- ProsOne of the lightest 14-inch business laptops. 1-inch thick with optical drive. Optical drive can be substituted with an additional battery. High screen resolution. Tough as nails. Phenomenal typing experience. Excellent battery life. Speedy.
- ConsA backlit-keyboard would be nice.
- Bottom LineThe Lenovo ThinkPad T420s is an amazing device when you realize that its power, feature set, and battery yields are usually found in much heavier laptops.
The battle for the lightest 14-inch business laptop is waged among a small handful of PC manufacturers, none more distinguished than Lenovo. The latest laptop in Lenovo’s ThinkPad series of business laptops, the Lenovo ThinkPad T420s ($1,518 direct), is as masterfully engineered as it is incredibly lightweight. Its magnesium enclosure protects some of the most advanced parts, and the laptop has arguably the best user experience in the world. The last time we looked at the ThinkPad T series, its meager battery scores weren’t the kind that can last through a grueling travel schedule. This time around, thanks to an overhaul that included Intel Sandy Bridge technology, the T420s has the battery chops to battle its competitors—and win. Excellent battery life aside, it’s a solid, all-around business laptop, and a must-have because it’s our new Editors’ Choice in the business laptop category.
The all-black chassis of a ThinkPad has never gone through a major design change; The T420s looks like the ThinkPad from three years ago. Business laptops like the HP Elitebook 8560p ($1,499.99 direct, 4 stars) and Dell Latitude E6420 ($1,788 direct, 4 stars) are experimenting with brush strokes and radiant colors over their aluminum lids. Lenovo, on the other hand, refuses to change for fear of offending long-time ThinkPad users. The chassis is made of magnesium with some traces of carbon fiber, which is both accident-proof and long-lasting. To further emphasize this point, all ThinkPads, including the T420s, go through some form of ruggedized testing (drops, moisture, dust, vibration, etc.).
The T420s measures exactly an inch thick (13.3-by-9.4-by-1 inches). The slim profile is amazing, considering it has an optical drive. Other business laptops equipped with optical drives, like the Toshiba Tecra R850-S8540 ($1,349.99 direct, 3.5 stars) and Dell E6420 are noticeably bulkier. At 4 pounds, it’s one of the lightest business laptop with a 14-inch screen, more than a pound lighter than the Lenovo ThinkPad T410 ($1,484 direct, 4 stars) (5.5 pounds) and Dell E6420 (6 pounds). The Panasonic Toughbook F9 and Toshiba Tecra R840 are two other 14-inch laptops weighing in the four-pound range (stay tuned for our reviews).
The 14-inch widescreen is wider now, adopting the 16:9 aspect ratio most every other laptop in the world Its 1,600-by-900 resolution is slightly higher than the 1,400-by-900 screen found in the previous Lenovo ThinkPad T410s ($1,504 direct, 4 stars). The Toshiba R850-S8540 and Dell E6420 have similar displays. Those who were a fan of the Lenovo T410s’s touch screen will be sad to know that this option is no longer on the T420s.
The full size keyboard is what keeps Lenovo customers coming back year after year. It’s a traditional-looking keyboard and arguably the best one in the business, despite so many other laptops moving to a chiclet-style keyboard. Dual pointing devices (pointing stick and touchpad) are only available in business laptops, and while the Dell E6420 and Toshiba R850-S8540 have excellent touchpads, their pointing sticks are no match for that of the T420s. Let’s just say the vast majority of ThinkPad users swear by the pointing stick. A backlit keyboard, which you’ll find on the Dell E6420, is the one feature that the T420s desperately needs, though.
The integrated DVD burner is modular, meaning it can be swapped out for a 32WH battery (a $129 option that only adds a tenth of a pound to the laptop weight) that works in concert with the standard 44WH battery that snaps into the bottom of the laptop. It’s a highly recommended accessory. Most of the ports are appointed to the back of the laptop. There, you’ll find VGA, Ethernet, DisplayPort, and one USB 2.0 port and one USB 3.0 port, a much faster interface than USB 2.0. This leaves another USB 2.0 port and an SD slot on the left side of the laptop. Because of their thicker frames, the Dell E6420 and HP 8560p could accommodate a few more features than the T420s, such as an ExpressCard slot, modem jack, and Smart Card reader.
Above the screen is no average webcam; the T420s has one that can shoot 720p video, so you can conduct business video conference calls in high definition. The T420s also has ample wireless connectivity features, including embedded 3G (via Qualcomm’s Gobi technology), 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and options for GPS and WiMAX (4G). The included 320GB, 7200rpm hard drive isn’t huge, but its fast rotation speed is a huge plus for performance enthusiasts. The HP 8560p, Dell E6420, and Toshiba R850-S8540 have fast-spinning hard drives as well. There’s a 128GB SSD option, which has some speed advantages over spinning drives but is costly ($280).
The 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2520M processor, based on Sandy Bridge technology, is the same as the one found in the Dell E6420, but falls short of the Core i7 CPUs found in the Toshiba R850-S8540 and HP 8560p. Frankly, few applications in the real world would need the power of a Core i7, and ramping to one would have caused unnecessary heat issues because it’s such a thin laptop. It scored 2.83 on Cinebench R11.5 and 4 minutes 5 seconds on Photoshop. This trailed the HP 8560p (3.1 on Cinebench, 3:48 on Photoshop) and Toshiba R850-S8540 (2.89 on Cinebench), but not by much. It’s a really speedy laptop, judging by how fast it zipped through PCMark 7 (2,835), an overall performance gauge. It doesn’t have the 3D prowess of the HP 8560p’s and Toshiba R850-S8540—both of which had discrete graphics chips—but the T420s’s integrated graphics solution isn’t a deal breaker, either. In fact, an integrated graphics solution is more forgiving on the battery than a discrete graphics chip.
The Sandy Bridge platform comes with a wealth of improvements, the most compelling of which is lower power consumption (thus better battery yields). It has a 44WH (6-cell) battery, which is small by today’s standards. Alone, it amassed 5 hours 20 minutes of battery life, which is over an hour more than the Lenovo T410s (3:58). With the additional 32WH battery, battery life soars to 8:40. The battery tandem outlasted the Dell E6420 (8:30), Toshiba R850-S8540 (6:30), and HP 8560p (3:54), which makes the T420s is a bigger asset on the road.
The Lenovo ThinkPad T420s is amazing when you realize that its power, feature set, and battery yields are usually found in much heavier laptops like the the Dell Latitude E6420. You can find a lighter 14-inch business laptop, but it won’t pack in as many features as the T420s, or be priced as reasonably. It’s the premier business laptop that should be at your side at all times, whether you’re on the road or dwelling in an office, and is the new Editors’ Choice for business laptops.