Which ThinkPad is Right For You?

Which ThinkPad is Right for You?

For many users and corporate IT departments, nothing but a Lenovo ThinkPad laptop will do. Whether its their solid 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.

Even if you’ve already got your heart and your budget committed to a ThinkPad, you’ve got a lot of choices. Lenovo makes six different lines of ThinkPads, with over a dozen models currently for sale on the company’s U.S. website, from the ultraportable 12.5-inch ThinkPad X230 to the large and powerful ThinkPad W530. Which ThinkPad laptop is right for you?

Best for Students/Small Biz/Budget: ThinkPad Edge E430 (From $549)

ThinkPad-E430With a starting price of just $549,  the 14-inch ThinkPad Edge E430 provides a strong combination of  performance, portability, and small business-friendly features. At a reasonable 4.6 pounds, the E430 fits easily in any bag, and has plenty of ports, including USB 3.0, HDMI, VGA and an optical drive.

The Core i3 CPU and 7,200-rpm hard drive on the base-level ThinkPad Edge E430 are powerful enough for most productivity tasks, while the battery offers more than 6 hours of endurance. The notebook even comes with both a DVD burner and fingerprint reader standard. 

While the ThinkPad Edge E430  is ideal for students, small business users, and anyone on a budget, you’ll make a few trade-offs for its relatively low price. The glossy screen is only available in a 1366 x 768 resolution, there’s no discrete graphics option, and no way to augment the unremovable battery. The island-style keyboard, while responsive, offers less tactile feedback than the T430 and W530. 

Pros: Great value; solid battery life

Cons: Keyboard not as responsive as other ThinkPads; few high-end options

Read full review of the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E430

Best Ergonomics: Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (From $1,399)

ThinkPad X1 CarbonThough its keyboard is a bit shallow in comparison to those on thicker ThinkPads like the T430 and W530, the lightweight ThinkPad X1 Carbon feels the best on our lap. At just 3-pounds and .74 inches thick at its thickest point, this carbon fiber-based Ultrabook is as durable as it is portable, having passed 8 MIL-SPEC tests. It even feels solid when held by the deck with one hand.

The X1 Carbon’s sharp 1600 x 900 14-inch matte screen offers perfect viewing angles, without washing out at all at 90 degrees to the left or right. At 290 lux, it’s also one of the brightest panels around. The sealed-in battery offers an impressive 7 hours and 45 minutes of endurance and the RapidCharge technology allows the Carbon to reach 70 percent charge in just 30 minutes.

In addition to its less-than-optimal keyboard, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon has a couple of other design flaws worth noting. Its slow-moving SanDisk SSD provides write speeds that are about half those of other solid state drives and, because it is so thin, the X1 Carbon has no Ethernet or VGA port, and only 2 USB connections.

Pros: Long battery life; great screen; light weight

Cons: Mediocre keyboard; no Ethernet port; slow SSD

Read full review of the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon

Best Mobility: Lenovo ThinkPad X230 (From $755)

ThinkPad X230If you want to work unplugged all day, there’s no longer-lasting notebook than Lenovo’s ThinkPad X230. The 12.5-inch, 3.4-pound X230 lasts up to 20 hours when equipped with both a nine-cell battery and a 1.6-pound battery slice. Even without the bulky slice, the ThinkPad X230 gets amazing endurace life with its 9-cell extended unit. Plus, with up to a Core i7 CPU, this laptop brings plenty of processing power.

Though the keyboard itself is quite responsive, we found the experience of typing on the ThinkPad X230 less pleasant than on the X1 Carbon because our wrists kept hanging off of the short palm rest. And the screen is only available in 1366 x 768 resolution, which is lower than many users would like.

Pros: Epic battery life; light weight, strong performer

Cons: Short palm rest; screen only 1366 x 768

Read full review of the Lenovo ThinkPad X230

Best Everyday Workhorse: Lenovo ThinkPad T430 (From $779)

ThinkPad T430If you don’t need one of the lightest laptops on the block, the 5.2-pound ThinkPad T430 provides the best mix of power, affordability, and flexibility. For around $1,000, you can configure the T430 with a high-res 1600 x 900 screen, a long-lasting nine-cell battery, and an Nvidia NVS 5400M graphics chip that uses Optimus technology to switch back and forth between discrete and integrated modes for the best combination of performance and endurance. On the LAPTOP Battery Test, the T420 lasted a strong 13 hours and 25 minutes with its nine-cell battery, more than double the thin-and-light notebook average.

