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Lenovo ThinkPad T430s Review


If a standard 14-inch business laptop is too thick and heavy for your everyday work needs then the Lenovo ThinkPad T430s with its thinner dimensions and lighter weight might be exactly what you need. Keep reading to find out what one T430s owner has to say.

The T430s is the newest slim and light model in Lenovo's venerable workhorse business line, the ThinkPad T series. Released in June of 2012, the biggest changes between the T430s and its predecessor, the T420s, are that the T430s now comes with Intel's third-generation Ivy Bridge processors and Lenovo's new backlit chiclet or island style "Precision" keyboard. An updated discrete graphics option is available for i5 models as well - the NVIDIA NVS 5200M with Optimus Technology.



The "s" at the end of the model name differentiates it from the similar but heftier T430. The starting price varies based on Lenovo's promotions, but hovers around $1,000, though it can be found for less. This is around a $250 premium over the T430.


Design
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The T430s is nearly identical to the T420s, maintaining the spartan, business look familiar in ThinkPad machines. At 13.50" x 9.05" x 0.83" - 1.02" (front to back), it feels thin, somewhat wide, and surprisingly light. According to Lenovo, the roll cage surrounding the key components is made of magnesium, and the chassis and lid are composed of "carbon fiber reinforced materials" to keep the weight in check, bringing the laptop to around 4 lbs. Like most ThinkPads, durability and fit and finish are impressive.
No parts creak, and all joints align perfectly. The top of the lid is a soft-touch material with the Lenovo logo and ThinkPad logo on the left and right. The hinges attaching the lid to the body are metal and appropriately stiff, making a solid impression.

Display 



The 14-inch screens in the T4X0 series are a frequent area of complaint. Reports from forums indicate that the screens included in the new T430 series are the same as those from the T420 series. The model reviewed here has a 14.0" HD+ (1600 x 900) LED backlit anti-glare (matte) display rated at 250 nits.
Like any very thin display, some bending occurs if the screen is physically twisted with some force from an angle. When the lid is pushed from the back, some flexing occurs, but significant pressure must be applied before there are visible changes and discoloration on the screen. The lid feels well engineered and strong compared to many consumer laptop lids.
Panels are sourced from several companies with claims that each produces monitors of slightly differing quality, however the purchaser has no option to select which one he or she will receive. The reviewed unit has a manufacturer number (LTN140KT03401) which indicates it likely came from Samsung, considered one of the better producers. The brightness can be reduced in 16 steps, with step 0 being just slightly on, and steps 14 or 15 (the maximum) being appropriate for a normally lit room.
The screen has no bright/dark or stuck pixels and viewing angles are good horizontally, and average (not so great) vertically. Colors are on the cooler side, and fairly vibrant. There is a slight screen-door effect or gridiness when looking closely, but it's hardly noticeable and does not impact the screen's utility. Contrast is a weak spot out of the box, but adjusting the gamma is a quick and easy way to help compensate. Black levels are also weak. This panel is not intended for editing photos nor doing any other color-critical work, but overall the screen is more than satisfactory for web browsing, word processing and the like. Those who receive panels from other manufacturers may not be as lucky.
Inside the bezel above the screen is a 720p HD webcam with wide-angle viewing and face-tracking. The camera is sufficient for Skype and Gchat calls, but, as expected, little else. The included face tracking zooms the image in or out depending on the distance of the face from the camera. To the right of the webcam is the ThinkLight.

Keyboard and Touchpad

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Lenovo's decision to switch to a new, 6-row, chiclet keyboard rather than the traditional, 7-row keyboard was contentious among ThinkPad enthusiasts. The keyboard maintains the red trackpoint nub (which is slightly more recessed than in the past) in addition to the trackpad, but all blue accents are gone, even from the ThinkVantage button.
The keyboard continues to be spill resistant, and there is now an option for backlighting (in addition to the ThinkLight pictured above), which can be turned on at two levels. Below, we have images of the backlit keyboard with the screen at its dimmest and the keyboard backlight on dim (left image), and the backlight on bright (right image).
The illumination is sufficient, but the corners are slightly dimmer than the center of the keyboard. The volume hotkeys are not illuminated, and the ThinkVantage button is now unlabeled and completely nondescript. Disappointingly, the CapsLock key has no indicator LED or other method of showing whether it is activated.
The feel of the keyboard is solid, but exhibits some flex in the top left corner when pushed with force. The keys themselves have nice travel and a slightly muted but satisfying sound when pushed. Immediately noticeable is that the sixth row is angled slightly more upward than the rest of the keyboard. The Fn key continues to be the left-most key on the bottom of the keyboard, with the Ctrl key to its right, which can be reversed in the BIOS.
Compared to the previous keyboard, the PrtSc button takes the place of the menu button on the bottom right, and the back and forward buttons flanking the arrow pad have been replaced with the relocated PgUp and PgDn buttons. The oversized Esc and Delete keys, once claimed to have been enlarged as a result of research indicating they receive frequent use, have significantly shrunk, now only about two-thirds the size of the standard keys - a minor disappointment. Several useful shortcuts and toggles are available by using the Function (Fn) key and the F buttons in the sixth row. Other traditional keys absent from the keyboard are available but not readily apparent, including Break (Fn + B), SysRq (Fn + S), ScrLK (Fn + K) and Pause (Fn + P).
Overall, despite the addition of the backlight, the old, traditional keyboard seems slightly superior. That's not to say the new keyboard is bad - it still surpasses the keyboards available on the vast majority of laptops, consumer and business models alike - it simply feels slightly less solid, typing is marginally less satisfying, and overall it feels slightly less well thought out. As the "Precision" name hints at, accuracy is still very good. However changes to the layout will require longtime ThinkPad users to adjust.
Though the red nub has been slightly recessed into the keyboard, TrackPoint remains a great way to accurately navigate quickly. The trackpad is appropriately sized and has a palpable grid pattern as well as two mouse buttons below it. It's multi-touch, and either sliding a finger along the right side or bottom or two-finger sliding anywhere allow for scrolling. Spreading two fingers apart or together will adjust the zoom where available.


