If you're looking for a laptop to handle your workload without busting your budget, the Lenovo ThinkPad E450 (starting at $580, $730 as tested) is designed for you. This 14-inch business notebook boasts Intel's fifth-generation Core i5 CPU, a comfortable keyboard and a fingerprint reader for security. It also offers Windows 7 Pro as an option for those who don't want to deal with Windows 8. However, below-average battery life and a relatively dim screen prevent this system from earning a higher rating.
The Lenovo ThinkPad E450 has a functional but unexciting aesthetic. The smooth, matte black coating on its polycarbonate surface provides a professional look and resists fingerprints. Two sturdy silver-colored hinges hold the screen and keyboard together. The design elements that stand out are the red LED bulbs on the letter "i" in the ThinkPad logo on the lid and deck, which light up when the notebook is on.
At 13.3 x 9.4 x 0.94 inches, the 14-inch ThinkPad E450 is thicker than the 14-inch Lenovo ThinkPad T450s (13 x 8.9 x 0.83 inches). The 4-pound E450 is also a bit heavier than the 3.8-pound ThinkPad T450s.
Although it doesn't meet the same MIL-SPEC tests for durability that the T450s does, the E450 did pass Lenovo's custom rugged testing for shock, bump, drop and dust. Lenovo also tried the laptop's hinge by opening and closing it 30,000 times. The E450's keyboard is spill-resistant, as is the T450s'.
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Like its body, the ThinkPad E450's matte 14-inch 1920 x 1080 nontouch display is not the most exciting, but it's good enough for most tasks. When I watched a 1080p trailer for Aloha, I could make out frown lines and wrinkles on the weather beaten faces of Alec Baldwin and Bill Murray, and Rachel McAdams' auburn hair was vibrant. Viewing angles were limited, however, with images washing out beyond 45 degrees both vertically and horizontally.
Notching 122 nits on our brightness meter, the ThinkPad E450 is dimmer than the average thin-and-light notebook (226 nits), the ThinkPad T450s (236 nits), the 2015 nontouch Dell XPS 13 (298 nits) and the Asus ZenBook UX305 (281 nits).
With a Delta-E score of 10.6, the E450's panel is also less accurate than the thin-and-light category average (2.1) and the ThinkPad T450s (3.9), but the same as the XPS 13 and better than the Asus (11.7).
On our colorimeter, the E450 reproduced just 66.1 percent of the sRGB gamut. That means it can produce fewer colors than the average thin-and-light notebook (80.3 percent), the ThinkPad T450s (100.3 percent), the XPS 13 (91.7 percent) and the UX 305 (93.9 percent).
You'll hear the dialogue on your favorite videos just fine on the E450, but don't expect crystal-clear sound. Despite having Dolby Advanced enhancement, the E450's bottom-mounted speakers were loud enough to fill a small meeting room, but vocals, cymbals and rhythmic claps in Hozier's "Work Song" sounded hollow and tinny. Taylor Swift's voice and the drums in "Blank Space" sounded similarly canned.
The ThinkPad E450 comes with a Dolby Profile app that lets you choose among Music, Movie, Game and VoIP sound profiles. The Movie and Game modes made background instruments more prominent, giving the audio a surround-sound effect, while the Music and VoIP options brought out the vocals. After switching the profiles, though, the E450's speakers still pushed through hollow music that lacked bass.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Like other ThinkPads, the E450 has an excellent keyboard that's comfortable and spacious. It offers an ample 1.8 mm of travel (depth) and requires 70 grams of actuation force to depress (55 to 60 g is typical), making typing easy and accurate.
Thanks to the E450's island-style keys, I managed a rate of 106 words per minute with 99.3 percent accuracy on the Key Hero typing test. That's close to my desktop average of 107 wpm with 98.6 percent accuracy.
I like that the top row of Function keys allows easy access to settings such as volume, brightness and Wi-Fi connectivity. Unfortunately, the E450's keyboard is not backlit, unlike those on the XPS 13 and the ThinkPad T450s. Like the T450s, however, the E450's keyboard is spill-resistant.
The roomy 4 x 2.25-inch touchpad on the E450 was responsive, making it easy to execute gestures like two-finger scrolling and pinch zooming. You can either depress the bottom corners of the touchpad to trigger a click or use the buttons below the space bar, and the buttons can be configured through Settings.
In between the G, H and B keys is the E450's red TrackPoint pointing stick, which lets you move the cursor around without having to move your hands off the keyboard's home row. Although not everyone likes pointing-stick navigation, it's a good option to have and is easy to disable or ignore.
Lenovo's Fingerprint Manager app lets you store up to 10 fingerprints for easier, more secure access to your laptop. You can also assign different fingerprints to different user profiles.
Adding a new fingerprint was easy, requiring about four swipes on the sensor. After that, you can get into your E450 with just one swipe. This was quick and accurate during my testing, letting me unlock the laptop by just swiping on the reader.
The E450 remained cool under pressure. After the laptop streamed a Hulu video for 15 minutes, the touchpad registered a cool 75 degrees, while the space between the G and H keys measured 85 degrees. The bottom of the notebook reached 88 degrees, which is well below our 95-degree comfort threshold.
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Equipped with a 2.2-GHz quad-core fifth-generation Intel Core i5-5200U CPU and 4GB of RAM, the E450 is powerful enough for your multitasking needs. I smoothly built a character on The Sims 4's Create a Sim demo while an episode of Family Guy streamed on Hulu and several Chrome tabs ran in the background.
