Lenovo ThinkPad X13s review: A premium Arm-based ultraportable with 5G and long battery life
- Compact and lightweight
- Good battery life
- 5G support
- Quiet in operation (fanless)
- 5MP webcam with IR
- Moderate performance
- No HDMI or Thunderbolt 4 ports
- No memory card reader
- Some Windows apps may not work on Arm platform
Lenovo’s ThinkPad X13s, which was announced at MWC back in February, is the first laptop powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 system-on-chip (SoC). This is the chip on which Microsoft’s SQ3 — as seen in the new Surface Pro 9 with 5G — is based. Running Windows 11 on Arm (Home or Pro) and weighing just over a kilogram, the 13.3-inch fanless ThinkPad X13s is designed for ‘hybrid workers, global travelers, field technicians and front-line workers’, offering 5G connectivity (including mmWave) and claimed battery life of over 24 hours.
Despite these advantages, users have been wary of Windows on Arm devices up to now, mostly due to concerns about app compatibility. However, things are improving: Windows 11 now supports x64 emulation, and Microsoft has recently released its Windows Dev Kit 2023 (a.k.a. Project Volterra), a Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3-powered mini-PC which, along with Arm64EC tooling, is designed to help developers create native Windows 11 apps and transition existing x64 apps to the Arm platform.
Is this enough to broaden the appeal of Windows on Arm laptops like the ThinkPad X13s? Let’s see.
Lenovo’s ThinkPads rarely stray far from the familiar black livery with red and silver accents, and the ThinkPad X13s is no exception. The chassis, which is made of magnesium-aluminium (top) and GFRP (bottom), is Thunder Black in colour, with branding on the lid and wrist rest, the iconic red TrackPoint embedded in the keyboard, and three buttons above the trackpad. Lenovo says that 90% of the magnesium used in the chassis is recycled, as is 97% of the plastic in the speaker enclosure, while 90% of the packaging is recycled and/or sustainable.
This is a conventional 13.3-inch clamshell laptop (there’s no 2-in-1 flexibility here, and the lid doesn’t even open 180 degrees to lie flat on a desk) measuring a tidy 298.7mm wide by 206.4mm deep by 13.4mm thick (11.76in. x 8.13in. x 0.53in.) and weighing from 1.06kg (2.35lbs). Dell’s XPS 13, by comparison, is slightly more compact (295.4mm x 199.4mm x 13.99mm/11.63in. x 7.85in. x 0.55in.) but slightly heavier (from 1.17kg/2.59lbs).
The 16:10 IPS screen sits within relatively slim bezels, with a slightly protruding ‘communications bar’ above the display that houses the 5MP webcam (IR-equipped in our review unit) and triple mic array. This communications bar gives you a convenient point of purchase to open up the lid. We measured the screen-to-body ratio at a respectable 83.1%.
The keyboard, as you’d expect from a ThinkPad, is a well-made backlit, spill-resistant affair. It’s flanked by speaker grilles and has some reduced-height (Fn key row) and reduced-width keys, but the feel and action were fine — for me at least; others, particularly those with larger hands, may disagree. The half-height Fn key row includes keys for toggling the webcam and microphone on and off, which will come in handy at times during video calls. Naturally you get Lenovo’s trademark red trackpoint and trio of buttons, while the touchpad is a decent size considering this laptop’s compact chassis.
The power button on the right side between the keyboard and screen incorporates a fingerprint reader on some models, but this wasn’t the case with our review unit. We used the IR webcam and Windows Hello face authentication instead, which worked well.
For connections, you’re limited to two USB-C (3.2 Gen 2) ports on the left side, one of which will be occupied when charging the laptop, plus a Nano-SIM card slot and a 3.5mm audio in/out jack on the right side. There’s no Thunderbolt 4 support and no HDMI connector, so some users may well require a USB hub.
