- Best-in-class battery life with 6-cell battery
- Built for business and compatible with existing docking hardware
- Surprisingly thin and light for its specs
- Great keyboard and TrackPoint controls
- FHD multitouch display isn’t bright enough outdoors
- Buttonless ClickPad can be annoying
- Better configurations are too expensive
Some things in life are time-honored traditions; April showers bring May flowers, Marvel Studios releases a blockbuster summer movie, and every year Lenovo finds a way to make the popular ThinkPad T series of business laptops even better.
Typical consumers may dismiss the new ThinkPad T450s as just another boring business notebook wrapped in a non-descript black shell, but many business professionals are privileged enough to know the joy of working for an employer that provides T-series ThinkPads to employees. Sure, that new $200 Chromebook gives you access to Google Docs and lets you stream Netflix during lunch, but Lenovo’s ThinkPad T450s (starting at $881) delivers the latest Intel processor technology, a rugged build, best-in-class battery life, a high-quality display, and arguably the best keyboard you’ll find on any 14-inch laptop.
In short, while it might lack the glitz and glamour of the new gold-finish MacBook or the gaming appeal of a $2,500 Alienware 17 notebook, the new ThinkPad T450s is the business notebook you should hope your IT department gives you for your next work laptop. Keep reading to learn why.
Build and Design
At first glance, the T450s looks identical to the previous-generation ThinkPad T440s thanks to the fact that Lenovo used the same chassis. While it might lose points for originality, this Ultrabook retains the same “all business” design, road-tested dependability, and is still compatible with all the same docking stations and accessories that your company purchased for your previous ThinkPad. Good luck finding enough USB-C adapters next month for everyone who buys the new MacBook.
Like its predecessor, the ThinkPad T450s is wrapped in a matte black chassis made from satellite-grade carbon fiber similar to what is used for the latest F1 race cars. This carbon fiber is not only more shock absorbent than aluminum alloy but tips the scales at just 30% of the weight of aluminum with a similar thickness.
The screen lid is supported by an internal roll cage and square pin stainless steel hinges that anchor the screen lid to the chassis. The keyboard also has a drain to help it survive spills or a brief amount of time outdoors in the rain.
As with all T series ThinkPads, the T450s is Mil-SPEC 810G tested for a wide range of environmental hazards from humidity and extreme temperatures to exposure to sand, high vibration, mechanical shock, and even fungus (for users with poor hygiene).
Our touchscreen version of the T450s weighs 3.8 pounds with the standard 3-cell removable battery and measures 13 x 8.9 x 0.83 inches. This makes the T450s portable enough to carry between meetings or bring it to and from work each day in a laptop bag. The base configuration of the ThinkPad T450s with non-touch screen weighs just 3.5 pounds with the 3-cell removable battery (3.9 pounds with the optional 6-cell battery).
The bottom of the ThinkPad T450s can be removed for service and repair after removing 10 Philips screws on the underside of the chassis. Inside, you’ll find a single RAM slot, space for a 2.5-inch SATA drive (7mm thickness), the internal 3-cell battery, a single cooling fan, a Wi-Fi module, and an open slot for a WWAN card or M.2 SSD. Of course, most workplace users will forgo disassembling the T450s and simply connect a docking station to the port on the bottom of the notebook if they want to add storage.
Ports and Features
While most thin-and-light laptops in the “Ultrabook” category sacrifice ports for a thin design, the ThinkPad T450s has a better-than-average array of ports … even by old-fashioned thick laptop standards.
On the left side you’ll find the jack for the AC power adapter, one USB 3.0 port, the heat vent, a mini-Display Port, a second USB 3.0 port with sleep-and-charge as well as a Smart card reader.
On the right side of the T450s you’ll find a headset jack, SD card slot, SIM card slot, a third USB 3.0 port, Ethernet, VGA port, and a security lock slot.
As previously mentioned, you’ll also find a dedicated docking station connector on the bottom of the T450s to turn your laptop into a desktop.
Screen and Speakers
The full HD multitouch display in our review unit provides a nice 1920 x 1080 resolution with sharp details, good color accuracy and plenty of contrast. The touchscreen surface is accurate and supports 10-point multitouch gestures.
The FHD touchscreen option shown here is an IPS display panel that delivers wide viewing angles out to 60 degrees or more but the lower-priced 1600 x 900 screen is a TN panel with limited viewing angles and reduced color accuracy as your view moves off center.
The backlight was relatively uniform but we noticed minor light bleeding near the extreme upper left and lower right corners of our display. We used a light meter to measure the screen brightness in our review unit at an average of 256 nits with a minor hot spot in the upper right corner that measured 278 nits. We consider that “average” screen brightness and it means you’ll have some trouble using the T450s outdoors under bright sunlight.
The stereo speakers inside the ThinkPad T450s produce adequate sound that is relatively free of distortions and loud enough to fill a large office. Lenovo uses Dolby Digital Plus audio processing software to improve audio playback and it works; if you disable the Dolby software while streaming Netflix you’ll notice an immediate difference in the sound quality.
Keyboard and Touchpad (and TrackPoint)
The hallmark of the T series ThinkPads has long been the durability, comfort and precision of the keyboards. The T450s continues that tradition with a spill-resistant keyboard that delivers almost mechanical switch quality in the form of a fairly normal-looking laptop keyboard. The keys are a modified “Chiclet” or island-style design with a curved surface designed to replicate the feel of a desktop keyboard. The main keys measure 15mm x 15mm with a curved bottom edge and between 3 and 4mm between each key. The depth of key travel is pretty shallow at only about 2mm, but feedback is strong and a full press requires slightly more pressure than what it takes on a typical budget laptop keyboard. The end result is a keyboard that is not only extremely comfortable to use but is less prone to typos.
The keyboard features LED backlighting with a dual brightness setting. Most users will find the lowest brightness setting adequate for typing in a dark room but there is an even brighter setting for anyone who wants to spot the keys from across the room.
As with almost all ThinkPads, the T450s includes both a standard touchpad and a classic red TrackPoint in the middle of the keyboard. While many first-time users are thrown off by using a TrackPoint, most people discover that they prefer it after a few weeks of use. In fact, we’ve found the precision of the TrackPoint on ThinkPads even more enjoyable since the release of Windows 8. Gesture-enabled touchpads are more likely to accidentally trigger an unintended action in Windows 8 and 8.1 like opening the charms bar or switching between apps when all you want to do is move the cursor or highlight some text.
Unlike last year’s T440s, the TrackPoint on the T450s features dedicated left, right and center buttons located above the touchpad (more on that below).
Those of you who still prefer to use a touchpad will likely use the included ClickPad with integrated left and right click functionality and multitouch gesture support. Unfortunately, this Clickpad struggles with the same right-click vs left-click problems that plague all “buttonless” ClickPads in a Windows environment.
Buttonless touchpads work well on Apple MacBooks because the Mac OS was designed for a one-button mouse (yes, you can use multiple mouse buttons on a Mac, but the default mouse setup is a single mouse button). The classic buttonless MacBook touchpad doesn’t need to worry about where a click happens because a click is a click, period. Windows requires at least a two-button mouse for left-click and right-click operations … and this is why buttonless touchpads have problems.
We often pressed the ClickPad surface for a left click and the T450s would register a right click. Similarly, sometimes we would try to make a right click and the T450s thought it was a left click. You can minimize this problem somewhat by adjusting the default Synaptic driver settings so the ClickPad does a better job of recognizing left clicks and right clicks, but we never “completely” eliminated the problem.