Lenovo ThinkPad T460s Review: One Step Forward, One Step Back

by Reads (51,842)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Software & Support
      • 8
      • Upgrade Capabilities
      • 6
      • Usability
      • 9
      • Design
      • 9
      • Performance
      • 7
      • Features
      • 8
      • Price/Value Rating
      • 7
      • Total Score:
      • 7.71
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Plenty of ports and expandable with docking station
    • Surprisingly thin and light for its specs
    • Beautiful touchscreen with wide viewing angles

     

  • Cons

    •  Average battery life
    • No replaceable battery
    • Touchpad still disappoints

     


The world of business-class notebook PCs used to follow a simple rule: You can have a powerful notebook with lots of ports or you can have a thin and light notebook … but you can’t have both at the same time. That old notion might just be a matter of history thanks to the Lenovo ThinkPad T460s. This business-class Ultrabook is 0.8 pounds lighter and and 0.09 inches thinner than last year’s impressive ThinkPad T450s and still manages to deliver outstanding performance for a 14-inch business laptop. Unfortunately, the new ThinkPad T460s only manages that impressive weight loss by dropping its predecessor’s best-in-class battery life. Keep reading to find out if a weaker built-in battery is a fair price for notebook with a more travel-friendly size.

The T460s is thinner and lighter than last year's T450s.

The T460s is thinner and lighter than last year’s T450s.

Build and Design

If you’ve seen the popular ThinkPad T450s with your own eyes then one of the first things that you’ll probably notice about the new T460s is that this Ultrabook appears even thinner and lighter than the specs indicate. The T450s looked identical to the ThinkPad T440s because Lenovo used the same chassis for both notebooks. This year’s T460s might be less than a tenth of an inch thinner than those notebooks but it looks more like a black 14-inch MacBook than a traditional ThinkPad.

That matte black chassis is made from the same satellite-grade carbon fiber as previous ThinkPada and is 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.

T460s screen lidThe 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 T460s 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.

The starting weight for the T460s with FHD display is just 3.0 pounds but our touchscreen version of the T460s weighs in at just under 3.2 pounds and measures 13.03 x 8.93 x 0.66″ – 0.74 inches. This makes the T460s more portable than the T450s and a little easier to carry between meetings or between classes.

Unfortunately, the T460s now uses a non-removable internal battery.

Unfortunately, the T460s now uses a non-removable internal battery.

The bottom of the ThinkPad T460s is where you’ll find the most noticeable changes to the chassis design. The removable battery is now gone and we’re stuck with a non-removable internal battery. You can still open the chassis by removing the five screws on the outer edges of the frame, but there isn’t much room for upgrades inside unless you just want to replace the M.2 SATA solid state drive (SSD).

Ports and Features

Most thin-and-light laptops in the “Ultrabook” category sacrifice ports for a thin design but the ThinkPad T460s manages to squeeze in just enough ports to deliver a full business-class PC experience.

On the left side you’ll find the power adapter jack, a single USB 3.0 port, a headphone/headset jack and a 4-in-1 card reader. The right side of the T460s contains a Smart Card reader, two USB 3.0 ports, a mini DisplayPort, full-size HDMI out, Ethernet jack, SIM card slot and Kensington lock slot.

T460s ports leftT460s ports right

Although we aren’t fond of USB-C ports when they are the only ports on a notebook, we wish Lenovo found a way to squeeze a single USB-C port next to the standard USB port on the left side of the notebook. We expect to see most mobile devices switching to USB-C over the next two years. On the bright side, or the bottom side for that matter, the T460s includes a dedicated docking station connection for the optional ThinkPad Ultra Dock.

Screen and Speakers

The 14.1-inch 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 matte touchscreen surface is accurate and supports 10-point multitouch gestures.  The FHD touchscreen option shown here is an In-Plane Switching (IPS) display panel that delivers wide viewing angles out to around 70 degrees or more. You can also configure the T460s at the time of purchase with up to a 2560 x 1440 WQHD anti-glare display with IPS. Be warned, however, that the WQHD resolution display will demand significantly more power and negatively impact your battery life (more on that later).

T460s screen frontT460s screen side angle
T460s screen tilt forwardT460s screen tilt back

The FHD display backlight appeared relatively uniform to our eyes with an average maximum brightness of 239 nits but after using a light meter we noticed our review sample suffered from slightly lower maximum brightness on the right side of the screen and the upper left corner of the screen was brighter than any other part of the display. The screen brightness combined with the matte screen surface makes the T460s usable outdoors in most situations except when you’re working under direct sunlight on a bright day.

