Lenovo's ThinkPad brand is virtually synonymous with business laptops, and the company (like IBM before it) has spent years perfecting the nondescript black-box system, with its iconic TrackPoint and double set of mouse buttons.
We liked the 14-inch T400s ("s" for "slim") when we first saw it earlier this year (see that review), as it shaved some thickness and weight off the older T400 model. Now Lenovo is offering an enhanced version of the T400s, adding a multitouch touch screen and some custom touch-screen software. This is also the first laptop we've reviewed with the final shipping version of Windows 7 preinstalled.
The touch screen and accompanying SimpleTap software add a new wrinkle--one that had its appeal--but without a tablet-style swiveling display, we can see the real-world usefulness of adding touch to a standard laptop being somewhat limited.
It can be argued that Lenovo's build quality and attention to detail are second to none, and the T400s feels like a solid, heavy-duty machine that will stand up to a lot of action. ThinkPad buyers (either small business individuals or corporate IT departments) know what they're looking for and don't mind paying premium for it. The touch-screen T400s starts at $1,999, and includes Lenovo's ThinkVantage suite of business and security-minded software and hardware.
|Price as reviewed / Starting price||$2,489/$1,999|
|Processor||2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo SP9600|
|Memory||4GB, 667MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||128GB SSD|
|Graphics||Intel GMA 4500M (integrated)|
|Operating System||Windows 7 Professional|
|Dimensions||13.2 inches wide by 9.4 inches deep|
|Screen size (diagonal)||14.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||3.9/4.6 pounds|
The basic design will be familiar to anyone who has used a ThinkPad in the last few years, with a black, buttoned-down look and the ever-present TrackPoint. Despite being fairly thin and lightweight, the T400s feels solid and sturdy, thanks to its carbon-fiber "roll cage" skeleton. Unlike most other laptops, the lid folds back a full 180 degrees, allowing the system to lie completely flat.
Lenovo spends a lot of effort constantly testing and refining its keyboards. For example, based on detailed analysis of user feedback, the Esc and Delete keys are much larger than normal. This is a traditional tapered-key design, instead of the wide, flat-topped keys nearly all consumer laptops use, and while it may not look as slick, the end result is indeed very comfortable and easy to use. Physical buttons for volume control, speaker mute, and mic mute are also useful.
The large touch pad is hard to see against the matte black wrist rest, but it has a subtle texture that helps your finger know where it's going. Nestled in the middle of the keyboard is a TrackPoint pointing stick--if you're a fan (or you grew up with one as your main laptop input method), it's indispensable. But, the need for a second set of mouse buttons, above the touch pad, eats up some keyboard tray real estate.
The biggest addition to this new version of the T400s is a multitouch display. Windows 7 is a very touch-friendly OS, making it easier for PC makers to add touch functionality. In this case, you can tap and drag Win 7 menus, folder, and files with your finger, as one would on a tablet PC--or there's a custom touch interface provided by Lenovo, called SimpleTap.
The SimpleTap interface lives as a small red button anchored to the side of the display. Tapping it opens the touch interface, which overlays your desktop, and provides a series of large button-like icons. As configured, it provides access to basic system functions, such as speaker volume and screen brightness. You can also turn on the small light above the display, turn the Webcam on and off, or even put the system to sleep.
By navigating to the exe file of any program, you can add a SimpleTap button for it to your collection, choosing its icon, background color, and location on the screen. Each of the small, square icons can also be dragged around to any location on the screen, or automatically regrouped in the center with the tap of a finger. The red button for launching SimpleTap can also be moved to any point along the outer edge of the screen by dragging it.
In practice, the SimpleTap software worked fairly well, although it wasn't as quick and responsive as the touch experience on an iPhone or iPod Touch (we have yet to find a tablet or touch-screen PC that comes close). However, when trying to use SimpleTap from any angle other than right in front of the screen (as one might when showing off a presentation to a group), the control was much less precise, and we often accidentally closed the entire app or sent the icons flying around the screen. Lenovo says the software is currently in beta, and will continue to improve.
A bigger issue, perhaps, is why you'd want a touch screen on a standard nontablet laptop. The practical applications seem limited, although we could see specific users finding tasks (media playback, photo manipulation, etc.) that could take advantage of it. As a $400 add-on to the T400s, it's certainly not an impulse upgrade.
The 14.1-inch wide-screen LED display offers a 1,440x900 native resolution, which is standard for a high-end screen this size (many less-expensive 14- and 15-inch laptops have 1,280x800 displays). The matte finish is a welcome relief from all the overly glossy displays we're exposed to on a weekly basis, and there's an antifingerprint coating that helps keep the screen looking good, even when using the touch functions.
|Lenovo T400s||Average for category [mainstream]|
|Video||VGA-out, DisplayPort||VGA-out, HDMI|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||3 USB 2.0 (1 USB/eSATA), SD card reader||4 USB 2.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN||Ethernet, 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional WWAN|
|Optical drive||DVD burner||DVD burner|
ThinkPads are among the only laptops we've seen in a long time to still have ports and connections on the rear edge of the system. There you'll find both DisplayPort and VGA outs, plus two of the system's three USB connections (one is a combo eSATA port, the other is helpfully labeled as a powered USB port).
One odd configuration note: you're forced to choose between an SD card reader or an ExpressCard/34 slot; you can't have both (we got the SD card reader). Our review configuration also included a 128GB SSD hard drive, which is $200 more than a standard 200GB 5,400rpm HDD.