Lenovo ThinkPad Z13 and Z16 hands-on

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

“If you happen to’re presently shopping for, particularly within the enterprise market, a consumer-look-and-feel design, that is the product you must have a look at,” Tom Butler, govt director of the ThinkPad portfolio, informed The Verge. “We’re going to usher in all the weather of a sturdy business-class system, nevertheless it’s going to be in additional of this client, progressive, fashionable design.”

There’s a 13-inch mannequin (the Z13) and a 16-inch mannequin (the Z16). Each embrace a number of the most recognizable ThinkPad options: particularly, the light-up emblem and the tiny pink 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 produced 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 may 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 Operate keys, famously reversed on most ThinkPads, are of their customary locations on Z-Sequence keyboards. Brian Leonard, Lenovo’s VP of design, says that is to assist ease new customers’ transitions from different client fashions — and, to be honest, I complain in each ThinkPad overview I write about how a lot of a ache it’s to regulate to the ThinkPad structure. The long-beloved half-sized arrow keys have met the identical destiny on the Z-Sequence — full sizes right here to be able to hold the underside of the keyboard one clean line. “What we needed 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 may discover is the digicam enclosure. It’s a press release — it’s very seen on the high 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 transient hands-on. The design alternative, although, was “undoubtedly a giant debate” amongst Lenovo’s crew, Leonard recalled.

Maybe most excitingly, the road is AMD-exclusive — each fashions use AMD’s newest Ryzen Professional processors, whereas the Z16 may embrace an AMD discrete GPU and the Z13 can home a Lenovo-exclusive Ryzen Professional chip. Such an association isn’t remarkable for high-end ThinkPads. Whereas numerous Lenovo’s client fashions embrace each AMD and Intel choices, a lot of the X1 collection is Intel-exclusive and co-engineered with Intel. Butler says Lenovo equally labored carefully with AMD on the Z-series chassis. “If you happen to 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 numerous prototypes, and in addition drew from final 12 months’s releases.

Designing the Z-Sequence has been greater than a two-year course of. Lenovo drew from over 1,000 interviews with “completely different age teams,” Butler says, and in addition took cues from the efficiency of a number of the funkier, mind-blowingly skinny and light-weight ThinkPads it tried final 12 months, 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, clean slab beneath the keyboard (a glance that I believe different ultraportables could do this 12 months as haptic touchpads develop extra widespread). Lenovo deserted this as a result of it anticipated (in all probability appropriately) that folks is likely to 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 an even 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-Sequence, 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 general, the type of laptop computer Lenovo has its eye on is evident: a clean, glossy block of aluminum, with as few odds and ends protruding as attainable.

Is {that a} good factor? That appears to be what we are able to anticipate finding out over the following two years as extra corporations go after such a skinny, seamless splendid.

The Z-Sequence definitely lives as much as Lenovo’s advertising and marketing: In individual, it’s each bit as skinny, as gentle, as glossy, 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 strains, and keyboard high quality is one thing ThinkPad house owners are very, very connected to. The touchpad can 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 significantly get pleasure from clicking with it. RAM can be soldered, and port choice is proscribed: the Z13 solely has two USB-C slots.

There are definitely many patrons for whom these limitations gained’t be an issue, and Lenovo has clearly executed its analysis on what its goal prospects desire. Nonetheless, Apple has managed to determine the way to make gadgets near as skinny as these with out obliterating the connectivity or compromising the touchpad (and Samsung has an ideal enterprise laptop computer that’s each thinner and lighter). That doesn’t imply the Z-Sequence 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 some of the thrilling bulletins to emerge from this 12 months’s CES.

However huge sacrifices within the identify of thinness have additionally led to catastrophe previously (I’m presently typing this on a 2019 MacBook Professional and hating my life). I’m wanting ahead to attempting 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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