Business notebooks don't get much better than this. Lenovo's new ThinkPad T450s is an updated version of my previous favorite business notebook, the ThinkPad T440s. In fact, it looks and feels almost identical to last year's model, with only a few small changes like faster performance and a better trackpad.
No, it's not perfect, and depending on your needs, there may be much better options out there. The T450s is far from the sleekest, lightest or thinnest work notebook, and it lacks the graphical horsepower of some competing machines. But the T450s means business, with way more ports and connectivity options than you'll find on most thinner laptops, plus a durable design, an unbeatable keyboard and great security features. That's why I think the ThinkPad T450s is the new business notebook to beat.
It's not much to look at, but the T450s feels extremely sturdy and well constructed. It sports the same smooth, black casing as last year's model, with a carbon-fiber lid and magnesium deck. Lenovo says there's an integrated roll cage built in to help the notebook survive drops and dings.
The overall design of the T450s is boxy and understated, but I think those are fine qualities in a work machine. The ThinkPad logo (complete with a blinking red LED for the dot of the "i") adds a bit of embellishment to the lid. I also like that the T450s also has a smooth finish that resists fingerprints, so the lid keeps a clean look.
Lenovo didn't mess with a successful design, and that's a good thing. Since the T450s retains the same footprint as last year's model — 13.03 x 8.90 inches — you won't have any trouble using it with older accessories and docking stations.
Measuring 0.83 inches thick, the T450s looks a bit chunky compared to superslim options like the 0.63-inch EliteBook Folio 1040, or like the Dell's XPS 13, which tapers from 0.6 inches to 0.33 inches at the front. The T450s' extra thickness isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, since it allowed Lenovo to include essential ports (like Ethernet and VGA) that you won't find on many thinner machines.
The T450s feels deceptively light for a notebook as thick as it is, but keep in mind that there are plenty of laptops that offer comparable performance in thinner, lighter frames. Configured without a touch screen, the T450s starts at 3.4 lbs., putting it in the middle of the pack among 14-inch notebooks overall. Superthin models like Lenovo's own ThinkPad Carbon X1 (3.15 lbs.) are lighter, but there are plenty of heavier options, like Acer's TravelMate P645 (3.5 lbs.).
The touch-screen version weighs significantly more, though, starting at 3.9 lbs. If you plan on lugging the T450s on your daily commute, I would recommend giving your back a break and forgoing the touch-screen option.
Unfortunately, Lenovo doesn't offer a version of the T450s with a quad-HD display; the top-end model comes with an ordinary, 1,920 x 1,080-pixel panel. It's sharp enough, but I would like to get a higher resolution for a notebook in this price range.
Regardless, the screen is certainly large and sharp enough for everyday productivity tasks, and I was able to multitask in a split-screen view without it feeling claustrophobic.
I'm not crazy about the matte finish on the display, though it has its benefits. Matte screens are a lot less reflective than glossy displays, which means you won't have to deal with glare from a window or the reflection of overhead office lights. The downside is that the matte finish gives the display a slightly dull look; colors don't pop as much as they do on a machine like the MacBook Pro, for example.
Lenovo's ThinkPad line is known for its stellar keyboards, and the T450s is no exception. In my opinion, no other laptop keyboard feels better. The individual keys are large and well spaced, with a sculpted shape that makes them easy to navigate by touch.
The tactile feel of the keys is their best quality, though. Key travel is surprisingly deep, and the keys offer just the right level of feedback. Lenovo managed to craft a keyboard that feels great for extended typing sessions, without clacking loudly every time you press a key.
A few extra features sweeten the deal. The keyboard is backlit, so typing in the dark is easy. I also like how the function keys in the top row are automatically set to perform shortcuts like adjusting the brightness, volume and more. The full-size arrow keys are another big bonus; you won't find those on many notebooks this size. Plus, the keyboard is water-resistant, with a protective layer beneath the keys that funnels spilled water out of the bottom of the machine. That could be a lifesaver in case of an accident.
Touchpad and TrackPoint
Like all ThinkPads, the T450s offers two cursor-control options: the standard touchpad and the red TrackPoint pointing nub, located amidst the G, H and B keys. Both controls are excellent.
The trackpad is large and responsive. Mousing around feels good, and multi-finger gestures like two-finger scrolling work well. I also love the soft, smooth finish of the pad, which lets my finger glide easily without sticking or slipping.
The touchpad has built-in buttons that provide good feedback for left and right clicks. Some people prefer dedicated buttons beneath the pad, but personally I prefer this approach since it provides more space to navigate.
There are left, right and center buttons above the touchpad, which are meant to be used in conjunction with the TrackPoint nub. Last year's model didn't offer those buttons; instead, they were built into the top of the large touchpad. I think this approach is a good compromise. The TrackPoint itself it as good as ever, giving you precise control over the mouse without requiring you to move your fingers from the keyboard.
Specs and performance
The T450s comes in a variety of configurations, with the most expensive model topping out with a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i7 processor, 12GB of RAM and 512GB of solid state drive (SSD) storage. The 14-inch display comes in touch and nontouch versions, with a resolution of either 1,600 x 900 pixels or 1,920 x 1,080 pixels.
Lenovo doesn't offer the option of a dedicated graphics card, even in the highest-end configuration. That's disappointing, since similar computers like the 13-inch MacBook Pro do let you upgrade to a dedicated GPU.
