Lenovo ThinkPad Z13
Lenovo ThinkPad Z16
Lenovo Z-Series ThinkPads: Z13 and Z16
One of my last projects, when I ran advanced manufacturing at Western Digital (WD), involved the prototypes of the IBM ThinkPad. IBM wanted to know if they could build their new device on an existing production line. At the time, Western Digital was an all things to all computer makers company. Its logo was not a “WD”, but an integrated abstract meant to represent motherboard, disk drives, video boards, network connections and other PC components. Many early computers, designed and delivered by computing pioneers, were made by Western Digital—and many of them were built in Irvine, California.
IBM’s then secretive program involved the application of surface mount components to one of the most complex motherboards at the time. It was known as a double-sided, double-density printed circuit board (PCB). Western Digital had some experience with this technology, but only on small PCBs. Our motherboards at the time were mostly IBM PC clones, often relatively simple Intel 286/386 boards with plenty of room between components.
The IBM ThinkPad prototype board was a challenge for my Surface Mount Assembly Reasoning Tool (SMART), an expert system originally coded to program pick-and-place equipment for disk drive controllers and video boards. To program the production line for the ThinkPad prototype, we had to run it twice, once for each side of the board—and the board had to run through the production line twice.
I bring up this legacy story because I go a long way back with ThinkPads. The boxy black computers with the red nub for cursor control and two red-lined buttons to control right and left clicks perhaps even inspired the persistent idea of right and left clicks through their very explicit implementation.
Once IBM divested itself of the ThinkPad line, selling it to Lenovo, the new owner retained much of the design language, including the good and the not-so-good.
Lenovo made incremental changes: thinner, lighter, incredibly more powerful, new ports, and even better keyboards. But in many ways, the clunkiness of the brand still floated through the design like a specter failing to understand the fact of its corporeal demise.
Most of those who used the earliest ThinkPads are leaving the workforce, and those who think of the iconic ThinkPad as the ultimate in business design find themselves inundated by examples that challenge that assumption.
So enter Lenovo’s Z-series, an AMD-driven rethink of the ThinkPad that still holds on to a few legacy features, but like the human tailbone, you can see them give way to evolutionary pressures as the current niche makes them less irrelevant.
What we like
Refined elegance. Holistic design. The Lenovo Z-series ThinkPads assert a new minimalist aesthetic for Lenovo ThinkPads. Even though the computer’s lines don’t continue without interruption, the bump, or Communications Bar, for the camera and microphones offers a logical, functional disruption. Design is about balance and tradeoffs. The generally smaller bezels and the higher resolution cameras make the bump make sense.
The exterior arrives branded with a ThinkPad logo and a single red LED. Lenovo sits on the right edge. It could be even less, but the branding doesn’t overwhelm the aesthetic.
The 16:10 aspect ratio has slowly become the standard, and Lenovo implements it in the Z-series in both the WUXGA IPS display and the sharper, more expensive WQUXGA OLED options. If you can afford it, go with the OLED version, but the IPS display on the eval unit will not disappoint in most cases.
The AMD Ryzen chipsets prove up to all general business tasks, with the Z13 sporting an exclusive Ryzen Pro 6000 U-series, while the Z16 runs an H-series CPU. The Z16 will also support an AMD RX 6500M GPU to turbocharge graphics. Both units will take up to 32GB of RAM, which will keep the Z-series Gen 1 in play longer than more constrained devices. Both units also include a Microsoft Pluton chip for security. The AMD partnership also includes improved battery life, even with the dedicated GPU version of the Z-series.
The backlit keyboard is excellent but excellent in a new way from the X1 Carbon as a reference. Touch typists won’t struggle, and even the most intensive of writers will not likely experience fatigue. The lack of deep sculpting and clear down enveloping of the keystrokes isn’t missed over time, and it won’t be missed for anyone who hasn’t experienced the best of Lenovo’s keyboards. People moving to the Lenovo Z-series ThinkPads from almost any other platform will find the keyboard a welcomed upgrade.
The Haptic ForcePad delivers nudges to acknowledge actions, moving the Z-series into the realm more devices should enter, which is that of a companion rather than an inert object.
Lenovo recognizes this shift toward realtime collaboration for all with the Z-series, a post-pandemic design that includes an improved camera, the Dolby Atmos® Speaker System and Dolby Voice® AI noise cancellation technology.
The environment also sits central to the Z-series design with recycled aluminum, bamboo and sugarcane-based packaging and a power supply that uses 90% post-consumer material.
What could be improved
While the AMD Ryzen™ 7 PRO 6860Z processor offers smart, powerful processing, I would like to see this design language extended to Intel-based devices. Lenovo has a winning combination with this set of elements.