Ports and Features

Front: Screen latch


Back: Power jack, an Ethernet RJ45 jack, USB 3.0, MiniDisplayPort with audio, USB 2.0 (always on), VGA out, and a vent



















Left: USB 3.0, a 3.5mm Combo Jack Headphone/MIC, a 4-in-1 SD Card Reader (SD/SDHC/SDXC/MMC slot) which, when removed, reveals a Express Card 34mm slot and the primary hard drive 
 
Right: Wi-Fi on/off switch, UltraBay and aKensington Lock slot. The DVD drive in the reviewed unit's UltraBay can be swapped with a caddy for a second hard drive (or SSD) or an additional 3-cell battery



The bottom of the laptop has a slot to connect a docking station, the battery, and panels to access components.
Overall, the ports offered and their layout are satisfactory, although an eSATA port and/ or another USB port would be nice. The Mini DisplayPort (with sound) is especially useful as a wide variety of adapter are available to convert the output to nearly any other standard, including full DisplayPort, DVI, HDMI or VGA.

In stark contrast to the industry trend of removing access to parts and reducing upgradability, ThinkPads continue to provide extremely accessible components, which can be accessed by removing two Phillips-head screws to reveal the two DIMMs for RAM, the wireless card, and a mini-SATA connector for either a WWAN card or mSATA solid-state drive. Configurations are available with either (but obviously not both).
The 2.5-inch hard drive (or optional SSD) is also easily swappable by removing a single screw and sliding the caddy out from the front of the left side of the laptop (pictured below, left). The drive is surrounded by rubber rails which should help reduce vibration.
Carried over from the T420s is one strange exception to the overall feeling of quality: a set of thin, wrinkled plastic covers buried under the battery (pictured above, right), shielding internal components. The plastic bulges slightly and looks like an afterthought, not something matching the fit and finish of the rest of the laptop. Since these plastic covers are under the battery, it's likely users will hardly see them throughout the life of the machine.
Unlike the T420s, which gave the option of either a 65W or a 90W PSU, only the 90W AC adapter was available with the reviewed configuration. The adapter, model 42T4438 (FRU P/N 42T4439), is fairly compact (though not slim), not overly heavy, and easy enough to travel with.

Speakers
Two speakers flank the keyboard, and the volume can be adjusted in 51 steps, starting with 0 (off) up to 50, adjusted with a dedicated volume up and down rocker as well as a mute button. At the highest level, the volume is surprisingly loud for a business-class laptop. The bass is, unsurprisingly very weak, and the sound can be described as tinny overall, with the highs over-represented. Nonetheless, the speakers are loud, not atrocious and appropriate for a business-class notebook.
The 3.5mm audio in/out port produces a quality signal, with no hissing, popping or electronic interference noticeable in studio monitor headphones. The T430s also has a dual-digital array microphone on the top of the bezel, useful for VOIP calling. The microphones captures sound reasonably well and reduces the sound of the keyboard in the background somewhat.