The stereo speakers inside the ThinkPad T460s produce adequate sound that is relatively free of distortions until you approach the maximum volume settings. The speakers aren’t ideal for filling a large meeting room with audio during a webcast, but they’re serviceable for personal use. 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.

The changes to the keyboard from the T450s to the T460s are quite subtle.

The changes to the keyboard from the T450s to the T460s are quite subtle.

Keyboard and Touchpad (and TrackPoint)

Whenever you ask a ThinkPad user to tell you their favorite thing about using a ThinkPad they usually mention the keyboard. T-series ThinkPads have a longstanding reputation durability, comfort and precision. That reputation is in safe hands with the T460s thanks to its spill-resistant keyboard that delivers an almost identical look and feel as the previous T450s. 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.

T460s keyboard backlightAs with almost all ThinkPads, the T460s includes both a standard touchpad and a classic red TrackPoint in the middle of the keyboard. The TrackPoint appears slightly shallower than what we see on the T450s, but it’s still much more precise than the gesture-enabled touchpad located beneath the keyboard. Just like last year’s T450s, the TrackPoint on the T460s 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. Once again, unfortunately, the Clickpad on the T460s struggles with the same right-click vs left-click problems that plague most “buttonless” ClickPads in a Windows environment.

Once again, we found the red TrackPoint and dedicated left/right mouse buttons easier to use than the buttonless touchpad.

Once again, we found the red TrackPoint and dedicated left/right mouse buttons easier to use than the buttonless touchpad.

Buttonless touchpads work well on Apple MacBooks because the Mac OS doesn’t need to worry about where a click happens on the surface; 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.

Just as with the T450s, we often pressed the ClickPad surface for a left click and the T460s would register a right click. Similarly, sometimes we would try to make a right click and the T460s 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.

Performance

Our review unit of the T460s is powered by a 2.4 GHz Intel Core i5-6300U processor and 8 GB of RAM and 256 GB SSD. This sounds like a negligible increase from the 2.3 GHz Intel Core i5-5300U processor we tested in last year’s T450s; but the Core i5-6300U is about 10% faster in just about every CPU benchmark compared to the Core i5-5300U.

Our test configuration has more than enough CPU power and graphics performance from the integrated Intel HD Graphics 520 to handle typical workplace productivity tasks in Microsoft Office or handle streaming HD video content. That being said, don’t expect to use this notebook for editing hours of professional-grade 4K video. This low-voltage processor is dramatically better than older generation low-voltage CPUs from a few years ago but that doesn’t mean your should expect the same kind of performance that a 14-inch mobile workstation delivers.

T460s logoWhen it comes to overall system speed one of the few bright spots is the reasonably fast 256 GB Samsung PM871 M.2 SATA SSD. As the name suggests, this storage drive runs on a standard SATA interface rather than a PCIe interface so don’t expect jaw-dropping read and write speeds. Nevertheless, the SSD inside our review unit is certainly faster than a budget-priced HDD with spinning media.

Benchmarks

wPrime processor comparison results (listed in seconds – lower scores mean better performance):
wprimechart

PCMark8 Home (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for general activities from web browsing and video streaming to typing documents and playing games (higher scores mean better performance):
pc8homechart

PCMark8 Work (Accelerated) measures overall system performance in Windows 8 for work-related productivity tasks (higher scores mean better performance):
pc8workchart

3DMark 11 is a benchmark that measures overall graphics card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
3d11chart

3DMark Fire Strike is a newer DirectX 11 benchmark that measures overall graphics card performance for gaming (higher scores mean better performance):
3dfirestrikechart

CrystalDiskMark storage drive performance test:
t460sCDM

Heat and Noise

Unfortunately, the T460s now uses a non-removable internal battery.

The ThinkPad T460s runs remarkably cool and quiet thanks to the combination of low-voltage Intel processor and a silent SSD. Even after running multiple performance benchmarks (pushing the hardware to the limits) the keyboard and ClickPad measured only 82 degrees and 85 degrees Fahrenheit respectively. The bottom of the chassis never exceeded 93 degrees Fahrenheit during benchmarks. For those who aren’t familiar with Fahrenheit temperatures, rest assured you won’t feel any heat under normal use unless you block the air vents on the bottom and left side of the notebook.

