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If you need a business laptop that’s tougher and more serviceable than an ultrabook, you should get the Lenovo ThinkPad T450s. After more than 30 hours of research and testing, it’s the one we recommend, because it offers the best mix of a great keyboard, speed, durability, configuration options, and user-serviceability over the competition.
Who is this for?
Most people, even business people, don’t need a traditional business laptop anymore—an ultrabook will be smaller, lighter, and good enough for most people. But some people still need more battery life, more power, more ports, or security features that you just can’t get on an ultrabook, and they’re willing to deal with a thicker, heavier laptop in exchange for those things and for greater durability.
How we decided
Most business laptops have the same guts as ultrabooks. We tested performance just to make sure there were no surprises, but we focused on the things that make business laptops great: the keyboard and trackpad, build quality, battery life, display, upgradeability and serviceability, and warranty and support.
The Lenovo ThinkPad T450s has one of the best keyboards of any laptop. It’s deep, precise, and comfortable, and comes with the famous red pointing stick.
If I had to use one laptop every day for the next three to four years, it would be the Lenovo ThinkPad T450s, upgraded from the base model with a 1920×1080 IPS screen, 12GB of RAM, and a backlit keyboard. It’s thicker, heavier, and doesn’t have as good a screen as an ultrabook, but its rugged chassis and spill-resistant keyboard mean you don’t need to baby it. The ThinkPad keyboard is one of the best on any laptop, and unlike most ultrabooks, the T450s still has VGA and Ethernet ports, which are good for screen presentations and Internet/network connectivity, respectively.
It’s easier to upgrade and service than most ultrabooks, and thanks to its hot-swappable batteries, you can get staggeringly long battery life without ever going near a charger or turning off your computer. Lenovo also offers on-site repair warranties, for when you can’t afford to go without your laptop while it’s being replaced.
The Dell Latitude E7450 is about as ThinkPad-like as you can get without buying a ThinkPad.
If the T450s is unavailable, consider the Dell Latitude E7450, which has most of the same features at a similar price. Unlike the ThinkPad, it has an HDMI port and dedicated mouse buttons for the trackpad. The keyboard is almost as good as the ThinkPad’s, and the Dell is easier to upgrade because its hard drive and RAM slots are more accessible. It’s also slightly cheaper than the ThinkPad when configured similarly, and comes with a longer base warranty. As with the Lenovo, it’s worth paying to upgrade from the terrible default display to a 1920×1080 screen.
The Dell runs louder and warmer than the ThinkPad, but it’s one of the few true business laptops left, and some may prefer its more rounded look to the squared-off ThinkPad.
The everyperson’s business laptop
Apple’s MacBook Pro with Retina Display (left) is the best business laptop for people who don’t need Windows or legacy ports.
If you don’t need a bunch of legacy I/O ports (or are willing to carry adapters), don’t need Windows (or don’t mind running it using Boot Camp or in a virtual machine), and don’t need something that can be upgraded later, consider the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display.
The MacBook Pro with Retina has a higher-resolution screen and more powerful CPU than the ThinkPad T450s or the Latitude E7450. It has excellent battery life, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, and a top-of-the-line Wi-Fi card. It only has two USB 3.0 ports, and you’ll need adapters if you want to use VGA or Ethernet cables. It’s also expensive, even compared to already-expensive business laptops, and you can’t upgrade it later if you run out of RAM or storage space. But Apple has the highest satisfaction ratings of any laptop maker, and OS X is a great OS—you can always run Windows under Boot Camp or a virtual machine if you need it. It’s not a traditional business laptop, but it’s a great laptop for business.
The Dell Latitude E7450 (left), the 13-inch Macbook Pro with Retina Display (center), and the Lenovo ThinkPad T450s (right).
The business laptop is a dying breed, but there’s life in them old bones yet. The Lenovo ThinkPad T450s has an amazing keyboard, great support, and a tough chassis, and it’s easy to service and upgrade so it’ll keep kicking for years. It’s not flashy, it’s just competent, and it’ll stay that way for a long time.
This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter / The Sweethome. To see the current recommendation, please go here.