Lenovo ThinkPad T450s review

Hot-swappable batteries make this business Ultrabook last even longer

Lenovo ThinkPad T450s review

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Don't let the ThinkPad T450s' simple, black silhouette fool you. Sure, the T450s doesn't come with slim screen bezels like the Dell XPS 13 or the sheen of Apple's aluminum-clad MacBook Pros. Regardless, the T450s can hold its own ground with performance and battery stamina coupled with some unique features on top.

We liked

Business users will find a lot to like with the ThinkPad T450s. The notebook is an evolution of last year's T440s. With Intel Broadwell under the hood this year, Lenovo delivers improved processing and graphics performance along with even better battery life.

With a claimed 17 hours of charge with an extended hot-swappable six-cell battery and the internal three-cell battery, the ThinkPad T450s frees frequent travelers, road warriors, and field workers from range anxiety.

Although the T450s isn't rated as a rugged laptop, it's solidly constructed with a metal-reinforced skeleton, carbon fiber shell, and a strong roll cage system. Coupled with a spill-resistant keyboard, the T450s should last for years with normal day-to-day use and abuse.

With a spacious 14.1-inch display, best-in-class keyboard with backlighting, and support for both TrackPoint and TrackPad options for cursor control, the touchscreen is really an optional luxury. Gesture support on the TrackPad makes swiping easy and convenient, while at the same time keeping fingers away from the screen to keep your display clean.

We disliked

The ThinkPad T450s lacks the slimness of most other Ultrabooks. At 0.83 inches (2.11cm) thick all around, the T450s is nearly twice as thick as the 0.5-inch (1.27cm) Yoga 3 Pro and comes with a lower resolution display compared to the latter's QHD panel. Although there isn't much difference between the T450s and the 0.68-inch (1.72cm) 13-inch MacBook Air, Apple tapers its Air at the front to just 0.11-inch (0.28cm) thick to make it feel a lot slimmer than it really is.

To achieve all-day battery life, Lenovo made concessions in the ThinkPad T450s' thinness and weight. The T450s feels more like a rectangular brick than an Ultrabook. If this is to be the T series form factor, then Lenovo could have offered a single, larger sealed battery inside the T450s to achieve better endurance or reduced the laptop's thickness.

The ThinkPad T450s starts at 3.5 pounds (1.6kg), but add in a touchscreen and that weight jumps to 3.9 pounds (1.8kg). And if you throw in the larger extended battery, not only will that bump up the thickness of the laptop, but it also increases the weight to 4.2 pounds (1.9kg).

While the matte display helps reduce glare and reflection, the downside is that it makes text and images on the screen appear grainy.

Additionally, Lenovo's 17-hour battery life claim with the extended battery doesn't quite add up to my real-world usage. I was only able to net 11 hours of usage on a single charge with the six-cell battery.

Final verdict

The ThinkPad T450s is a machine designed around compromises. Once you begin configuring the laptop with larger SSDs, more RAM, a touchscreen and better processor, the price quickly climbs. At its highest configuration, the T450s encroaches on territory reserved for mobile workstations with dedicated graphics chips and higher resolution displays.

Given that there is little price difference at the high end between the T450s configuration and the Lenovo W550s, there is little reason to recommend the T series over the W series. That is, unless you need a smaller 14.1-inch footprint rather than a 15.6-inch workstation.

But if that's the case, you could easily find lighter, more portable and sleeker Ultrabook alternatives. Just keep in mind those systems lack the spill-resistant keyboard, swappable battery, fingerprint scanner and dual cursor input methods of the ThinkPad.

Aside from battery life, the ThinkPad T450s struggles to meet the needs of number-crunching, mobile business folks and those that need the raw, portable power of a workstation, landing somewhere in the middle. If Lenovo's signature features don't appeal to you, you may not find the tradeoffs made in the ThinkPad T450s design to be worth it.