Lenovo ThinkPad Z16 First Impressions

Posted on August 29, 2022 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile, Windows 11 with 20 Comments

The ThinkPad Z series reimagines Lenovo’s venerable product line for the 21st century, with a more modern and sustainable design that should appeal to existing ThinkPad fans and bring newcomers into the fold.

There are two entries in the new Z series lineup, the 13.3-inch Z13 and the 16-inch Z16. I’m reviewing the latter, and it’s clear after just a few days of use that this is the future that Lenovo sees for ThinkPad more broadly. That is, it’s a combination of 30 years of ThinkPad greatness and striking new design choices that elevate the brand even higher.

So what does that even mean? Even with a quick glance, the ThinkPad Z16 is very clearly a ThinkPad, with the familiar ThinkPad and Lenovo branding, including the iconic dot on the “i” that glows red when the PC is powered on and blinks when it’s asleep. There’s a TrackPoint nubbin, of course, the legendary ThinkPad keyboard, and the durable, premium build materials with MIL-STD 810H certification.

And, like other 2022-era ThinkPads, the Z16 features 16:10 display panels and uses that reverse notch on the display lid to accommodate a higher-quality Full HD webcam without intruding into the display.

But as you examine this PC more closely, the differences emerge. And they range from subtle improvements—the Ctrl and Fn keys are in the correct positions, something I’ve been complaining about in high-end ThinkPads like the X1 Carbon and X1 Yoga for years—to more profound changes.

Visually—and, tactilely, depending on the options you select at configuration time—the Z-series laptop comes in an attractive two-tone design. For the review unit, that means a dark silver exterior with black internal surfaces. But there’s also a recycled pet vegan leather option for the Z13’s display lid exterior that looks—and, no doubt, feels—amazing.

Speaking of recycled, the body is made entirely of recycled aluminum. And where most ThinkPads have adopted a basic wedge shape that gets thinner and more pronounced in the more expensive models, the Z16 looks like a cross between a Dell XPS 15/17 and a MacBook Pro 14/16. And that look extends to the keyboard deck where large speakers border the keyboard on the left and right. This is my preferred layout—I can’t stand number pads and how they shift the keyboard to the left—and it looks both professional and attractive.

Speaking of the keyboard, finally. Many continue to pretend that ThinkPads offer the best keyboards, but they’ve long been surpassed by the best that HP and Microsoft have to offer. But the Z16 pushes ThinkPad in a long-overdue direction, with the clickier, shorter throws I prefer. This is a dream keyboard, and while it’s still early yet, it’s emerging as one of my favorites of all time.

As good, the glass precision touchpad, which is not overly big—a mistake many PC makers are making these days—is no longer mechanical but is instead a haptics-based “forcepad,” similar to what Apple’s been using on its MacBooks. Similar, but better: where I routinely have trouble selecting items with the Apple Magic Trackpad, as it’s called, I have no such issues with the ThinkPad unit. Indeed, I also haven’t experienced the reliability issues that are so common on most PC touchpads, including Lenovo’s, and as a result, I haven’t even had to disable three- and four-finger gestures as I have to so often. Did Lenovo just perfect the touchpad? I’m going to find out.

And let’s not ignore the changes to the dual-pointing system. Yes, the Z16 features the iconic ThinkPoint nubbin. But for the first time, the three physical buttons that are typically dedicated to its use are no longer present. Instead, Lenovo reserves the top area of the forcepad to these functions—left click, middle click/scroll, and right click—creating a more seamless design that looks great and works just like before. Modernity!

But wait, there’s more: when you hold down the middle virtual button and double-tap the TrackPoint nubbin, a new control panel appears with options related to the camera, microphone, dication, and forcepad. It’s non-discoverable, for sure, but an interesting way to surface some PC-specific functions.

Inside the Z16, you’ll find AMD Ryzen Pro H-series processors—an 8-core Ryzen Pro 7 6850H with Radeon Graphics in the review unit—integrated AMD Radeon 600M series graphics or discrete AMD Radeon RX6500M graphics, up to 32 GB of fast LPDDR5 RAM, and up to 2 TB of PCIe Gen 4 Performance SSD storage. And yes, this includes the Microsoft Pluton security circuitry.

Expansion is decidedly modern: the Z16 provides two USB-C 4 ports, one USB-C 3.2 Gen 2 port, a full-sized SD card slot, and a headphone/microphone combo jack. So there are no full-sized USB-A or HDMI ports. Connectivity, too, is modern, with WiFi 6E, Bluetooth 5.2, and optional LTE cellular data.

From an AV perspective, you get three display choices, all of which are 16-inch 16:10 designs, including a 4K+ (3840 x 2400) OLED panel with Dolby Vision and 400 nits of brightness and low blue light, a Full HD+ (1920 x 1200) IPS low-power touch panel at 400 nits, and a Full HD+ (1920 x 1200) low-power IPS panel at 400 nits with low blue light. And the two huge stereo speakers are powered by Dolby Atmos.

For hybrid work meetings, the Z16 provides two microphones with Dolby Voice and a Full HD (1080p) webcam with Windows Hello facial recognition capabilities; there are IR and RGB/IR versions available.

And yes, Lenovo includes its reliable and fast match-on-chip fingerprint reader, now as a key on the keyboard where it belongs. (The power button, curiously, is on the side of the PC despite the fact that this is a normal laptop and not a convertible.)

Lenovo rates the Z16 for up to 20.5 hours of battery life. Power to the 72 watt-hour battery is delivered by a large 135-watt USB-C power supply that supports rapid charging of up to 80 percent capacity in 60 minutes. The Z16 weighs about 4.3 pounds, which is actually pretty terrific for a 16-inch laptop.

The software load-out is industry-best, with no crapware at all.

I may be in love. More soon.

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