A week with Lenovo ThinkPad Z16

After two weeks with the ThinkPad P16s and a week with the ThinkPad P1 Gen5, I got the chance to try the ThinkPad Z16 to my great joy. The Z series is brand new and the character (minimalist aluminum chassis, USB-C ports only, high-end components) is strikingly reminiscent of Apple or Dell XPS laptops.

I’ll admit that despite the excellent paper specs, I was suspicious of this newcomer, thinking that a completely fresh model lineup would need a generation or two to iron out all the newborn issues. However, much to my surprise, I have to admit that it is a very hilarious piece and I am very seriously considering getting one, even though I was already decided on the previously tested P16s.

I got the pre-production model 21D5Z9ZVUS to test:

  • AMD Ryzen 7 PRO 6850H processor (45W TDP)
  • 16GB RAM
  • 500GB SSD
  • no dedicated graphics card, only integrated AMD Radeon 680M
  • 16″ WUXGA (1920×1200) touch LCD (IPS), 16:10
  • (135W USB-C charging, no LTE)

First impressions

At first glance, this is a different kind of ThinkPad, one that may even scare the die-hard conservative. On the other hand, I have to admit, using my own example, that if this machine hadn’t been labeled ThinkPad, I wouldn’t have had the urge to even try it and would have (wrongly) placed it somewhere in the IdeaPad category (or thereabouts, I don’t know much about it, just B-team Lenovo). The branding has undoubtedly played a role here, and it’s attracted my attention as well.

Anyway, forget the classic black ThinkPad chassis with rubberized or otherwise non-metallic surface. Here it is pure all-metal aluminum (but not shiny) in its classic light gray color. On the other hand, when opened, the surface is black and smooth (it’s quite slippery, you’ll only stumble over the black Lenovo logo under your right wrist), the edges almost sharp.

The first thing you’ll notice about this laptop is its size. The first P16s I tried seemed bigger than I would have expected, the subsequent P1 Gen5 seemed “about as I would have expected” and the Z16 is just another chunk more subtle than the P1 and in that respect “better than I would have expected”. The bezel around the 16″ display (16:10) is minimal (at the cost of a hump for the cameras and microphones), the thickness is even a little less, and the whole thing is suddenly kind of “just right – superior size”.

The choice of chassis material, 72 Wh battery capacity (versus 52.5 Wh in the P16s and 90 Wh in the P1) and touch display unfortunately predetermines the 1.9kg weight. Of course, a number somewhere around 1.5kg would be much more fitting for the machine, but compared to the 1.8kg of both the P16s and P1, it’s not that much of a difference.

The second thing you’ll notice immediately after turning it on is the noticeably inferior display. After years with high-res displays in the X1 Carbon and T14, suddenly the “ordinary” 1920×1200 “blinded” touchscreen suddenly hit me in the eyes. Fortunately, however, the Z16 comes (in addition to another non-touch 1920×1200 variant) with the ultimate OLED 3840×2400 display (with OGS touch), which neither of the P16s/P1 “competitors” offer, or the P1 does with 4K resolution in IPS. (We certainly can’t assume that the P16s/P1’s high-res displays are inferior; after all, the P-series boasts factory color calibration and are high-end displays for creative work – but OLED has its own “sound” and I assume it won’t disappoint anyone.)

The third thing that surprised me (very pleasantly this time) is thermal management. I care a lot about quiet operation and after a week with the P1 Gen5 and “charred sidewalks + deaf pedestrians”, I expected a similar experience here because of the 45W TDP. Yes, the AMD Ryzen 6850H has a paper TDP of 45W the same as the Intel i9-12900H in the P1 Gen5, and no way was I hoping that the relatively low-perforated aluminum chassis (compared to the P-models) would give room for some sophisticated cooling sound (especially if we’re only at the first generation of this series), unless it was redeemed by high temperatures and throttling performance. The opposite is true (!) – you can hardly hear the cooling during normal operation – even though the fans never turn off on AC power, the laptop just rustles lightly and doesn’t venture into any higher temperatures. When running on battery power, the fans even shut down, while under load it speeds up (still rather rarely and very refined).

Of course, I immediately thought that this would be dearly redeemed by the reduced performance, so I reached for the Passmark benchmark to get some basic idea:

The CPU performance is nowhere near the values of the P1 Gen5 with Intel i9-12000H (there the CPU score was ~31500), but it is still a very nice result and the overall tuning of the machine is perched a bit higher than the P16s (the latter was fitted with AMD Ryzen 6850U with 28W TDP).

