Framework Laptop 13 review: A DIY dream come true

Framework has released a 2023 version of its 13-inch modular laptop. And folks, it’s exactly the same as the 2022 model.

Okay, so, I mean, that’s not quite TRUE. There is now an AMD option, but I don’t have that one to review yet. I’ve been testing the pre-built Intel model, which includes a 13th generation Core i7-1360P. The battery is bigger too, at 61 Wh. There are a couple of other little things about the chassis. There’s a new matte screen option and a new speaker system. But I’m going to tell you right now that using the 2023 Framework Laptop 13 feels exactly like using the 2022 Framework Laptop. The experiences are basically identical.

And that’s mostly good. Last year’s laptop was fine. It wasn’t my favorite thing in the world, with a bit flimsier and tackier build, not to mention plain looking, than is often seen at this price point, but it was okay. Framework has always struck me as a company that is very in tune with what their customers want, and things like ease of repair and upgradability are probably more important to them than a premium build.

Still, some of the advantages brought by last year’s chassis remain. The brilliant 2256 x 1504, 3:2 screen is a rare find. The speakers are excellent. The laptop is quite portable, weighing just under three pounds. But most importantly (for me at least) the Framework fixed the biggest complaint I had about their laptop last year. Battery life used to be bad. And reader, now is good.

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My favorite aspect of the Framework laptop has always been the port selection. Specifically, he selects the ports himself, placing four expansion cards of his choice in the deck. What fun! I went with one USB-C and one USB-A on each side because I’m that boring, but the Framework has “reoptimized” the HDMI and DisplayPort expansion cards for the 2023 model to allow the device to stay in lower power states, for so you can select them if you are feeling adventurous. (MicroSD, audio, ethernet, and storage expansion are also available.)

There’s the family team.

I also can’t praise this 13.5-inch 3:2 screen enough. The extra vertical space feels roomy for multitasking, and I appreciate how much text I can see at once while writing a long draft (like this one). I also prefer the new matte screen, as it generates less reflections than last year’s glossy one, but the good thing about the Framework is that you can choose whichever you want. The bezels can be customized in a variety of colors: black, white, and orange currently, with green, purple, red, and translucent on the way. Look, I’m not a DIY person. But give me a purple bezel, and I may have no choice but to buy this.

The touchpad continues to be smooth with a simple click. I’ll note that it’s the only part of the chassis that really gets stained; after a week of use, it had a very visible stain in the middle. The keyboard, which is well lit with a satisfying click and travel, had an easier time keeping clean. I still wish you could customize the trackpad, similar to how you can customize the keys, but Framework at least sells cables and kits for it, so you can replace it if it ever breaks (or gets too gross).

The ports are the same on the other side, minus the headphone jack.

The new speakers are an improvement. Where they delivered somewhat thin audio last year, this year’s model sounds much fuller, easily filling a large room at maximum volume. My measurement didn’t hit an average of 80 decibels (which was what the Framework claimed we’d see), but the speakers did get pretty close. Buyers should note that the new speakers appear to be specific to the Intel model of Framework 13; AMD systems will still have stock kit, and Framework says it’s “fine-tuning the audio circuitry.”

The rest of the video call experience is still perfectly acceptable. The 1080p 60Hz webcam continues to deliver a somewhat grainy but generally good image. There are also no issues with the dual microphones. Both the camera and microphones have a hardware privacy switch on the top bezel, which is useful, though I’ll point out that they’re an identical shade of black to the bezel around them, which can make them annoyingly hard to tell apart. I literally lit them with my phone’s flashlight a couple of times because I didn’t feel like fumbling around.

I usually can’t see this logo either.

Inside, the Framework’s performance is strong. You can configure the device to basically any combination of specs you want, of course, but I got the Performance unit pre-built, which is priced at $1469 and includes a Core i7-1360P, 16GB of memory, 512GB of storage, and the battery. of 61 Wh. That’s a bit pricey – the Dell XPS 13 has the same specs with a slightly less powerful Core i7 that’s just $1,099 as of this writing – but you can save a bit of money if you have a few parts lying around and can trade them for a DIY kit yourself.

Personally, if I were buying this, I’d probably go for the base Core i5-1340P/8GB/256GB model, except that it has a significantly smaller battery, and you can’t upgrade that battery without upgrading the processor to a Core i7, even if you go for a kit. DIY. (Apparently, there are complicated assembly-line reasons for this; it’s been quite an affair.)

The 1360P I’m testing is more than enough for my Chrome-based workload, and I’ve never felt any heat or fan noise while working on my dozens of Chrome tabs and a few other apps, often with Spotify streaming on top of it. Nothing I did really made the fans spin up, even in battery saver mode. It’s a much quieter experience than the Dell XPS 13, that’s for sure. Even some light photography work in Lightroom was pleasantly fast.

More power than I need in here.

In benchmark tests, the Framework soundly beat our XPS 13 in single-core, multi-core, and graphics benchmark tests. It also outperformed both the MacBook Air M2 and MacBook Pro M2 in CPU tests, but not in graphics: Apple stays on top of GPU-intensive tasks. We’re seeing a 20 to 30 percent performance boost over the Unity Framework I tested last year.

frame got hot however, during these benchmark tests, the CPU made frequent jumps of up to 100 degrees Celsius. The keyboard got toasty. Of course, my personal workload clearly wasn’t giving the Core i7 anything close to that kind of workout, and even work in Premiere and Lightroom was pleasantly fast.

And then we come to the happiest surprise that this Framework laptop brought. Okay, so it really shouldn’t have been a surprise. Framework, as I mentioned, equipped the Performance system with a 61Wh battery, whereas 55Wh was available on last year’s model. (The latter is also what comes with the Base model, as noted above – it’s fair to assume that one will have a shorter lifespan than this performance setup.) He also claimed that we would see a “20 to 30 percent battery life improvement in a variety of real-world use cases.” Still, you never know with those claims, and I’ve certainly been burned before. So I’m happy to report that I had an average of nine hours and 12 minutes of continuous use with this device. That’s one of the longest lifespans I’ve seen on an Intel laptop in… I don’t even know how long. A while . It’s great.

In short, an improved package.

Basically, I had two concerns about the Framework laptop that I reviewed last year. Its repairability was both attractive and admirable, but its short battery life and thin sound made it a tough sell for its price. I guess the Framework’s market research must have uncovered similar complaints because they fixed both problems in a big way. That basically leaves the tacky, generic look as the only real knocks on this device, and those, of course, won’t be problems for everyone.

These changes make the Framework look like a much more attractive purchase next to something like the XPS 13 than it did last year. That XPS is beautiful and resilient in ways the Framework isn’t. But Framework has a lot of other advantages over it now, apart from upgradeability: it has a better display, better port selection, better audio, a a lot Quieter, cooler chassis and better battery life. Of course, the Framework is also much more expensive, which I suppose is a decent reminder that even in a world where every company under the sun is pushing sustainability as a core element of their devices, true repairability by of the user still has a price. .

Photography by Monica Chin

Update May 17, 2:23 pm ET: Benchmark scores added. This article was originally published on May 16 at 11:00 am ET.


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