So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Lenovo ThinkPad T440s Ultrabook
Lenovo's fresh design work is evident in the ThinkPad T440s, which is a great all-round business notebook
- Excellent keyboard
- Hot-swappable battery
- Solid build quality
- Good range of ports, plus dock option
- Touchpad wasn't always usable after waking from sleep
- The 1600x900 panel has narrow vertical viewing angles
A great keyboard, strong physical design, plenty of useful connectivity, and a hot-swappable battery, all make the ThinkPad T440s a top contender as far as business laptops are concerned. We think it's a wonderful overall notebook except for some touchpad issues that we experienced. If you're considering it, we recommend getting the version with the Full HD, IPS screen.
Price$ 1,999.00 (AUD)
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There was lots of excitement in the office when we finally got our hands on the Lenovo ThinkPad T440s, mainly because of the ground-up redesign that Lenovo performed on this 14in business laptop. We detailed a lot of the changes in our article about the research and development behind the T440s, which includes everything from a new battery system, to differently styled rubber feet on the base. Do the changes make the ThinkPad T440s a killer Ultrabook? We used it for a few weeks to find out.
A strong and attractive laptop
When the T440s made its first appearance in the office, among the comments to be dished out were things like "that looks good for a ThinkPad" and "it's not as ugly as i expected". Indeed, many people have written off ThinkPads for their looks in the past (not this reviewer, though), so the positive comments about the looks of this ThinkPad model are a change from the norm. The chassis basically looks clean and streamlined, and it's a tidy unit overall. A lot of this has to do with the consistent thickness of the base (around 15mm), and the subtle downward angle that can be found at the front edge, which takes away some of the boxiness. The colour of the unit is also pleasant to look at; it has more grey in it than previous models, which gives off a warmer overall look.
Lenovo hasn't compromised build quality in the new design. The T440s is a semi-rugged Ultrabook with an overall weight of 1.56kg, it's very easy to carry around on a daily basis, and it's power cube won't take up too much space in bag. Carbon fibre is present in the lid, while the base is made from magnesium alloy. It feels strong, regardless of how it's being held, and we didn't notice any creaking on bending in the body, except for the spot that contains the long opening for the smart card. In fact, as far as build quality is concerned, it's as good as we expected from a ThinkPad product. The keyboard is spill resistant, and there is a drainage system with holes that allow excess water to escape through the bottom of the chassis without affecting the circuitry (you'll still need to unplug the unit and let it dry, though).
Unlike many Ultrabooks, the chassis on the ThinkPad T440s has a few more features than usual: you get VGA, Gigabit Ethernet, a smart card reader, Mini DisplayPort, three USB 3.0 ports, an SD card reader, a headset port, and a SIM slot (for an optional mobile broadband module). The VGA port came in handy when we didn't have a Mini DisplayPort cable to hand, and the Ethernet port came in handy when we were troubleshooting our Wi-Fi. We didn't use the smart card slot, but we know that for this unit to be used in certain government departments, for example, it is a necessity. Security is further aided by the inclusion of a fingerprint scanner next to the keyboard (we used it without problems to log in to Windows), and a Trusted Platform Module (1.2) on the motherboard.
The other things that set this Ultrabook apart are its removable battery, a screen that can tilt until it's flat on a desk, a docking port, dual navigation methods (touchpad and TrackPoint), 802.11ac wireless networking (we regulary hit over 20 megabytes per second using a 450Mbps Linksys router), and a keyboard that is perhaps the best in the business. It could be argued that the keyboard is the star of the show.
There are little things, too, that Lenovo has included that are appreciated, such as the rectangular, easy-to-insert power plug, screw-in points for a VGA cable, a dedicated Print Screen key, and speakers that produce loud enough sound to fill a decently sized room. What's missing is a screen-mounted keyboard light (the keyboard backlight is a much better solution for our needs), and there is no physical Wi-Fi toggle, though Windows 8 allows for Wi-Fi to be disabled easier than on previous versions of Windows.