You can access the innards of the ThinkPad X13s by removing six screws and prising off the bottom cover, although upgrade options are limited. We did poke around inside our first review unit, which arrived with no functioning wi-fi and no access to the webcam, to no avail. Our second review unit worked just fine. For all its thin-and-lightness, the ThinkPad X13s is MIL-STD-810H tested and should cope with the rigours of a mobile professional’s routine.
As noted earlier, the ThinkPad X13s is powered by Qualcomm’s latest Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3, a 5nnm SoC with 8 Kyro CPU cores (4 performance, 4 efficiency) and an Adreno 690 GPU. RAM is soldered onto the motherboard and therefore not user-upgradeable, and comes in 8GB, 16GB or 32GB capacities. Our review unit had 16GB, along with 256GB of M.2 2442 PCIe SSD storage (512GB and 1TB capacities are also available).
The Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3 also handles wireless connectivity, supporting Wi-Fi 6E (802.11ax at 2.4GHz, 5GHz and 6GHz) and Bluetooth 5.1, and 5G via X55 modem. This is available with sub-6GHz only or sub-6GHz and mmWave 5G frequency band support, and can access either a physical SIM card or an eSIM. Our review unit had the sub-6GHz only version. The ThinkPad X13s is also available without 5G support, so make sure you specify what you need — or are likely to need — at purchase time, as this is not an upgrade option.
There are three screen options, all IPS panels with WUXGA (1920 x 1200) resolution: non-touch at 300 nits or 400 nits with lower power consumption and EyeSafe certification; and multi-touch at 300 nits with a 1000:1 contrast ratio rather than 1500:1 and 72% NTSC colour gamut support rather than 100% sRGB. Viewing angles are 170° across the board. Our review unit had the 300 nits non-touch screen, which although not suited for outdoor use is fine indoors.
As well as the biometric authentication methods noted earlier, the ThinkPad X13s includes internal security features such as a discrete TPM 2.0 chip, Microsoft’s Pluton TPM architecture running on the Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3’s SPU (Secure Processing Unit) and a self-healing BIOS.
Performance & battery life
We’d expect Qualcomm’s flagship SoC for Windows on Arm to deliver a performance boost over its predecessor, and it does. It’s also, equally expectedly, on a par with Microsoft’s SQ3 in the Surface Pro 9. However, when it comes to Arm-based ultraportable platforms, Apple’s M2 chip in the latest 13.6-inch MacBook Air is currently well ahead — on the Geekbench 5 CPU test at least:
We would normally test mainstream application performance using PCMark 10 at this point, but despite improvements in app compatibility with Windows 11, this benchmark would not run on the ThinkPad X13s. However, during testing we found that performance when creating documents with Microsoft Office apps, surfing the web with the Edge browser, using video conferencing apps and running YouTube videos was acceptable so long as the number of concurrent tasks didn’t get out of hand.
When it comes to graphics performance, don’t expect too much from the Adreno 690 GPU in the Lenovo ThinkPad X13s. On 3DMark, it’s well behind the integrated Iris Xe Graphics in the (Core i7-powered) 14-inch Huawei MateBook X Pro, for example:
Clearly this is not a laptop that will interest anyone wanting to run games or other demanding graphical applications. However, GPU performance is adequate for the kind of mainstream productivity workloads that mobile professionals will run most of the time.
The ThinkPad x13s is powered by a 49.5Wh battery, which Lenovo claims will power up to 28 hours of 1080p video playback. We didn’t achieve that in our tests, which ranged between just under 7 hours under continuous heavy load to 18.5 hours when idling:
Mid-way between these extremes suggests around 12.7 hours of battery life for the ThinkPad X13s in practice, which beats the 8.5 hours we recorded for the 14-inch Core i7-powered Huawei MateBook X Pro, but doesn’t match the 15.8 hours of video playback achieved by the M2 MacBook Air.
Like the M2 MacBook Air, the ThinkPad X13s runs on a sufficiently low-power processor to enable a fanless design, which ensures silent operation. Passive cooling does run the risk of overheating (and CPU throttling) under heavy load, and we noticed that after running 3DMark tests for half an hour or so the laptop became warm, particularly on the underside. Another reason — on top of performance limitations — to avoid demanding workloads.
