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Lenovo ThinkPad T430 Review


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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.









Design-Hardware
 

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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.

Display and Speaker
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
 

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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.

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.

Heat and Noise
The small fan on the left side of the notebook takes care of generated heat quietly and efficiently. It stays off the majority of the time; I only saw it come on when I was doing something more resource-intensive such as watching a flash video. It doesn't develop a whine. The fan is not silent at full speed but can be ignored or dismissed as background noise.

Battery Life
The ultra-powerful 94Wh, 9-cell battery propelled our test unit to a whopping 15 hours of battery life during our standard battery rundown test (Windows 7 Balanced power profile, 70% screen brightness, wireless active and refreshing a web page every 60 seconds). This is above and beyond what we expect from a notebook, even one with this large of a battery. The 9-cell battery is a worthwhile upgrade. 15 hours!

Conclusion
The ThinkPad T430 generally remains the king of 14-inch business notebooks though I have a few reservations. Bad news first: the base 1366x768 screen has too little resolution to get quality multitasking work done if you work with spreadsheets or multiple windows. The higher resolution 1600x900 upgrade is a must. Secondly is the keyboard. What?! A complaint about a ThinkPad keyboard? Lenovo 'upgraded' to a Chiclet-style model; it feels great and as a ThinkPad owner I'm not disappointed but the layout is not the same. The multi-colored keys are also gone. It's still a great keyboard but no longer true to its roots.

Otherwise the T430 is almost bulletproof. Chassis strength is excellent; it literally has no flex. Battery life with the extended 9-cell is an unbelievable 15 hours. It has plenty of input/output ports including DisplayPort with audio. And lastly it's a reasonable value starting at $849; use coupons to knock the price down further.

Performance
Our Lenovo ThinkPad T430 review unit has the following specifications:

14-inch anti-glare 720p display (1366x768 resolution, 200 nits brightness)
Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
Intel Core i5-3320M dual-core processor (2.6GHz, up to 3.3GHz Turbo Boost, 3MB cache, 35W TDP)
Integrated Intel HD graphics
8GB DDR3-1600 (2x 4GB; 16GB max - 2x 8GB)
500GB 7200RPM Hitachi hard drive (7mm single platter; HTS725050A7E630)
Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6205
Integrated Bluetooth v4.0
Integrated HD webcam
Internal tray-load DVD burner
1-year limited warranty
9-cell li-ion battery (11.1V, 94Wh)
Weight: 4.77 lbs.
Dimensions: 13.8 x 9.1 x 1.2 inches
Starting Price: $849
Price as Configured: $1,324
Our pricey review unit has almost $500 worth of options. Compared to the base model we have a more powerful Core i5 processor, double the RAM, a 500GB hard drive instead of a 320GB, Bluetooth, a webcam, and a 50% larger battery. Things the T430 is available with but absent on our test model include a brighter, higher-resolution screen (1600x900), a dedicated Nvidia grpahics card, and a backlit keyboard. The 1600x900 screen is the only option I sorely miss; the 1366x768 version as we'll see later in this review is underwhelming.