Lenovo's ThinkPad T431s is a comfortable mix of old and new. Like past T-series laptops, it is first and foremost built for business and the wear and tear of daily use -- on and away from a desk. But, thanks to some careful tweaking, it's not stodgy and stuck in the past.
The processor and integrated graphics are a generation behind, so if having the latest components is necessary for your work, this model wouldn't be the choice. That goes for discrete graphics, too; it's integrated or nothing for the T431s.
The value of the T431s comes from its updated design, its durable construction, and its security features. It's a laptop that will make most IT departments happy that you picked it, but it's got enough of a consumer notebook look and feel that you'll want to use it in your off time.
Design and features
True to its roots, the T431s is a basic black notebook. If you're looking for a "look at me" laptop, you're reading the wrong review. That doesn't mean it's boring or generic, just that it's simple and straightforward.
The lid is made from carbon fiber, the bottom is magnesium alloy, and inside is a roll cage protecting its components. And although the slim, lightweight body doesn't look particularly tough (it measures 13 inches wide by 8.9 inches deep by 0.8 inch thick and weighs 3.6 pounds), the T431s is capable of passing Mil-STD-810 testing for extreme temperature, pressure, dust, humidity, and vibration, and the keyboard is spill resistant. If you want a thin-and-light laptop that won't disintegrate when used outside of an office, airport lounge, or coffee shop, this should be on your short list.
Along with strong construction, you get security features that include Intel vPro technology with Anti-Theft protection (AT-p), data encryption via an optional Trusted Platform Module chip, and integrated fingerprint and Smart Card readers.
|Lenovo ThinkPad T431S||Samsung Series 5 Ultra NP540U||Toshiba Satellite U845T-S4165|
|Display size/resolution||14-inch, 1,600x900||13.3-inch, 1,366x768||14-inch, 1,366x768|
|PC CPU||1.9GHz Intel Core i5-3437U||1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U||1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3337U|
|PC memory||4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz||4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz||6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz|
|Graphics||32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000||32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000||32MB Intel HD Graphics 4000|
|Storage||500GB 7,200rpm hard drive||500GB 5,400rpm hard drive||128GB SSD|
|Networking||802.11n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8 Pro||Windows 8||Windows 8|
At first glance, given this laptop's base specs, you might think it's overpriced. Business laptops tend be a bit more expensive than consumer systems because they need to be more durable and more secure -- that costs money. When you consider all that you're getting with the T431s, it is appropriately priced. Still, it does cost more than similarly configured non-business laptops, so if you don't need extra security and strength, you'll want to look elsewhere.
To go along with the updated body design, Lenovo tweaked its keyboard for Windows 8 and, more noticeably, the touch pad. The keyboard design remains the same as past T-series models, which is a very good thing. The base of the T431s doesn't taper toward the front like many ultrabooks' do, which means there's more room for key travel. Plus, the keys are higher above the keyboard deck. It's an excellent typing experience, especially after using so many keyboards that feel like you're typing on a flat surface instead of a keyboard.
What's new on the keyboard is that volume and mic controls are now integrated into the function keys instead of having dedicated controls for those features. Lenovo also added Windows 8-specific function keys for opening panes for settings, search, viewing open apps, and viewing all apps. Function keys can be easily locked and unlocked, too, for those who want traditional function keys. Also, pressing the Fn and space bar key will turn on and off the keyboard's backlight, if you pay for that feature; my review laptop didn't have a backlight.
Without a touch screen, getting around Windows 8 is all done with the touch pad or the traditional Lenovo ThinkPad TrackPoint nestled between the G, H, and B keys. To give more room for multitouch gestures -- it supports more than 20 gestures -- Lenovo basically ditched the discrete TrackPoint buttons at the top of the touch pad. Instead, you get subtle bumps for the center scroll button and lines marking off the left and right TrackPoint buttons. For those used to having the discrete buttons, the feel is likely to be disappointing.
