Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 Evaluate: An E-Ink Experiment

Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 2

RRP $ 1,696.00

"The Lenovo ThinkPad Plus Gen 2 is just fast enough for productive users and has reasonable battery life, but its e-ink display stands out as a unique and useful feature."

advantages

  • Innovative e-ink panel

  • Excellent IPS main display

  • Very good keyboard and touchpad

  • Good build quality

  • Thin and light

disadvantage

  • Expensive

  • There is a lack of performance

  • Insufficient connectivity

If you're an avid reader like me, e-ink is magical. You will likely appreciate the way e-ink makes reading more comfortable, while causing far less eye strain and putting a minimal drain on battery life.

But is there any application that goes beyond simple e-readers? Lenovo has been at the forefront of experimenting with e-ink, and its latest creation embeds a 12-inch e-ink display right on the lid of a laptop called the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2. The laptop is an upgraded version of the thin and light ThinkBook 13x, a device for small businesses.

I tested a high-end configuration of the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 with a Core i7-1160G7 and a 13.3-inch 16:10 WQXGA (2,560 x 1,600) display that came at a premium price of US $ 1,696 -Dollars is being sold. Like the ThinkBook 13x, it is a bit overpriced for a basic business laptop. However, the e-ink screen may be worth the premium for anyone looking to read e-books, write notes on a more comfortable display, or take lots of notes without running out of battery.

E Ink display

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

We'll start with the e-ink display, because that's what sets this laptop apart, of course. It's a 12-inch panel compared to the previous generation's 10.8-inch version – it takes up more space on the lid, with large bezels that would have looked normal on a standard display just a few years ago. The e-ink screen is 16:10 like the main display and sharp at the same WQXGA resolution.

It's also not backlit, so like all e-ink screens, it can only be used with direct lighting. There will be more to that shortly, but in general, it's a good thing. It's designed to protect your eyes from the blue light that standard displays emit and, in theory, make it less tiring to use for long reading sessions.

In order to be able to use the e-ink display comfortably, I needed a lot of ambient light.

The e-ink display works just like the one you find on the Amazon Kindle and other specialty e-book readers. Its image is made up of tiny black and white particles that electronically align themselves in the right direction to create a grayscale image. As such, the display will freeze until it is updated, which takes noticeably time and causes the typical warping effect you get with the technology. This makes the display suitable, for example, for showing documents and other information, for reading e-books and for taking notes. It doesn't work well for watching video or any other thing that requires a fast refresh rate.

When the laptop is idle or turned off, the static image offers some personalization – you can choose your own wallpaper that will become the aesthetic of the lid. When enabled, by default you will be presented with a number of panels of customization information, such as: B. Your Outlook calendar (if configured), the weather, a notebook, and customizable buttons to open supported applications.

I was able to add and run every application I had installed on the laptop, including the full suite of Office apps, Google Chrome, and the Kindle reader for PC, although not every application works well with e-ink technology. Gaming is certainly out of the question, and you should avoid apps that require immediate response to input.

If I bought the laptop, I would upgrade to Windows 11, join the Windows Insider Program, and install the Android version of the Kindle app. That would give me a huge e-book reader that is as good as a Kindle without lighting.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

And for me there is the catch. In order to be able to use the e-ink display comfortably, I needed a lot of ambient light. My home office, which is normally lit by indirect sunlight, did not have enough light by default. I had to actively turn on a lamp just above the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2's e-ink display to get a clear view of the image. It's the same with my Kindle Paperwhite, where the lights are switched off and don't knock on the e-ink display itself. It's just that the technology requires good lighting, and that limits its usefulness.

If you want to take something to the beach at the same time (in a plastic bag or something to protect it from the sand) the display looks amazing in direct sunlight. In fact, that's one of the e-ink display's greatest strengths. It gives you something to use when outside or in an unusually bright setting. Standard laptop displays are rarely bright enough to beat the Southern California sun, and I can imagine using the e-ink display on such occasions for things like email triaging, web browsing, and of course, e-booking. To use reading.

draft

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

The ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 has an almost identical case to the ThinkBook 13x, a thin and light brother of the ThinkBook 13s Gen 2. Chassis. The ThinkBook 13s is a bit more solid than the other two, which have a slight bend in the lid, while the keyboard deck and lower case are solid. This bending is a little more worrying about the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 given its e-ink display.

