Lenovo ThinkPhone by Motorola review
After a couple years of lackluster flagships, Motorola has finally released a high-end phone that makes sense. To my great surprise, it’s a device geared heavily toward ThinkPad-owning business customers. I’ve been tricked into liking an enterprise phone.
The ThinkPhone’s full government name is the Lenovo ThinkPhone by Motorola, which is silly and I will not repeat it from here on out. It has a few things going for it that recent mainstream, high-end Moto devices like 2022’s Edge Plus have come up short on: a full IP68 water-resistance rating, a healthy four-year security update policy, and a sensible $699 asking price. There’s also a capable Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chipset and a big 6.6-inch 1080p OLED with a smooth-scrolling 144Hz refresh rate. Those are all ingredients for a very nice phone, whatever business you’re in.
On top of all that, there’s Motorola’s Ready For PC, a suite of continuity features that work with Windows PCs and is right at home with Lenovo’s ThinkPad business laptops. The devices pair automatically, and you can run phone apps on your PC, use the phone as a webcam, and use a shared clipboard to copy and paste between the two, among other things. And of course they share the same design language, right down to a red side key on the ThinkPhone that’s reminiscent of the ThinkPad’s signature red TrackPoint nub.
Altogether, it makes for a darn nice device that’s especially appealing if you’re a ThinkPad devotee. I can’t quite recommend it to just anyone looking for a nice Android phone when the Google Pixel 7 is right there, but it’s a confident step in the right direction for Motorola.
The ThinkPhone is IP68 rated, so just like the rest of the flagship class, it’s plenty resistant to dust and immersion in fresh water. Motorola also calls the phone “MIL-STD 810H-tested,” meaning it should stand up to some of the same environmental stressors that military equipment is often exposed to — stuff like vibration, salt fog, and extreme temperatures.
Note that, unlike an IP rating, there’s no official certification for the 810H military standard — it’s just a list of recommendations that Motorola says it tested against, and Motorola doesn’t even specify which of them it tested against or how well the phone handled them. (Lenovo says it tests some ThinkPads to similar standards but also says that “Abuse, like that contained in MIL-STD 810G testing, is not covered under Lenovo’s standard warranty,” so take all these claims with a big grain of salt.)
In any case, the ThinkPhone is as tough as any mainstream flagship I’ve tested this year, with a sturdy aluminum frame, Gorilla Glass Victus on the front, and an aramid fiber inlay on the rear panel like Lenovo’s ThinkPads. It looks and feels nice and business-y.
I really like the red key. You can customize its behavior: a single press can launch an app or app feature of your choosing, and a double press can initiate a ThinkPad integration feature. I set the single press to launch the app I use to sign my child out of daycare, and it saves me precious moments of fumbling with my phone while another parent is waiting in line behind me. I’ll be genuinely sad to let go of this feature when I move on to another phone.
At the heart of the ThinkPhone is a Snapdragon 8 Plus Gen 1 chipset, which Qualcomm released in the second half of 2022 as a step-up version of the 8 Gen 1. It’s not the very latest chipset — that would be the 8 Gen 2 — but it’s more power efficient than the standard Gen 1, and in the ThinkPhone, it’s more than capable. It’s paired with 8GB of RAM, which is plenty for keeping daily tasks running smoothly.
The ThinkPhone’s screen is a large 6.6-inch OLED panel with 1080p resolution and a top refresh rate of 144Hz. It’s bright enough to see in bright daylight, and that high refresh rate gives a smooth appearance to animations and scrolling. There’s an in-display fingerprint sensor that’s speedy and reliable, even with wet fingers. Two thumbs up.
The 5,000mAh battery, which is as big as they come, and battery stamina are likewise very good. After a day of moderate use, I usually had somewhere between 40 to 50 percent in the tank. That bodes well for the battery-hungry tasks like long hotspot sessions that ThinkPad owners will likely use it for. I wouldn’t feel comfortable pushing it into a second day, but if you forgot to charge up overnight, it wouldn’t be disastrous. There’s a 68W wired charger in the box that’s fast enough to charge up a ThinkPad, too, and the ThinkPhone supports 15W wireless charging.
The ThinkPhone isn’t being sold by any of the three major carriers in the US, just through Lenovo and Motorola directly. The phone supports 5G on all three major networks. There’s no support for super-fast, hard-to-find mmWave, which is fine. More importantly, it supports mid-band 5G, including Verizon’s C-band (I can pick up an Ultra Wideband signal in my kitchen) — that’s the good stuff that’s faster than LTE but not as scarce as mmWave.
The phone runs Android 13 out of the box, and Motorola says it will get three years of OS updates and four years of security updates. That’s a little better than the two years of OS upgrades and three years of security patches that Motorola’s been offering for recent mainstream devices, and it’s great to see a stronger support policy here. It’s not quite the five years of security updates you’ll get from a Google or Samsung flagship, but it’s certainly acceptable.