Specifications and performance
The model that we looked at isn't one that has exact specs that can be purchased by end users. Ours came with a 256GB solid state drive (SSD) and a 1600x900 screen, rather than a Full HD panel. This combination of storage and screen resolution can't be matched when purchasing the T440s from Lenovo's Web site. The 256GB SSD option is only available on the models that also have a Full HD screen. Furthermore, our test system arrived with Windows 7 Pro installed, although only Windows 8 and Windows 8 Pro are options from Lenovo's site.
The rest of the configuration is standard, though, with a fourth generation Intel Core i5-4300U processor, 8GB of RAM, and integrated Intel HD 4400 graphics. The Core i5 is offered on the entry level model, but all models, including that one, are also offered with a fourth generation Intel Core i7-4600U processor, and with additional RAM up to 12GB via an extra 4GB or 8GB module (4GB is soldered on to the motherboard). The entry level model is only offered with a hard drive, rather than an SSD (but it does have a 16GB SSD cache drive), and its default screen is 1600x900 pixels (Full HD is an option). If we had to choose, though, we'd start off with the mid-range model, which is only $100 more than the entry level model, but which comes with a Full HD screen and a 128GB SSD by default.
Our benchmarks and day-to-day usage of the ThinkPad T440s tell us that it's a laptop that can be used effectively for general office tasks, as well as for editing images, working with small video files for basic cutting and editing, and delivering presentations. You can even perform media encoding and transcoding tasks if you don't mind the wait. It took 45sec to complete our Blender 3D rendering task, just over 21min to complete a DVD-to-MP4 transcode in HandBrake, and the Intel 4400 graphics recorded 4466 marks in 3DMark's Cloud Gate test, which is an expected result for this chip. Its SSD recorded CrystalDiskMark rates of 530 megabytes per second (MBps) and 259.9MBps for sequentially reading and writing 1GB of data, respectively.
These are all solid results which show that the T440s isn't a lightweight when it comes to processing, even though it's a lightweight Ultrabook. The T440s didn't get overly warm during our regular usage, and heat seemed to be well managed even when we maxed out the CPU during transcoding tasks. You'll want to use the notebook on a flat surface if you are doing lots of heavy CPU work, so that the vent holes don't get blocked. Noise also wasn't an issue during general use, and the fan was only audible once the CPU had to perform heavy lifting.
Typing and navigation
The keys are large and can be manually backlit in two intensity levels, and the board has a layout that's standard and doesn't require much getting used to. The Shift keys are large, the Delete key is in the right spot, and the Backspace key very much dominates the top-right corner. We love the feel of the keys, which have the reaction of a proper keyboard thanks to an excellent combination of resistance and travel. Furthermore, the lettering on the keys looks better to our eyes than most of the other Ultrabooks on the market, and the keys make a satisfying noise when they are hit.
The only aspects of the keyboard that could be deemed annoying are the small arrow keys, which have slightly bigger Page Up and Page Down keys located immediately above them. Our fat fingers regularly picked out the Page keys instead of the arrow keys, so bigger arrow keys, rather than bigger Page keys might make this keyboard even better in the future. The location of the Fn key in the bottom left corner also caught us out, primarily when copying and pasting text. Luckily, you have the ability to swap the position of the Fn key with the Ctrl key in the BIOS (Press F1 to access it during boot-up).
Located in the middle of the keyboard is a TrackPoint device, which can be used when you don't want to move your hands away from their typing position, and also if you are using the notebook on your lap — it doesn't require as much room to use as the touchpad. Lenovo has removed the physical left- and right-click buttons for the TrackPoint (and also for the touchpad), instead integrating these buttons into two zones on the touchpad. These zones are only active when you use the TrackPoint, which means you can't use them to perform click functions unless the TrackPoint has been used to navigate instead of the touchpad. It's worth noting that we didn't have any problems with the location of the TrackPoint on the keyboard (we rarely hit it), but we did find the button zones a bit of a chore to use.
