Recently, I’ve reviewed a large number of Chromebooks aimed at students. They are a target market for many manufacturers, due both to the dominance of Google Classroom across many different grade levels and also to Chromebooks’ affordable price tags (compared to similar Windows and macOS machines).
But adults and professionals like Chromebooks, too. Some may be power users running Linux applications, some may make heavy use of Google Workspace in the office, and some may just like Chrome OS. That’s who the Thinkpad C13 Yoga Chromebook is for: it’s a Chromebook for grown-ups.
That means it breaks some stereotypical “Chromebook” conventions. Mainly, it’s not cheap: it’s not too far from the MacBook Air in price. Lenovo isn’t the first company to try this shtick: Samsung and Google, for example, have both targeted this market with $999 Chrome OS machines in the past, and there are Dell Latitude Chromebooks floating around that are even more expensive.
It’s a Chromebook for grown-ups
But the C13 Yoga is my favorite attempt at a premium, convertible Chromebook that I’ve seen to date. It has the ThinkPad features that have made Lenovo so dominant in the business space for so many years: the lightweight and sturdy build, the excellent keyboard, the solid specs, the business-focused privacy features, and more. It’s not perfect, but it’s practical. And ultimately, it works.
Put this Chromebook next to other members of the ThinkPad line, and you could fool me into thinking it was another premium Windows machine. ThinkPads are known for their sturdy builds, and this one is no exception. The chassis is aluminum all around. There’s no flex in the keyboard or the screen — and I can’t remember the last time I said that about a Chromebook. The 360 hinge is sturdy, and there’s no screen wobble at all. The C13 achieves all this without getting too clunky: it’s 3.3 pounds and 0.61 inches thick. Lenovo says it’s been tested against 12 “military-grade” certification methods.
The display on my review unit is a 300-nit 1920 x 1080 IPS panel. The C13 is also one of very few 13-inch Chromebooks that offers a 4K OLED display option — that one gets up to 400 nits. Most people shouldn’t need that one, as the FHD screen is good. It delivers nice colors, good contrast, and impressive details. It does have the cramped 16:9 aspect ratio, something I’ve been glad to see other ThinkPads shifting away from this year.
Elsewhere, you’ll see a number of other signature ThinkPad flourishes. There’s a very comfortable backlit keyboard, including the signature red Trackpoint in the center. (It does come with a standard Chromebook layout, rather than the usual ThinkPad layout, though the inverted-T arrow keys remain.) ThinkPad fans will also recognize the discrete clickers on the top of the touchpad, as well as the match-on-chip fingerprint sensor on the right side of the keyboard deck and the tiny webcam shutter.
There are some unique tidbits as well. There’s a Google H1 security chip inside, which works like the TPM chips that you’ll often find in Windows business laptops. There’s an optional camera on the keyboard deck (in addition to the one on the top bezel) which you can use to snap forward-facing photos if you’re using the C13 in tablet or tent mode. There are two stereo speakers on the bottom of the device which deliver a nice surround quality, though the audio itself is tinny and not great.
You’ll see a number of other signature ThinkPad flourishes
But the really exciting thing about the C13 is that it’s the first Chromebook to use AMD’s Ryzen Mobile 3000 C-series processors. AMD introduced this “C-series” last fall as a line specifically designed for Chromebooks. That said, they’re mostly rebrands of older AMD chips — the Ryzen 5 3500C that’s in my C13 model is basically a renamed Ryzen 5 3500U from the regular 3000 Mobile series. This is two generations old now (the 5000 mobile Series came out earlier this year), but it’s still a solid processor for this kind of computer.
The base C13 starts at $909 for 4GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and an Athlon Gold 3150C processor. That’s a terrible deal for $909, but Lenovo pricing is often weird and randomly discounted and this configuration is currently listed at a more reasonable $590.85. The model I have is listed at $1,247 (but currently available for $810.55) — it comes with the Ryzen 5 3500C, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage. That’s still a bit high for those specs, but it’s a more reasonable value. I appreciate that the storage is a PCIe SSD (rather than the slow eMMC storage that companies sometimes try to sneak into pricey Chromebooks).
This is definitely the best-performing Chromebook I’ve used in quite some time. I used the device as my primary driver for a few days, running well over a dozen Chrome tabs and Android apps, and I almost never felt heat or heard the fans unless I put my ear to the keyboard deck. Nothing slowed the system down, either. I was able to edit a batch of photos in Adobe Lightroom with a dump of tabs and apps open and both a Zoom call and Spotify running in the background, and the experience was just fine. Speaking as someone who’s tested a number of sluggish budget Chromebooks recently, it’s really refreshing to see Chrome OS running this smoothly.
