Lenovo ThinkPad P15 and ThinkReality A3 review: A desktop on the go
Lenovo‘s ThinkPad P15 is a beast. If you’re looking for a portable PC, this is about as much power as you can get, with a Core i9-11950H and NVIDIA RTX 5000 graphics with 16GB GDDR6 memory. It’s a mobile workstation, which means that it’s not just made for hefty workloads like video editing, but this thing is designed to take whatever kind of multi-threaded workloads you can throw at it like 3D rendering and such.
I’ve actually been using it for about two months, because a few weeks in, Lenovo also sent me its ThinkReality A3 augmented reality headset for review. When connected to the P15, it’s a virtual desktop solution. Indeed, as I write this review right now, I’m looking at a virtual screen that’s projected onto glasses, rather than an actual display. It’s pretty wild.
While that’s when it does when plugged into a ThinkPad P-series laptop, you can actually view 3D models if you plug it into a phone like the Moto G100 (just in case you weren’t aware, Motorola is owned by Lenovo). But the question is, how practical is it?
Lenovo ThinkPad P15 Specs
|CPU||Intel Core i9-11950H (8C, 16T, 2.6GHz)|
|Graphics||NVIDIA Quadro RTX A5000 16GB GDDR6|
|Body||375.4×252.3×24.5-31.45mm (14.24×9.67×0.96-1.24in), 2.87kg (6.32lbs)|
|Display||15.6” FHD (1920×1080) IPS, Anti-glare – 500 nits|
|Memory||32GB DDR4-3200, non-ECC|
|Storage||1TB M.2 2280 SSD PCIe 4.0|
|Connectivity||Intel Wi-Fi 6E AX210 + Bluetooth 5.2|
|Ports||(2) USB-A 3.2 Gen 1, 1 Always On
(2) USB-C Thunderbolt 4
(1) USB-C 3.2 Gen 2
(1) HDMI 2.1/2.0
(1) Mic/Headphone Combo Jack
(1) Smart Card Reader
(1) Nano-SIM card slot
(1) RJ45 Gigabit Ethernet
|Camera||HD Hybrid IR Camera with ThinkPad Webcam Privacy Shutter|
|Input||6-row, spill-resistant, numeric keypad, optional backlit
3-button TrackPoint pointing device and mylar surface multi-touch touchpad
|Audio||Stereo speakers, Dolby Atmos|
|Security||Discrete TPM 2.0, TCG certified, Firmware TPM 2.0 integrated in chipset, Touch Style fingerprint reader, Kensington Lock Slot|
|Battery||94Wh battery, supports Rapid Charge (charge up to 80% in 1hr) with 230W AC adapter|
|Material||Black: PPS695 + GF 50% (top), PA + 50% GF (bottom)|
|OS||Windows 10 Pro|
ThinkReality A3 Specs
|Processor||Qualcomm Snapdragon XR1 SmartViewer|
|Display||Binocular 1080p resolution displays (45PPD)|
|Ports||1 x Type-C USB 3.1 (DisplayPort v1.4 compliant)|
|Camera||2 x Fisheye lenses for room-scale 6DOF tracking
1 x 8MP RGB Camera
Center function key for display centering
|Buttons||Integrated Speakers, 3 microphones|
|Body||130g (4.6 oz), IP54 rating|
|Supported OS||Windows 10 (32bit and 64bit) Version 1903 and higher|
Lenovo ThinkPad P15 Design, Display, and Keyboard: It’s big, thick, and heavy
The ThinkPad P15, along with the P17, is the most powerful laptop in the whole ThinkPad lineup. You might have noticed in the spec sheet that it’s expensive, but it’s only expensive because it has so much power to back it up. This is not the every-person laptop. This is made for people that want the most power that they can get in a portable PC, so we’re talking about 3D modeling, CAD, 3D video rendering, and so on.
That’s why you shouldn’t be surprised that the P15 is big, thick, and bulky. Indeed, it weighs in at nearly six and a half pounds and it’s well over an inch thick, hardly an ultrabook that you can toss in your backpack. Of course, this thing is also powering an augmented reality experience if you’ve got the ThinkReality A3.
As usual, it comes in any color you want, as long as it’s black. It’s got the gray ThinkPad logo that you’ll find on mainstream ThinkPads, as opposed to the black one that you’ll find on the premium X1/P1 lineup. Note that while this is the most powerful, it doesn’t fall under that premium umbrella that requires the device to be thinner and lighter.
