The E431 has a comfortable keyboard, dual pointing devices, security features like a fingerprint reader, and you can grab one for less than $600. It’s our latest Editors’ Choice for small business laptops.
Design and Features
The E431 looks like a pretty standard business laptop. No fancy, exotic materials or swoopy shapes, but the E431 nevertheless instills a sense of sturdiness by using a pair of offset hinges, which give the system a premium look and feel. Speaking of feel, the E431′s large trackpad combines a row of three buttons on the top edge to service the TrackPoint pointing stick. This way the E431 will keep older users happy. You know, like the ones that learned how to use a laptop on their 1990s-era ThinkPad? The chiclet-style keyboard is comfy and sturdy, with none of the keyboard flex that tends to crop up in less expensive systems. The E431 also comes with a fingerprint reader located to the right of the trackpad, in case you or your clients require biometrics for security or one-touch login needs. The trackpad itself is large, multi-touch, and is just as responsive as the pointing stick.
The row of 12 function keys at the top of the keyboard all function as the icon denotes (vol+/-, mic off, search, etc.) and F1-F12 requires the user either hold down the Fn key or activate the FnLock. This makes more sense than the reverse, particularly since F1-F12 kind of lost their charm after Windows replaced DOS. You can reverse the Fn key behavior in a control panel if you prefer F1-F12. The E431 still has its DVD burning optical drive, contributing to the system’s 4.44 pound weight. The system comes with a full set of I/O ports, including a USB 2.0 port, two USB 3.0 ports, VGA, HDMI, SD card reader, and an Ethernet port. There is one nit, since the USB 2.0 and USB 3.0 ports are all the same black color. You’ll need sharp eyes to see the USB SS icons next to the ports on the left side of the chassis. The industry habit of blue USB 3.0 ports would’ve been a more prominent and identifiable. That said, the system has more ports and features than similarly priced laptops like the Toshiba Satellite C875-S7340 ($620) and the Lenovo IdeaPad S405 ($550).
The ThinkPad Edge E431 and its larger brother, the E531, are notable in that they are pioneering Lenovo’s new OneLink dock (stay tuned for our full review). OneLink is wider than a standard power plug, but it allows mostly sedentary laptop users to keep USB peripherals, Ethernet, and HDMI monitor(s) permanently connected to a $120 Lenovo ThinkPad OneLink dock for convenience. Future Lenovo ThinkPad and ThinkPad Edge products will use OneLink as well, but the E431 is the first.
The E431′s screen measures 14 inches diagonally and has a matte finish. It’s not a touch screen, but the system is running Windows 7, which doesn’t require touch, and the non-touch screen contributes to the lower purchase price. Systems like the touch-equipped Editors’ Choice Lenovo IdeaPad Z400 Touch ($700) are much more expensive. The screen has a 1,366-by-768 resolution, which is fine for 720p videos and most websites, but users who need to work in larger spreadsheets may want a 1080p screen, though again you will have to pay more. One business-friendly feature that comes with the E431 is the removable battery. Unlike many recent systems, the E431′s battery can be swapped for a freshly charged one if you’re running out of juice. Another 6-cell 48-WHr battery will cost you $99.99. See below in performance to see why picking one up is a good idea.
The E431 came with a few pre-loaded apps like Evernote, Skype, and a selection of Lenovo utilities, but the system is relatively unencumbered by bloatware. One app of note is WiDi, which will let you stream the video from the E431 to a HDTV, display, or video adapter with WiDi capabilities. The E431 comes with a one-year warranty.
The E431 comes with a third-generation Intel Core i5-3230M processor, integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000, 500GB 7,200rpm hard drive, and 4GB of system memory. While these specs don’t seem too impressive compared with components in some ultrabooks, the system is actually a very good performer on our benchmark tests. The E431 completed the Handbrake video encoding test and the Photoshop CS6 test many minutes faster than other budget systems like the Lenovo S405 and Dell Inspiron 17-3721 ($450). It just goes to show that if your business is on the line, it pays to spend a bit more than the bare minimum on a system. It will certainly last longer that way. Expect a good three to five years of service from the ThinkPad Edge E431.
That said, The IdeaPad E431 has adequate, yet unimpressive battery life from the included battery. The system lasts almost four hours (3:55), which used to be a notable number, but now is merely adequate. You might want to make a habit of carrying the AC adapter or another fully charged spare battery if you want to use the E431 all day. Face it: you’ll have to pay more for a 4th generation Intel Core powered system like an ultrabook if you want all-day battery life. The E431 is more of a part-time portable.
And there’s the rub. The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E431 won’t make you stop pining for one of the high-end ultrabooks, nor should it. That’s not its place. The ThinkPad Edge E431 is an excellent business laptop for the money, and certainly a more portable and capable business PC compared to a lighter duty tablet like the Microsoft Surface RT ($699/499) or Dell XPS 10 ($649). In addition to Office, the E431 is capable of running full Windows software like Quickbooks, Photoshop, or TurboTax. We haven’t given an Editors’ Choice for dyed-in-the-wool Small Business laptops in ages, and the ThinkPad Edge E431 certainly qualifies in terms of bang for the buck. It’s a much better business choice than just buying one of the less expensive consumer laptops, since it will have a much longer useful life on your desk or on the move.
|Processor Name||Intel Core i5-3230M|
|Operating System||Microsoft Windows 7 Professional|
|Graphics Card||Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Type||Business, Small Business|
|Networking Options||802.11n (2.4 GHz only)|
|Processor Speed||2.6 GHz|
|Primary Optical Drive||Dual-Layer DVD+/-RW|
|Screen Size||14 inches|
|Storage Capacity (as Tested)||500 GB|
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