AMD has claimed that its integrated Vega graphics are the best graphics you can get in a Chromebook, and while I can only verify that claim anecdotally, I had a significantly better gaming experience on the C13 than I ever have with an Intel Chromebook. Rest in Pieces, one of my favorite mobile games, is usually a playable-but-stuttery experience on Chromebooks. But it was quite smooth on the C13, without a stutter in sight. Photo editing, in both Google Photos and Adobe Lightroom, was also no problem on this machine.
I ended up running a couple benchmarks to see how this system stacks up to competition. On AndroBench, which measures the speed of the storage, the C13 Yoga Chromebook was well ahead of the pack on the majority of tasks, and head and shoulders above the Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2. On Geekbench 5, the C13 scored an 890 on single-core and a 2963 on multi-core. While those scores aren’t as good as those we’ve seen from our top Chromebook pick, Acer’s Chromebook Spin 713, (and don’t compare to the likes of the MacBook Air, of course), they’re still close to the top of the Chrome OS pack, beating scores we’ve seen from both Samsung Galaxy Chromebooks and the Pixelbook Go.
I also found the built-in stylus to be smooth and responsive on this touchscreen, though it was a bit of a pain to remove from its garage.
One disappointment underscores all of this, and that’s battery life. Though the C13 has a reasonably sized 51Wh battery, I only averaged six hours and two minutes of continuous use with the screen at 50 percent. I ran trials using all kinds of Android apps, and trials using just Chrome, without seeing a massive difference. I’ve seen significantly more than that (with the same workload) from all kinds of Chromebooks, not to mention Windows and macOS laptops. This certainly makes me hesitant to recommend that anyone get the 4K screen option — I can’t imagine that most people will get acceptable battery life on those configurations if this is what I’m getting with the FHD screen.
I’d be more willing to let this battery life slide on a budget device (though plenty of budget Chromebooks last much longer than this). But on a $1,247 device, I’m disappointed not to see an all-day life span. Sure, the processor is powerful, and there’s often a trade-off between performance and efficiency. But all kinds of Windows laptops at this price point leave this battery life in the dust.
One other concern: I could never actually get the fingerprint sensor to read my fingerprint. Lenovo says it hasn’t seen this problem before, so it may have been an issue with my unit.
Android apps work well on the C13
Android apps were hit-or-miss on Chromebooks when I first started reviewing them, but many of them work well on the C13. Messenger used to brick my device every time it got a notification, for example, but it now works just fine. That said, most of the services I use on a daily basis — Twitter, Messenger, Gmail, Reddit, etc. — are equivalent or slightly better experiences in Chrome, and some work-related Android apps (like Slack and Google Docs) are still bad on Chromebooks. So I generally don’t use Android apps too much except for things like Podcast Addict, which don’t really have browser equivalents — but I’m happy to see the ecosystem improving.
The C13 also supports Chrome OS’s tablet mode, which has gotten better, especially with the stylus. It supports various handy Android-esque gestures (swipe up to go home, for example). The device sometimes took a second or so to rearrange and resize all my Chrome windows after I switched it back to clamshell mode, which isn’t the worst thing in the world.
The ThinkPad line is, in many ways, the opposite of what many people consider a Chromebook to be. ThinkPads are traditionally expensive, and they’re very well made. But times are changing (or at least, companies like Lenovo are trying to make them change). Why shouldn’t Chrome OS fans get a ThinkPad option, too?
The C13 Yoga isn’t a perfect machine. The 16:9 screen makes me sad, and the battery life is a big miss. It’s a bit expensive for what it offers, as is often the case with laptops targeting business users.
With that said, the C13 is also the closest thing to a MacBook that I’ve seen yet in the Chromebook space. It has a solid, sturdy build that looks and feels premium. It has a strong processor, an excellent keyboard, and a solid screen, and it comes from a highly respected brand with a devoted base of fans.
So while the C13 may not be the right choice for most people — there are more affordable Chromebooks with better battery life that will be a better buy for most consumers — it’s objectively a neat device that will probably make a certain sect of Chrome OS users happy. If you’re a Chrome OS business user who’s been jealous of the premium chassis that Windows and Mac users get, here’s a ThinkPad for you.
Photography by Monica Chin / The Verge