Motorola’s take on Android is one of my favorites, and it’s right at home on the ThinkPhone. There are no surprises here — just a straightforward, fairly clean implementation of Android. The lock screen “peek” notifications are excellent, as always. They’d be especially useful with an always-on display, which the ThinkPhone unfortunately lacks — likely something that was left off in the name of security and battery life preservation. There’s a new Moto Secure app that acts as a hub for security settings, and it gives you a view of all the apps that have access to your camera or calendar, for example. You can also create a PIN-protected folder here and disguise it with a decoy app icon and name. Cute.
The ThinkPhone’s PC integrations all live under the name Ready For, which is an existing Motorola feature that lets you cast phone content on other displays. It lets you do a bit more than what’s possible with any Android phone linked to a PC with Microsoft Phone Link, which allows you to see notifications on your PC, send texts, make calls, and access your camera roll, but not a lot more. Ready for PC features include:
- Streaming phone apps on your PC
- Unified clipboard
- Drag and drop file transfer
- Mirroring what’s on your phone to the PC
- Using your phone as a webcam, Continuity Camera style
Like Microsoft Phone Link, Ready For will show phone notifications on your computer, but when you click on them, you’ll be able to open the phone app on your desktop and take the appropriate action. Oh, and if you’re so inclined, you can just fully run your phone’s interface on your computer like a little remote desktop. The possibilities are a little overwhelming.
Owning a ThinkPad isn’t a prerequisite for any of these features — they work with any Windows 10 or 11 PC with the Ready For app installed. They’re not exclusive to the ThinkPhone, either; Motorola’s high-end Edge phones support them. From what I’ve seen connecting an Edge 30 Fusion to the ThinkPad, there’s nothing special that the ThinkPhone does compared to any other Ready For PC-enabled Motorola phone. That takes some of the shine off of the whole “ThinkPad, but phone” concept, but it does mean you’re not missing out on anything with the ThinkPhone if you aren’t a ThinkPad owner.
It all works surprisingly well, for the most part. Copying and pasting between devices is seamless, and I’d use this feature a lot if this was my forever phone and computer. You can drag and drop files to send them to your phone, which works smoothly. I also appreciate the streamlined mobile hotspot connection. Once the phones are paired, you can just click an option in the PC Ready For app and start using your phone as a mobile hotspot — no digging in settings and entering passwords.
There’s some glitchiness when you stream certain apps — videos embedded in things like an Instagram feed sometimes look distorted for a moment. I also had a hard time scrolling with the Thinkpad’s trackpad in certain apps; the typical two-finger scroll is way too fast in Instagram, and it works better to long-press and slide your finger across the trackpad the way you do on a phone screen.
The webcam feature also technically works, but I actually prefer the built-in camera on the ThinkPad I tested rather than the ThinkPhone’s rear cam. The phone gives your more options for framing and automatic subject tracking, which is nice, but the image looks crunchy and overly contrasty. Adding background blur looks okay, but if you apply too much, it looks distractingly bad.
The ThinkPhone’s rear camera array includes a 50-megapixel main camera with stabilized f/1.8 lens, a 13-megapixel ultrawide that doubles as a macro camera, and a depth sensor to help with portrait mode. I question whether we need the depth sensor, given that there’s an ultrawide, but otherwise, I’m grateful that this phone is mercifully free of useless low-res macro cameras and the like. Around front, there’s a 32-megapixel selfie camera with autofocus.
Like pretty much every other modern phone camera, images in good lighting look nice. Motorola’s image processing leans toward a contrasty look that I personally prefer. There’s a decent night mode for very low light, and it works well for non-moving subjects.
Portrait mode offers three “focal lengths,” which all use the main camera sensor. They’re labeled with full-frame focal length equivalents — 50mm, 24mm, and 35mm — which I appreciate as a big nerd. It’s not really up to the challenge of keeping up with a moving subject, and I spotted some odd artifacts in a portrait photo of my kid.
But with less challenging situations, I actually liked the ability to switch “lenses” along with the high contrast processing. It’s not the best phone camera for $699 by a long shot — the Google Pixel 7 and 6A do better for less money — but otherwise, this is a perfectly fine camera for a business-oriented phone.
If you’re considering the ThinkPhone, you’re probably a ThinkPad devotee, a buyer for your company’s IT department, or just a curious Android owner looking for something outside of the Google and Samsung options. I will happily recommend the ThinkPhone to people in those first two categories, but it’s not the best option for just anyone outside of that circle. Motorola and Lenovo know this, too, since it’s not being sold to compete with the mainstream Android flagships.
It has a lot of the right ingredients for a competitive high-end phone but not quite everything. The Google Pixel 7 gets you a much better camera system plus an extra year of security updates for an MSRP of $599. The ThinkPhone has a nicer, bigger screen, but personally, I’d take a better camera and keep the extra $100 in my pocket.
Instead of an unexpected Samsung killer, I think what we have here is a very good phone for a small niche and an indicator of good things to come if Motorola continues down this path. I hope that’s the plan.
Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge