|Introduction and Specifications|
In case you haven't noticed, Lenovo has a thing for re-introducing machines with a tweak here or there and maybe a dash of new functionality. The IdeaPad S10-2 is a great example of that, as is the partially-new, multi-touch ThinkPad T400s. Frankly, the ThinkPad T400s that emerged in June wasn't all that different than the original ThinkPad T400. The T400s offered a slimmer profile, a tweaked keyboard, a few new internal hardware upgrades and optional WAN connectivity. The new T400s, which is equipped with Windows 7 and a multi-touch display, adds one major feature: touch.
But really, is adding touch input to an already decent notebook enough to make you think twice about buying a Lenovo? Or better yet, could it convince existing T400 and T400s owners to upgrade? In the pages to come, we'll take a look at how think machine performs with a new operating system. Unlike the original T400s that we reviewed earlier in the summer, our multi-touch T400s shipped with Windows 7 Professional, whereas the earlier T400s shipped with a variety of Vista options.
Preloaded Operating Systems
Serial ATA Drives
As for specifications other than the display, essentially everything here remains the same. Have a look at our T400s options--you'll see more similarities than differences.
|Design and Build Quality|
If you read our original ThinkPad T400s review, you'll know what to expect here. As we've come to expect from any machine with a "ThinkPad" label, the new T400s Multi-Touch is as solid as a stone. Even though the chassis is but 0.83" thick, the patented Roll Cage technology keeps it as sturdy as any notebook on the market, let alone one that falls into the growing thin-and-light category.
That said, rigidity comes at a cost with Lenovo, and that cost is design. Some users adore the all-business, classic styling of a ThinkPad, while others will be turned off by the lack of glitz and flash. There's no denying that the T400s Multi-Touch is a plainly styled machine, with a matte black finish all around, pointy edges and hardly any color accents to break up the dark expanse. This one was clearly aimed at business users who don't really care what their notebook says about them as a person, but then again, having a ThinkPad says that you take your notebook seriously and consider functionality and sturdiness to be more important than sheer style.
We have to admit that the T400s Multi-Touch is surprisingly thin for a ThinkPad. It's extremely light, easy to transport and never a burden. It's perfectly sized for a coach-class airline seat, and it fits well in the lap when working on the go. The keyboard is, yet again, remarkably rigid. We noticed only the slightest flex in the middle, and we had to mash down really hard to find any at all. During normal typing exercises, you'll never notice any "give" in the keyboard, and each keystroke feels fantastic.
The trackpad on this machine is also an interesting one. Unlike most, this pad has a very noticeable "grid" on it. You can literally feel the lines crossing paths, and while some may enjoy the extra texture, we found it somewhat difficult to get used to. It didn't really hinder our work per se, but just having to think about how odd it felt didn't really increase productivity, either. "Nub" fanatics will appreciate the inclusion of a keyboard nipple here, and two left/right buttons are included atop the trackpad for those that prefer that input method.
The sides edges of the machine are fairly standard, with our model packing a built-in DVD drive, card reader, DisplayLink, VGA, eSATA, Ethernet and USB sockets. The display hinge allows the screen to fold completely flat, which could be helpful if working at odd angles. The display itself is the star of the show here, as the 14" matte panel (1,440x900 resolution) accepts multi-touch inputs through Windows 7. It responds to finger taps, twists, zooms and pinches, with one or two fingers. If you've ever manipulated a web page or photo on an iPhone, that's the exact type of functionality that Lenovo has added here. Lenovo ships the machine with a built-in widget manager of sorts that lets users double tap the screen at any time to access an array of touch-friendly shortcuts. Users can dim/brighten the screen, adjust volume or even add web page shortcuts and app launchers, all of which can be triggered with a single finger press.