Battery Life

At first glance the battery inside the Lenovo ThinkPad T460s does a fine job delivering battery life similar to the standard, removable 3-cell battery in the older T450s (about 5 hours and 20 minutes of battery life in Futuremark’s Powermark benchmark). Nevertheless, last year’s T450s still has the edge on battery life because you can replace the 3-cell battery with a 6-cell battery for even longer battery life (the T450s with 6-cell battery lasted for 9 hours and 58 minutes in Powermark).

The only way to make the T460s thinner than its predecessor was to eliminate the battery connector that makes a removable battery possible. Whether or not this was the right choice depends on how much you value the thinner and lighter design of the T460s. The general consensus among our editors is that Lenovo shouldn’t have replaced the removable battery with a built-in battery unless the built-in battery delivered a “considerable” increase in battery life; which isn’t the case here. Last year’s HP Spectre x360 also has a built-in, non-removable battery, but that notebook still delivers more battery life than the newer ThinkPad T460s.

PowerMark “Balanced” battery life test results using the standard 3-cell battery (higher scores mean better life):
powerchart

Conclusion

Lenovo once again managed to deliver a premium 14-inch business laptop by which most others will be judged. Unfortunately, the ThinkPad T460s doesn’t completely leapfrog its predecessor … and that is a potential problem for customers. Yes, the “road warriors” who frequently depend on ThinkPads appreciate thinner and lighter notebooks. Despite that fact, we doubt those same business travelers appreciate loosing the option to keep their notebooks running for an extra four hours or more.

Does the ThinkPad T460s deliver horrible battery life? No. Does the ThinkPad T460s deliver best-in-class battery life like its predecessor? No.

What Lenovo provides with the T460s is a thin-and-light business laptop with better-than-average performance and a solid variety of ports with the ability to expand those ports with a docking station. Unfortunately, we lost the flexibility to extend the battery-life into what is truly the realm of “all-day battery life.” This might not bother us if the T460s delivered an extra 60-90 minutes of battery life compared to the standard 3-cell removable battery in the T450s, but that isn’t the case here.

If you’re willing to overlook the average battery life you won’t be disappointed by the combination of impressive CPU and SSD performance (better than its predecessor) with a beautiful display inside an thin and light chassis. Lenovo came remarkably close to hitting another home run with the ThinkPad T460s. Unfortunately, we just can’t forget the battery life grand slam Lenovo delivered previously in the form of the ThinkPad T450s.

The T460s is thinner and lighter than last year's T450s.

Pros:

  • Plenty of ports and expandable with docking station
  • Surprisingly thin and light for its specs
  • Beautiful touchscreen with wide viewing angles

Cons:

  • Average battery life
  • No replaceable battery
  • Touchpad still disappoints



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3 Comments

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  1. hoppysport

    I have a Lenovo T430s, bought in 2012. It’s been bulletproof since purchase. I have been an IBM/Lenovo customer since the mid-90’s because of durability, the Trackpoint, and keyboard.

    My i5 T430s came with 8 gb of RAM and a 256 gb SSD…a pretty quick computer. The screen is pretty bright, is a matte, and sports backlit keyboard. I’m not a gamer, but use the T430s about 4 hours a day and it has never failed.

    Not sure why Lenovo went with a fixed battery. I use and extra battery constantly because battery life on the T430s is awful. At best I get 1:45. I am always envious of Macbook Air owners with their Haswell’s.

    Will I buy another Lenovo? Absolutely! But with Lenovo, it’s always the sum is greater than their parts.

  2. tresho

    — As far as I’m concerned, the only “travel-friendly” computer is one that fits in my pocket. There is such a thing as being too small.
    — You didn’t mention whether or not the hard disk or ssd can be upgraded. I want to use a minimum 1TB HDD (I would prefer 2TB HDD) in any laptop I have. I recently bought a Lenovo E555 but returned it to the store when I discovered it wouldn’t accept any hard disk thicker than 5 mm. Both my 1TB and 2TB HDDs are 9.5 mm thick and cannot fit inside an E555 model.

  3. pinobot

    I have the same laptop. I can live with the low saturation, only the red channel often looks too washed out.
    I had to reduce the contrast to 45 (from 50) and then raise the brightness to 15 (from 0) to make the blacks not look crushed.