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External ThinkPad Batteries: The Debate

By Douglas Black , last updated on November 4, 2019

For some of our readers, external batteries might be a distant memory from 2005. For others (notably ThinkPad users and fans), an external battery is a much more recent memory. That’s because up through the Tx80 of the venerable T-series (I won’t make a pewdiepie joke) ThinkPad line, many ThinkPads still had external batteries that could even be hot-swapped.

Unfortunately for some, the 2019 lineup of X290, T490, T590, and P53 all saw their separate external and internal batteries swapped out for a single internal one. It was a controversial move that some lamented, while others defended.

At IFA this year, we got the chance to chat face-to-face with a couple of leading voices for Lenovo and, of course, ThinkPad! First on our docket of questions was what happened to external batteries (and Lenovo’s Power Bridge technology along with it): many on forums were of the opinion that ThinkPads were being commodified in an attempt to be thinner, lighter, and generally more “MacBook-like”, but the official line from our Lenovo executive is a bit more straightforward: As a financial decision, the extended batteries just weren’t being sold enough to justify their continued existence for the company.

That’s sad news for those of us (myself included) who enjoyed the autonomy and flexibility that having multiple spare and extended batteries provided, but there’s also a vocal group who welcomed the move. These users find the battery life afforded by modern CPUs and internal batteries good enough for their own uses and are happy to bring along a USB-C power bank when more autonomy is needed.

ThinkPad T480 and T490 internal designs (Images via Laptopmain.com and Myfixguide.com)

ThinkPad T480 and T490 internal designs (Images via Laptopmain.com and Myfixguide.com)

Personally, I’m still hoping that the option for external hot-swappable batteries makes a return next year or in the near future. Of course, Lenovo will need to figure out a way to make the option more financially viable.

What do you guys think? Do USB-C power banks like this one Lenovo put out effectively replace the option for external and extended batteries for your own usages? Let us know down below.

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Based in Hong Kong, Douglas Black is a veteran editor of Notebookcheck, university lecturer, researcher, and writer.

2 Comments

  1. Ciaràn

    September 10, 2019 at 9:11 pm

    I suppose manufacturers have no choice. That's what consumers want. All the better if it can't be fixed. The external battery most be a thorn in the side for poor old manufacturers trying to make a buck and keep churning out devices with no real improvement. I have nothing much to add to this debate but its refreshing to find something interesting written on a gadget site. I'm a gadget addict and I trawl them all looking for my fix. I rarely get it these days. There's pine 64 of course. That's interesting – as in truly awful hardware but potentially amazing software running that awful hardware, and put together by non-manufacturers. Then there's the new Fairphone. There's the upcoming smartphone from Purism as well I suppose. Improvements in battery technology and AMD. That's it I think. Have I missed anything?

    • Vlad Biegalski

      September 11, 2019 at 1:24 pm

      The most serious issue vast majority of consumers are not aware of is safety.

      Last month on my holidays one morning I found case of my 3 years old Alienware 13 heavily warped, one side popped up, the other side was bulging! I disassembled my laptop, removed the battery and was able to continue using the laptop connected to the mains power only. This experience scared me: what if the battery exploded when I was using my laptop? Or it exploded, leaked chemicals and even caused fire? Since then I found on the net that this is not an uncommon issue, many Alienware users reported it in various models. How many other brands and models are affected? (remember Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phone?).

      Is there a choice? Yes, there is: just one example: look at Sager NP8454 (Clevo PB51RF). I find it amazing that all manufacturers ignore this serious ticking bomb safety issue. If you think that I am exaggerating, look at swelled, almost exploded Alienware laptop battery I took out from my Alienware 13 (yes, it was safety disposed): https://ibb.co/xFHrz9G By the way, I always took very good care of my laptop, and as it happens I know how to disassemble it – in some models it is not an easy task, and most users wouldn't know how to remove a battery.

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