On general performance test Geekbench 3, the E450's score of 5,123 is below the thin-and-light category average (5,971), the Intel Core i5-5300U-powered ThinkPad T450s (5,993) and the Intel Core i5-5200U-backed XPS 13 (5,530). However, it beat the Asus UX305 (4,623), which uses a lower-power Intel Core M-5Y10 CPU.
Duplicating 4.97GB of mixed media files in 1 minute and 48 seconds, the E450's 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive achieved a rate of 47 MBps. That's far slower than the average thin-and-light notebook (101.4 MBps), the ThinkPad T450s (149.7 MBps), the Asus UX305's 256GB SSD (154.2 MBps) and the XPS 13's 128GB SSD (87.7 MBps).
The E450 matched 20,000 names to their addresses in 5 minutes and 6 seconds during our Spreadsheet test, beating the average thin-and-light laptop (6:14) and the UX305 (6:50). It was slower than the XPS 13 (5:02) and the ThinkPad T450s (4:41).
Thanks to the E450's Intel HD Graphics 5500, you'll enjoy solid graphics on casual games like The Sims. I enjoyed creating a Sim -- clothes, makeup and hairstyles looked smooth and detailed.
Don't push the E450 too hard, though. It delivered a smooth 38 frames per second when we played World of Warcraft at 1366 x 768 with the settings on autodetect, but it started stuttering (19 fps) when we pushed it to 1080p. While the Asus UX305 similarly struggled to maintain playable frame rates for more intense games and settings, the Dell XPS 13 averaged a smooth 33 fps at 1080p with the graphics set to Good.
On 3DMark Fire Strike, which measures GPU performance, the Lenovo E450's score of 546 was lower than the ThinkPad T450s' 738, the nontouch XPS 13's 704 and the Asus UX305's 605.
Software and Apps
Running Windows 7 Pro (Windows 8.1 is also an option), the E450 is perfect for the busy professional who has no time to deal with the Windows 8 layout, which can be confusing for newbies. Lenovo tweaked the OS a little, so you'll see a custom battery indicator on the taskbar, as well as a Solutions Center icon for alerts about available updates.
Lenovo also includes the helpful SHAREit app, which lets you easily send files between devices over Wi-Fi, as well as utilities such as Update and Drivers, System Health and Diagnostics, and Factory Recovery Disks. You'll also get third-party programs like Adobe Reader and Evernote. Microsoft's Skype and Office 365 (trial version) are also preloaded.
Webcam, Ports and OneLink
The 720p webcam on the E450 snapped colorful but grainy pictures of my face. Although my green eye shadow and pink lips looked accurate in my portraits, the entire picture was covered in colored specks. Individual strands of hair and the gems on my shirt were clear.
You won't be lacking connectivity options with the E450. On its left side are a Kensington lock slot, a USB 2.0 port and a 3.5mm audio jack. Power, Ethernet, HDMI and two USB 3.0 ports line the right. An SD card slot sits on the front edge.
The E450 also offers Lenovo's OneLink technology in its power port, which allows you to connect to the company's ThinkPad OneLink Dock ($120). When you dock, you'll have both power and access to several additional ports -- including HDMI, Ethernet and four more USB connections -- over a single wire. The $179.99 OneLink Pro Dock has dual video ports for powering two monitors.
Lasting 6 hours and 19 minutes on our battery test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi with the display brightness set at 100 nits), the ThinkPad E450 offers subpar endurance. The average thin-and-light laptop (7:21), the Asus UX305 (9:38), the nontouch XPS 13 (11:42) and the long-lasting ThinkPad T450s (15:26) all ran longer than the E450.
Unlike the T450s, the E450 doesn't come with a replaceable battery, meaning you can't upgrade it for more endurance.
Configurations and Warranty
The ThinkPad E450 we reviewed has a 14-inch full-HD display, a fifth-generation Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive. It's available for $787 on Lenovo.com or $730 on Amazon.
The base model -- which has a Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, 500GB of ROM and a 14-inch 1366 x 768p display running Windows 8.1 (64 bit) -- costs $580 on Lenovo.com. This version doesn't have a fingerprint reader.
You can get more RAM, upgrade to SSDs (256GB, 500GB and 1TB available) and pick a CPU up to Core i7. Displays are available in 1366 x 768p or 1920 x 1080p resolutions. You can also select Windows 8.1 or Windows 7 as your OS.
Lenovo offers a one-year Depot or Carry-in warranty with the ThinkPad E450. You can get an extended warranty of up to four years, or add on-site service and accidental damage protection -- an inclusion many small companies would want -- with prices ranging from $39 to $399.
For $730 ($580 starting price), the Lenovo ThinkPad E450 offers an excellent, spill-resistant keyboard; a useful fingerprint reader; and a familiar Windows 7 experience, all in a durable build. Unfortunately, its subpar battery life and dim display diminish its appeal. If you're willing to shell out a few hundred dollars more, you can get the ThinkPad T450s, which offers exceptional endurance (with removable batteries), great durability, better performance and a more attractive display.
Although it isn't a small-business system, the Dell XPS 13 (2015, nontouch), which costs $30 less than the E450, offers almost twice the endurance and superior performance in a sexy, sleek frame. However, if you're looking for a low-cost business notebook that comes with Windows 7 as an option and a superb typing experience, the ThinkPad E450 is a solid choice.