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Lenovo dumps classic keyboard on new ThinkPad laptops

The new T-series ThinkPads offer a host of enhancements over the prior models. But the classic-style keyboard has been jettisoned in favor of the chiclet, or island-style, flavor.

No more classic-style keyboard with the new Lenovo T-Series ThinkPads.
No more classic-style keyboard with the new Lenovo T-Series ThinkPads.

Those of you who loved Lenovo's classic-style laptop keyboards can wave bye-bye to them.

With the new 2012 T-series ThinkPads, Lenovo has put the final nail in the coffin of the classic keyboard once made popular by IBM.

Lenovo stuck with the classic keyboard for the current T420, T420S, and T520. But the new ThinkPad T430, T430s, and T530 due to launch early next month have been overhauled with the island-style keyboards that seem to be hitting almost every laptop these days.

The company had already switched to the island-style keyboards for all of its other laptops, so the change was probably inevitable. I have yet to try out the new ThinkPad keyboards, so I can't weigh in on their user-friendliness. But I have to shed a tear for the loss of the classic keyboard.

Among laptop makers, Lenovo was virtually the one holdout to retain the classic keyboard, a carryover from the IBM lineup that the company bought from Big Blue in 2004.

The classic keyboard was built to last - strong, solid, responsive, easy on the fingers. And you could feel it when you pressed a key. In contrast, most of the chiclet, or island-style, keyboards I've tried seem soft and flimsy. They don't deliver the same tactile feel or response I get from a classic keyboard.

I have to confess that I am a heavy typist. I tend to really pound away at the keys. Co-workers with whom I've shared offices have been driven mad by the sound of my typing. So I've always preferred the strong mechanical tactile-feel keyboards to the mushier membrane-style keyboards.

On a desktop, it's easy enough to substitute the vendor's soft keyboard with a nice mechanical keyboard. I recently bought a Das Keyboard to replace my old Avant Prime keyboard, which is no longer sold.

On a laptop, you're obviously stuck.

I currently own an HP Envy laptop. I like the machine overall, but typing on its island-style keyboard is a frustrating chore, one that inevitably triggers a string of typos that don't occur when I use a classic keyboard. I've been searching for a new laptop and had seriously considered a 2012 Lenovo, hoping the new ThinkPads would carry on the classic keyboard tradition. Now the search may be back on.

So why did Lenovo pull the plug on the classic keyboard and switch to the new style?

Dilip Bhatia, Vice President and General Manager for Lenovo's ThinkPad Business Unit, answered that question and more in an e-mail sent to me today.

In Bhatia's and Lenovo's opinion, the ThinkPad's new Precision Keyboard offers a better experience and enhanced usability over the classic-style keyboard.

"The new keyboard is based on the current ThinkPad X1, which some of the media have hailed as the best keyboard ever and even Stradivarius like experience," Bhatia said.

Asked what advantages are offered by the island-style keyboards, Bhati said Lenovo incorporated a simple and more modern design but kept the focus on comfort and accuracy.

"Our patent pending keys offer a larger key top for a bigger target, a curved surface aligns your fingers with the intended key for greater accuracy," he explained. "We also have a backlit keyboard option which gives users better visibility in dark situations."

Sticking with the classic-style keyboard was apparently not even an option. Bhati said Lenovo wanted to use the same new keyboard design and typing experience across its entire lineup.

I also asked him if Lenovo is concerned about losing customers who may have chosen a ThinkPad because they wanted a laptop with the traditional style keyboard.

He said that the company is confident the new keyboard will please its customers.

"We considered both what our loyal ThinkPad customers and new potential customers would think about the design change," Bhati added. "The improved design was tested over and over with many customers to include their feedback and they were very much a part of this improvement."

Of course, I can't honestly say I won't like the new ThinkPad keyboards until I actually try one. If they're better than most of the island-style ones I've used, the new keyboards could grow on me. But I think I'll always long for the classic-style keyboard that proved strong enough to withstand the pounding of even this heavy-handed typist.