Lenovo’s ThinkPad X13s is a compact and lightweight Windows on Arm ultraportable, and probably the leading example of its kind. It’s well built and offers 5G support plus long battery life, which will make it appealing to mobile professionals of various descriptions.
However, potential buyers need to be aware of a few issues. First, despite improved x86 emulation, plenty of existing Windows apps will not run on the Arm platform — including many widely-used Adobe apps, for example.
Performance is adequate if your ambitions don’t extend beyond (Arm-compatible) mainstream productivity apps, but for all the appeal of the ThinkPad X13s, there are other options worth considering.
At the time of writing, prices for the ThinkPad X13s start at $969 for Windows 11 Home, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of SSD storage, a 300-nits non-touch display, a non-IR webcam and no 5G. Fully specified-up with Windows 11 Pro, 32GB of RAM, 1TB of storage, a touch screen, an IR webcam and 5G, you’re looking at $1,711 — and that’s with a deal worth $1,484 off Lenovo’s list price.
For comparison, the well-regarded Dell XPS 13 with Windows 11 Home, a Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and an FHD+ non-touch screen currently comes in at $749 with a deal worth $250 off the list price. With Windows 11 Pro, a Core i7 processor, 32GB of RAM, 1TB of storage and a touch screen the price is $1,659. No 5G, though, you’ll note.
Another ultraportable option that, as we have seen, delivers a superior combination of performance and battery life is Apple’s 13.6-inch M2 MacBook Air, which starts at $1,199 with an 8-core GPU, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, rising to $2,499 with a 10-core GPU, 24GB of RAM and 2TB of storage. No touch-screen option or 5G here either, though.
If 5G is a must-have feature, you can currently get the HP Elite Dragonfly G3 with Windows 11 Pro, a Core i5-1235U processor, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, a 13.5-inch non-touch WUXGA+ (1920×1280) screen and 5G for $1,516 ($3,032 off).
Lenovo ThinkPad 13s specifications
|OS||Windows 11 Pro 64 (on ARM) • Windows 11 Home 64 (on ARM)|
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon 8cx Gen 3|
|Graphics||Qualcomm Adreno 690|
|RAM||8GB, 16GB, 32GB (LPDDR4x-4266)|
|Storage||256GB, 512GB, 1TB (M.2 2242 SSD)|
|Display||13.3-inch IPS WUXGA (1920 x 1200, 16:10)|
|– Display options||10-point touch, 300 nits, 1000:1 contrast ratio • non-touch, 300 nits, 1500:1 contrast ratio • non-touch, 400 nits, 1500:1 contrast ratio, low power, EyeSafe certified|
|Ports||2x USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 (data transfer, Power Delivery 3.0, DisplayPort 1.4a) • 3.5mm audio in/out jack|
|Slot||Nano-SIM (eSIM also available)|
|Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi 6E (2.4GHz, 5GHz, 6GHz 802.11ax)|
|Mobile broadband||optional 5G (sub-6GHz & mmWave)|
|Keyboard||backit, 6-row, spill-resistant, multimedia Fn keys with UC controls|
|Navigation||TrackPoint + Mylar surface multi-touch touchpad|
|Webcam||5MP • 5MP + IR • 5MP + IR + Computer Vision|
|Battery life (claimed)||up to 26.2h (local video playback @ 150 nits)|
|Power adapter||45W or 65W|
|Security||Microsoft Pluton TPM 2.0 integrated in SoC • optional fingerprint reader (integrated on power button)|
|Dimensions||298.7mm x 206.4mm x 13.4mm (11.76in. x 8.13in. x 0.53in.)|
|Weight||from 1.06kg (2.35 lbs)|
|Certifications||EPEAT Gold, ENERGY STAR 8.0, ErP Lot 3, TCO Certified 9.0, RoHS compliant, MIL-STD-810H, EyeSafe|
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