T400s Multi-Touch Simple Tap UI; Click To Enlarge
We found the LCD to be nothing short of marvelous. It was bright, crisp, and easy to read, and it did an outstanding job of resisting fingerprints. We adored the matte finish, as it made the screen easier to use outside, shunned reflections and really kept the fingerprints at bay. Even though the panel was designed to be touched, it was a gem to look at at all times. Touching the screen was also a joy, with the "mushiness" factor being kept to a minimum and the input recognition software being accurate around 90% of the time. In other words, it sometimes thinks your input is a bit below/above where you actually mashed, but in the majority of cases, it's spot-on. We're sure advanced calibration and future updates will make the touch input even more accurate, but we loved what we saw so far.
|Software and Accessories|
Software and accessories? More like "What software and accessories?" Lenovo's ThinkPad T400s Multi-Touch shipped with very little in the box. We found the machine itself, a removable/rechargeable battery, an AC adapter, an AC cable, a few manuals related to the machine and that's it. No case, no fun USB gadgets...nothing else at all. On the software front, Lenovo threw in a 60-day trial of the latest version of Microsoft Office as well as a long list of other apps that you aren't apt to care as much about. In case you do, the full list is posted below.
T400s Multi-Touch Accessories; Click To Enlarge
There’s a variety of operating system choices available for the T400s. Our test model came with Windows 7 Professional preinstalled. You’ll also find a long list of preloaded software on the machine, including...
One of the standout software inclusions here is Lenovo's own Simple Tap UI. This can be toggled by pressing on the red button that can be positioned as you see fit around the LCD's border, or it can be pulled up by double tapping the screen. From here, you can access a number of machine shortcuts or even add a few of your own. You can see how this all works in our video on the next page.
T400s Multi-Touch Simple Tap UI; Click To Enlarge
T400s Multi-Touch built-in touch apps; Click Any To Enlarge
If you’re not familiar with Lenovo’s ThinkVantage Access Connections, it’s a connection manger that helps you set up and manage wireless Internet connections including Wi-Fi and mobile broadband. Lenovo’s Camera Center provides a quick link to download Skype to use with the notebook’s webcam. It also has a link to Roxio Media Import.
|User Experience and Multi-Touch Testing|
In short, using the ThinkPad T400s Multi-Touch was a blast. A real, honest-to-goodness blast. Compared to Asus' Eee PC T91 tablet (which also accepted touch inputs), the T400s wins in a big way. Of course, it costs at least three times as much, but you can really understand why. The machine screams quality from top-to-bottom, and from the moment that you boot into Windows 7, you know you're in for a treat.
Our test machine was equipped with a pricey 128GB SSD, and we have to believe that this inclusion made our overall experience much, snappier and generally better overall. Booting up and launching applications on an SSD-equipped machine is simply leaps and bounds more enjoyable than on an HDD-equipped machine. Never once did we feel our T400s Multi-Touch lag or hang when we invoked it to start an application, and we were amazed at how well it handled intense multitasking. We had a 1080p movie trailer open and were able to launch Firefox, Word, Paint and even Lenovo's own Simple Tap UI without feeling the pinch. The machine simply took our commands in stride.
The only real weak point on the machine is the integrated Intel GMA 4500 MHD graphics, a setup that remains unchanged from the original T400s. The GPU was powerful enough to handle 720p and 1080p movie trailers, but we wouldn't dare try any serious gaming here. You may get away with playing a few older titles at lower resolutions, but make no mistake, Lenovo did not design this machine to play 3D games. It was built to be a long-lasting workhorse, not a LAN party rig. Frankly, we felt that the integrated GPU held its own in multimedia testing, but again, the Core 2 Duo CPU (instead of an Atom, let's say) and the SSD (instead of an HDD) really helped it out. If you'll take a look at the Windows 7 Experience rating below, you'll see that the machine scored quite highly in every aspect except graphics performance. Again, steer clear of this rig if you're a hardcore gamer, but feel free to consider it if all you'll do is watch movie clips for your leisurely activities on it.
