by Kevin O'Brien
It seems a common trend at Lenovo right now is making super thin and lightweight ThinkPads. First the X300 hit the market, offering a super thin and lightweight chassis with the ruggedness we have come to expect from a ThinkPad. Now Lenovo has done it again with the T400, bringing a newer, lighter, redesigned T400s to the table. In this official review we show you what's changed on this new 14" ThinkPad, which even includes the legendary keyboard.
Our ThinkPad T400s specifications:
Build and Design
The new ThinkPad T400s looks completely revamped and polished compared to the regular T400. The chassis has slimmed down significantly, and the weight of the notebook has also dropped by almost a pound. The exterior is still wrapped in Lenovo's much-loved rubberized black paint, but the design just looks cleaner and less busy than previous ThinkPad models.
Looking inside, the main changes start to become obvious. Besides the new keyboard and touchpad that we will go over shortly, Lenovo changed the shape of the palmrest around the touchpad, with the touchpad resting flush with the palmrest instead of being slightly recessed. The screen bezel is smooth all around the perimeter of the display, unlike the T400 which shows rough plastic grids near the built-in antennas and cutouts near the light and webcam. Even when compared to the ThinkPad X301, the new T400s looks more refined. The speaker grills are larger and look better suited to the design. Even the fingerprint reader manages to blend in better, with an all-black design instead of gold and silver like past models.
Build quality is still fantastic, with barely a hint of chassis flex even as it has decreased in thickness. The screen has some minor side-to-side flex when open, but no more than previous models. Protection for the screen, even with the super thin cover is surprisingly good, showing only small amounts of screen distortion when you are squeezing the back of the display. The new chassis feels quite rugged.
With the thinner design Lenovo completely reworked the chassis for the T400s, and it looks completely different than the T400 once you start opening it up. The hard drive is now accessed through a panel under the left side of the palmrest, which is now 1.8" instead of the 2.5" found in the T400. System memory and Wireless Cards are found under a single access panel on the bottom of the notebook. Compared to removing the palmrest on previous models, you now just loosen one screw and pop off a single panel to upgrade memory. With most of the slots changing location to the underside of the notebook, removing the keyboard is now only required to replace a broken one, or to get access to a half-sized mini-PCIe slot used for Wireless USB on some models. I really hope future ThinkPads follow a similar design to the T400s, since it is so much easier to upgrade components now.
Screen and Speakers
The LED-backlit WXGA+ (1440 x 900) display on the T400s rates above average, with good color reproduction and very good peak backlight brightness levels. The display part number is LTN141BT08001, which may indicate that it has a Samsung panel. Colors appear bright and vibrant for a matte-finish display, and it has very nice contrast when the backlight isn't at the brightest setting. At 95-100% brightness the screen starts to look slightly washed out, which is pretty normal for higher brightness displays. My comfortable viewing brightness range for this notebook is between 50-60%, giving great black-levels and no hint of backlight bleed. Viewing angles are average for a TN-panel LCD, with colors quickly inverting or washing out as you Tilt the screen forward or back. With the matte finish and higher backlight power the screen is readable outdoors and quite visible in your car on a bright day.
Speaker performance was lackluster, but that is common on most business notebooks. They work well for streaming audio or having a VOIP chat, but for movies and entertainment the headphone jack is a much better alternative.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Yes, Lenovo significantly changed the look, feel, and layout of the keyboard on the T400s. After you pick yourself up off the floor from fainting, you will quickly see most of the changes are for the better. The feel of the keys remains mostly untouched from past models ... outside of the fact that the spacebar seems to click loudly if you press it on the edges. The biggest change comes with a redesigned function key section, offering larger "escape" and "delete" keys. Through in-depth research Lenovo found that those two keys were used more than other function keys. As a result they doubled the height, and moved the position of the insert key and F1 key.
I think the coolest difference is the new media buttons and power button. The power switch and mute keys light up when activated, so instead of the power icon showing up on the bottom edge of your screen, the button itself is the indicator. The caps lock button now features a translucent window with an LED that lights up to indicate the caps lock is turned on. One thing that is missing is an AC and battery indicator light facing you with the screen open, as they are now external only.
The T400s offers one feature I have yet to see on any other notebook to date: a speaker AND microphone mute button. While I am not sure how often I personally need to turn off my microphone, if you videoconference or use Skype frequently then a quickly accessed mute button would come in handy. Another minor change is the key tolerances have decreased, meaning there is less room for crumbs or dust to fall in-between keys.
The new touchpad is different, but I am having a hard time figuring out if that is a good or bad thing. The old design used a slightly rough matte plastic finish, which gave some traction and made it easy to move your finger around even if sweaty. The new design has a raised dimple finish with a softer texture that feels strange. I found myself increasing the sensitivity in the Synaptics control panel to make movement feel more fluid, but then found it too sensitive. It seems that you need to apply consistent pressure when moving over the new touchpad, where before it was easy to flick your finger across. I think if the bumpy surface was glossy or more slick I might enjoy it more.
Another change is the shape and size of the trackpad buttons. The buttons have a radius contour that goes through the buttons to the edges where they meet the palmrest. From a design standpoint they flow better with the notebook than previous attempts, and it is even easier to access them from the touchpad now.
Ports and Features
Port selection on the T400s has been greatly improved over the T400 model. New to the back of the T400s is an eSATA port for Storage expansion and DisplayPort out, giving you digital video from the notebook itself. Just like the T400 it has three USB ports, one through a combo USB/eSATA port. Lenovo has kept the VGA port for legacy connections, since it is still used frequently for projectors. With the decrease in thickness the T400s lost its dual card slots, only keeping an ExpressCard/34 slot. The T400s offers a docking station connector on the bottom, but it is a new design that is incompatible with older models. The last big change came with the T60, and I can just hope that this docking station format stays the same for a few notebook generations to come.
Internal features include integrated 3G WWAN and a handy GPS receiver. While 3G is pretty common these days GPS seems to always be passed over. Lenovo includes software for initializing the GPS receiver, and translating the NMEA data through a virtual COM port for applications. Since I am fond of Garmin GPS receivers, I installed a trial version of Garmin Mobile PC. Installation was simple and the software will automatically find the virtual COM port for communication with the GPS unit. The T400s was quick to acquire our location with a six satellite lock inside our office. So if you don't own an automotive GPS receiver yet, this $60 piece of software might come in handy paired with the T400s.
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