Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 and Z16 hands-on

Lenovo is making an attempt to make ThinkPads cool to the youngsters. The corporate has launched the ThinkPad Z-series, a skinny and lightweight ThinkPad line with funky colours, eco-friendly packaging, and a distinctly fashionable look.

“In the event you’re presently shopping for, particularly within the enterprise market, a consumer-look-and-feel design, that is the product you need to have a look at,” Tom Butler, govt director of the ThinkPad portfolio, advised The Verge. “We’re going to usher in all the weather of a strong business-class machine, however it’s going to be in additional of this shopper, progressive, fashionable design.”

There’s a 13-inch mannequin (the Z13) and a 16-inch mannequin (the Z16). Each embody a number of the most recognizable ThinkPad options: specifically, the light-up brand and the tiny purple TrackPoint. However elsewhere, it’s a model new look. The Z13 is available in arctic grey, black, and a blackish “recycled vegan leather-based.” The packaging is created from recyclable and compostable bamboo and sugar cane, and the adapter is “90 p.c post-consumer content material.” The display is 16:10 — the bezels are so tiny you’ll be able to barely see them.

These fashions additionally lack a number of the extra idiosyncratic ThinkPad options. The discrete clickers discovered on many ThinkPad touchpads are gone. The Management and Perform keys, famously reversed on most ThinkPads, are of their customary locations on Z-Collection keyboards. Brian Leonard, Lenovo’s VP of design, says that is to assist ease new customers’ transitions from different shopper fashions — and, to be honest, I complain in each ThinkPad evaluation I write about how a lot of a ache it’s to regulate to the ThinkPad format. The long-beloved half-sized arrow keys have met the identical destiny on the Z-Collection — full sizes right here as a way to preserve the underside of the keyboard one easy line. “What we wished to do was actually return to the preliminary idea round ThinkPad, which was actually about this excellent black rectilinear field,” says Leonard.

Choices, choices.

The opposite factor you would possibly discover is the digicam enclosure. It’s an announcement — it’s very seen on the prime of the lid, and anybody strolling previous whilst you’re utilizing a Z-series will discover it. The specs of the digicam and microphone (1080p f2.0 and dual-array mics, respectively) are engraved on the surface. Butler says this daring look was supposed to be a “celebration of the digicam,” an infrared 1080p shooter that regarded pretty usable throughout my temporary hands-on. The design alternative, although, was “undoubtedly a giant debate” amongst Lenovo’s group, Leonard recalled.

Maybe most excitingly, the road is AMD-exclusive — each fashions use AMD’s newest Ryzen Professional processors, whereas the Z16 also can embody an AMD discrete GPU and the Z13 can home a Lenovo-exclusive Ryzen Professional chip. Such an association isn’t unprecedented for high-end ThinkPads. Whereas quite a lot of Lenovo’s shopper fashions embody each AMD and Intel choices, a lot of the X1 collection is Intel-exclusive and co-engineered with Intel. Butler says Lenovo equally labored intently with AMD on the Z-series chassis. “In the event you attempt to put one thing else in there, you’re gonna sub-optimize,” he says.

The ThinkPad Z16 open on a gridded table with a black background. The screen displays The Verge homepage.

Lenovo examined quite a lot of prototypes, and in addition drew from final yr’s releases.

Designing the Z-Collection has been greater than a two-year course of. Lenovo drew from over 1,000 interviews with “totally different age teams,” Butler says, and in addition took cues from the efficiency of a number of the funkier, mind-blowingly skinny and lightweight ThinkPads it tried final yr, together with the X1 Titanium Yoga and the X1 Nano.

One early prototype had no delineation between the touchpad and the palm rests, making a single, easy slab beneath the keyboard (a glance that I think different ultraportables could do this yr as haptic touchpads develop extra frequent). Lenovo deserted this as a result of it anticipated (most likely appropriately) that individuals may be confused about the place to click on.

The corporate additionally tried a webcam that was hidden utterly beneath the display (it was not seen in any respect on the prototype I noticed). COVID-19, which made webcam efficiency a much bigger precedence for a lot of Lenovo’s audience, did away with this plan. Early models additionally included a convertible mannequin (additionally finally scrapped — clamshells are a a lot bigger market) and a numpad (Lenovo’s analysis discovered that its audience needs the touchpad centered underneath the spacebar, which a numpad makes troublesome).

So the Z-Collection, finally, shouldn’t be as kooky and new-age because the designers could initially have dreamed. Leonard did, although, caveat that the scrapped options should be on the desk for future fashions. And total, the kind of laptop computer Lenovo has its eye on is evident: a easy, smooth block of aluminum, with as few odds and ends protruding as doable.

Is {that a} good factor? That appears to be what we will expect to find out over the following two years as extra firms go after such a skinny, seamless superb.

The Z-Collection actually lives as much as Lenovo’s advertising: In particular person, it’s each bit as skinny, as mild, as smooth, and as all-screen as Lenovo claims. However there are additionally tradeoffs. There’s a bit much less key journey than you’ll discover on some extra established ThinkPad traces, and keyboard high quality is one thing ThinkPad homeowners are very, very connected to. The touchpad can also be haptic, and the clicking feels pretty shallow. I’m certain that is one thing you’d get used to as an proprietor — and haptic touchpads get pleasure from being extra customizable — however I nonetheless didn’t notably get pleasure from clicking with it. RAM can also be soldered, and port choice is restricted: the Z13 solely has two USB-C slots.

There are actually many consumers for whom these limitations received’t be an issue, and Lenovo has clearly completed its analysis on what its goal prospects want. Nonetheless, Apple has managed to determine learn how to make gadgets near as skinny as these with out obliterating the connectivity or compromising the touchpad (and Samsung has a fantastic enterprise laptop computer that’s each thinner and lighter). That doesn’t imply the Z-Collection doesn’t produce other benefits over these — there’s nothing fairly like a ThinkPad, as the road’s continued dominance over the enterprise market displays, and an unique partnership with chipmaking-superpower AMD is undoubtedly one of the vital thrilling bulletins to emerge from this yr’s CES.

However massive sacrifices within the identify of thinness have additionally led to catastrophe prior to now (I’m presently typing this on a 2019 MacBook Professional and hating my life). I’m trying ahead to making an attempt these fashions out and am tentatively in favor of the rectilinear future they level to within the PC house. On the similar time, I actually, actually hope Lenovo isn’t falling sufferer to the “skinny in any respect prices” mindset that introduced us the butterfly keyboard.

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