Just as you’d expect on a machine like this, it has tons of ports. On the back, there are two Thunderbolt 4 ports, a USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C port, Ethernet, and an AC power jack. Note that the AC port is the one that looks like a USB Type-A port, and the reason that Lenovo is still using its proprietary cable is just because USB Power Delivery doesn’t support the 230W required for this machine, but it’s getting there. Note that the USB Type-C ports won’t even charge this machine slowly.
As you can see, all three USB Type-C ports are right next to each other, so you kind of have to know which is which for what you want to do. Obviously, the two Thunderbolt 4 ports are much more cable than the USB 3.2 Gen 2 port.
On the left side, you’ll find an HDMI 2.1 port, USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A, and a 3.5mm audio jack. There’s also a slug there which is more useful if you have the cellular model. Honestly, I’m not sure why anyone is still using USB 3.2 Gen 1, which only gets 5Gbps speeds, for USB Type-A ports. USB 3.2 Gen 2 offers 10Gbps speeds, and it seems more practical.
On the right side, there’s another USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A port, along with a full-size SD card slot.
The screen is still 16:9, coming in at 15.6 inches. The one that Lenovo sent me is 1,920×1,080, but there are four options. There’s another FHD one, while there are two UHD ones, one of which is standard Dolby Vision HDR, while the other is OLED.
The screen is decent according to me testing, but it’s not great. It supports 96% sRGB, 65% NTSC, 71% Adobe RGB, and 71% P3. I also noticed a little bit of light-bleeding around the edges. This just seems to be a machine made for performance, but if you want a great display, you can always get the OLED one.
Brightness maxed out at 520.4 nits, which is better than the promised 500 nits. But still, the 1,080:1 contrast ratio and 0.48 black point isn’t particularly impressive. Indeed, the display is decidedly average, at least in the configuration that Lenovo sent me.
In the large top bezel, there’s a webcam, an IR camera, and a privacy guard for the camera. Sadly, the webcam is still 720p. Unfortunately, there are a lot of components of this machine that are leftover from previous generations. Perhaps we’ll see a full redesign soon.
The keyboard is what you’d expect from a ThinkPad like this. It’s got 1.8mm key travel, which is a bit long for me. I’m still hoping that Lenovo brings over the 1.35mm design that’s on the ThinkPad X1 Nano and Titanium to all of its products.
Here’s the bottom line. The Lenovo ThinkPad P15 is a beast of a mobile workstation, but not much has changed from previous generations. If you’re looking for sheer power in a machine that you can still carry with you, this is the way to go.
Next up, let’s talk about using it with the ThinkReality A3.
Lenovo ThinkReality A3: The setup experience
The Lenovo ThinkReality A3 is a really cool concept. If you plug it into the ThinkPad P15, you can set up up to six monitors in front of you. That means that you can travel on the road with just a laptop and a headset, and that’s going to add up to a mobile desktop PC. It’s pretty wild.
The reason that I’m writing a dedicated section for the setup experience is because I had such a hard time with it. Not only that, but I found minimal resources online for troubleshooting. I honestly can’t imagine this landing in a user’s hands and having them set it up.
The setup experience, if it works, is pretty simple. As you can see from the image above, there’s a nice carrying case for them, and you can just pull out the glasses and plug them in via a USB Type-C port.
However, the first thing you have to do it pop off the front glasses. In fact, quite a bit of this device comes apart so that you can use parts that fit you better. Out of the box, all glasses surfaces are covered in blue film, and you need to remove that front piece in order to remove the film. There were no instructions on how to remove that piece in the box. I had to go to the reviewer’s guide that Lenovo sent with me unit. It turned out that there are holes in each side that you can stick a pin in to pop that piece off.
And then, I plugged it in. It’s a single-cable solution that needs to be connected to any of several Lenovo ThinkPad P-series workstations. Once you plug it in, it should install and launch Lenovo Virtual Display Manager. This is the app that you’ll be using to add displays, remove them, and even zoom in and out on them.
Nothing happened. I installed Virtual Display Manager and dealt with issues from the headset thinking that my PC wasn’t compatible to my PC thinking that there was no headset connected. I headed over to Lenovo’s support website, and was relieved to see that there was a troubleshooting section. I was disappointed to see that the trouble shooting suggestions were things like, make sure you have a supported PC, and make sure the headset is plugged in.
There was not a single useful suggestion on Lenovo’s website for why this might not be working. Again, I worry about what happens when a regular user has to go through this.
