The Lenovo ThinkPad T420 and E420 14” business laptops are similar in many ways, but of course there has to be enough of a difference between them to justify the price difference and why you would prefer one over the other. Today we’ll do a comparison of the ThinkPad T420 and ThinkPad Edge E420 laptops to help if you or your business are in the position of trying to decide between these two options from Lenovo. First we’ll do a quick overview of each.
ThinkPad T420 Overview
The ThinkPad T20 is part of the long line of “T Series” ThinkPads and is considered by most to be the flagship model. In terms of size the ThinkPad T420 sits between the smaller 12.5” screen X220 and larger 15” screen ThinkPad T520. As such, it is the middle of the road option and will suit both the needs of travellers that need a laptop thin and light enough to carry on a long distance flight, but yet still offers a large enough screen and resolution to make for comfortable and efficient work when back at the office. Specifically, the T420 weighs in at 4.8lbs and has a thickness of around 1.20”. That’s nowhere near as light and portable as the 3.3lbs ThinkPad X220, but the 14” screen and option of a 1600 x 900 HD resolution means you can fit a lot on the T420 screen and in turn be more productive.
Design wise the T420 is best described as all black with a rubberized surface finish on the lid and bottom to make for an easy grip. The top and bottom of the case are also made of magnesium to add extra durability and help the laptop survive the odd drop (within reason).
You of course get the iconic red trackpoint pointing stick in the middle of the keyboard along with a touchpad for dual input options. Aside from the red trackpoint, the mouse buttons also have a red accent and the Enter key has a blue color, which helps to somewhat break up the color of the otherwise all black finish.
The T420 comes with a range of Intel Core i3 to Core i7 processor choices so you can find the right balance of performance and cost for your needs. Also available is the option to upgrade the hard drive to an SSD for added performance, especially in regards to boot time. There is no dedicated graphics card option for the T420.
The battery life for the T420 with the standard 6-cell sized battery averages around 5.5 hours, you can also upgrade to a larger 9-cell and add a battery into the optical drive bay for up to 10 hours of battery life.
The T420 comes with the following ports: 2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 2.0/eSATA combo, 4-in-1 media card reader, Display Port, 34mm Express Card slot, Ethernet port (LAN). If that’s not enough ports for your needs, you can connect to a docking station using the port on the bottom of the laptop to expand the type and number of ports available.
The ThinkPad E420 is part of the small business targeted Edge lineup from Lenovo. The Edge series carries a lower price tag than the regular ThinkPad lineup yet still maintains many of the same benefits and features. The E420 has a 14” screen and weighs in at 4.6lbs. The design of the Edge E420 is slightly different to the typical ThinkPad, it has a curved front edge and a blinking red dot above the “i” in ThinkPad. It has the option of either a matte or glossy screen, depending on your preference. The keyboard is a chiclet style design but still has the typical ThinkPad feel and of course includes the trackpoint in the middle of the keyboard.
The E420 offers a selection of Intel Core i3 and i5 processors, you can even upgrade to a 2.80GHz Core i7. The graphics are supplied by the Intel HD 3000 integrated chip, there is no option for an upgrade to dedicated graphics. The standard storage is a 500GB hard drive that spins at 7200RPM, there is no SSD upgrade option online but you could attempt to install an SSD yourself aftermarket.
The build quality if the Edge E420 is very good, but not as rugged as the flagship ThinkPad lineup. It can still standup to the rigors of travel and stand the test of time, while the price tag is more budget oriented that does not equate to cheap feel and build quality.
Speaking of travel, the standard 6-cell battery provides an average of 4 hours and 10 minutes of battery life, that’s ok but not the best result out there for a 14-inch laptop.
The E420 has all the ports you’ll need as a small business user: VGA monitor out, HDMI, Ethernet port, microphone / speaker combo jack, 4 x USB 2.0 ports (1 powered, 1 USB/eSata combo), 4-in-1 card reader, 34mm ExpressCard slot. It doesn’t have the DisplayPort for video out which is supported by more monitors used in business settings. There is an HDMI port in place of DisplayPort, since HDMI is used in connectivity with TVs this is more popular with consumers and small businesses.
The on paper specs show the T420 and E420 to be very close with their offerings. The one disappointment with the E420 is that you don’t have the option of a higher resolution 1600 x 900 screen like you get with the T420. The higher resolution screen can really be nice when you need to fit more text on a screen to prevent scrolling, especially if you’re a spreadsheet junky.
ThinkPad Edge E420
The keyboard on the T420 is the standard style and layout while the Edge E420 has a chiclet style keyboard design, both feel about the same but some might prefer one design look over the other.
ThinkPad T420 keyboard
ThinkPad E420 keyboard
Both keyboards are spill resistant, a nice feature to have if you like to drink coffee while hovering over your laptop in the morning. Waking up is hard to do.
The hinges on the T420 are made of metal and are much more sturdy feeling than what you get on the Edge E420. In general, the T420 feels more sturdy as it has a thicker case and more metal used in the chassis. This actually makes the T420 heaver by a few ounces over the E420. The extra weight is worth the extra strength you get in my opinion, but if weight is the all important factor to you then the E420 might hold some appeal in the weight department.
The battery life with the 6-cell battery on the T420 is about an hour longer than that of the E420. The T420 we reviewed got 5 hours and 10 minutes of life while the E420 was just over 4 hours, that’s a pretty big difference and the nod goes to the T420 here. In addition to that, the T420 has various options for getting longer battery life, you can get an extended slice battery and one that goes in the optical drive bay and quite literally achieve all day battery life of 24 hours. But seriously, who’s going to work that long?
If the design of the ThinkPad lineup is too boring for your tastes, the Edge E420 might be different enough to make you reconsider. It has a curved front edge design instead of the typical boxy design exemplified by the T420. It also has a cool red blinking dot in the “i” of ThinkPad. If you don’t like too much black, you can go with a Heatwave Red lid on the E420 for an extra $25.
The ThinkPad T420 is more geared towards enterprise users and the built-in docking station support via the port on the bottom of the laptop is one such indicator of this. The Edge E420 does not have a docking station port so you can’t use the port replicator other ThinkPads such as the X, T and W series can all share.
The one factor that’s of course the biggest deal to most buyers is the pricing difference between these two laptops. The T420 starts at $250 more than the Edge E420 at the time of this writing, that’s quite a difference, if you’re on a budget and need to buy ten of these for your staff it’s thousands in savings to go with the E420. Do the benefits of the T420 we’ve discussed justify the extra cost? Well, that’s really up to you to decide since needs and preferences vary by user. If money is no object, I’d go with the T420. If money is a concern (as it is for most) then the E420 should be considered as an alternative to the T420 that offers a nice compromise of price and features.