As we alluded to earlier, typing and mousing were generally great. The keyboard was fantastic, and the "nub" is wonderful for those who prefer it. The "grid" trackpad took some getting used to, but the fact that even the trackpad accepted multi-touch commands (two finger zooming of web pages and two finger scrolling anywhere on the pad) made us forget about it. Apple has perfected the multi-touch trackpad on its MacBook products; it's good to see a PC maker getting it right as well. We should also point out that the tweaked keyboard (enlarged Escape and Delete keys) felt incredible. Even though the machine is just 14", the keyboard really feels full-size. We typed away for hours in comfort, yet we grew tired after just an hour or so on many other 13.3" ultraportables.
Overall performance was fantastic in our eyes, and we're giving Windows 7 most of the credit here. Windows Vista had a tendency to "drag," whereas Win7 really feels nimble and light on its feet. The LCD is one of our favorites. We love matte displays, as they resist fingerprints/reflections and are easier to use outside. This 14" (1440x900) panel was super bright, crisp and clear, and it also accepted our multi-touch inputs with ease. We tested out a variety of operations, from handling Lenovo's own Simple Tap UI to touch-drawing in Microsoft Paint, and we felt that machine was well-equipped to handle anything touch-related.
By and large, we were floored by how well the machine recognized our finger inputs. We never had to mash the display; a simple tap/touch was all it took. Multi-touch inputs were recognized equally well, with web scrolling as easy as flicking a single finger up or down the display. Frankly, it made going back to a non-touch LCD somewhat frustrating. Our only gripe with the touch screen was the 10% or so of the time when it wasn't accurate. When trying to close windows or select small boxes where exact accuracy was needed, the panel would infrequently think we pressed higher or lower than we really did. Still, we've played with touch screens of yesteryear, and this one is far superior. It's not perfect, but it's about as good as it gets in the consumer market today. We have no doubt that Lenovo will continue to hone the technology and maybe even offer firmware updates in the future that enhance precision.
The video below shows us tinkering around with the multi-touch capabilities...
Everything is pretty much self-explanatory; the red button there on the side (which can be moved anywhere around the edges) pulls up the Simple Tap UI, as does double tapping the panel with two fingers. The icons can be moved about or tweaked, and you simply tap away from an icon to exit Simple Tap. We also show you how to pinch zoom in/out on a website, and you'll notice that the screen doesn't quite recognize our inputs 100% of the time when aiming for small corners and the like. Still, we were very impressed with the overall product and Lenovo's first attempt with touch input. It can only get better from here.
|Benchmarks and Multimedia Testing|
We continued our testing with SiSoftware's SANDRA 2009, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran three of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Memory Bandwidth, Physical Disks). All of the scores reported below were taken with the processor running at its default clock speeds of 2.53GHz with 4GB of DDR3-800 RAM (2.96GB usable thanks to the preinstalled 32-bit version of Windows 7 Professional) running in dual-channel mode.
CPU Arithmetic Test; Click To Enlarge
CPU Multimedia Test; Click To Enlarge
Memory Bandwidth Test; Click To Enlarge
Physical Disc Test; Click To Enlarge
Overall, the ThinkPad T400s Multi-Touch performed about as expected, coming in mostly higher than other products in the range. We weren't shocked by any of the results given just how snappy the machine felt in real-world use, and we don't need benchmarks to tell us whether a machine feels nimble or sluggish. That said, the rig held its own in testing, and it proved that having a fast CPU and an SSD can really improve the user experience.
To test multimedia capabilities, we attempt to play back a 720p WMVHD clip, a 720p H.264 clip and a 1080p clip.