The AMD processors also equate to lower USB speeds because they don’t include Thunderbolt support.
I’m not a fan of soldered RAM. I get it. It keeps the possibilities of user install error to a minimum, and it drives buyers with bigger pocketbooks to higher margin units with more RAM, but I would still like the option to see if 16GB works for me before deciding to drop the extra dollars for 32GB of RAM.
As I stated in other reviews, I don’t mind the lack of legacy ports. The USB-C configuration on the Z13 is fine, and the choice of an SD card reader on the Z16 is welcomed, even though I’m likely to use a Z-series with a USB-C hub, most of which include an SD card reader.
Stop trying to rationalize the TrackPoint by adding new features. The Communications QuickMenu would make more sense as a key that shouts Communications QuickMenu than a hidden feature under the red nub.
Lenovo needs to avoid patting itself on the back for the Z-series’ environmental focus and incorporate its sensibilities across its consumer and business lines. I’m not implying that it isn’t trying to do that on other products, as Lenovo has universally reduced packaging across its products. But as long as the emphasis on environmental responsibility arrives product-by-product, it won’t be as impactful.
Yes, Lenovo does include a sustainability thought leadership page, but it doesn’t reconcile in detail to product releases, which tout more detail but don’t tie back directly to their operation principles. Their sustainable thought leadership would benefit from a messaging framework that ties their story together and design rules that make environmental responsibility an assumption for buyers, a materials list that requires enumeration in each press release.
Lenovo Z-series ThinkPad: The Bottom Line
Lenovo, as with many computer makers, offers an almost overwhelming number of options. Competitor Apple, only a few. I would like to see Lenovo circle its wagons around a more limited set of designs. The Z-series could easily be its flagship business profile line. And in a way, it is, but the X1s compete internally with power and the more retro ThinkPad components. I’m sure Lenovo does its homework on customer wants, but I’m not sure that the more understated TrackPoint and trackpad buttons would not be welcome by ThinkPad diehards if the older designs just disappeared.
The Lenovo Z-series ThinkPads, though they still look like a clamshell laptop, demonstrate a breakthrough in thinking for Lenovo. It changes nearly everything about older, ele-clunky designs.
Note: One of the unique features of the Z-series is a black vegan leather version. While I saw images of that version, the one reviewed was all metal.
Pricing and Availability:
ThinkPad Z13 starts at $1549
ThinkPad Z16 starts at $2099
|ThinkPad Z13||ThinkPad Z16|
|Processor||AMD Ryzen PRO U-Series processor|
Optional exclusive AMD Ryzen PRO 6860Z processor
|AMD Ryzen PRO H-Series processor|
|Operating System||Windows 11|
|Memory||Up to 32GB LPDDR5|
|Storage||Up to 1TB PCIe Gen 4 SSD||Up to 2TB PCIe Gen 4 SSD|
|Graphics||Integrated AMD Radeon graphics||Integrated AMD Radeon graphics|
AMD Radeon RX 6500M discrete option
|Display||13.3-inch 16:10 – 91.6% STB|
-WUXGA IPS 400nit Low Power (touch option)
-WQXGA OLED 400nit, Touch, Dolby Vision, Low Blue Light
|16.0-inch 16:10 – 92.3% STB|
-WUXGA IPS 400nit Low Power (touch option)
-WQUXGA OLED 400nit, Touch, Dolby Vision, Low Blue Light
|Audio||Dolby Atmos Speaker System and Dolby Voice|
|Camera||Infrared FHD camera f2.0, with eShutter|
|Battery||50Whr, Rapid Charge||70Whr, Rapid Charge|
|Security||Match-on-Chip FPR, dTPM 2.0, Microsoft Pluton Security Processor|
|Ports||2 x USB-C (USB4.0), Audio Jack||3 x USB-C (USB4.0), Audio Jack, SD Card Reader|
|Keyboard||Edge-to-Edge, Backlit, 120mm Haptic ForcePad||Backlit, 120mm Haptic ForcePad|
|Wireless LAN||Wi-Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2|
|Wireless WAN||4G LTE CAT 16|
|Colors/Materials||Black Recycled Vegan Leather/Bronze AL|
Arctic Grey Recycled AL
Black Recycled AL
|Arctic Grey Recycled AL|
|Dimensions||294.4 x 199.6 x 13.99mm||354.4 x 237.4 x 15.8mm|
|Weight||1.25kg – 2.76 lbs||1.97kg – 4.3 lbs|
Lenovo provided the Z13 and Z16 for review. Images courtesy of Lenovo unless otherwise noted.
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