For years, business laptops have been stuck in a bubble. They have either been all black (looking at you, ThinkPad) or Grey (the area pioneered by MacBooks). With its ThinkBook lineup, Lenovo is now trying to break that mold and offer something different. The company thinks it has found an alternative to business laptops finding a perfect balance between design and security features. Honestly, it’s a tall claim considering the “one size fits all” approach never works in the enterprise market. But nobody knows about business laptops like Lenovo does and it’s a claim worth checking out.
First things first, the ThinkBook is not replacing the ThinkPad, which have dominated the industry for far too long. It, however, wants to target enterprise users who are no longer confined to a fixed space. Lenovo is trying to woo people are not only young, but also prefer to work from a cafe rather than an office. These are the people who go to WeWork or Coworks to get work done. So, did Lenovo make a better product for this on-the-go kind of users? The answer in short – Yes. For the longer answer, you will have to read on.
Lenovo ThinkBook 14: Design and Display
Last month, I reviewed the Lenovo ThinkPad T490 and without any doubts, I would say that it is one of the best business laptops right now. However, I have been wondering what if Lenovo made a cheaper version of that machine and the answer seems to be the ThinkBook 14 in some ways. In terms of design, Lenovo is drawing a lot of inspiration from its own product line such as the Yoga series and the ThinkPad. The immediate thing you notice is that the ThinkBook 14 comes in a silver or metallic finish as opposed to black color trim seen on ThinkPad models. This serves as a huge departure for enterprise customers who have grown used to seeing the same matte finished models at all places.
While the ThinkPad has a branding on the top right corner of the top panel, the Thinkbook has a branding at the bottom left corner. It seems to be inscribed into the metal chassis using laser and does not come across as an aggressive branding work. This is in stark contrast to business laptop designs that scream with their branding and try hard to prove their allegiance. On the keyboard deck, there is a branding for the Intel 10th generation CPU and that pretty much rounds up all the stickers on this device. You can easily open the laptop with one finger and power button is embedded with a fingerprint sensor.
I found this fingerprint sensor to be very quick. Sometimes it authenticated me so quickly that I wanted it to not work that well. As soon as you press the power button for the first time, the laptop starts and authenticates you. It is really clever design borrowed from smartphones. Lenovo set out to appeal to millennials and people who work from co-working spaces. After using it for nearly a month, I can say that this ThinkBook design will definitely appeal to them. It is not perfect, but it does ditch successfully ditch traditional design associated with business laptops.
Lenovo is introducing two models as part of new ThinkBook lineup in India – ThinkBook 14 and ThinkBook 15. Our review unit – ThinkBook 14 – features a 14-inch IPS display with Full HD resolution of 1920×1080 pixels. Lenovo even includes instructions on how to set custom zoom to 124 percent, which is ideal for this panel. The display has peak brightness of 250 nits, which is fine when indoors but struggles outdoors. When you see this display at an angle, it might look washed out. I found that the display was viewable at 60 percent brightness or higher. I left the device at peak brightness for most of this review duration. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a bad display, but I would have loved to see 350-400 nits of brightness. Adding it to my wishlist for 2020 ThinkBook lineup. The display is fine for both work as well as watching Netflix.
Lenovo ThinkBook 14: Hardware and Battery Life
The ThinkBook comes with the option for 10th generation Intel Core processors, up to 24GB RAM, and 1TB SSD or 2TB HDD storage. Our review unit is configured with Intel Core i7-10150U clocked at 1.8GHz, 16GB RAM and 512GB PCIe SSD storage. There is also optional Intel Optane Memory and dual drive storage. With a machine like this, the first thing you notice is the time it takes to boot. It is usually between 15 and 30 seconds. In comparison to laptops provided to mid level employees by most organizations, it can be described as super fast. My work laptop, which is a HP ProBook 440, takes at least five minutes to boot and load all apps. I need to wait another 5-10 minutes to really get started with my work. On ThinkBook, there is no such thing as wait. It boots and you can immediately get started with your apps and services.
Whether you are a business customer or a standard consumer, time is of essence. The few seconds saved can add to productivity and peace of mind. Since it has the newest hardware, there is absolutely no lag whatsoever. My review unit does not include discrete graphics, but you can configure to add AMD Radeon 625 at the time of purchase. With 10th generation processor family, Intel has improved graphics in a big way. This is not a gaming machine, but you can do basic photo editing work without any issue. There is also a good array of port options available with this machine.
On the left side, there is Gen 2 USB Type-C port that acts as both power delivery and DisplayPort. There is also a Gen 1 USB Type-C port. There is a regular USB Type-A that is also an always-on port. Rounding up this side is the HDMI port, headphone jack and RJ-45 Ethernet connector. On the right side, there is a DC power supply, second USB-A port, 4-in-1 card reader and hidden USB 2.0 port. It supports Wi-Fi 6 with Bluetooth 5 and the downward firing speakers are not good. Lenovo claims battery life of around nine hours, but I got between 4-6 hours on a single charge. I was hoping to get through the work day without the charger but that proved to be impossible. However, the 65W USB Type-C adapter does support Rapid Charge.
Lenovo ThinkBook 14: Keyboard, Trackpad and Software
While PC makers kept dabbling with different keyboard designs, Lenovo stuck with standard design. The keyboard on the ThinkBook 14 is not as great as say the one on ThinkPad lineup, but is far better than the ones seen on ProBook or VivoBook series. It works reliably with decent travel and clicky sound. However, while I was on a video conferencing call and taking notes, the person on the other end found the keyboard to be rather loud. I agree with this keyboard being the loudest I have used on a laptop, but the sound made is not as disheartening as the one made by butterfly keyboard. It also comes with two stages of backlight and hot keys for Skype for Business. While the keyboard is great, the touchpad is a disappointment. Lenovo is not using precision touchpad, which has become a boon for Windows-based laptops.
Take an example of HP Spectre x360 from early this year. One of the best convertible devices had a horrible trackpad. So, HP fixed that with late 2019 model to release one of the best convertible designs of 2019. The ThinkBook 14 starts at around Rs 37,000 and Lenovo has cut cost to reach that price. However, it should not have compromised on trackpad experience since mobile workforce, according to me, should not carry separate accessories like wireless mouse. When I got the device, it ran Windows 10 1903 but immediately got the newest version or October update, which bumps the version to 1909. It’s an incremental update that brings changes to notification settings and shortcuts, improvements to narrator, online-based search tool in file explorer to name a few.
Lenovo ThinkBook 14: Verdict
If your employer asks you which business laptop do you need then I would suggest the ThinkPad T490, HP Elite Dragonfly or the 16-inch Apple MacBook Pro. This is considering that money isn’t an issue. But, if money is a constraint then you should definitely look at the ThinkBook 14.
I however want to get a few things out of the way. In the grand scheme of things, the display on the ThinkBook 14 is not really acceptable. However, if you see what enterprise customers buy right now, it is certainly an upgrade. The same cannot be said about the trackpad though. By ditching precision trackpad, Lenovo has committed a sin and the speakers are disappointing. It tries to make up with ample computing power, ThinkShutter Camera Cover, security features and well rounded user experience. Our review unit, which costs Rs 80,000 before tax, does not seem expensive. If you are planning a ThinkBook, I would suggest getting the Core i5 model instead, save some money and probably get better battery life.