Lenovo ThinkBook Plus review: If a Kindle and a laptop had a baby
Personally, I was excited about it. I’m a big fan of Amazon’s Kindle e-readers, and anyone who knows me knows that I’m always looking for that one device for everything. I want to see devices that can eliminate the need for extra devices, but in a smart, practical, and convenient way. Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 3 pulls it off nicely, with the device unfolding into something that’s tablet-sized, eliminating the need for an e-reader or a mini tablet.
So, does the Lenovo ThinkBook Plus do that, or does the E Ink screen add value in some new way? The answer is…kind of. Read on for more.
Navigate this review:
- Design: The Lenovo ThinkBook Plus is like any other laptop, except with a big E Ink display in the lid
- E Ink displays on laptop lids, Windows 11, and Android apps; name a more iconic trio
- Display and keyboard: Oh right, the Lenovo ThinkBook Plus has a regular screen too
- Performance and battery life: The E Ink screen uses more power than it should
- Conclusion: Should you buy the Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 2?
Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 Specs
|CPU||Intel Core i7-1160G7|
|Graphics||Intel Iris Xe|
|Body||298x209x13.9mm (11.73×8.22×0.54in), 1.16kg (2.55lbs)|
|Memory||16 GB LPDDR4x 4266MHz (Soldered)|
|Storage||512 GB PCIe SSD Gen 4|
|Camera||720p HD camera with Privacy Shutter|
|Ports / Slots||
|In the box||
|Material||Aluminum + glass (top), Magnesium-aluminum (bottom)|
|OS||Windows 10 Pro|
The price listed is as configured on Lenovo.com. There’s also a Core i5 model for $2,429.
Design: The Lenovo ThinkBook Plus is like any other laptop, except with a big E Ink display in the lid
The ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 looks like any other Lenovo laptop, except for, you know, the giant E Ink display in the lid. It comes in Storm Grey, this sort of gunmetal gray color that I’m never really a fan of. Indeed, gray laptops look dull to me, but then again, the whole ThinkBook brand is aimed at small- to medium-sized businesses, where I suppose you’re not looking to stand out from the crowd so much.
That means that you’re not making those kinds of compromises to get that extra feature. You’re getting the E Ink display and it’s still lighter than your average ultrabook. Personally, I found it to be an excellent travelling companion when I went to MediaTek Executive Summit in California. I’d bring it on my next trip too if I didn’t have other units to review. When I use a laptop and say I’d use it again, that’s an endorsement.
As far as ports go, there’s no USB Type-A here. On the left side of the device, there are two Thunderbolt 4 ports, so yes, this is an Intel Evo certified device. That means that if the UP4 CPU isn’t enough for you, you can go ahead and connect an external graphics card, or you can use one of those ports to connect two 4K monitors. Also on that side is a 3.5mm audio jack.
On the right side, you’ll find the power button, which doubles as a fingerprint sensor. It’s actually quite good, and this is one of few times that I actually prefer it over an IR camera, if I have to make a choice between the two. It’s for the same reason that you wouldn’t want the fingerprint sensor on the keyboard deck. You have to be able to unlock the PC if you’re just using the E Ink display on the lid.
Speaking of using the E Ink display, there’s also a pen garage built into the device on the right side. If you plan on taking notes and such on the E Ink screen, you can do that and the pen is always with you.
E Ink displays on laptop lids, Windows 11, and Android apps; name a more iconic trio
Clearly the highlight of this device, the Lenovo ThinkBook Plus has a 12-inch QHD+ 16:10 E Ink display in the lid. You can actually do a lot with it, as it supports both touch and pen input with the pen that’s built into the device. You can do anything from whiteboarding to just mirroring what would be on your screen if the lid was open. That’s right; you can just use it as a normal touchscreen PC with an E Ink display.
Of course, the big thing that I was looking forward to is the Kindle app. I’ve been calling for a proper touch-friendly Kindle app on Windows for years, something we haven’t seen since the Windows 8 era. With Windows 11, we’re getting Android app support through the Amazon Appstore, which means that we’re not just getting a touch-friendly Kindle app; we’re getting the good stuff from Amazon itself.
So, there I was, sitting at an airport waiting for a flight, reading a book in an Android app on Windows 11 from an E Ink display in a laptop lid. No big deal, right?
To me, it actually is a big deal. I take mass transportation a lot in my profession, whether it’s a train or a plane. It’s really nice to be able to work on my laptop, close the lid, and then read a book. It eliminates the need to carry a dedicated reader. Two and a half pounds isn’t too uncomfortable for something like this, but it’s the one downside over a dedicated device. Still, if I’m spending an hour and a half on a train, it’s a small price to pay.
There are tons of productivity use cases though. As you can see, there’s a whole dashboard you can see that shows weather, Outlook, shortcuts to apps, and so on. You can add apps to the shortcuts, so all of it is customizable.