The Dell XPS 13 is an example of a more rugged 13-inch laptop, as is the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Nano. The ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 benefits from the same military durability tests as all ThinkBook and ThinkPad laptops.

In terms of size, the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 and ThinkBook 13x are equally wide and deep thanks to identical 16:10 13.3-inch displays with small bezels. The ThinkPad 13x is slightly thinner at 0.51-inches and lighter at 2.49 pounds than the 0.55-inch and 2.56-inch ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 – likely due to the e-ink display. The ThinkBook 13s is only slightly thicker at 0.59 inches and heavier at 2.78 pounds.

The XPS 13 is slightly smaller in width and depth, measuring 0.58 inches and 2.8 pounds, while the ThinkPad X1 Nano is slightly thicker at 0.68 inches and the lightest of them all at 2.14 pounds. If you're sticking an e-ink screen onto a clamshell laptop, the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 is a relatively thin and light candidate.

The ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 has almost identical aesthetics to the ThinkBook 13x, with slightly tapered edges on the sides and a rounded back edge on the case. It's the darker Storm Gray color compared to the silver Cloudy Gray on our Thinkpad 13x test device, and it has a comfortable, soft coating on the keyboard deck that the ThinkPad 13x lacks. Overall, the design is tasteful and no-nonsense, following a current trend towards minimalist designs that I noticed.

Of course, the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 does not share the two-tone lid of the ThinkBook 13x, but instead has the E-Ink display. The XPS 13 is slimmer and more elegant, but the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 stands out even more thanks to its unique lid.


Just like the ThinkBook 13x, the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 is a challenge when it comes to connectivity. There are two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4 and a 3.5mm audio jack, and that's it. It's the same unfortunate compromise in connectivity that is required to produce a thinner case. Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.1 offer wireless connectivity. An interesting option that is available on certain models (and not on my test unit) is wireless charging. These versions come with pogo pins on the bottom of the case connected to a $ 200 wireless charging kit – just place the laptop on the pad and you can charge without plugging it in. That is a nice comfort.

power

Like the ThinkBook 13x, the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 is equipped with an energy-saving 11th generation Intel Core CPU, in this case the Core i7-1160G7. It also runs with up to 15 watts compared to the 28-watt Core i7-1165G7, which is more popular in thin and light laptops. That promises longer battery life, but slower performance. I didn't notice any slowdowns during my tests, but my verification process isn't very demanding. The 16GB of RAM and swift 512GB SSD helped keep things moving, and that's how I found the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 fast enough for most productivity workers.

My benchmark results weren't impressive. The ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 took third place in Geekbench 5, ahead of the ThinkBook 13x and the ThinkPad X12 Detachable. The Handbrake result, which reflects how long it takes to encode a 420MB video as H.265, was the last time, although the results improved from 303 seconds to 206 seconds when I used the Lenovo utility to switch from standard to performance mode – faster but still behind the pack.

The ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 took penultimate place in the Cinebench R23 test, beating only the ThinkPad X12 Detachable, and its multi-core test jumped from 3,949 to 4,254 when I enabled performance mode. In the PCMark 10 Complete Benchmark, the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 was more competitive and took third place. The results were decent in both the essentials and productivity areas of the benchmarks and not as competitive in the content creation area.

Overall, the benchmarks confirmed my subjective experience: The ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 is fine for a reasonable productivity workflow, but demanding users and particularly creative professionals will want to look for their primary laptop elsewhere. As with the ThinkBook 13x, Lenovo chose a low-power CPU to better fit into the thinner case, and it was a poor compromise.