I ended up getting it to work by doing things that shouldn’t have worked. I took the USB Type-C cable that was in the headset and pointed it in the opposite direction. I rolled back Windows 11 to Windows 10. Both of those things worked.
Actually using the ThinkReality A3 for a regular work flow
Once it’s set up, it’s actually pretty cool, although I still had issues where it would just crash after an hour or two. It was hard to recover too. There are minimal real consequences to the headset crashing, other than disrupting your work flow. It’s like if you have any other multiple monitors set up and you shut one of them off. All of the apps just get condensed onto the other monitor.
Like I said earlier, you can easily add or remove desktops with the Lenovo Virtual Display Manager application, but that’s not all. You can move them around and rearrange them, change the angle, and zoom in or out. For example, when I first started using it, it felt like the virtual monitor was a bit too close to my face, so I just moved it back a little bit. It’s that simple.
There’s a button on the side, along with a volume rocker, that lets you recenter your virtual monitors. All you have to do is look forward and press the button. There’s also a button in the Virtual Display Monitor app for it. Other than that, the monitors stay stationary, so you can move around without moving your virtual setup.
The bottom line is that it’s the most compact way to have multiple monitors. Well, there’s that and the fact that it’s a lot of fun to show up on meetings wearing an augmented reality headset. The headset has its own cameras on the front too, so if you want to show people on a call what you’re looking at, you can easily switch from the webcam to the cameras on the headset. It’s pretty neat.
I quite enjoyed it for just work. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but once you go, it’s easy to get into your work flow. The main downside at this point is that the headset starts to weigh on you after some extended use. Still, especially if you’re on the go, the Lenovo ThinkReality A3 is particularly useful for productivity.
Lenovo ThinkPad P15: Performance and battery life
I rendered a four-ish minute 8K video in Adobe Premiere Pro in 13 minutes and 48 seconds, while the same test ran for 21 minutes and 11 seconds on the new M1 Max MacBook Pro, and 22 minutes and 41 seconds on the Surface Laptop Studio. This is not at all conclusive, nor are the synthetic benchmarks that you’ll be able to see below. It’s just an example that this is a powerful machine.
And like I said earlier, this is as powerful as it gets, but it’s also super-expensive. The point is, you should really know what you want to do with it before you shell out real money for a ThinkPad P15. It’s a mobile workstation, so we’re talking about tasks that really make use of multiple cores in a processor like 3D rendering.
And aside from the size and weight of it, you’re going to sacrifice battery life too. This is only going to run for a few hours, as that’s just the price that you pay for powerful hardware. I honestly can’t imagine taking this anywhere without a charger anyway.
Core i9-11950H, RTX A5000
|Lenovo Legion 5 Pro
Ryzen 7 5800H, RTX 3070
|Dell XPS 17
Core i7-11800H, RTX 3060
|PCMark 8: Home||4,631||5,291||4,037|
|PCMark 8: Creative||6,554||6,199||6,100|
|PCMark 8: Work||4,251||4,102||3,564|
|3DMark: Time Spy||9,635||9,963||7,158|
|VRMark: Orange Room||12,036||12,249||9,194|
|VRMark: Cyan Room||2,753||9,093||2,752|
|VRMark: Blue Room||3,148||3,027||2,152|
|Geekbench||1,669 / 9,309||1,475 / 7,377||1,561 / 8,775|
|Cinebench||1,606 / 12,264||1,423 / 11,729||1,515 / 11,652|
Conclusion: Should you use a Lenovo ThinkPad P15 and a ThinkReality A3?
In this review, I didn’t focus too much on the ThinkPad P15 because it’s mostly a spec bump. If it’s the type of machine that you need, you probably already know it. The ThinkReality A3 is far more interesting, because it’s a new concept.
I actually really love the idea. Being someone that travels frequently enough (that’s a total lie as I haven’t been on a plane in about 20 months, but travel is starting back up), this concept of having a laptop with a headset that I can expand to work like I would with my desktop is awesome. It’s something that I’d find tremendously useful on the road, as I do frequently feel limited by a single, smaller screen.
The bigger issue is that it’s just not stable, at least in my experience. And on top of that, there’s simply no easy way to find solutions to your problems with the ThinkReality A3. While I loved it while using it, I’d never take it on the road because I don’t have the level of confidence I’d need that it would work when I need it to.
I do hope this gets better through software and firmware updates. The potential is there and the product is really useful; it just needs to work better.