Notebook Review: Lenovo ThinkPad T400s

When a big company feels inclined to mess with a classic, it had better get it right—just ask Coca-Cola. Lenovo has introduced a new version of its iconic T-series, the best-selling business laptop series ever and the progenitor of the “thin-and-light” portable category.

The result: The ThinkPad T400s is everything fans have loved about the T-series, in a slimmer, lighter package. If you carry your laptop frequently but prefer a larger screen and keyboard than an ultra-portable-class notebook delivers, the T400s may be for you.

Impeccable Design

The T400s design is familiar ThinkPad: matte black, squared-off exterior with little adornment. That’s either classic or boring depending on your point of view, but at least the look won’t seem dated in a year as design fads change. Thanks to engineering advancements brought over from the ultra-slim ThinkPad X-series, the T400s is 20 percent lighter and 25 percent thinner than the regular T400 (which continues in the line).

At 3.9 pounds and eight-tenths of an inch thick, the T400s is the slimmest, lightest notebook with a 14-inch widescreen display on the market. In fact, it’s lighter even than some 13.3-inch notebooks, which means you can carry a larger screen without the usual weight penalty. The T400s also features Lenovo’s ThinkPad Roll Cage, an internal carbon fiber skeleton that improves rigidity and protects internal components.

Another classic element is the ThinkPad keyboard, which put simply is the most comfortable laptop keyboard available. The full-size keyboard offers plenty of room to type, and the keys have perfect tactile and audible feedback. It’s spill-resistant, designed to funnel a spill of a few ounces of liquid away from internal components. Lenovo tweaked the keyboard on the T400s, making the Esc and Delete keys larger and making a smaller gap between keys to stop crumbs from falling between. Above the keyboard you’ll find handy volume and mute buttons, so you won’t need to hunt for a Function-key combo.

As with other ThinkPads, Lenovo includes both a pointing stick and touch pad for navigation, so if you prefer one over the other you’re set. The touch pad is particularly easy to use, and is one of the new generation touch pads that supports gestures (like the screen of an iPhone) to make scrolling, zooming and other navigation easier.

The notebook’s 14.1-inch widescreen panel display employs an array of white LEDs as the backlight, as opposed to the fluorescent tubes found in lower-end panels. The LEDs help deliver a brighter, higher-contrast image with saturated colors that pop, making the T400s a good companion if you often show presentations to clients from your laptop. The panel’s 1440×900 resolution means you can have a couple windows open at once, and though text is very crisp, default fonts in Windows menus and on Web sites may be a touch on the small side for aging eyes.

Lenovo ThinkPad T400s
The Lenovo ThinkPad T400s owns the same classic look of the T-series but in a thinner, lighter body.

Plenty of Features

The T400s includes all the features you would expect in a business laptop and then some. There’s a fingerprint reader for added security, so only people whose fingerprints are registered can authorize Windows to boot up. The optional 2-megapixel Webcam is ideal for videoconferencing, and it delivers accurate colors and a very good image even in less-than-ideal lighting conditions.

As for expansion, the T400s sports two USB ports, a combination USB/eSATA port (for connecting a fast external hard drive), plus a VGA connector and a DisplayPort connector for sending the video signal to an external monitor or projector. Lenovo makes you choose whether you want an ExpressCard/34 slot or a memory card reader, as there isn’t room on the thin chassis for both.

Lenovo offers a range of hard drives for the T400s, including 120GB and 250GB traditional drives or cutting-edge 64GB and 128GB solid state drives, which use flash memory for increased performance and crash-proof reliability. The modular bay on the T400s can be used for the multi-format CD/DVD burner that comes standard with the system, or you can opt for a Blu-ray drive or a second battery for that slot.

Given the array of standard and optional wireless solutions on the T400s, you should have no trouble connecting almost anywhere you go. The machine comes with fast 802.11n Wi-Fi, and Lenovo offers a Bluetooth option. You can also request an embedded wireless broadband solution with nationwide service from AT&T or Verizon, so you can connect to the Internet at 3G speeds without having to find a Wi-Fi hotspot. More impressive is the optional Lenovo Constant Connect ExpressCard ($150). It automatically syncs your T400s mail file with your BlackBerry—even if the laptop is powered off.

Plenty of Performance

The T400s can be ordered with either an Intel Core 2 Duo SP9400 processor (running at 2.4GHz) or the slightly faster 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo SP9600. Combined with the 2GB to 8GB of RAM the system supports, those processors deliver plenty of power for typical computing chores as well as more demanding multimedia work. Graphics horsepower comes from the integrated Intel GMA 4500MHD solution, which is fine for video and light-duty 3D applications, but you won’t want to be playing high-frame-rate 3D games on the T400s.

In our trials, the T400s delivered about two hours of runtime while playing a DVD continuously. In normal use with power-saving settings enabled, you can expect almost four hours of computing time; if you need more, you can opt for a second battery. Importantly, we found the T400s to be near-silent in operation, even under heavy workloads, which is an accomplishment for a machine this thin.

The T400s comes standard with Windows Vista Business (32-bit) as the operating system. If you prefer, you can configure the machine with Windows XP Pro, Vista Business (64-bit) or Vista Ultimate, which qualify you for a free upgrade to Windows 7 when that new operating system arrives late this year.

Lenovo also preloads its handy Productivity Center 3.0 and Rescue and Recovery 4.2 utility suites, which help you configure and maintain various aspects of your notebook. A one-year warranty with 24/7 tech support comes standard.

The ThinkPad T400s has a starting price of $1,599. That’s no budget entry, but given the standard features, the price is reasonable. If you travel frequently and want the thinnest, lightest no-compromises laptop available, the T400s is worth every penny.

Jamie Bsales is an award-winning technology writer and editor with nearly 14 years of experience covering the latest hardware, software and Internet products and services.

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