Editors’ Note: Portions of this review were taken from our original Lenovo ThinkPad T400s review; the two systems are identical, save for the added touchscreen and Windows 7 OS (instead of Vista) installed on the newer system.
Back in June, Lenovo introduced the svelte, sexy ThinkPad T400s, a notebook we rightly flagged as the best 14-inch business notebook we’d ever tested. It had the best keyboard we’d typed on, incredible CPU performance, a durable but slim sub-4-pound chassis, and the high-end configuration we reviewed even came equipped with a blazing fast 128GB SSD. Now, Lenovo has seemingly upped the ante by adding an optional capacitive touchscreen, which makes the T400s one of the first laptops we’ve seen that has touch but not the ability to rotate its screen into tablet mode. The touchscreen responds well to gestures, and Lenovo’s SimpleTap software works well, but asking users to pay $400 extra to reach past the keyboard and tap the display—and carry a heavier and thicker design—may be too much.
The T400s’ matte black chassis, green indicator lights, and bright red trackpoint are similar to those found on every ThinkPad since 1992, but the slim lines and carbon-glass fiber lid are reminiscent of the sleek X300 series. And, identical to the X300 series, the T400s’ battery attaches to and sits flush with the bottom of the system, rather than sticking out of its back. As with the X300 series, the T400s’ chassis feels extremely firm and durable. Solid contact bumpers on the lid help protect against bumps and drops. Tight metal hinges give the lid a more solid feel than other notebooks. A magnesium alloy keyboard bezel and bottom cover add to the system’s strength.
While the original T400s was one of the thinnest and lightest 14-inch systems of all time, the touchscreen adds significant heft to what is still a svelte frame. While the original T400s was 3.9 pounds and 0.8 inches thick, the T400s with touchscreen is 4.4 pounds and 1.4-inches thick.
The T400s uses a high-quality capacitive digitizer to enable touch, which is similar to those used on the HP TouchSmart tx2z and Dell Latitude XT2. The screen registers contact from several fingers at once, allowing users to perform multitouch gestures such as pinching to zoom or swiping two fingers to scroll.
In testing, the screen was highly responsive, and only a light touch was required for it to register. However, we had to be careful to use the pads at the end of our fingers, as the screen did not always recognize presses with our nails.
Click to enlargeUsing the tips of our fingers, we were able to take advantage of Windows 7’s built-in touch features, including opening Jump Lists by swiping upward on taskbar icons, scrolling in Internet Explorer by swiping up or down, rotating pictures by turning our fingers, and zooming in/out on images and Web pages by pinching.
Despite these built-in Windows features, we found ourselves wishing that either Microsoft or Lenovo had done something about the size of the operating system’s widgets and buttons, and how difficult they are to target. Program shortcuts in the Start Menu, which are easy to navigate with a mouse or touchpad, are too small to press accurately with a finger, as are toolbar menus, and the close/minimize/maximize widgets that appear in the upper right corner of every window. It would be easier if all of these elements enlarged as the digitizer detected a finger.
Of course, any Windows 7 application, even those written with no touch support, can accept touches in lieu of mouse gestures. So, for example, we were able to navigate a DVD menu both in Windows Media Player and InterVideo WinDVD using touch, though the buttons were hard to target. Windows Paint is one application that works very well with multitouch, as it allows you to draw with several fingers at once.
In addition to Windows 7’s built-in touch functions, Lenovo included its SimpleTap utility, which is designed to give users touch access to many of the ThinkVantage utilities. Tapping two fingers on the desktop or one finger on a launch icon (a red ball that hangs off the top of the desktop) brings up the interface, which has tiles for brightness control, camera control, the keyboard light, locking the system, microphone on/off, sleep, volume control, and Wi-Fi on/off.
You can add custom tiles for any application, making the SimpleTap desktop a potential Start Menu substitute. We also like that you can add shortcuts to your favorite sites as tiles (SimpleTap automatically pulled in Laptopmag.com’s logo for the tile). In addition to tapping the tiles to launch each associated application, you can move them around the screen. When dragged, tiles even bounce off the edges of the display, a neat but impractical special effect.
Our system also came with Windows 7 Touch Pack preinstalled, which includes a few touch games (Microsoft Blackboard, Microsoft Garden, and Microsoft Rebound), a touchscreen saver called Microsoft Surface Lagoon, and Microsoft Surface Collage, a gallery program. While none of these apps are particularly useful, they are great demonstrations of what multitouch can do; we enjoyed being able to make puddles in the screen saver’s water by tapping the screen.
Aside from using SimpleTap, taking advantage of Windows 7’s built-in touch features, or using it on touch-unaware programs like Word, you’re left to download and install your own touch-friendly apps. Unfortunately, there aren’t many killer touch apps for Windows right now, unless you’re in a niche market that involves 3D modeling or medical imaging. If you are, then you’ll appreciate the ability to run programs such as SpaceClaim, a multitouch modeling program that Lenovo points to as an example of the capabilities of the platform.
If you want to use multitouch to help with creating documents in Word, presentations in PowerPoint, images in Photoshop, or videos, you’re going to have to keep waiting for their publishers to include touch-friendly features.