Lenovo ThinkPad X13s hands-on: The first ARM-powered ThinkPad

Lenovo’s best laptops have always had Intel or AMD inside, but for starters, there’s now a new ThinkPad powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 compute platform.

Specifically, it’s the ThinkPad X13s, an ARM-powered device that differs from a regular ThinkPad in more ways than one. With promising always-on, always-connected performance and a fantastic durable design, this Lenovo laptop feels different from older Windows on ARM devices, and after trying one ahead of Mobile World Congress, it dares to take on the MacBook M1s of Apple in business.

Specifications

Lenovo ThinkPad X13s
Dimensions 11.76 x 8.13 x 0.53 inches
Weight 2.35 pounds
Processor Snapdragon 8cx gen 3
Graphic Adreno GPUs
RAM Up to 32 GB LPDDR4
To display 13.3-inch WUXGA (1920 x 1200), 16:10 aspect ratio
Storage room PCIe SSD up to 1TB
To touch Included on some models
Ports 2 USB-C 3.2 Gen 2, audio jack, SIM card tray
Wireless Wi-Fi 6 and 6E, 5G sub6 eSIM, 5G mmWave eSIM
webcam 5MP Windows Hello Webcam
Operating system Windows 11 Pro
Battery 49.5 Wh Li-ion polymer, video playback up to 28 hours.
Price, availability $1,099, May 2022

Design

The Thinkpad X13s design shown in an overhead look on the laptop opened at a 45 degree angle.
Arif Bacchus/Digital Trends

On the outside, the ThinkPad X13s looks a lot like a standard Lenovo business laptop at first glance. It sports a “Thunder Black” color, but things change once you wave your hands to the side. There, you won’t find any ventilation fans, which is a typical feature of ARM-powered Windows devices, just like this one.

The corners of the devices are also rounded which makes the laptop comfortable to grip and hold with one hand which is important as it is something to use on the go. Still, Lenovo has sustainability in mind, which, in principle, makes this design a bit different.

If you’re curious, without the fans, the laptop is still thin and light, at around 11.76 x 8.13 x 0.53 inches and 2.35 pounds, but Lenovo isn’t just using ordinary materials to keep the profile slim. The ThinkPad X13s is crafted from 90% recycled magnesium on the top and bottom covers and is also made with low-temperature solder.

The top cover of the ThinkPad X13s.
Arif Bacchus/Digital Trends

Elsewhere, 97% post-consumer recycled plastic is used on the speaker housing, 30% of the same content in the battery and 30% again in the wall adapter. All of this helps reduce emissions and helps make the world a greener place for everyone.

It’s a beautiful environmental change of Apple’s MacBook M1s, with only the casing made from 100% recycled aluminum. In the Windows space, it reminds me a lot of HP’s Dragonfly laptop, which is made from 80% recycled content in its mechanical parts.

All this does not sacrifice durability either. Pushing on the keyboard didn’t cause the chassis to bend, and the lid didn’t flex at all. This should come as no surprise, as the ThinkPad X13s is MIL-SPEC 810H tested with 12 methods, 26 procedures, and 200 additional quality checks.

To display

Applications open on the Thinkpad X13s.
Arif Bacchus/Digital Trends

The thin-bezel 16:10 display is what’s becoming more common in laptops these days, and I was happy to see one on the ThinkPad X13. Adapted to WUXGA resolution of (1920 x 1200), this laptop is the one that will allow you to do your multitasking well.

In my time with the device, I pulled up Microsoft Edge and windows stacked side by side. I had a uniform view of web pages, with more room to scroll thanks to the wider 16:10 ratio. I also released nature videos on YouTube, and even though the ThinkPad was in direct sunlight, the display was still crisp and clear. I clearly distinguished all the details in a video presenting the landscapes of Italy.

A program on Italy opened on Thinkpad X13.
Arif Bacchus/Digital Trends

The 300 nit peak brightness on the panel I was working with might be too low for some people and nowhere near the brightness of MacBooks. But for basic web browsing and office work, it might be enough to get the job done without looking too washed out.

Keyboard and touchpad

The ThinkPad X13s touchpad and keyboard.
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Unsurprisingly, the ThinkPad X13s sports an incredible keyboard and trackpad. If you’ve ever used a ThinkPad before, you know the deal. The keys have incredible travel distance and the feedback when pushing into the chassis is nice and smooth. The trackpad, meanwhile, is smooth as butter, making it easy to scroll and swipe through web pages.

