 and Pro 16, are also far superior.
It’s not all bad news. The ThinkPad X13s’ display isn’t 4K, but its small size means 1920 x 1200 looks sharp enough. It also has a matte display coating to prevent glare. It also supports touch, which is a surprise: nearly all touchscreen laptops, tablets, and phones have a glossy finish.
Still, these perks are minor and not sufficient. At this price point, and at this level of performance, the ThinkPad X13s needs a superior display to help justify its existence.
The speakers also fail to impress. They’re upward-firing, at least, which means audio quality is not muddled or obscured in normal use. Maximum volume is low, however, and audio presentation becomes harsh and metallic at higher levels of volume. It’s way behind the audio quality of Apple’s MacBook Air M2, and a bit worse than Dell’s XPS 13.
Wired connectivity is limited to USB-C
While the ThinkPad X13s has great wireless connectivity, it falls short in wired options. The laptop has just two USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 ports, both of which support Power Delivery and DisplayPort Alternate Mode, and a 3.5mm audio port.
There are no dedicated video ports and no USB-A, so you’ll need an adapter to connect a variety of monitors, keyboards, mice, hard drives, and other extras. That’s bad news if you rely on older wired devices.
Thunderbolt 4 and USB-4 are missing, as well, so the ThinkPad X13s lacks the enhanced data bandwidth these modern connection standards can provide.
A pair of USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 ports is likely adequate for most potential ThinkPad X13s owners. This is not a laptop designed for workloads that would involve connecting many devices or large external drives. Still, most similarly priced alternatives are superior in this area, offering either modern connection standards, more legacy ports, or both.
Should you buy the Lenovo ThinkPad X13s
Maybe, if you want great battery life and 5G mobile data
The Lenovo ThinkPad X13s is the perfect Windows laptop for those who need unrivaled portability. The Qualcomm 8cx delivered more than 18 hours of battery life, a class-leading result among Windows laptops in 2022. The X13s is also light, durable, easy to carry, and has optional 4G/5G mobile data. You can pop it open anywhere mobile data is available and immediately get to work.
This comes at the cost of performance. The ThinkPad X13s is among the least performant Windows laptops we tested in 2022. It trades blows with the Dell XPS 13 with Intel Core i5-1230U in some benchmarks but loses overall. Apple’s MacBook Air M2 puts it to shame, with nearly four times the processing speed.
That’s a problem. The ThinkPad X13s is not an inexpensive laptop, so you’d be right to expect decent performance results, yet the Qualcomm 8cx Gen3 isn’t up to the task. It’s fine for Microsoft Office but falls way behind in more demanding photo, video, and rendering workloads.
The Lenovo ThinkPad X13s is a laptop with niche appeal. Those who demand the last word in portability will love it. Everyone else will be better served by a Dell XPS 13 or, if you don’t need Windows, Apple’s MacBook Air M2.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
Meet the tester
Matthew S. Smith
Matthew S. Smith is a veteran tech journalist and general-purpose PC hardware nerd. Formerly the Lead Editor of Reviews at Digital Trends, he has over a decade of experience covering PC hardware. Matt often flies the virtual skies in Microsoft Flight Simulator and is on a quest to grow the perfect heirloom tomato.
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