Lenovo hasn’t just put its popular ThinkPad T400 on a diet. The 3.9-pound ThinkPad T400s (starting at $1,599, $2,130 as configured) offers the strongest combination of performance, portability, and style that we’ve seen in a business notebook. The superslim chassis and state-of-the-art components come at a premium—and its graphics performance is lackluster—but business users who are willing to pay for high quality won’t be disappointed.
The T400s’s 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.
While the 14.1-inch screen makes it a bit larger than the 13.3-inch X300 series, at 3.9 pounds and 0.8 inches thick, the T400s is 0.3 inches thinner and a full pound lighter than the original T400. And, unlike the X300, whose keyboard and screen can feel cramped, the T400s offers a better balance between comfort and portability.
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 strength.
Keyboard and Touchpad
On the surface, it seems as though Lenovo made only minor tweaks to its industry-best keyboard design, adding larger Escape and Delete keys, and reducing the empty spaces between keys to prevent crumbs and dust from falling into them. Keyboard aficionados will also notice the unmistakable lack of flex, and the strongest feedback they’ve ever encountered in a notebook keyboard.
On the Ten Thumbs typing test, we achieved a high 84 words a minute, 5 percent faster than our 80-word average, but a typing-test score alone doesn’t take comfort into account.
We’ve always liked the accuracy offered by Lenovo’s trackpoints, and this machine’s is no different. Those who prefer a touchpad, however, will be pleasantly surprised by the wide, textured surface on the T400s’s pad. In addition to its accurate surface, the new touchpad also supports multitouch gestures: A two-finger pinch, let uszoom in and out on Web pages and in photographs. Using our fingers while browsing photos in Windows Picture Viewer allowed us to rotate the images. Sliding two fingers up or down in Internet Explorer enables scrolling.
Display and Audio
The 14.1-inch LED-backlit screen provides a native resolution of 1440 x 900, which is the same as the 13.3-inch X300 series. However, the X300 series screens are a little small for that much screen real estate, so the additional 0.8 inches of panel on the T400s make it much easier on the eyes.
While the screen is bright and images are sharp, viewing angles leave something to be desired. At 45 degrees on either side, the colors wash out significantly. If you’re planning a presentation, you’ll surely want to use an external monitor or projector. Also, DVD playback was lacking. While watching Dark City, we noticed quite a bit of pixelation in all scenes and noise in night scenes. Still, quality should be acceptable for business travelers. Our test system came with a standard DVD burner, but the T400s can be configured with a Blu-ray drive ($560).
When listening to music, the sound from the stereo speakers was clear and distortion-free, though not very loud, even at maximum volume. Sound from videos, including DVD movies, was also clear though quiet. We recommend turning up the volume to full blast if you’re sitting more than a few inches away.
Smart Fingerprint Reader
Like many business notebooks, the ThinkPad T400s sports an integrated fingerprint reader, but unlike any other we’ve tested, the reader remains on, with its green LED lit, even when the system is asleep, or powered off. After configuring the bundled software and storing an impression of our index finger, we booted the system, bypassing the Windows login screen and going straight to the desktop, with just one swipe. The scanner was also highly accurate, rarely requiring multiple swipes to register. For added security, any user without administrative rights can also be forced to log in via fingerprint rather than password.
Ports and Webcam
The T400s packs plenty of ports into its compact frame. For video connectivity, it has both VGA and DisplayPort. For peripherals, it offers two USB, one eSATA/USB port, an optional ExpressCard/34 slot (which was present on our test unit), Ethernet, and a combined microphone/audio-out port.
A 5-in-1 memory card reader is available as a $10 option (our test system didn’t have one). When you consider that even $350 netbooks have card readers, it seems odd that Lenovo didn’t make one standard on its pricey T400s.
The integrated 2.0-megapixel webcam provided clear, sharp images on a Skype call from our office, which has good overhead lighting. When performing the same test in a dim bedroom with just one table lamp for light, the webcam produced a sharp image, with some noise.
Many thin-and-light notebooks do a poor job of dissipating heat. The ThinkPad T400s manages to stay cool, however, registering low temperatures even when performing CPU-intensive tasks. While transcoding a video, the T400s measured a temperate 91.5 degrees Fahrenheit between its G and H keys. The touchpad was an absolutely chilly 85.5, and the bottom back was 94.5 degrees, a bit warmer but still very comfortable for what is typically the hottest area on most notebooks.
