What makes a good laptop for business travelers?
Today’s road warrior wants a laptop that will handle normal day-to-day workloads around the office, yet provide enough battery life to take on the road, without extra bulk.
A good business laptop should be equipped with a battery that lasts through an entire cross-country flight. It should be both portable and rugged enough to withstand a TSA beating. It should provide good performance, but not over-the-top gaming components that drain battery life. It needs enough storage so that you’re not required to carry around an external drive, and it should include enough ports to support any peripherals (mice, monitor, printers) you require around the office.
According to a The Wirecutter poll, the top five most important features in a business laptop are: battery life, screen quality and resolution, build quality, a fast SSD, and portability. Ultrabooks have improved to the point where they include all these features, and thus, dominate the business segment.
A number of excellent laptops have recently hit the market. This week I want to take a look at a few of them. Intel has released a number of new CPUs that are just making their way into models with improved graphics and battery life. It’s not a bad time to be in the market if your current laptop is no longer cutting it. Here are three of my favorites:
Lenovo builds what many believe are the best business-grade laptops on the market today, and the T450s is arguably their best effort in building a speedy and durable laptops for demanding travelers. Lenovo is known for carrying on the IBM tradition of building laptops that place durability above good looks. While the T450s isn’t the best looking model on the market, it’s built like a tank, and includes features such as roll cage, spill-resistant keyboard and hot-swappable battery along with nearly any port you’ll need.
The T450s can be configured with a high-end Intel i7-5600 processor, up to 12GB RAM, 14-inch FHD monitor (1920 x 1080) and backlit keyboard. Lenovo makes the best laptop keyboards in the business as well. The T450s won’t win any beauty contests, but it’s a rock-solid, business laptop. It’s my top pick because it does everything well.
The T450 ranges in price from $880 to $1600.
I was hesitant to include the XPS because I personally own the 2014 version and love almost everything about it. The first thing you notice about the XPS is the drop-dead gorgeous borderless display. Unlike most laptops in this size and price range, the XPS can be configured with an Ultra-sharp QHD+ display running at 3200 x 1800 resolution. The problem with such as display is that, once you see it, it’s nearly impossible to return to a lower resolution. I read a lot of text each day, and the XPS causes less eye strain when compared to my standard desktop monitor running at a much lower resolution.
The XPS is a great laptop in a svelte and tidy package. And while the screen is amazing, it does have a few minor flaws that include a keyboard that can’t approach the one on the Lenovo, and a trackpad that doesn’t track as accurately as it should in this price range. Neither are deal-breakers.
If the Lenovo shows up to work in sweats, the Dell strolls into the office wearing Hugo Boss. The XPS is built with a silver machine aluminum exterior that looks a lot like a MacBook Air. The chassis intelligently uses carbon fiber making for laptop weighing less than 3 lbs. Overall, the Dell XPS is a solid choice. I can’t place it above the Lenovo, but dang, that screen!
The XPS 13 ranges in price from $800 to $1300.
It can feel overwhelming trying to narrow down the number of models HP builds under the EliteBook Folio line. But the two I like best are the 1020 and 1040 series. The 1040 includes a higher performance Intel i5/i7 processor, while the 1020 counters with a higher resolution (2560 x 1440 vs. 1920 x 1080), and longer battery life sporting the new Core M CPU.
HP is clearly going after business travelers looking for the thinnest and lightest laptop on the market, and the EliteBook checks nearly every box you can imagine. The screen is crisp and bright, and the fingerprint reader and touchpad work well. The touchpad does away with traditional touchpad buttons in favor of pressure-sensitive commands. HP calls it the ForcePad.
It’s wise to keep in mind that while the 1020 is the sexier of the two models, the 1040, configured with an i5 or i7 processor, is your best choice is raw CPU performance plays into your workflow.
The EliteBook Folio ranges in price from $1200 to $1900.
These three laptops comprise the cream-of-the-crop for business travelers. They are not meant to be desktop replacements with gobs of storage or discrete graphics cards. HP makes the popular ZBook Mobile Workstation for customers who need workstation performance in a portable chassis. But such models are much heavier to lug around and you’d better stick close to an outlet because battery life is dismal.
When configuring these or any other laptop you’ll be using for business travel, one tip I’ll pass along is that it often makes sense to select a mid-range CPU, such as the Intel i5 or new Intel Core M CPU instead of the more expensive Intel i7 models. Then use the savings to upgrade the size of your SSD to a 512GB or even 1TB model. I’ve talked to many friends who assumed a 128GB or 256GB SSD would be plenty, but find that’s not the case within a few months. You might not recognize the performance difference by stepping down one model of CPU, but I’ll bet you’ll appreciate double the storage for around the same price.
What laptop would you recommend to business travelers?
*All images provided by respective company.