The T430 features a responsive, island-style Lenovo keyboard, a fantastic low-light webcam, and superior sound, too. The T430 even comes with an optical drive, for those who still need one. This laptop’s only real drawback is  its relatively beefy chassis.

Pros: 1600 x 900 screen option; Nvidia Optimus graphics option; long battery life (if you choose the right configuration)

Cons: Bulkier than other ThinkPads

Read full review of the Lenovo ThinkPad T430

Best for Power Users: Lenovo ThinkPad W530 (From $1,104)

Lenovo ThinkPad W530Demanding users who have the money and the muscle to carry a 6.2-pound desktop replacement will appreciate the high-octane performance of the 15.6-inch ThinkPad W530 laptop.  The W530 offers high-end options such as a quad-core Core i7 CPU, Nvidia Quadro K1000M or K2000M Graphics, an optional 1920 x 1080 screen, and a color calibrator. 

If you’re a graphics or video editor on the move, the ThinkPad W530 is built for you. If you’re a touch-typist, you’ll appreciate the notebook’s highly responsive, island-style keyboard which seems to have just a little more bounce than the T430′s. If you need to go unplugged, the W530 can last more than 6  hours on a charge with its default battery, likely more with its 9-cell unit.

That said, the W530 is expensive—$1,274 with the full HD screen and quad core—and heavy so, if you don’t need this amount of power and screen real estate, you should go for something smaller.

Pros: Powerful performance; optional full HD screen; long battery life

Cons: Expensive; heavy

Read full review of the Lenovo ThinkPad W530

Best for Touch: Lenovo ThinkPad X230 Tablet (from $1,010)

ThinkPad X230 TabletIf you need a convertible tablet and must have a ThinkPad, there’s only one choice: the 12.5-inch ThinkPad X230 Tablet. Starting at $1,010, the tablet has a similar look and feel to its non-convertible fraternal twin, the ThinkPad X230. We haven’t tested the X230 Tablet, but we reviewed the earlier-generation ThinkPad X230 tablet and found it bright, responsive, powerful, and long-lasting. The X230 Tablet is available with CPUs up to a Core i7 and an outdoor-capable screen. Forget about discrete graphics.

Those who don’t absolutely need a convertible touchscreen should choose a different ThinkPad, because the the X230 Tablet, like its predecessors, has a relatively small keyboard and a palm rest that’s even more uncomfortable than the one on the X230 non-tablet. In our tests on the X210 Tablet, we found the hard edge of the palm rest scraping our wrists as we typed.

Pros: The only convertible ThinkPad

Cons: Uncomfortable keyboard; no discrete graphics

AUTHOR BIO
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. Jim Scarff Says:

    Comments on Thinkpad keyboards inconsistent or paradoxical? I had the impression that ALL of these keyboards were full-sized keyboards that conformed to Lenovo’s new “Precision” keyboard design. I would expect that the differences between them would be relatively minor, particularly in contrast to the big differences between the Precision keyboard and the flat slippery keys offered on other brand’s ultrabooks.

    You criticize the X1 Carbon as having a “mediocre” keyboard because it is a “bit shallow”. However, you prefer it to the keyboard on the X230! “Mediocre” compared to what? Only other Thinkpad keyboards? The reviews on every other site I looked at praised the keyboard on the X1 as the best that Lenovo has ever made.

    You like the keyboard on the T430, and love the keyboard on the W530:

    “If you’re a touch-typist, you’ll appreciate the notebook’s highly responsive, island-style keyboard which seems to have just a little more bounce than the T430′s.”

    If you think the distinctions you made are real, then I suggest you need to provide more compelling analysis to justify them.

  2. Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director Says:

    The X1 Carbon keyboard is good for a notebook keyboard, but not as tactile as other ThinkPads. Even though Lenovo uses a similar mechanism on the keyboards, the base and amount of travel underneath does vary slightly in my experience. As for the X230, the keyboard mechanism itself is decent, but as I said, the short palmrest makes for a weaker typing experience. Though the T430 and W530 are supposed to feel the same, on the units we tested, the W530 offered slightly more feedback than the T430.

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