Updated: October 6, 2020 7:10:47 am
In recent years, laptop designs have become too predictable and boring. Yes, they have faster processors, edge-to-edge displays, and perhaps improved keyboards, but at the end of the day, they all look the same. Lenovo’s new ThinkBook Plus is different though and that too in a weird kind of way. That’s because of its secondary 10.8-inch e-Ink display, on the lid. You can take notes on the e-Ink display using an active pen or read e-books on the secondary display. It’s a fascinating machine with a radically new design and the sticker price reflects that: Rs 1,12,690 and up. I used the Lenovo ThinkBook Plus for a week to see how the notebook blends in my daily workflow. Here’s the verdict.
Lenovo ThinkBook Plus review: What’s new?
Lenovo isn’t new to laptops with e-Ink displays. Two years back, it launched the Yoga Book C930, a $1000 2-in-1 notebook that ditched a physical keyboard in favor of an e-Ink display with haptic feedback. But that notebook was aimed at a niche audience since it lacked a real physical keyboard. However, the new ThinkBook Plus is a business notebook and the e-Ink display is now mounted on the top of the lid. Maybe it’s not as bold as using an e-Ink display as a virtual keyboard – but at least, this approach is more practical.
The top-mounted monochromatic display uses the same display tech used in modern ebook readers from Amazon. Just like the Amazon Kindle, the display is touch-enabled, plus you can also use Lenovo’s Precision Pen for taking quick notes or drawing a sketch.
The advantage of a secondary e-Ink is clearly visible. When the laptop is closed, the black and white screen shows the time, date, battery indicator and weather, while also fetching upcoming appointments from your Outlook calendar. It can also show your mail synced with Microsoft Outlook. But that’s not all. Lenovo also lets you personalise the e-Ink display by changing the wallpaper. Unfortunately, there is no way I could set up my Gmail and Google Calendar and get notifications on the e-Ink display itself.
The e-Ink display can also be used to take quick notes and draw sketches using the active pen. It is not the same level of precision as on the iPad using the Apple Pencil or the S-Pen on a Samsung Tablet, but I really enjoyed writing and sketching on the e-Ink display. The Precision Pen attaches to the side of the laptop magnetically, but it falls off easily. It doesn’t charge wirelessly or via a cable; instead, it uses an AAAA battery which is easily available in the market. Keep in mind that the laptop’s main 13.3-inch display is not touch-enabled, so the stylus is only compatible with the e-Ink screen.
Another cool feature of the e-Ink screen is that you can use it to read ebooks or PDF files, similar to how the Kindle reader works. While I could read PDFs in both portrait and landscape orientation, the Kindle app support was missing. But then it’s a big deal that the ThinkBook Plus, even though a traditional notebook, can be used to read eBooks in a car or in the flight. I know the ThinkBook Plus can’t replace the Amazon Kindle, thanks to its size and weight – but this is the only notebook that mimics a reading experience as the Kindle offers. What’s missing, though, from the ThinkBook Plus’ top-mounted e-Ink display is that it refreshes too slowly. Plus, I have also noticed that the e-Ink display lacks a backlight.
I, personally, can live with these trade-offs. But I am a bit worried about how to protect the external e-Ink display from scratches or dents in the long run. Even though the secondary screen is covered by Gorilla Glass, it is also exposed and more susceptible to damage. So you need to be careful when using the ThinkBook Plus when kids are around or when attending a conference. Thankfully, Lenovo does provide a nice laptop sleeve for protecting the secondary screen from getting exposed.
Lenovo ThinkBook Plus review: What’s good?
The ThinkBook Plus is thin and light, though I won’t call it an ultrabook. The entire notebook is constructed from anodised aluminum, and my unit came in Iron Grey. The lid is thicker than usual because it accommodates a secondary screen, but that’s fine. At 17.4mm thick and weighing 1.4kg, the ThinkBook Plus is impressively light for a notebook in its class and is good for being carried around all day.
Lenovo has placed the speaker and ventilation grills on the bottom plate of the notebook. The Harman Kardon speakers are loud and I never felt like using an external Bluetooth speaker for listening to music. As expected from a business notebook, the ThinkBook Plus offers plenty of ports. There are two USB Type-A ports on the right side of the notebook. On the left, you will find a single USB Type-C port, an HDMI port, and a headphone jack. You also get a fingerprint reader embedded in the power button as well as dTPM 2.0 software for an extra layer of security.
The 1080×1920 non-touch panel on the 13.3-inch ThinkBook Plus is sharp. It’s rated a maximum of 300 nits, which means images and texts look sharp without cracking the brightness. Screen bezels are a little thicker than usual, especially the bottom bezel.
My favourite part of the ThinkBook Plus is its keyboard. After typing this entire review on the keyboard, I found the experience satisfactory. A good keyboard does make a huge difference for those who have to write a lot. The glass touchpad is responsive and comfortable to use, though I prefer larger touchpads on laptops.
Our test unit came with an Intel Core i7-10710U processor that runs at a base frequency of 1.1GHz. The laptop also has 16GB of memory and a 512GB solid-state drive as well as Intel UHD graphics. These specs are available on the top-end model that costs Rs 129,090. The base model includes an Intel Core i5-10210U processor, 8GB of RAM, and 512GB of SSD.
I found the ThinkBook Plus powerful enough for everyday tasks. I was able to run around a dozen Chrome tabs, WhatsApp Web, YouTube Videos, Facebook, and Apple Music in the background without a problem. I don’t expect a graphic designer or video editor opting for the ThinkBook Plus, anyway.
Lenovo ThinkBook Plus review: What’s bad?
The 720p webcam located above the center of the display is just about okay. It is high-time laptops as expensive as the ThinkBook Plus should come with a 1080p camera, especially now when everyone uses a webcam for video calls.
Lenovo has included a 65W power brick with a USB Type-C connection. The company says the notebook’s 45 watt-hour battery should last 10 hours, but I was only getting 4 and 5 hours of juice. Five hours of battery life isn’t terrible, but more intensive tasks will drain the battery faster. But if you run out of battery in the middle of a meeting, the fast charging support should come handy.
Lenovo ThinkBook Plus review: Should you buy it?
The ThinkBook Plus ushers in a new category of dual-screen notebooks. Putting a secondary screen on the lid of the ThinkBook Plus has its pros and cons – but I am glad that Lenovo is at least trying to be creative with notebook designs. Lenovo has to figure out how to make the e-Ink screen more productive for consumers like a senior marketing executive who is the target audience for ThinkBook Plus. If Lenovo manages to bring the Kindle app and Gmail support to the secondary e-Ink screen, it would make the ThinkBook Plus a compelling buy. Even without the e-Ink screen, the ThinkBook Plus is still a well-designed Windows 10 notebook with the premium build quality, exceptional keyboard and touchpad, and respectable performance.
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