Geekbench (single / multiple) Handbrake
(Seconds)
Cinebench R23 (single / multiple) PCMark 10 3DMark time spy
Lenovo ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 (Core i7-1160G7) 1396/5115 303 1377/3949 4861 1580
Lenovo ThinkBook 13x (Core i5-1130G7) 1337/4863 271 1282/4037 4590 1363
Lenovo ThinkBook 13s Gen 2 (Core i5-1135G7) 1406/5379 178 1357/5502 4668 1511
Lenovo ThinkPad X12 detachable (Core i5-1130G7) 1352/4796 185 1125/3663 4443 926
Dell XPS 13 (Core i7-1185G7) 1549/5431 204 1.449 / 4.267 3,859 1,589
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Gen 9 (Core i7-1165G7) 1327/5201 170 1469/4945 5147 1776
Samsung Galaxy Book (Core i5-1135G7) 1401/5221 175 1361/5391 4735 1584
Dell Inspiron 14 2-in-1 (Ryzen7 5700U) 1184/6281 116 1287/8013 5411 1247

The ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 does surprisingly well in the 3DMark Time Spy test. However, that didn't carry over to our Fortnite test, which only managed 18 frames per second (fps) at 1200p and epic graphics. This is not a gaming laptop.

Main display

I mentioned that the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 and ThinkBook 13x are almost identical outside of the former's e-ink display, and I noticed this similarity when I started working with the main 16:10 IPS display. It looked the same to me, with the same high resolution, the same dynamic and natural colors and the same deep contrast (for an IPS display). I couldn't tell the two apart when I looked at them side by side.

The ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 has an excellent IPS display that creative types can operate in no time at all.

According to my colorimeter, these are actually the same panels. The ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 was bright at 418 cd / m², had a slightly above average color width at 76% AdobeRGB and 100% sRGB, very precise colors at a DeltaE of 1.03 (1.0 or less is excellent) and a strong contrast at 1,440: 1. The ThinkBook 13x achieved 417 cd / m², the same color width, a DeltaE of 1.04 and a contrast of 1,430: 1. Lenovo has opted for an excellent display for both devices. The 4K display of the Dell XPS 13 was equally good with 420 cd / m², 79% AdobeRGB and 100% sRGB, an accuracy of 1.3 and a contrast of 1,360: 1.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

The ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 has an excellent IPS display that creative types can operate in no time at all. The colors aren't wide enough to be a full-time creative laptop, but the colors are accurate and the contrast is high enough for less demanding developers to get some work done. It's more than good enough for productive users, and Dolby Vision High Dynamic Range (HDR) support makes for great Netflix and Amazon Prime Video bingeing.

Two downward facing speakers handle audio, and I found them to be a bit louder on the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 than on the ThinkBook 13x – but not by much. The mids and highs were nice and clear with no distortion, but the bass was missing. Headphones would be preferred for enjoying Netflix and listening to music, but the sound quality was fine for the occasional YouTube video.

Keyboard and touchpad

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Lenovo has two keyboards that it uses on most of its laptops, the iconic version of the ThinkPad range and the equally recognizable, but not quite as famous, version on laptops like the IdeaPad and ThinkBook. The ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 has the latter keyboard, of course, and it has the same molded keycaps, wide key spacing, and snappy switches that make for a comfortable floor movement. There isn't much travel, however, which makes the keyboard a little less suitable for long typing sessions than the HP Specter and Dell XPS series keyboards.

The Lenovo IdeaPad Slim 7i Pro has an upgraded version of the same basic keyboard with even faster switches, and it's unfortunate that it didn't make it into the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2. The three-level backlight is bright and consistent, but it's the lowest setting, and the keyboard is splash-proof with call buttons for video conferencing – two small business nods to it.

The touchpad is just big enough to be comfortable, with a non-slip surface that enables sensitive and precise swiping. It's a Microsoft Precision touchpad, which means all Windows 10 multi-touch gestures are supported. The display was touch and pen capable and supported the Lenovo active pen that comes with the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 and docks in a slot on the right side of the case. The pen isn't as convenient to use on the main display, but it works well with the e-ink panel and allows for taking notes that look a lot more like ink on paper.