There’s also a whole settings menu that lets you customize everything. In fact, when the PC is sleeping, it shows an image on the E Ink display; that screen doesn’t just go blank. So, you can customize that, and you can also customize the behavior when you close the lid.
After all, it’s also a security setting. It took a little getting used to that when I closed the lid, I could keep using the PC. If you’re not paying attention, you won’t realize that the laptop isn’t locked. Of course, however, you can set it so that it locks when you close it.
Display and keyboard: Oh right, the Lenovo ThinkBook Plus has a regular screen too
The Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 has a 13.3-inch 16:10 QHD+ display, an improvement from the 16:9 FHD display in the first-gen model. The company believes that 16:10 is the perfect aspect ratio for a laptop, and it’s becoming more common to see taller screens in laptops.
The screen also supports Dolby Vision HDR, so content you consume looks great on it. Overall, the touchscreen is pretty great. It’s not a convertible; presumably, Lenovo decided that wasn’t necessary with the E Ink screen on the outside.
In my testing, it’s a pretty solid display, supporting 100% sRGB, 72% NTSC, 77% Adobe RGB, and 78% P3.
I also found that the brightness exceeded the 400 nits on the spec sheet, and contrast maxed out at 1,660:1.
The webcam has a privacy guard built into it, which is always nice. Unfortunately, it’s still a 720p webcam. In the age of working from home, that’s just unacceptable. As mentioned, there’s no IR camera up there either.
The keyboard is solid, which is something that I expect from a ThinkBook. ThinkBook is a fairly new brand that’s aimed at SMBs, but it’s also a modernized version of ThinkPad. For example, you wouldn’t find a ThinkPad without that red TrackPoint in the middle of the keyboard, or without physical buttons above the touchpad. ThinkBooks also have shallower keyboards, making them feel more modern.
But of course, you still get that quality that you’d expect from one of Lenovo’s business PCs. It’s comfortable and accurate to type on.
Performance and battery life: The E Ink screen uses more power than it should
When I first received this device, I realized that it uses an Intel Core i7-1160G7, and I wasn’t sure why. I get it now. There’s no way this thing could be comfortable to carry and use, while still maintaining decent battery life if it used a standard UP3 processor. As I’ll explain in a moment, this doesn’t maintain decent battery life, but it would be worse with a UP3 chip.
But first, here’s some background on that. The Core i7-1160G7 is from the Tiger Lake UP4 family. With 10th-gen chips, we had U-series and Y-series, but now, Y-series has gotten good enough for it to be considered U-series, but on a slightly lower tier called UP4. UP3 is the class of U-series chips that we’re used to seeing in laptops. In short, UP4 is the successor to Y-series.
Y-series has a really bad reputation, but from what I’ve seen, UP4 is actually very good. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on anything with this machine, at least when it comes to productivity performance. It also has decent graphics power with Intel Iris Xe, so using apps like Photoshop and Illustrator is pretty seamless too. I wouldn’t have dreamed of using those apps with a Y-series chip, so there’s a big difference here.
But like I said, I couldn’t imagine why this PC used UP4 instead of UP3. After all, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon is lighter and still has a UP3 chip. I really think it comes down to battery life because frankly, I wasn’t happy to happy with battery life on this machine.
In general, I found that the battery life was around three hours with normal usage, meaning that screen on medium brightness and recommended power settings. This is not good. At best, I got three hours and 47 minutes.
My bigger issue is that it uses too much power even if you’re just using the E Ink display. If I think of it like using an Amazon Kindle, I think of a device that gets weeks of battery life, but even just using it that way, you still won’t get more than five or six hours. It’s something of a jarring experience, and I can’t help but think that this thing would be better off with an ARM processor.
Back to performance, I used PCMark 10, 3DMark, Geekbench, and Cinebench for benchmarks.
|Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 2
|HP Spectre x360 14
|Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable
|3DMark: Time Spy||1,514|
|Geekbench||1,408 / 4,797||1,414 / 4,470||1,299 / 4,446|
|Cinebench||1,336 / 3,352||1,314 / 4,039||1,147 / 2,860|
Conclusion: Should you buy the Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 2?
Despite some flaws, I really do love the Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 2. I’m sure plenty of people will write off the E Ink display on the lid as a gimmick, but I’ve been excited about this feature since Lenovo first demoed it for me ahead of the first-gen announcement. It’s actually pretty practical.
It’s still cool though. You can draw, take notes, read, or do whatever else you want on the E Ink display. And on top of that, none of it takes away from this just being an excellent laptop. It has a solid keyboard like you’d expect from Lenovo, and there’s a QHD display. If you’re not looking at the back, you’d never know that this machine comes with such a wild new feature.
Bottom line: if you’re interested in the E Ink display and don’t plan on being too far from a charger, go for it.