Lenovo ThinkPad W550s review

Workstation-grade performance with Ultrabook-class battery life

Lenovo ThinkPad W550s review

Don't let the benchmark numbers fool you: the ThinkPad W550s is an under-rated system that delivers plenty of power in both performance and battery life. If you're not editing or encoding videos, or working with large 3D graphics files all day, I would recommend the ThinkPad W550s over last year's ThinkPad W440, or this year's W541, for its stamina.

We liked

Balanced performance and strong battery life are key features to the slimmer cousin of the ThinkPad W540 and W541. With a thinner profile and lighter weight, the ThinkPad W550s still packs a lot of power to keep users happy.

Enterprise users will appreciate the optional fingerprint scanner as well as the convenience of desktop docking. A wide array of ports on the W550s allows you to connect multiple peripherals.

Read more: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Extreme

Even though the ThinkPad W550s isn't classified as a rugged notebook, its durable design allows you to use this mobile workstation in a variety of different conditions. The spill-resistant keyboard keeps your W550s safe in case of a water accident.

With workstation-grade performance, the ThinkPad W550s shines with its battery life, delivering over ten hours of real-world use. If you need more charge on the road, the Power Bridge technology allows you to swap a depleted battery with a fresh one.

Unlike some competing workstations, like the MSI WS60, the ThinkPad W550s runs extremely quiet.

We disliked

Though Lenovo made a valiant attempt to slim down its workstation, the design remains stagnant. The W550s isn't as light as the Dell Precision M3800, nor does it have the sheen of Apple's aluminum-clad MacBook Pro.

Given that Dell borrowed the design aesthetics from its premium XPS 13 for the Precision M3800 mobile workstation with the dramatic tapering, I wish Lenovo would have done the same, and utilized the tapered design from the $1,249 (£1150, AU$1,433) ThinkPad X1 Carbon. The tapered design would at least create the illusion of an even slimmer workstation.

If you can live with slightly degraded performance compared to the quad-core and graphics powerhouses in the W540 series, then the W550s will reward you with battery stamina. The extended battery, however, adds to the laptop's thickness and weight. That said, Lenovo was faced with a conundrum.

If Lenovo used a fully sealed battery instead, it would have traded the longevity and convenience of hot-swappable batteries for something just a bit longer lasting than what's inside. On the other hand, it could have made the laptop even slimmer.

Another downside is price. Although the W550s has a low $1,133 (£765, AU$1,455) starting price, adding options and upgrading to a high capacity solid state drive quickly drives the price close to $3,000 (£2,020, AU$3,845) before any discounts or promotions. Keep in mind that this is the base price. Users will likely have to budget more for software, like Adobe's suite or Microsoft Office.

Final verdict

With understated aesthetics and a durable design, there is much to love about the ThinkPad W550s, if you can afford it. Long battery life and a large, high resolution display keeps you productive longer while you're mobile. Plus, the docking port allows users to take the ThinkPad W550s back to their desks to use as a desktop replacement, given its strong performance.

All said, this mobile workstation is met with some tough competition, especially when it comes to price per part. So, the real question is: are you ready to be $3,000 (£2,020, AU$3,845) poorer for the ThinkPad pedigree?

Unless your world revolves heavy video editing or graphics manipulation, sacrificing a little bit of performance to achieve over 10 hours of real-world battery life with workstation-class performance is well worth it if you can do more.