Which ThinkPad is Right For You?

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For many business users and corporate IT departments, nothing but a Lenovo ThinkPad laptop will do. Whether it’s their strong build quality, industry-leading keyboards, hyper accurate pointing sticks, or simple black aesthetic, the ThinkPad line has a number of mainstays that Lenovo fans won’t do without.

Editor’s Note: Lenovo announced refreshes of almost all of its ThinkPads in early January 2017. Updated models with 7th Generation Core Series CPUs and new features such as Thunderbolt 3 ports and optional PCIe SSDs will be rolling out sometime in February or March. If you can wait several weeks to buy one of the new models, we recommend doing so. 

Even if you’ve already got your heart and your budget committed to a ThinkPad, you’ve got a lot of choices. Lenovo currently sells over 20 ThinkPad models across 9 different lines. The laptops all have the same basic aesthetic, but vary greatly when it comes to size, price, screen quality, performance and battery life. Some even have snappier keyboards than others. So which ThinkPad is right for you? The answer depends on your priorities.

ThinkPads

Best General-Purpose ThinkPad

The ThinkPad T460 is our favorite, general-purpose ThinkPad because it combines extremely-long battery life (17 hours) with a deep keyboard, solid performance and an optional 1080p display. At 3.8 to 4.2 pounds, it’s not the lightest laptop around, but it’s more than svelte enough to carry. A starting price around $700 makes it a decent value too.

ThinkPad T460

Best ThinkPads for Battery Life

The longest-lasting laptops in Lenovo’s lineup have the company’s PowerBridge technology, which lets you swap out the batteries without powering down. If you buy them with the 6-cell battery option, which effectively doubles the endurance, both the ThinkPad X260 and T460 (non-S) can last over 17 hours on a charge. However, these same laptops get about half the endurance with their slimmer, 3-cell batteries. Also note thatonfiguring these notebooks with touch screens shaves a couple of hours off.

ThinkPad X260

If you don’t want a somewhat chunky extended battery, you can still get strong battery life on a couple of svelte laptops with non-removable batteries, namely the ThinkPad X1 Carbon and ThinkPad 13, both of which last over 9 hours on a charge when configured with their 1080p screens. Note that all of these times are based on how the devices fared on our Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi. Depending on what tasks you perform, your mileage will vary.

Model Battery Life (on Laptop Mag Test)
ThinkPad T460 (1920 x 1080, non-touch) 17:04 (6-cell battery)
ThinkPad X260 (1366 x 768, non-touch) 17:14 (6-cell battery) / 8:16 (3-cell battery)
ThinkPad 13 (1920 x 1080, non-touch) 9:13
Lenovo X1 Carbon (1920 x 1080, non-touch) 9:06

Most Portable ThinkPads

If you’re looking for the lightest ThinkPad around, the 14-inch X1 Carbon is your best choice, as it tips the scales at just 2.6 pounds. Its convertible sibling, the X1 Yoga, weighs just 2.8 pounds. The ThinkPad T460s packs a deeper keyboard and easily-upgradeable RAM and storage into a 3-pound package. The ThinkPad 13 is only a little heavier at 3.1 pounds while the X260 is a reasonable 3.2 pounds, though the weight jumps to 3.6 pounds with the 6-cell battery.

Model  Weight Thickness
ThinkPad X1 Carbon 2.6 pounds 0.65 inches
ThinkPad X1 Yoga 2.8 pounds 0.66 inches
ThinkPad T460s 3.0 pounds 0.74 inches
ThinkPad 13 3.14 pounds 0.78 inches
ThinkPad X260 3.2 / 3.6 (with 6-cell battery) pounds 0.80 inches

Best 2-in-1 Options

Lenovo makes several different ThinkPad models which have the brand’s Yoga, bend-back functionality. Of these, the 14-inch ThinkPad X1 Yoga stands head and shoulders above the rest, because it combines light weight with solid battery life and a gorgeous display that can show over 100 percent of the sRGB color gamut.

Professional 3D modelers may want the P40 Yoga, which has Nvidia Quadro graphics but suffers from below-average battery life and plenty of fan noise. All of the ThinkPad Yogas come with very accurate styluses.

If you prefer a detachable design, go for the X1 Tablet, which comes with a removable keyboard and provides a gorgeous display, along with a thicker stylus than on Lenovo’s bendback hybirds. However, unless you get its extended battery attachment, the tablet has just five and a half hours of battery life.

Best Keyboards

Even the worst ThinkPad keyboard is pretty good, but they aren’t all created equal, as some have more travel and a better feel than others. The very affordable ThinkPad 13 has the best combination of deep travel and strong feedback of any laptop we’ve tested, though it doesn’t have a backlight.

ThinkPad 13 keyboard

The T460 has really deep travel and a snappy feel also while the X1 Carbon offers a great response, even though its keys are a little shallower than the T series, P series and ThinkPad 13 lines. It’s important to note that there are sometimes subtle manufacturing differences, even within the same product line. One T460s we tested felt a little mushy but two other units had pleasantly-strong feedback.

Best Screen

Many of Lenovo’s ThinkPads are available with different screen options, allowing you to choose a resolution or decide between touch and non-touch panels. We strongly recommend that you get your ThinkPad with a minimum resolution of 1920 x 1080 and eschew the ugly 1366 x 768 and 1600 x 900 panels that come on a few of the base configs. To get the best battery life, eschew a touch screen if you’re buying a traditional clamshell laptop rather than a 2-in-1.

ThinkPad X1 Yoga

The ThinkPad X1 series (X1 Carbon, X1 Yoga and X1 tablet), all have great color quality, with the ability to reproduce over 100 percent of the sRGB gamut. The pricey P50 and P70 have vibrant displays with optional 4K resolutions and color calibrators.

Best Value

The ThinkPad 13 is a steal, starting at under $600 with two premium features, a 1080p screen and an SSD on board. Lenovo’s small-business focsed ThinkPad E460 and E560 start at just $521, with very-basic components but you can configure them with SSDs, 1080p displays and Core i5 CPUs for a little over $200 more.

ThinkPad 13

Depending on how you configure them, the ThinkPad T460 and X260 give you good bang for the buck, with starting prices around (or sometimes below) $700, though prices creep closer to $1,000 when you configure them with 1080p screens, Core i5 CPUs and SSDs.

Most Powerful

Most mainstream ThinkPads come with a choice of low-voltage, dual-core Intel Core i3, Core i5 or Core i7 CPUs. If you want a lot more speed for tasks like 3D modeling, CAD or engineering work, get one of the P series laptops. If you want the most powerful mobile workstation around and size is no object, get the 17-inch ThinkPad P70, which is available with an Intel Xeon E3-1505M CPU and Nvidia Quadro M5000M graphics. The P50 offers the same Xeon CPU but a slightly-slower Nvidia Quadro M2000M GPU.

ThinkPad P70

If you want some more performance out of a mainstream, non-workstation-class laptop, consider the ThinkPad T460p which comes with mobile quad-core, H-class Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs. Several ThinkPads, including the X1 Carbon, T460s and P50 / P70 are available with a NVMe-PCIe SSDs, which provide three times the performance of a standard, SATA SSD.

(laptopmag.com, https://goo.gl/9Cecjs)

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