Help Me, LAPTOP! Choosing Between a ThinkPad and an HP ProBook

This week’s “Help Me, LAPTOP!” is a real head-scratcher. A reader looking for a small business notebook is trying to choose between two excellent laptops — the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E420s and the HP ProBook 4430s. Both systems feature nearly identical configurations (Intel Core i3 processors, 4GB of RAM, Intel HD Graphics) and similar price points ($599 for the ProBook 4430s and $635 for the ThinkPad Edge E420s).

When we reviewed the ThinkPad Edge E420s, we gave it four stars and an Editor’s Choice, praising its sophisticated design, light weight, excellent keyboard and strong battery life. And while we haven’t reviewed the HP ProBook 4430s, the ProBook series boasts loud speakers, comfortable keyboards and touchpads, and attractive and durable designs (see our ProBook 4530s review). So, how to choose between these two great small business notebooks? Let’s find out exactly what our reader is looking for.

Our reader writes:

I would just be just using the computer for internet surfing and e-mail.  My considerations are a well made keyboard with no flex and good reliability.  Is the HP Probook screen clear and sharp enough with the non-glare screen, or does the Lenovo E420s have too glossy a screen?  I will probably only be using the notebook indoors.

Clearly, a good keyboard, sturdy design and screen clarity are top priorities for our reader. Let’s start with a comparison of the keyboard on the ThinkPad and ProBook.

Keyboard:

Like most Lenovo notebooks, the ThinkPad Edge E420s features a truly excellent keyboard. The island-style, spill-resistant keyboard features curved, “smile-shaped” keys that make it easy to avoid typing mistakes and offer lots of tactile feedback. What’s more, it’s rubberized palm rests make typing a downright pleasurable experience. It’s hard to improve on this design — Lenovo has consistently set the standard for comfortable and reliable keyboards.

The HP ProBook 4430s, like its larger cousin the 4530s, sports slightly concave, chiclet-style keys. We loved the keyboard on the 4530s — its keys click softly, offer deep travel, and provide comfortable feedback. While the 4430s lacks the dedicated number pad found on the 4530s, this isn’t a terrible loss. Nevertheless, the ThinkPad Edge E420s probably has the edge on the ProBook 4430s in this department, as Lenovo’s keyboards are some of the best in the industry.

Design:

While Lenovo has never been known for its flashy designs, the E420s looks more sporty than the classic ThinkPad, featuring chrome trim, an end-to-end infinity glass display, and a rubberized chassis. Perhaps more importantly, the laptop weighs just 4.4 pounds and is only 1.2 inches thick, making it easy to slip into your messenger bag or backpack on those days when you want to get out of the house.

The HP ProBook 4430s is remarkably attractive for a sub-$600 notebook, featuring a brushed aluminum lid and interior, as well as a perforated metal speaker grille that runs along the deck above the notebook’s keyboard. With a starting weight of 4.5 pounds, the ProBook is slightly heavier than the ThinkPad Edge E420s, but at 1.11 inches thick it’s slightly thinner. If you place a premium on an attractive design, the ProBook 4430s will probably be most to your liking.

Display:

Here is where the two notebooks diverge dramatically. The glossy infinity glass display on the ThinkPad Edge E420s (1366 x 768 resolution) offered beautiful, vivid colors. Unfortunately, the screen offers somewhat limited viewing angles — colors wash out when viewed at angles greater than 45 degrees. The notebook also suffers from a substantial amount of glare when viewed in sunlight — but since our reader is going to be using it mostly indoors, this shouldn’t be a problem.

The ProBook 4430s, on the other hand, features a matte anti-glare screen. You won’t have to worry about annoying reflections on this laptop, but if it’s anything like its cousin, the ProBook 4530s, you won’t be impressed with its viewing angles or its contrast. When we reviewed the ProBook 4530s, we felt that the contrast could have been improved, and that the blacks could have been deeper. Given what our reader is looking for in a screen, the ThinkPad is the better choice.

Overall, it looks like the svelte ThinkPad Edge E420s — with its magnificent keyboard and vivid infinity glass display — is the best choice for our reader. And while it may not have a brushed aluminum chassis like the ProBook 4430s, the ThinkPad certainly isn’t hard on the eyes. Still, both of these laptops are an excellent choice — as far as small business notebooks go, the ThinkPad Edge E420s and the HP ProBook 4430s are at the top of the class.

If you have a question about fixing a technical problem or buying a new product, drop us a line at helpme@laptopmag.com and we’ll respond to the most interesting questions in this section.

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