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

Passwordless login under Windows 10 Hello is provided by a fingerprint reader integrated into the power button. It worked well during my tests and helps wake up the laptop and log in with the lid closed, which activates the e-ink display. Notice that a dialog box appears on the e-ink panel offering you to continue working or to put the laptop to sleep when you close the lid. It's a nice touch that makes it easy to switch to e-ink mode.

Battery life

Mark Coppock / Digital Trends

The ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 offers 52 watt hours of battery life, a little less than the 56 watt hours of the ThinkBook 13s and another compromise in favor of a thinner case. Inside is a low-power processor but a high-resolution display so I wasn't sure what battery life to expect. My impressions were also influenced by the results I saw on the similarly configured ThinkBook 13x, which were downright mixed.

In our web browser test, which ran through a number of complex websites, the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 lasted 7.75 hours, about 40 minutes less than the ThinkBook 13x. That's not a bad score, but we see more thin and light laptops exceed 10 hours on this test. The ThinkBook 13s lasted 9.3 hours, the Dell XPS 13 4K was worse with 6.3 hours.

In our video test replaying a local 1080p movie trailer, the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 only achieved 12.75 hours, less than the 15.57 hours of the ThinkBook 13x and more than the 10.5 hours of the Dell XPS 13. Note that the ThinkBook 13x played very choppy videos during the test, suggesting that it may not have booted up enough to get a smooth video and thus wrongly increased its score. The ThinkBook 13s lasted 13.4 hours in the video test.

I also used the PCMark 10 Applications battery test to see how the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 fares as a productivity device. It reached 9.25 hours which is a good score close to the 10 hours we want to see in this test. The ThinkBook 13x lasted 8.5 hours, while the ThinkBook 13s reached 11.5 hours and the XPS 13 4K 8.7 hours. In the PCMark 10 gaming battery test, which shows how hard a laptop works when not connected, the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 lasted 2.25 hours, less than the 2.75 hours of the ThinkBook 13x and about the same the ThinkBook 13s. The XPS 13 4K reached 3.5 hours, which suggests it throttles quite a bit during the test, but I didn't notice any chops in its video.

All in all, the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 had decent battery life for a thin and light laptop. It should get you through a full day of work which is the standard we like to see. Obviously, using the e-ink display gives you significantly longer battery life, although our benchmark suite isn't designed to test this display technology.

Our opinion

The ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 is simply judged to be a thin and light notebook and doesn't offer any convincing features to recommend it. It's very similar to the ThinkBook 13x in that regard – yes, it's slightly thinner and lighter than its bigger brother, the ThinkBook 13s, but it's also slower, has less battery life, and lacks the connectivity of the larger device. Those are unfortunate compromises for just a tiny bit less thickness and weight.

Throw in the e-ink display, however, and that changes the dynamics. It's not for everyone, but if you are an e-ink lover and want to use your laptop in bright light environments while taking a break from your eyes, then this is a great feature. It offers just enough value to make the ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 a standout laptop for those looking to take advantage of this unique feature.

Are there alternatives?

If you don't care about the e-ink display, the ThinkBook 13s is the better choice. It's less expensive and does the same small business features, it's faster with better battery life, and has better connectivity. There are two versions to choose from, with the Gen 2 running with either Intel or AMD or the slightly updated AMD Gen 3-only model.

Again, the Dell XPS 13 remains a better alternative if you aren't interested in the e-ink panel. The XPS 13 isn't more expensive but has a superior and better looking build, is faster and more durable depending on the display, and you get the option of an incredible 3.5K OLED display.

If a convertible 2-in-1 is more your thing – and you don't care about the e-ink display either – then the Specter x360 14 from HP is a good option. It looks even better, has an excellent 3K OLED display in the preferred aspect ratio of 3: 2, and is better built. You spend the same money but get more value.

How long it will take?

The ThinkBook Plus Gen 2 has enough build quality that you can be confident that it will last for years and its components are state-of-the-art. The one-year warranty is always disappointing and care should be taken with the e-ink display.

Should you buy it?

Yes, if you use the e-ink panel for longer reading and note-taking sessions. It's a competent thin and light laptop with some tradeoffs, but the e-ink display beats it.

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