Click To Enlarge; 720 H.264
Click To Enlarge; 720p WMVHD
Click To Enlarge; 1080p
Even with a relatively weak integrated GPU (Intel GMA 4500 MHD), the T400s Multi-Touch managed to handle every multimedia clip we threw at it with poise. The machine was never truly strained, even when playing a 1080p clip. Framerates were smooth and there were no stutters to speak of. We were quite surprised to see how well it handled intensive multitmedia.
|Power Consumption and Battery Life|
Our T400s Multi-Touch arrived with a standard, removable 6-cell battery. Lenovo claims that the battery is good for up to 5.5 hours of use, but we found that claim to be dubious. In fact, we think that estimation is nothing short of wrong. While using BatteryEater Pro, which does a great job of simulating a "real-world" work environment, we only squeezed out 2 hours and 37 minutes of usage.
Even with Wi-Fi disabled and the screen brightness dimmed to a minimum, we could only imagine getting another hour or so of life, and we honestly cannot fathom a situation in which you could see 5.5 hours of use; maybe if you were doing nothing at all on the computer.
Click To Enlarge
This seems like yet another case where the PC manufacturer is making numbers up based on in-house testing; all the user is told to expect is "5.5 hours," yet we've no idea what kind of circumstances surrounded that figure.
|Summary and Conclusion|
Performance Summary: In our synthetic benchmark testing, the ThinkPad T400s Multi-Touch managed to hold its own and performance was in line with expectations. This is a ~$2500 machine though, and it should perform as such. The 2.53GHz CPU, 4GB of RAM and SSD really helped it to blast past the competition, with the only weak point being the integrated Intel 4500MHD graphics. Even that was plenty to push through 720p / 1080p playback, but high-end 3D gaming titles are a definitely no-no. Outside of that, performance wasn't an issue here. The machine plowed through day-to-day and multimedia tasks, and generally performed very well. The only issue is the $2000+ price tag, which isn't quite justified in our minds. As cool as multi-touch is, we'd recommend waiting a while until it's not a $400 option (unless you really need it now).
For those that don't mind the relatively plain styling of a ThinkPad, the T400s Multi-Touch is a fabulous machine. Trouble is, you pay dearly for all of its greatness. With oodles of other thin-and-light machines hitting the market for as low as $799, it's hard to stomach a machine that starts at $1999. Granted, it's a real workhorse, and it probably won't disappoint, but it demands a lot from your bank account, and we're not sure it's warranted. Performance was stellar, but again, our machine had an SSD, a fast CPU, and 4GB of RAM.
We weren't bothered by the lackluster GPU too much. It handled daily computing tasks and even 720p / 1080p playback with ease, and that's all Lenovo ever promised with this machine. If they charged for a discrete GPU, sure, we'd care a lot more about how well it handled Crysis, but that's not the case at all. We should also point out that this machine excels in large part due to Windows 7 being such a nimble and snappy operating system. Also, we never noticed the machine getting particularly warm, which is a great sign. A cool running, high-performing machine is somewhat of rarity lately, so we were quite happy to see this one stay below the boiling point during testing.
However, while we admired the keyboard, trackpad and matte display, we couldn't get over the machine's battery life performance. Lenovo claims that you can get 5.5 hours out of this system, but we couldn't even get 3 hours. That's a pretty big gap. If you go into a purchase expecting to need to recharge the battery before 3 hours are up, that's fine; but don't expect the claim of 5.5 hours to come true if you're even a moderately heavy PC user.
In the end, the ThinkPad T400s Multi-Touch is a fast, solid and snappy machine that's somewhat overpriced. When you start a machine at $2000, you best bring everything and the kitchen sink. The integrated GPU should be tossed at this price point considering the competition. While we understand that multi-touch input and the associated interface that Lenovo supplies are nice extras, this package is tough to justify at about a $400 up-charge. If you could convert this machine into a tablet and use it that way, we could possibly justify the price. But as it stands today, the multi-touch display is nothing more than a functional novelty. You'll be perfectly fine without it, and your wallet will be better off for skipping it. We love how well implemented the multi-touch is, but we can't say it's worth the $400 upgrade. If it were $100 - $200, that would be an easier pill to swallow. At least currently, you're better off opting for the non-touch model at a lower price point. Just make sure you splurge on the SSD--it's worth it.