You’ll even find Lenovo’s signature TrackPoint, which can help you move your mouse more precisely than the glass ThinkPad TrackPad below. For fun, I took a typing test and hit about 87 wpm, which is above my average of about 80 wpm.

Ports and Connectivity

A close up of the Thinkpad X13s ports
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Apple’s new The 2021 MacBook M1s are bringing back the old HDMI port, but in the Windows on ARM space things are different. Many laptop makers are sticking with USB-C to keep devices thin and light, and that’s what ends up happening with the ThinkPad X13s. But there are additional connectivity benefits you won’t find on a MacBook M1.

On the ThinkPad X13s, you’ll find 2 USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 ports, an audio jack, as well as a SIM card tray. Other than that, there is native support for 5G-enabled Sub 6 and 5G mmWave connectivity, which is absent on Apple’s M1-powered MacBooks.

A dialog to connect to 5G on the ThinkPad X13s.
Arif Bacchus/Digital Trends

It wasn’t available for me to test, but Lenovo says the device can upgrade to 5G mmWave, 4G LTE, or sub6 Wireless WAN for “super-fast, highly secure, on-the-go connectivity.” This is the first 5G ThinkPad, although it’s far from the first 5G Windows laptop.

There have been others, like the HP Elite Dragonfly G2 or the Lenovo Flex 5G. 5G and LTE laptops offer always-connected advantages, especially when away from Wi-Fi, as I’ve said before, and this ThinkPad is no different.

webcam

A close up of the communication bar on the Thinkpad X13s.
Arif Bacchus/ Digital Trends

Another unique feature of the ThinkPad X13s is the communication bar at the top of the device. It sports three 360-degree far-field microphones and a 5-megapixel webcam. When I turned this webcam on, I was thrilled to see the quality. I could make out the thin threads of my mask, as well as the background colors of the sofa I was sitting on.

Lenovo also says it worked with Qualcomm and Microsoft to enable some special communication features on this ThinkPad. However, I couldn’t try them. AI-powered auto-framing keeps you in frame during Teams calls. Intelligent noise cancellation is also available during video conferencing calls to cut out background noise on both ends of calls.

There’s even a neat trick, where the ThinkPad can detect human presence by automatically turning off or dimming the display when the user looks away. Other features include posture and screen time recognition, and vision health notifications. All thanks to the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 computer vision processor.

Performance and battery life

The Task Manager application opens on the Thinkpad X13s.
Arif Bacchus/ Digital Trends

In the past, we didn’t like laptops and tablets with Qualcomm processors for poor performance and app emulation issues. Microsoft made improvements with 64-bit app emulation in Windows 11 on ARM devices, and Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 8cx also promises big performance gains. All of this combines to give the ThinkPad X13s Apple M1 performance potential.

Previously leaked benchmarks have shown the Snapdragon 8cx to be as good as a 25-watt 12th Gen Intel U-series processor. It’s no wonder Lenovo is promising that system-level performance on this device can be increased by up to 57% and multitasking can be up to 85% faster.

After trying the ThinkPad X13s with this chip, I can’t help but think I got a glimpse of this performance. Sure, I couldn’t run any benchmarks, but for the web browsing I did, the chip was able to keep up.

The Qualcomm logo on a Lenovo laptop.

A mix of Microsoft Edge tabs, office apps like Word and PowerPoint, and other system apps ran smoothly on the device. I opened Task Manager to check, and the system CPU usage was barely at 5% in my unscientific tests. Even putting the device to sleep and out of sleep was flawlessly smooth, and I was able to get right back into the action.

Many Microsoft apps are now optimized for ARM processors, and Lenovo tells me that Microsoft’s Azure program ensures native compatibility and unchanged experiences for mission-critical apps on this device. Microsoft even built the Pluto security chip for this ThinkPad and put it inside the Qualcomm Secure Processing Unit. This security chip provides chip-to-cloud protection of user identity, data and applications.

When it comes to battery life, Lenovo promises up to 28 hours of video playback. We’re keen to test this claim, but we’ve found that the average battery life isn’t too far off from Intel machines. It’s not scientific, but the system I tested was at 100% when I removed it from the charger and only went down to around 95% after 45 minutes.

Price and availability

ThinkPad X13s will be available from May 2022, starting at $1,099. In the US, ThinkPad X13s will be available on AT&T and Verizon later in 2022. More specific availability and pricing will be shared later.

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Abdul J. Gaspar