A large touchpad (100x75mm) sits right under the keyboard and is centered according to the Space bar. Lenovo has re-designed the entire pad and removed the soft left- and right-click buttons that we're accustomed to using on ThinkPad models. Instead, the whole pad is a button that clicks evenly no matter where you press on the pad. This is by design, and Lenovo has used five scissor mechanisms from the keys in order to achieve a consistent click. However, there were some occasions when the presses weren't smoothly executed near the top of the pad. In any case, we found ourselves using soft taps instead of clicks, and preferred to two-finger tap for right-click operations rather than pressing down in the bottom-right zone of the pad.
We need to point out that the touchpad on our test model was a shambles when we used straight out of the box. Two-finger scrolling didn't work properly, with the screen often whizzing past, the right-click function didn't work, and the touchpad refused to work after the laptop resumed from sleep mode. Luckily, when we used the pre-installed Lenovo utility to find driver updates for our system, the only one it found was for the touchpad.
The issues we experienced were fixed after we updated, but there were still some instances in which the touchpad wasn't usable after waking from sleep mode. We had to shut the lid and reopen it once or twice (sometimes more times) in order for the touchpad to work. Bear in mind that our notebook arrived with Windows 7 Pro installed, rather than Windows 8.
The 1600x900-pixel panel that can be found on the entry level T440s model represents a very basic screen. It has narrow vertical viewing angles that often required us to tilt the screen so that we could see images properly. The colours and brightness of the screen are good though, assuming you have found the perfect viewing angle. The resolution itself is adequate for a 14in screen, but we couldn't help but wish for a little more wideness when lining application windows side by side. We would opt for a Full HD screen for this reason, and also because the Full HD screens (both the regular and the touchscreen) are based on IPS technology, giving them wider viewing angles.
One of the best aspects of the screen is its hinge design. The hinges are recessed in the end of the chassis, rather than sitting on top of it, and this allows the screen to tilt all the way back so that it can be laid down flat on a desk. They feel strong and they kept the screen stable at all the angles we tried. It's a hinge design that could come in handy for Windows 8 apps, as well as in some scenarios while giving presentations — though the restrictive vertical viewing angles of the entry level screen could be a hindrance to its function.
If the keyboard is the star of the ThinkPad T440s show, then the battery system is definitely the co-star. Lenovo has split the battery power duty between two 3-cell batteries, one of which is located inside the chassis, and one which is loaded into the bottom-rear of the chassis. It's a versatile system that allows you to either carry around a spare 3-cell battery, or to add a more beefy 6-cell battery in its place. If you do the latter, the extra thickness of the battery takes the T440s out of the Ultrabook class into regular ultraportable notebook class. The external battery is hot swappable, with the internal battery getting used only when the external battery has been depleted.
In our rundown tests, in which we disable power management, enable Wi-Fi, maximise screen brightness, and loop an Xvid-encoded video, the dual batteries combined to last for 4hr 31min (on its own, the internal battery lasted 2hr 18min). This is short of the 5hr mark we were hoping it would hit, which is what we've been seeing from other fourth generation Intel Core Ultrabooks (the Dell XPS 12 convertible is an example). As a comparison, it's an hour better than what we got out of a similarly configured third generation ThinkPad X1 Carbon (though that unit had an ultra-low voltage Core i7 rather than an i5).
During regular usage, for tasks such as browsing the Web, and working on emails and documents, the T440s lasted a lot longer, especially since we used a medium screen brightness. We were able to go almost a full work day before having to charge it again. How much life you get out of it will depend on how you use it, and there is a comprehensive power utility that you can play around with, too.
Spare batteries for the T440s can also be used on the new ThinkPad X240. Likewise, the docking connector is the same for both laptops.
We think that the Lenovo ThinkPad T440s is a magnificent Ultrabook for those of you who want a combination of light weight, lots of built-in features, a rugged design, and flexibility when it comes to battery life. Furthermore, we think it's the perfect model to consider if you're a typist. We did have some initial problems with its touchpad, which were very annoying, but the most recent driver update managed to almost eliminate all of them. The touchpad design, with its lack of physical left- and right-click buttons might require some getting used to.
The price for the entry-level unit is $1999 and there are also $2099 and $2449 models. In New Zealand it starts at $1899, with $2199 and $2599 models.
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