Want the perks of a ThinkPad without the lofty price tag? Lenovo's ThinkPad E450 is a nice business notebook that provides most of the best features of its more premium brethren, but it starts at just $580 ($780 for our review configuration). Compared with the ThinkPad T450s — our favorite overall business notebook — the E450 is really affordable. You'll make some real concessions by opting for the more affordable machine, though: The less-expensive laptop has shorter battery life and a less-portable, less-durable design.
The E450 isn't much to look at, with an unremarkable case featuring rounded-off corners and a matte-gray finish on the polycarbonate lid. It's functional, but I miss the boxy corners and matte-black paint job that make more premium models like the ThinkPad T450s look sharp instead of forgettable.
The E450 is also less durable than most other ThinkPads, lacking the certified military-grade toughness of machines like the T450s. That's something to consider if you're a frequent traveler who needs a notebook that can withstand some abuse. For what it's worth, though, the E450 feels nice and sturdy to me, and Lenovo says it passed internal tests to withstand shocks, bumps and dust.
The E450 feels a bit clunky compared to pricier ThinkPads. At 0.94 inches thick, it's chunkier than the 14-inch ThinkPad T450s (0.83 inches), which is a relatively thick 14-inch notebook in its own right. And at 4 lbs., the E450 is also pretty hefty; commuters won't want to lug this machine to and from the office. The T450s weighs only a little less (3.8 lbs.), but trimmer options like the 13.3-inch, nontouch Dell XPS 13 (2.6 lbs.) feel much lighter.
Other perks of the E450's keyboard include spill resistance, so it can survive a bit of water under the keys. That's something you won't find on many consumer-grade laptops. I also like that the Function keys on the top row are automatically set to perform shortcuts like changing the volume and adjusting the screen brightness.Here's the real reason to choose the E450 over other machines in its price range: its keyboard. Individual keys are quite deep, with an impressive 1.8 mm of travel (1.5 mm is average, and ultrathin options like the XPS 13 have less than that). Higher key travel translates to a more desktoplike feel and a more comfortable typing experience overall. The E450's keys also offer a good amount of feedback, so they feel really snappy.
One of my only complaints — and this applies to all models in the ThinkPad line — is that the left Ctrl key has been shifted right one space to make room for the Fn key in the bottom-left corner. That seriously messes up my muscle memory for keyboard shortcuts like copy and paste. Depending on your affinity for keyboard shortcuts, this may or may not be an issue for you.
Touchpad and TrackPoint
Like other ThinkPads, the E450 offers two distinct ways to control the mouse pointer: the standard touchpad, and the TrackPoint pointing stick.
I liked the feel of the spacious 4 x 2.25-inch touchpad, which had a nice matte finish that made it easy to mouse around. Cursor control was responsive, and so were gestures like two-finger scrolling. The buttons are built into the trackpad, but I don't mind that, because it provides more room for navigation. If you prefer dedicated buttons, you'll have to look outside the ThinkPad line.
The TrackPoint pointing stick — a red nub between the G, H and B keys — provides a nice way to precisely control the cursor without moving your hands away from home row on the keyboard. Lenovo's TrackPoint nub stills feels more responsive than the pointing sticks on other notebooks.
The E450's 14-inch, 1920 x 1080-pixel nontouch display won't impress you, largely due to the matte finish that's been applied to the screen. I consider that a good thing in a work notebook, though, since it effortlessly fends off annoying glare from overhead office lights.
Viewing angles are a bit weak — colors start to wash out when the screen is viewed from the side — and the max brightness is dimmer than average, but it's more than adequate for indoor use.
Cheaper configurations come with a lower-res, 1366 x 768-pixel screen instead, but I wouldn't recommend it. At that resolution, basic work tasks, like editing a spreadsheet or viewing two documents side by side, will start to feel a bit cramped.
The E450's longevity isn't terrible, but it is below average. The machine ran for 6 hours and 19 minutes in our battery life test, which simulates continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi with the screen set to 100 nits of brightness. That's good enough to get you through most of the workday with mixed use, but it's still about an hour shorter than the average thin-and-light laptop battery life (7:21). Some competing notebooks, including the Asus Zenbook UX305 (9:38) and the Dell XPS 13 (11:42), last significantly longer.
You'll get good, but not great, performance from the E450. My review unit came equipped with a 2.2-GHz, 5th-generation Intel Core i5-5200 processor and 4GB of RAM, making it more than speedy enough to handle daily business tasks.
It lagged behind competing machines on benchmark tests, though. On the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, the E450 scored a decent 5,123, which is below the category average of 5,971. The pricier, Intel Core i5-5300U-powered T450s outperformed the E450, with a score of (5,993), and so did the XPS 13 (5,530).
Our E450 review unit came with a 500GB hard drive that offers more space than the 256GB solid-state drive that came in our ThinkPad T450s review unit, but it's not nearly as speedy as an SSD. That means tasks like transferring files and opening programs are slower on the E450, unless you upgrade the drive.
Ports and connectivity
Keyboard aside, the other main reason to opt for a business notebook like the E450 over slimmer consumer machines is its wide selection of ports. That includes one USB 2.0 port and three USB 3.0 ports for connecting accessories, an HDMI-out port for connecting to an external monitor or projector, an Ethernet port for linking up to company networks and wired Internet, and an SD card slot for additional storage.
The power port also doubles as a connector for Lenovo's OneLink desktop dock, which lets you link your machine to all the accessories on your desk without plugging in each one individually. The dock, which is sold separately for $179, also has dual video ports, so you can use two external monitors at once.
A fingerprint reader, located just to the left of the touchpad, provides a nice security boost for the E450. I registered all five fingers on my right hand using the preloaded software, and then used the scanner to unlock the notebook quickly and easily with a single swipe. The reader proved to be pretty accurate during my testing period, accurately recognizing my prints with almost every swipe.
While the vast majority of Windows PCs now run on Windows 8.1, Lenovo actually gives you the option to buy the ThinkPad E450 with Windows 7 instead. It makes sense, since the touch-centric nature of Windows 8.1 isn't really that practical on a work machine.
Some handy productivity apps come preloaded, including Skype for videoconferencing and Evernote for saving all your notes to the cloud. In addition, you get a free one-month trial of Microsoft's Office 365—which includes Web-connected versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint — but you'll have to sign up for a subscription if you want to use them beyond the initial trial period.
Lenovo sells the ThinkPad E450 in a variety of configurations. The baseline model comes with a Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive and no fingerprint reader for $580. A better sweet spot for business users includes a more powerful Core i5 processor and a fingerprint reader for $787 via Lenovo or $730 on Amazon.
Other configuration options include processors up to Core i7, SSDs up to 1TB, and RAM up to 16GB. You can also choose between Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 as your operating system.
Dell's 13.3-inch XPS 13 ($899) is faster and more portable than the E450, but it offers fewer ports and lacks business-centric features like a fingerprint scanner.
Asus' 13-inch Zenbook UX305 ($699) is thinner and lighter than the E450 and has much longer battery life, but it has fewer ports and runs on Intel's less powerful Core M processor.
Lenovo's 14-inch ThinkPad T450s ($1,052) offers longer battery life, better performance and a nicer display in a smaller package, but it's also pricier.
If you need a solid notebook with good security and connectivity options, and don't have more than $800 to spend on it, the E450 is a pretty decent option. But make sure to consider competing consumer machines like the XPS 13 and the Zenbook UX305, which offer longer battery life as well as sleeker designs that won't give commuters a backache, for around the same price.
For budget-minded business users who want options like a fingerprint scanner, a desktop docking port and a top-notch keyboard, the ThinkPad E450 is a pretty good bet.