The ThinkPad T-series is Lenovo's bread and butter business notebook. This 14-inch T430 is a refreshed version of the popular T420. Read on to find out what we like and dislike about this laptop.
The ThinkPad T430 continues Lenovo's tradition of nondescript all-business designs valuing form over function. The exterior is covered in strong carbon-fiber reinforced plastic which doesn't flex. It has a finely textured surface while the back of the lid is slightly rubberized. There's not a hint of glossy plastic to be found; remember, the T430 doesn't have to look good on a display shelf at Best Buy.
Build quality is superb and amongst the strongest of any notebook we've tested. The chassis is all but impossible to flex thanks to the metal roll cage supporting the inside of the chassis. It's not something you would find on a consumer-class notebook (or most lower-priced business notebooks, for that matter). The display hinges are metal and control the displays' tendency to wobble quickly.
All in all Lenovo maintains the traditional ThinkPad design and we see no reason why they shouldn't keep doing so.
Ports and Features
One way to tell a true business class notebook from an entry level or consumer model is by the variety of ports included. This ThinkPad T430 is a true business class notebook; it includes the expected USB ports but also has DisplayPort (albeit a mini version), a SmartCard reader (a $10 option), an ExpressCard/34 slot (good for adding 3G cards) and a pair of fast USB 3.0 ports. It's not missing much - eSATA, whose purpose has been largely eclipsed by USB 3.0, and HDMI, which isn't usually found in the business world.
Front: No ports; just the display latch
Back: USB 2.0 'Always On', Gigabit Ethernet, battery pack, AC power jack, cooling exhaust vent
Left: Cooling exhaust vent, VGA, headphone/microphone combo jack, mini-DisplayPort with audio, 2x USB 3.0
Right: SmartCard reader (top), DVD burner, ExpressCard/34 slot (top), 4-in-1 media card reader (bottom), wireless on/off switch, USB 2.0, Kensington lock slot
Screen and Speakers
Our review unit unfortunately has the base 720p screen (1366x768 resolution); about the only thing it has going for it is the anti-glare coating. An anti-glare coating is preferred to glossy surfaces because light sources don't create annoying reflections. This screen has poor color reproduction - colors look dull and unimaginative. Black levels aren't deep and appear slightly grayish. But the biggest problem especially for business users is the low resolution; 1366x768 doesn't cut it for multitasking between two windows and too much scrolling is required in web pages, documents - pretty much everywhere. The available 1600x900 display is well worth the money for the increase in resolution alone (it has one-third more space).
The two speakers on either side of the keyboard are typical for a notebook and have little beyond the ability to produce basic sound. There's no noticeable bass and they distort easily at higher volumes. Note that the T430 has a single headphone/microphone combo jack; they're not separate.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The T430's keyboard is a departure for Lenovo; they switched to the increasingly popular Chiclet style with extra spacing between the keys. This has the most encouraging tactile feedback out of all the variants I've tried. It has a slightly more clicky sound than the traditional ThinkPad keyboards and the key travel isn't as long, though the feedback doesn't suffer as a result, dare I say it feels even more solid. Lenovo is offering a backlit keyboard courtesy of this new design, a first on a 'real' ThinkPad. It still has the Think Light for die-hard fans, though.
So what's the matter with it? Simply put, more than a few ThinkPad owners will say Lenovo botched the keyboard layout. The Home, End, PgUp, PgDn, Insert and Delete keys are all over the place instead of being clustered in a nice organized group at the top right. Also missing is the multi-colored keys such as the purple [Enter]. This bothers me in a way; the ThinkPad keyboard formula was exactly what many business users wanted and now they changed it - what was the reasoning? It doesn't make sense to the end user. I'm all for change but this is a step backwards.
The touchpad remains largely unchanged but the dimpled surface is slightly more pronounced. It feels almost too rough at first though I got used to it after a few days. The trackpoint "eraser" head in the center of the keyboard is also unchanged and remains the most intuitive version offered by any brand. The buttons for both the touchpad and the trackpoint are excellent with quiet, supple clicks.
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