Lenovo’s T400s touch-screen model responds well to taps and gestures and even passed eWEEK Labs’ dreaded post-lunch smudge test, but a dearth of touch-enabled applications-plus a premium of $400 for the touch-screen-should place the new Lenovo unit on IT managers’ “consider for the future” list. That said, the non-touch-enabled T400s is a stalwart system that is worth putting at the top of any organization’s laptop shortlist.
The latest member of the Lenovo T-series laptop family started shipping in September. It weighs 3.91 pounds with the optical drive and is 13.3 by 9.5 by 0.89 inches when used with the six-cell, 5.5-hour battery. The T400s multitouch uses a 25-watt processor and either an Intel Core 2 Duo SP9400 (2.4GHz) or SP9600 (2.53GHz). Other battery options are rated at up to 8.5 hours of operation.
The T400s multitouch system starts at $1,979 with 2GB of RAM and no camera. The unit I tested priced out at $2,479, including the optional 128GB solid-state drive and Bluetooth support. In addition, my test system was equipped with the Intel Wireless Wi-Fi 5100 for 802.11b, g and draft-n connectivity. Lenovo also offers optional WiMax and wireless broadband network hardware.
I tested the touch-enabled T400s with Windows 7, which includes enhanced touch capabilities that will make multitouch notebooks more appealing. Lenovo also makes the unit available with Windows XP and Windows Vista, both of which have some support for touch features.
For systems running Windows 7, Lenovo includes the new SimpleTap feature. Activating SimpleTap by tapping the screen with two fingers brought up a palette of on-screen icons that control hardware functions such as turning the camera, microphone and speakers on and off. In general, the capacitive multitouch screen accurately responded to light taps and finger gestures with a minimum of practice.
Using my fingertip and Paint, I was also able to use the multitouch screen to create crude pictures. Using my fingertip instead of the mouse, I used tools such as Select to quickly and easily manipulate images. It was usually easier for me to work with images by directly touching the screen rather than indirectly through the touchpad or mouse.
To resist fingerprints and smudges, the surface of the T400s has an “oleophobic” (fear of fat) coating. I used the touch-screen throughout the day, which included several doughnut breaks. Taking only moderate care to wash my hands, the screen remained clean and remarkably free of smudges, with only an occasional wipe needed to clear debris.
The extra screen coatings that enable touch sensitivity and smudge protection only slightly dull screen brightness.
The main body of the T400s multitouch remains the same as the unit I reviewed in June, with the following exceptions: The new laptop’s screen is almost imperceptibly thicker, and the tension in the hinge is stiffer, to hold the screen in place while it is being tapped.
Enhancements Will Please Mobile Pros
There aren’t many “firsts” with the T400s touch-screen, but its many enhancements will please mobile pros. For example, the Esc and Delete keys are larger, as is the touchpad (which is also multitouch-enabled).
During my tests with the T400s touch-screen, it was much easier to use the touchpad than it was with previous Lenovo models, including the x300. The touchpad is now flush-mounted with a textured surface, and Lenovo has improved the palm rejection technology, so that unintended contact between the palm and touchpad during normal typing does not generate stray mouse movement.
Recognizing the increased use of VOIP (voice over IP) applications, the T400s touch-screen includes a microphone mute button and larger speakers. The laptop uses dual microphones at the top of the display and a characteristically quiet keyboard to minimize key-click noise while taking notes during conversations. The microphone mute button has an orange LED indicator that made it clear when I was in “listen-only” mode during a call. During tests, the mute button worked when using the built-in microphones and speakers, and when using an external USB headset.
Lenovo has made minor changes to the way the ThinkVantage “blue button” works. Pressing the button brings up the TVPC (ThinkVantage Productivity Center), with links to useful on-board and over-the-Net services. It’s simple to find a wireless network or backup using the TVPC. One change that longtime ThinkPad users may not like is that driver updates are now subscribed to using an RSS feed. In the past, the blue button also facilitated the driver update process.
As with other ThinkPad systems, the T400s touch-screen uses an internal magnesium-alloy roll cage to protect the display. I expect that the durability I’ve seen in other ThinkPad models will be preserved using this engineering design, even given the T400s touch-screen’s slim form factor.
This is literally one of the coolest ThinkPads I’ve used, thanks to the SSD and the 25-watt processors. There were none of the “hot palm” problems that I’ve experienced with almost every other laptop I’ve tested. I was able to use the system for up to 30 minutes before it became uncomfortably warm.
The T400s touch-screen includes an integrated fingerprint reader and a built-in TPM (Trusted Platform Module) chip. These security tools are well-established in the ThinkPad line and worked as expected in my tests.
The system I tested had one side-mounted USB 2.0 port and a slot for either an Express Card or a five-in-one media reader card. Along the rear of the system you’ll find a second USB 2.0 port, a Display Port, an eSATA/USB 2.0 combo port, a powered USB 2.0 port, an RJ-45 network jack and a VGA port. The powered USB port provides additional power to run peripheral devices such as a mobile printer, scanner or bar-code reader, making this ThinkPad a serviceable companion for mobile users. IT managers will like the fact that it is possible to use BIOS settings to disable any port that can move data off the T400s touch-screen.
Technical Director Cameron Sturdevant can be reached at [email protected]