The rest of the touch-pad experience is good, though clicking did feel a bit mushy on my review system. Also, if you're the type to drag your palms when typing (I am), you'll want to crank up the PalmCheck sensitivity. Even then you might experience the occasional cursor jump.
The T431s has a 14-inch 1,600x900-pixel-resolution screen. It's a very good resolution for a screen this size: better than the basic 1,366x768-resolution screens on slightly less expensive models, but without the expense of a 1,920x1,080 panel that would seem a touch unnecessary on a midrange business system.
From head-on, the screen looks very good with nice color performance. It's also a matte screen, which, combined with its 250-nit brightness, is good enough to fight off the stray reflections you get from glossy screens. However, if you frequently have people huddled around your screen, they might find it very difficult to see what you're seeing. The poor viewing angles are particularly noticeable when watching movies or viewing graphics or photos; text is less of an issue.
Lastly, though I doubt it's a major consideration when purchasing a business laptop, the T431s' speakers are really pretty good or, at least, better than expected. For movies and music they're more than sufficient; voices sounded clear and full.
Connections, performance, and battery
Much like the updated touch pad, the T431s' data and networking features are a mix of legacy options business users need and modern connections to keep it current.
For example, on the left side you get an analog VGA output, but on the right you have a digital Mini DisplayPort.
|Lenovo ThinkPad T431s|
|Video||Mini DisplayPort, VGA|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, microphone/headphone jack|
|Data||2 USB 3.0, SD card reader, Smart Card reader|
|Networking||802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Ethernet, WWAN optional|
The port assortment is fairly limited, though. I'm used to seeing at least three USB ports on all but the smallest, thinnest laptops, but you get just two here. Also, if you need an optical drive, you'll have to buy an external one.
On a positive note, you do get a full assortment of networking options including Ethernet, and there's a SIM card slot at the back of the system should you want to add mobile broadband service.
Most of the connections are on the left side; a USB 3.0 port and the Mini DisplayPort are on the right. To help make the design a little cleaner-looking, Lenovo made all of the ports black (though I would prefer it without the silver metal, too, to complete the look).
Also, Lenovo's rectangular power connector (located all the way at the back left) is close to the same width as the Ethernet port, so if you're not looking you might accidentally try to stick the power into the Ethernet.
Lenovo says part of the redesign was a cleaner bottom, but that might be because its battery isn't removable. The feet are smaller, though, and you still get a docking connector.
Docking options include a port replicator or mini and full docks -- with or without power supplies -- ranging in price from $220 to $270. All can be purchased when you configure your system on Lenovo's site.
And speaking of configuration options, the base model I reviewed provided plenty of performance for everyday office tasks as well as basic photo and video editing. This, however, is no powerhouse, especially in the graphics department. If you want a bit more power you can opt for a third-generation Intel Core i7 processor; expand the system memory up to 12GB; and swap out the 500GB, 7,200rpm hard drive for a solid-state drive (up to 256GB is available).
Battery life is more important than high-performance processing in a system like this and, sadly, is kind of a letdown on the T431s. Lenovo claims run times of up to 9 hours. That's probably not for this exact configuration, though; 7,200rpm hard drives typically don't do good things for battery life.
In our video playback drain test, the ThinkPad T431s managed 5 hours and 33 minutes. That's not bad, but it's nowhere near the 9 hours listed for the product. Granted, our test keeps the hard drive spinning the entire time, so for general use you will get more juice out of the battery. That said, I'd really like to see what this system could do with one of Intel's fourth-gen Core i-series processors and an SSD.
If you're looking for a laptop that will make your IT department happy that also won't be a drag to work with on and off the clock, the Lenovo ThinkPad T431s would certainly be a good way to go.
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
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Lenovo ThinkPad T431s
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.9GHz Intel Core i5-3437U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 500GB, 7,200rpm hard drive
Samsung Series 5 Ultra NP540U
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 500GB HGST5400 Hard drive
Toshiba Satellite U845T-S4165
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3337U; 6GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 128GB SSD
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon
Windows 8 (64-bit) w/ SP1; 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3427U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB SSD