The model that Lenovo sent us for review came with the following hardware:
- 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-5300U processor
- Intel HD 5500 (integrated graphics)
- 8GB RAM
- 256GB SSD storage
- 14-inch; 1,920 x 1,080-pixel; 10-point multi-touch display
During my testing time, I observed fast, fluid performance from the T450s. Heavy-duty multitasking was generally smooth, even while juggling several large documents, HD streaming video on YouTube and more than a dozen tabs in Firefox.
The T450s offers a slew of really good security features that will give business users peace of mind. On the hardware side, you get a fingerprint scanner, located just to the right of the keyboard. I registered all five fingers on my right hand, and found the scanner to be quite reliable. It only failed to recognize my fingers a few times during my testing, and only when I slid my finger too fast. I like the location of the scanner too, which is easy to reach. Overall, it's a handy, well-designed tool for keeping your work laptop locked down.
The T450s' hard drive also comes with built-in hardware encryption, and a smart card slot on the notebook's left side provides an extra security boost. There's also a Kensington lock, so you can chain your computer to your desk to prevent theft.
Like most notebooks, the T450s' middling webcam can't capture high-quality video, but it's good enough for basic video conferencing. I was able to snap some decent shots in my low-light workspace, but even images taken in direct light suffer from graininess and visual noise.
On the bright side, the notebooks dual-array microphones capture very clear audio. Plus, the speakers are relatively loud, so you'll have no trouble hearing the person on the other end of the call.
The T450 might be relatively thick, but that means it can offer a lot more ports and connectivity options than you'll find on its slimmest competitors. The right side includes a headphone jack, a SIM-card slot for optional LTE broadband, a 4-in-1 memory-card reader, a USB 3.0 port, a Kensington lock, and a VGA video-out port that will really come in handy if you want to connect to an older projector or a monitor that doesn't have DisplayPort. The left side of the unit adds a SmartCard reader, two more USB 3.0 ports and a DisplayPort.
Another big perk is the docking connector on the underside of the T450s, which lets you snap the notebook onto a dock just by setting the computer down. The accessory makes it easy to connect to a larger monitor, and adds a bunch of extra ports, so you can keep desktop accessories like a mouse and keyboard ready to go. A snap-in docking port is something you won't find on consumer notebooks, or even on thin business notebooks like the ThinkPad X1 Carbon.
You actually get two batteries with the T450s: one sealed inside the chassis and one that's accessible from underneath the notebook. The theoretical benefit of this dual-battery design is that you can swap out the removable battery for a fresh one while the computer continues to run on the internal battery. Of course, you'll need to be the kind of person who carries around an extra battery to take advantage of the feature, but it's a nice perk for road warriors who need the longest battery life possible.
You might not have use for that extra battery, though, since the T450s offers good longevity out of the box. The notebook ran for a solid 8 hours and 15 minutes on our battery test, which involves continuous Web browsing over Wi-Fi with the screen set to 100 nits of brightness. That beats out the thin-and-light laptop category average (6:46), as well as the Dell Latitude 7440 (5:25). But we got longer times from other notebooks, including the Acer TravelMate P645 (9:46) and Tecra Z40-a1410 (9:28).
In addition to the standard three-cell battery, Lenovo also offers a swappable six-cell extended battery, which nearly doubles the notebook's longevity. The machine ran for an epic 16 hours and 1 minute with the extended battery installed. The downside is that this battery adds an extra 0.4 lbs. to the weight of the notebook. It's also physically taller, boosting the back end of the notebook off my desk by about a half-inch. That actually provides a nice, angled surface for typing, but I'm not crazy about the extra weight, so I wouldn't spring for the extended battery unless I really needed it.
I like that Lenovo lets you choose between Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 when you buy the T450s. I personally like Windows 8.1, but some business users might prefer Windows 7’s basic Start menu and classic desktop interface. The company charges $50 extra for the older operating system, though. You can also upgrade from basic Windows 8.1 to the Pro version for an additional $50. Windows 8.1 Pro has some extra functionality, like the ability to connect your computer to a corporate domain network, or use it as a remote desktop host so you can access your apps and files from another PC.
The baseline model starts at $880, with an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 1,600 x 900-pixel display and a 500GB spinning hard drive. The most expensive configuration offers a Core i7 CPU, 12GB of RAM; a full-HD, 1,920 x 1,080 display; and a 512GB SSD.
My recommendation is to upgrade to a full-HD nontouch screen and at least 8GB of RAM for good performance with modern applications. If you can afford it, upgrading to an SSD will give you much faster speeds than a traditional spinning hard drive, but you'll pay a lot for a little bit of storage space; upgrading from the 500GB baseline drive to the smallest 128GB SSD will cost you an extra $90. With those configurations, which I consider to be a good sweet spot for the average business users, the T450s costs $1,052.
In terms of overall design, features and price point, similar notebooks include Acer's TravelMate P645 and Toshiba's Tecra Z40-a1410.
The Acer TravelMate P645 offers a similar feature set, but it's slightly heavier (3.5 lbs. compared to 3.4 lbs. for the T450s). On the bright side, the TravelMate can be configured with a dedicated graphics card, an option the T450s lacks.
Meanwhile, the Tecra Z40-a1410 is quite a bit lighter than the ThinkPadT450s, at just 3.24 lbs., but it tops out at a low-res 1,366 x 768 display that makes multitasking feel cramped.
It's not perfect, but the ThinkPad T450s is the best overall business notebook on the market. You get a durable machine with an industry-leading keyboard, long battery life and a slew of excellent security features. Other big perks include the docking connector on the notebook's underside and extra ports like a SmartCard reader and VGA port.
If you want something more portable, Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Carbon retains most of Lenovo's trademark features in a thinner, lighter package. But overall, the T450s strikes the best balance between portability and power for serious business users.