Overall, I was surprised by the behavior of the 6850H processor with its paper 45W TDP compared to the 6850U and its 28W TDP. Apart from TDP and frequencies, I couldn’t find any parameters in which the two processors differed, while the H-version doesn’t seem to try to “cook” the laptop any noticeably more than the U-version I had in the tested P16s. The difference in measured performance is almost negligible (CPU score 25111 vs 23603) and more likely to be a difference in the overall tuning of the notebook model lines (firmware), with the ThinkPad P16s as a workstation trying to squeeze the most out of the processor (I’d rather not even mention the P1 Gen5, that’s a completely different formula). The ThinkPad Z16, on the other hand, seems willing to “boost” (bump performance requirements), but otherwise it’s more or less the same performance level as the 6850U. So for nearly twice the price, look for other benefits here than significantly higher computing power (e.g. quieter operation, subtler chassis).

Overall impressions after a week of production use

I’d be exaggerating if I said I loved the Z16 after a week, yet I like it a lot and if Lenovo tweaked these few parameters, I’d probably “rip their hands off” (not just me) for such a machine:

  • black carbon instead of aluminum + “softer” design,
  • at least HDMI and 1x USB-A ports,
  • half a kilo less (with a slightly smaller battery),
  • ideally bring back the classic ThinkPad chicklet keyboard with higher stroke, PgUp/PgDown keys and original layout of Ctrl/Fn keys and arrow keys, but I expected more difficulties with adaptation,
  • (no touch or, if anything, Yoga flipping for pen usability)

Actually, these are not major drawbacks, in fact the Z16 has many positives, for me in particular:

  • Excellent thermal management with quiet cooling and very mild thermal symptoms,
  • very decent performance for development (if you don’t need graphics, it’s an ideal tune),
  • subtle chassis (smaller than both P16s and P1 Gen5),
  • large and high quality 16″ display (OLED 3840×2400) – touch with Lenovo Pen option,
  • USB-C docking and power supply (it complains about the 65W adapter, 90W is enough, although for fast charging the machine comes with a 135W adapter),
  • solid battery life (estimated at around 10-12 hours for anything but Teams-meetings),
  • a classic centered keyboard with no numeric part,
  • high quality high-end workmanship (+service+warranty),
  • optional LTE module (SIM),
  • decent equipment: fingerprint reader, IR camera for Windows Hello, SD reader.

Of course, an essential condition is also the offer of a combination of components that meets my needs. Specifically in my case, this could be for example the 21D4001LCK variant:

  • AMD Ryzen 7 PRO 6850H (8C / 16T, 3.2 / 4.7GHz, 4MB L2 / 16MB L3)
  • Integrated AMD Radeon 680M Graphics
  • 32GB Soldered LPDDR5-6400 (dual channel)
  • 1TB M.2 2280 PCIe 4.0×4 Performance NVMe Opal 2.0 SSD
  • 16″ WQUXGA (3840×2400) OLED 400nits Anti-reflection / Anti-smudge, 100% DCI-P3, Dolby Vision, Touch
  • LTE: Quectel EM05-G, 4G LTE CAT4
  • FHD 1080p + IR Discrete with E-shutter
  • 3Y Premier Support

Final summary and comparison of P16s / P1 Gen5 / Z16

We’re moving into the 16″ ThinkPad notebook category here with a 16:10 aspect ratio display…

If you’re looking for the ultimate ultra-mobile graphics machine, are willing to sacrifice performance for everything (especially audio/thermal comfort and battery life), and have an unlimited budget, then go with the Lenovo ThinkPad P1 Gen5. Go for a variant with some dedicated graphics card to suit your needs and enjoy a formula that just about anyone else doesn’t have.

If you’re looking for a powerful machine that can also handle some of that graphics work, but you need to budget somewhere around 40,000 CZK + VAT, then go for the Lenovo ThinkPad P16s. If you prefer battery life and quieter operation, then definitely the AMD variant, absolutely ideal for developers. If, on the other hand, you need to crank up the graphics performance, then the Intel variant with a dedicated graphics card will probably do the trick (AMD versions are only made with integrated graphics).

If you are willing to pay twice as much, somewhere around 80 000 CZK + VAT, you are not concerned about workstation parameters (color calibration, ISV certification, etc.), you do not insist on port equipment, but want to indulge in a more compact design, quieter operation and maybe a little more subjective performance for development, then I recommend Lenovo ThinkPad Z16 with OLED display (or IPS without touch if you want to save).

…I’ll probably go the Z16 route at this point. Be surprised and look forward to the continuing story.

PS: I finally had the Z16 on loan for two weeks and am ordering it in the 21D4001LCK configuration. I’m keeping the P16s in my sights for other options.

1 thought on “A week with Lenovo ThinkPad Z16

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s