Performance

The unit reviewed here arrived with the following configuration:
  • Intel Core i5-3320M Processor (3M Cache, up to 3.30 GHz)
  • Windows 7 Professional
  • 14.0" HD+ (1600 x 900) LED Backlit Anti-Glare Display, Mobile Broadband Ready (upgraded option)
  • Intel HD Graphics 4000
  • 4GB PC3-12800 DDR3 (1 DIMM) - Samsung (upgraded after purchase to 16GB in 2 DIMMs)
  • Backlit Keyboard (upgraded option)
  • UltraNav multi-touch touchpad & TrackPoint with Fingerprint Reader (upgraded option)
  • 720p HD Camera Mic (upgraded option)
  • 500GB Hard Disk Drive, 7200rpm - Hitachi HTS725050A7E630 (upgraded option)
  • DVD Recordable (9.5mm [3/8"] in Ultrabay) - Matashita
  • Express Card Slot & 4 in 1 Card Reader (upgraded option)
  • Bluetooth 4.0 with Antenna (upgraded option)
  • Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 AGN (upgraded option)
  • 6 Cell Lithium Battery T81+ - Sanyo
  • 90W AC Adapter - US (2pin)
If the specification shown above aren't enough a Thunderbolt port is present on configurations including an Intel Core i7 processor. You should also note that Lenovo does not include a recovery disc, but software is included which allows the user to make his or her own recovery medium a single time (which should be the first thing a user does upon receipt of the computer). A recovery partition and a folder filled with drivers are included.
Upon first booting the laptop, the user is met with a surprising amount of pre-installed bloat, including several layers of Norton software, cloud storage software (with 5 GB free), Skype and Google Chrome, among other programs. Selectively uninstalling the bloat or reinstalling a clean version of Windows will eliminate these programs and boost the performance somewhat.All benchmarks were recorded with the more obvious bloat removed, but not all.
Where noted, benchmarks were run with the included 4 GB of RAM, upgraded to 2x8=16 GB, or both.
Performance and Benchmarks
Windows Experience
4 GB RAM
16 GB RAM
wPrime         
PCMark Vantage
PCMark 7
3DMark06
CrystalDiskMark
The upgraded Intel Centrino Ultimate-N 6300 AGN wireless card quickly found 5 GHz and 2.4 GHz networks and established fast, reliable connections. The upgraded card adds a third antennae, which should enhance the usable range of the laptop when using Wi-Fi.
The bluetooth module quickly and easily paired with a bluetooth mouse.
Heat and Noise
According to Lenovo, new to the T430s are copper ducts which channel heat out of the laptop more efficiently than in previous models. The new design is also intended to reduce the accumulation of dust, which can hinder the laptop's ability to dissipate heat over the course of its lifetime. Perhaps as a result of these changes, the laptop is very quiet and barely heated up anywhere during testing, even when under sustained load. At its loudest, the fan was not noticeable in a room with some ambient noise, and only noticeable in a nearly silent room. When under load, the fan seemed to spin at two levels, both very quiet. The hottest part of the laptop was the area on the bottom left near the two fan exhausts. Even there, the increased heat was just slightly noticeable. This would seem to address the complaint that the T420s could too easily be stressed thermally, requiring heavy usage of fans and creating a narrow thermal window.
Battery Life
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Traditionally, one of the major trade-offs in getting the slim model in the T series versus the larger, heavier model is a reduction in battery life. The T430s is no exception. Its 6-cell, 81+, 3700 mAh Li-ion battery lasted four hours and eight minutes with the screen at level 11 (roughly 70 percent) with a website refreshing every 60 seconds on the "Power Source Optimized" power plan. While not a particularly impressive number, reducing the screen brightness, turning off bluetooth and some other components would undoubtedly help extend that number. A 3-cell battery is available for the UltraBay as well. With both batteries, Lenovo claims the T430s can last 13 hours. This claim seems unlikely, even utilizing a battery maximization plan and the screen brightness very low. A little under ten hours seems closer to the likely maximum with both batteries.
Lenovo also claims the T430s can charge its battery to 80 percent in 30 minutes; a feature they call RapidCharge. In practice, the battery only made it from exhaustion to 46 percent in 30 minutes. Confusingly, Lenovo calls RapidCharge an "option" but no special batteries or software settings are available to activate it. Perhaps the hardware or software necessary to achieve such rapid charging will come at a later date. Regardless, charging did occur quickly and goes a long way toward making up for the somewhat weak battery life.
Conclusion
Overall, the T430s is a rock solid business machine capable of handling some more demanding programs, despite its low weight and thinness. The easy upgradability is nice, especially as other manufacturers reduce the number of user-replaceable parts. While the battery life is not stellar, the low weight of the system makes it easy to travel with, even with the AC adapter. The screen continues to be a weak spot, but is sufficient for business uses. We would have perhaps preferred the classic ThinkPad keyboard over the new "Precision" keyboard with chiclet keys, but the keyboard remains an overall strong point. The laptop reviewed here is destined to be further upgraded with an mSATA SSD as the main drive, boosting the overall performance of the machine and freeing the included hard drive for use as file storage. In sum, the T430s is easy to recommend as portable but powerful business machine with a build quality which should allow it to last.
Pros:
  • Well built
  • Easily upgradeable
  • Quality, backlit keyboard (+ ThinkLight) and pointing options
  • Capability to have a massive amount of storage with 3 drives installed (mSATA SSD, primary and UltraBay)
Cons:
  • Weak screen / variability in manufacturers
  • Weak battery life
  • Cost premium over T430
  • Included bloatware (and clean installing Windows requires jumping through hoops)
  • Keyboard switched to chiclet-style