With the back-to-school season in full swing, we’ll be looking at several highly practical business notebooks that are great for college and general academic use. We highly recommend business notebooks for students due to their superior quality and durability relative to most of their consumer-grade equivalents. Our feature on what makes a true business notebook goes through the ins and outs.
Also, don’t miss our comprehensive guide on what to look for when buying a notebook, which goes through everything from the keyboard and screen quality to extended warranty considerations.
With that said, let’s take a look at some of today’s top 13- and 14-inch business notebooks.
Full Review: Dell Latitude 14 7000 (7480)
Price: $1,029; well-equipped at $1,500-1,700
The Latitude 7480 is Dell’s top-of-the-line 14-inch business model. It’s one of the very highest-quality notebooks on the market today, thanks its carbon fiber-reinforced construction. It’s not the lightest notebook in its class, at three pounds, but still quite portable for its size. Amongst its numerous positive qualities are an available 1080p IPS touch display; comfortable keyboard and touchpad; and long, if not remarkable battery life. In our demanding battery life rundown test, we measured the Latitude 7480 at 5 hours, 27 minutes, on par with competing notebooks in its class.
When pricing out a Latitude 7480, we recommend opting for any of its 1080p display choices. Avoid the base 720p (1,366×768) display, as the resolution is too low to be practical, and the panel itself isn’t of good quality.
Well-equipped Latitude 7480s will run about $1,500-1,700, depending on options. Want to spend less? Take a look at the next notebook we’re discussing in this article.
Full Review: Dell Latitude 14 5000 (5480)
Price: $769; well-equipped at $1,100-1,300
The Latitude 5000 series is Dell’s middle-tier business offering. The Latitude 5480 is a step down from the discussed Latitude 7480 in overall quality, as it’s mostly plastic, albeit still durable for everyday travel. It’s also a half-pound heavier and 0.2 inches thicker than the Latitude 7480, making it less portable. Naturally, there’s some consolation for that; the Latitude 5480 is a lot less expensive than the Latitude 7480. It has just as good of a keyboard as the Latitude 7480, and we recorded identical battery life down to the minute. In other words, there’s no real downside of going with the Latitude 5480 over the Latitude 7480 if you can shoulder a slightly larger and heavier design. As an added bonus, the Latitude 5480 can be configured with a quad-core processor, making it ideal for demanding usage. The slimmer Latitude 7480 is offered with “only” dual-core processors.
As with the Latitude 7480, we strongly recommend avoiding the base 720p display on the Latitude 5480; opt instead for the 1080p panel, which is of better quality. Well-equipped Latitude 5480s can be had for around $1,100-1,300. For a still less-expensive pick, take a look at the next notebook in this article.
Full Review: Dell Latitude 13 3000 (3379)
Price: $679; well-equipped at $899
Dell essentially rebrands its consumer-grade Inspiron notebooks as the Latitude 3000 series. However, the Latitude brand brings some advantages over its Inspiron counterparts, namely business-grade aftermarket sales and support.
The Latitude 3379 is nearly identical to the Inspiron 7378. Unlike the other two Latitude notebooks we mentioned in this article, the Latitude 3379 is a 2-in-1 convertible notebook. Its display can be folded 360 degrees to form a tablet. It comes standard with a very good, albeit overly reflective 1080p touch display.
We strongly recommend opting for a Latitude 3379 with at least an Intel Core i3 processor and 8GB of RAM; the base model has just a Pentium processor and 4GB of RAM, which can be overwhelmed by today’s workloads. As of writing, those configurations tended to go for just shy of $899. We found the Inspiron 7378 for about $100 less, but as mentioned, we think the extra money for the Latitude brand is worthwhile for the superior after-sales service and support.
Full Review: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017)
Price: $1,322; well-equipped at $1,500
As of this writing, the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017) is our favorite 14-inch business notebook. Granted, it’s one of the most expensive 14-inch notebooks on the market, but not without reason. The carbon fiber-reinforced chassis allows for a thin and lightweight design. Its 0.6-inch thickness and 2.5-pound carry weight makes it noticeably more portable than the Dell Latitude 14 7000 (7480) we mentioned earlier in this article. The nearly border-less display on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017) means it’s smaller than most 14-inch notebooks, as well. It also has some of the best battery life you’ll find in any notebook; we measured it at 7 hours, 16 minutes off the plug. Aside from the price, we found almost nothing to dislike about the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017).
The starting price for the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017) is $1,322, which is already well-equipped. Throwing in a larger 256GB storage drive bumped the price to $1,493.
Lenovo ThinkPad T470 and T470s
Full Review: Lenovo ThinkPad T470
Price: $881; well-equipped at $1,300
Full Review: Lenovo ThinkPad T470s
Price: $1,079; well-equipped at $1,500
The T-series is Lenovo’s top-quality business notebook. We’ve often referred to it as the gold standard within the business notebook industry. The exterior design is mostly plastic, but the inside of the chassis has a metal support structure.
These two notebooks are Lenovo’s most direct competitors to the Dell Latitude 14 7000 (7480). The “s” at the end of T470s indicates it’s the slimmer model of the two. Indeed, the ThinkPad T470s is 0.6 pounds lighter than the regular T470.
Besides the physical size, the ThinkPad T470 and T470s differ in a few notable ways. The T470 offers a swappable battery, whereas the T470s doesn’t. The T470 also accepts a greater amount of memory (32GB). Perhaps most importantly, the T470 is less expensive, coming in around $200 less for a similar configuration, as of this writing. If you’re going to spend as much as it takes to get a T470s, we’d actually recommend spending just a bit extra and going for the mentioned ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2017). For a thorough comparison between the two, be sure to read our Laptop Battle: ThinkPad T470s vs. ThinkPad X1 Carbon (5th generation/2017).
Lenovo ThinkPad 13 (2017)
Full Review: Lenovo ThinkPad 13 (2017)
Price: $549; well-equipped at just over $900
The Lenovo ThinkPad 13 slots in somewhere between the Dell Latitude 3000 and 5000 series in its overall level of quality and features. Its all-plastic design should be durable enough, and it still has the excellent keyboard and touch pad/pointing stick that ThinkPads are known for. The ThinkPad 13 is one of the least-expensive tickets into ThinkPad territory.
The ThinkPad 13 is quite inexpensive in its base iteration; it has just an Intel Celeron processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 720p display at that price point. We’d suggest opting for a configuration with a more powerful Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM, the 1080p touch display, and backlit keyboard as options. Those collectively brought the price up to $909, as of this writing.
The notebooks we reviewed in this article were from Dell and Lenovo, but other competition is out there. HP’s aptly-named EliteBook series, for example, competes with the Dell Latitude 7000 and Lenovo ThinkPad T-series. The HP ProBook line competes with the Dell Latitude 3000 and 5000 series, and the Lenovo ThinkPad 13, L-, and E-series. Don’t count out Toshiba, either; their mainstream Tecra brand and elite Portege notebooks are also worth a look.
If you’re shopping for a back-to-school notebook, the chances are that you’ll want it to last at least three to four years, if not longer. You’ll be tempted to purchase an extended warranty on your new notebook, and we’d recommend that with a few reservations. Have a read of our popular feature, What You Need To Know About Extended Warranties.
Would you like guided help finding the right notebook for your needs? Just comment on this article, and we’ll chime in. Also consider joining and posting in our forum. You can fill out our What Should I Buy form and get personal help from our forum experts. Best of luck!