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Lenovo ThinkBook Plus review: Hands on with the E Ink laptop

Tim Danton
7 Jan 2020

Part e-reader, part laptop, the ThinkBook Plus is certainly unique

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Lenovo released its ThinkBook range in 2019, with the idea being that some professional buyers might want an alternative to the ThinkPad’s all-black styling and relatively high price. The ThinkBook 13 cost less than £700, yet was well built and a pleasure to use. As you’ll see in this early Lenovo ThinkBook Plus review, this laptop is something rather more adventurous.

Lenovo ThinkBook Plus: Features and release date

  • 10.8in E Ink monochrome display
  • 13.3in IPS screen with 1,920 x 1,080 resolution
  • Intel 10th Gen Core i5 processor
  • Intel UHD Graphics
  • 8GB or 16GB DDR4 RAM
  • 16GB+256GB/32GB+512GB Intel Optane Memory H10 SSD
  • Supports Lenovo Precision Pen
  • Wi-Fi 6 (802.11AX) wireless
  • 1 x USB Type-C Gen 2, 2 x USB Type-A Gen 1, 1 x HDMI 1.4b, 1 x combo mic/audio
  • 308 x 217 x 17.4mm (WDH)
  • Weight: 1.4kg
  • Price: $1,199 from www.lenovo.com/uk
  • Release date: March 2020

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Lenovo ThinkBook Plus: An e-reader machine

Depending on your feelings about E Ink displays, you might want to substitute the word “adventurous” with “odd”. Lenovo has integrated a 10.8in E Ink display into the lid of the ThinkBook Plus, with the idea being that it acts as a secondary screen for - well, we’ll get into that.

Ignoring the E Ink display for a second, this is basically the ThinkBook 13 with minor updates. Most notably, it now includes a tenth-generation Intel Core i5 processor. Note that this means it includes plain-old Intel UHD Graphics, not the fancy new Iris Plus chip.

The main display is a 13.3in affair using IPS technology, and although we haven’t tested it we suspect it of being identical to the one in the ThinkBook 13. Bright enough, at 300cd/m2, with good colour accuracy and a matte finish.

Lenovo ThinkBook Plus: Second screen

But the real talking point is the E Ink screen, which naturally begs the question of... why? Why, sweet lord, why? I’m going to give you a list of Lenovo’s answers, but frankly I only believe in one of them.

First, you can read a book on the 10.8in E Ink display, which encompasses full integration with the Kindle Store. Quite why anyone would choose to read a book on a 13in laptop weighing 1.4kg is a different matter.

There’s also an (unconvincing) argument that it can act as a triage for emails, with new ones appearing on the E Ink screen when your laptop is closed. Likewise you can view your calendar on it. I put it to Lenovo that a phone does this rather better, with the counter-argument that some people leave their phones in their bag most of the time. Hmm, perhaps.

You may be thinking that exposing your email and calendar in this way is a privacy risk, but fear not: you have control over what appears on the screen. And note that such information automatically disappears when you open the lid, on the basis that you don’t want someone sitting opposite you reading your diary or emails.

There’s only one scenario where I can see the E Ink screen being useful, and that’s for annotating PDFs and signing them. But the Lenovo Precision Pen stylus is an optional extra.

In case you’re nervous that the screen could be easily damaged, Lenovo says it’s protected by Corning glass (but not using its Gorilla Glass branding).

Lenovo ThinkBook Plus: Early verdict

One argument Lenovo puts forward in defence of the E Ink screen is that it’s not adding much to the cost, with a price of $1,199 when this laptop is released in March 2020. But, looking at the rest of the specs, and bearing in mind that a similarly specified ThinkBook 13s currently costs £650 (roughly $854), I think the proof of that pudding will be in the ‘what’s the UK price’ eating.

I will concede, though, that the ThinkBook range remains a fine choice for smaller businesses, with some neat security touches: a fingerprint reader built into the power button, a TPM 2.0 module and it comes with Windows 10 Pro, not Windows 10 Home.

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