- Solid design and build quality
- Excellent keyboard and touchpad
- High-resolution touch display
- Good value
- Fourth-gen Intel processors not offered
- Battery life could be better
Quick TakeThe ThinkPad S431 delivers a solid all-aluminum exterior, touch-enabled display as welll as a great keyboard and touchpad but falls short on battery life.
The ThinkPad S431 is a business-oriented 14-inch Ultrabook retailing between $600 – $700. It has a solid all-aluminum exterior, touch-enabled display and an excellent keyboard and touchpad. The 1600×900 display resolution has plenty of working space plus a practical anti-glare surface with overall performance that’s satisfactory for everyday applications like Microsoft Office. Its biggest weakness is battery life though; it achieves just 60-70% of what competing Ultrabooks offer. We otherwise found a lot to like about the S431.
Build and Design
The all-black ThinkPad S431 has an anodized alloy exterior; it measures just 0.8 inches thick and weighs a shade less than four pounds. The chassis has a solid feel and is nearly inflexible; none of the surfaces give when applying pressure. The lid also resists flexing well and protects the display panel from unwanted pressure.
Design-wise the S431 is easy on the eyes; the chassis corners are softly rounded unlike those of traditional ThinkPads from years past. The Chiclet-style keyboard is pleasantly integrated into the one-piece chassis surface. Fit and finish is excellent; all of the chassis pieces fit together with tight, even spacing.
Those looking to upgrade the S431 will have to remove the bottom of the chassis via multiple screws; behind this panel is access to the 2.5″, 9.5mm height storage drive and single memory (RAM) slot. The S431 is easier to upgrade than most Ultrabooks.
Input and Output Ports
The S431 has a limited port selection compared to standard-sized notebooks due to its thinness. Lenovo managed to fit a full-size Ethernet port (Ultrabooks typically leave it out or add it via dongle), full-size HDMI and a media card reader. All picture descriptions are left to right.
Left: AC power jack, Ethernet, USB 3.0
Right: Media card reader, headphone/microphone combo jack, HDMI, USB 3.0, Kensington lock slot
Screen and Speakers
The S431’s available 1600×900, touch-enabled display is a big selling point. This display has about 40% more viewable space than a standard 1366×768 resolution display and is well worth the $50 upgrade charge by itself. The display is amply if not overly bright and has reasonable contrast, though it could use a slight boost in saturation. The anti-glare surface is appreciated and avoids glare issues inherent with glossy surfaces (which would be out of place on a business notebook). The viewing angles are unfortunately limited; colors distort if viewed too far off center (+/- 20 degrees); this is characteristic of a Twisted Nematic (TN) display. The use of an In-Plane Switching (IPS) display would eliminate viewing angle issues but at a significantly higher price.
The 10-point touch capability works flawlessly with Windows 8. The display hinge is stiff enough to resist movement. I found myself using just the barest amount of contact to invoke the touch functionality; this is a capacitive display and reacts to surface contact, not pressure.
The S431’s speakers are built into the chassis; they have a relatively anemic sound with no perceptible bass. This speaker setup is typical for an Ultrabook; needless to say, it would be wise to use headphones or external speakers for quality sound.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The S431 features a full-sized Chiclet-style keyboard with full-sized keys and white backlighting. All of the expected keys are present and accounted for including Home, End, PgUp and PgDn. The [Fn] and [Ctrl] keys in the lower left corner are switched per ThinkPad tradition.
The keys provide superb tactile feedback; the feel is relatively soft without a hint of being rubbery and very precise. The keys produce a muted sound regardless how hard they’re pressed, ideal for environments where quietness is valued. The S431 overall provides a natural and enjoyable typing experience; you’d be hard pressed to find a better Chiclet keyboard.
The touchpad is Lenovo’s new clickpad; the entire surface visibly presses down. It’s impressive that the amount of pressure required to press it down is uniform regardless whether it’s pressed in the center or on the very edge, greatly enhancing usability. Press down in the lower right corner to right-click. It’s just as quiet and intuitive as the keyboard; without a doubt this is one of the best implementations of a clickpad.