The T400s’ 2.53-GHz Core 2 Duo SP9600 CPU and speedy solid state drive allowed this notebook to break benchmark records, despite our configuration’s 2GB of RAM. On PCMark Vantage, which measures overall system performance, the system scored 5,893, which is the highest we’ve ever seen on any laptop we’ve tested, and almost 3,000 points above the category average for thin-and-light notebooks (those with 13- to 14-inch screens that weigh less than 6 pounds). That score was also more than 50 percent greater than the ones received by the original T400 (3,576) and such 14-inch business notebooks as the HP EliteBook 6930p (3,749) and Toshiba Tecra R10 (3,490).
The T400s completed our video transcoding test, in which we convert a 5-minute-and-5-second MP4 to AVI using Handbrake, in a speedy 6:10, more than 1:30 faster than the category average (7:42). Performing the same test under stress (zipping files in the background), the T400s shined more brightly, finishing in 9:04, more than 7 minutes faster than the category average (16:45).
The lightning fast Toshiba SSD booted Vista Business in just 44 seconds and completed our LAPTOP Transfer Test, in which we copy 4.97GB of mixed-media files from one folder to another, in just 77 seconds,—a rate of 66.0 MBps. That’s the fastest score achieved on a notebook, and it’s nearly 4 times the category average (17.7 MBps).
Unfortunately, the T400s wasn’t as dominant on 3DMark06, which measures graphics performance. The notebook’s integrated Intel 4500MHD graphics chip produced a weak score of 989, well below the category average (1,435), and far behind the HP EliteBook 6930p (1,792) and the Toshiba Tecra R10 (1,643). The original ThinkPad T400 we tested back in December 2008 had switchable graphics and scored a lower 753 in integrated graphics mode, but a much higher 2,557 in discrete graphics mode. Don’t plan on gaming with the T400s, either, as it provided a slideshow-like 6 frames per second at 1024 x 768 resolution in Far Cry 2.
Battery Life and Wi-Fi
On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which features continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi, the T400s lasted 4 hours and 26 minutes, which is 19 minutes longer than the category average for thin-and-light notebooks, and on a par with the 4:23 minutes provided by the Toshiba Tecra R10.
That said, the ThinkPad T400 lasted 6:26 in integrated graphics mode. The HP EliteBook 6930p lasted 5:24 minutes with its default battery and a whopping 14:05 minutes with an extended battery.
Lenovo doesn’t make an extended battery for the T400s. A 3-cell bay battery, which can be swapped into the optical drive bay, will be available for $119 and promises an additional 2 to 3 hours of endurance. We’ll update this review when this battery becomes available.
The ThinkPad T400s’s Intel WiFi Link 5300AGN wireless card delivered strong transfer rates of 20.7 Mbps from 15 feet and 19.2 Mbps from 50 feet, each above the category averages of 18.9 and 15.4 Mbps, respectively. The original T400 got a similar rate of 20.7 Mbps from 15 feet, but a lower 16.3 Mbps from 50 feet.
The ThinkPad T400s is also available with integrated mobile broadband and GPS from AT&T or Verizon Wireless ($80 and $150, respectively). Our sample unit came with an integrated AT&T card, but it was not activated for testing.
Configuration and Upgrade Options
Our configuration of the T400s costs $2,130, but the ThinkPad T400s starts at $1,599 with fewer features, most notably a slower 2.4-GHz processor and a 5,400-rpm, 120GB hard drive. You can spend far more on the system, too, if you move up to 4GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD ($110 for the RAM; pricing for this SSD option was not available at review time). We recommend that highly mobile users purchase the $119 UltraBay battery, which promises to increase the system’s endurance by 50 percent.
Both the RAM and the hard drive on the T400 are user-accessible. The two RAM slots are located behind an upgrade pane and can hold up to 4GB of DDR3 RAM. For storage, the system has one 1.8-inch SATA drive, which slides out from a compartment near the battery. While 1.8-inch hard drives and SSDs can be found on the aftermarket, they are much harder to find and are more expensive than their 2.5-inch counterparts.
Software and Warranty
The T400s comes with the standard suite of Lenovo ThinkVantage utilities, including backup, connection, password manager, and power management applications. Intervideo WinDVD 5 is preinstalled for watching DVDs. The system also comes with a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) chip to help protect your data.
Lenovo backs the T400s with a standard one-year warranty on parts and labor. You can purchase up to three years of warranty protection, and add such extras as same-day service.
The Lenovo ThinkPad T400s is no bargain, but if you want an incredibly powerful business notebook in a remarkably thin design, it’s worth every penny. This system’s sleek looks, top-notch keyboard, blindingly fast performance, and durable chassis allow the T400s to earn an Editors’ Choice Award. This system would be even more compelling if it offered longer endurance without an extra battery, but most users will find its better-than-average runtime more than adequate.