Lenovo ThinkPad T430s Review and Ratings
Our Verdict: Business users looking for a balance between power and portability can't do better than the T430s. A laundry list of durability, communications, and usability features adds to its appeal. Read More…
- What We Liked…
- Excellent keyboard with backlight option
- Swappable bay for optical drive, second battery, or hard drive
- Strong all-around performance
- ThinkPad Mobile Hotspot feature lets you share Wi-Fi or 3G connection
- Reasonably priced
- What We Didn’t…
- Classic all-black design is a tad dull
- Touch pad is a bit small
- Somewhat narrow viewing angles for screen
Lenovo ThinkPad T430s Review
By October 23, 2012reviewed
Table of Contents
Introduction, Design & Features
The ThinkPad T Series didn't get to be the best-selling business-notebook nameplate of all time by accident, and the latest iteration makes clear how it won that distinction. Lenovo's ThinkPad T430s blends portability, performance, features, and creature comforts in a near-perfect execution of a thin-and-light laptop that will suit corporate types, small-business buyers, and power users alike.
In past reviews (dating back to, oh, around 2001 or so), right about now is when we would start apologizing for the T Series' high price and arguing that it was justified. Not this time: The platform starts at just $790—a bargain—and our well-appointed Core i5 configuration checks in at a very reasonable $1,174.
One of the strengths of the T430s is that configure-to-order is alive and well for the platform. Lenovo lets you mix and match components to suit just about any need and budget, ranging from an Intel Core i3 CPU and 4GB of RAM to a Core i7 processor married to a whopping 16GB of memory. Another rare commodity is the UltraBay, which lets you slide out the standard optical drive and pop in a second battery or up to a 1TB hard drive. Sweet.
What you can't change, however, is the look of the T430s. The squared-off matte-black case is classic ThinkPad, take it or leave it. Admittedly, we have a touch of envy seeing the parade of brushed-metal laptops in a rainbow of silver shades pass by, but the sure grip provided by the almost-rubbery finish of the ThinkPad T430s keeps our lust in check. The laptop weighs at just under 4 pounds and measures a hair over an inch thick. Both measurements are more than reasonable for a 14-inch slimline machine, although they seem downright chunky next to all the svelte ultrabooks that have debuted this year. But hey, which among the latter have optical drives, let alone swappable bays? Correct: few and none. And if you're deciding between the ThinkPad T430s and its less expensive stablemate, the ThinkPad T430, note that the T430s is a quarter-inch thinner and 0.8 pound lighter.
The T430s is no less durable than its larger sibling. Both are considered business-rugged laptops and feature Lenovo's internal carbon-fiber skeleton to protect their internal parts. The T430s has also passed eight U.S. military testing specifications (Mil-Spec, for short) including those for humidity extremes, low/high temperature, altitude, vibration, and mechanical shock. The T430s keyboard is spill-resistant and has been tested (by Lenovo, not us) to survive up to 4 ounces of water poured directly into it with no damage to internal components.
Speaking of the keyboard, that's the most obvious major design change. The ThinkPad T420s employed the traditional-style keyboard that made the T Series a favorite of fast typists everywhere. Opening the lid of its T430s replacement, we were confronted with—say it ain't so!—a newfangled chiclet- or island-style keyboard, with keys jutting through a recessed backplane. Lenovo switched to this kind of keyboard on its X Series, its ThinkPad Edge models, and others, but we thought the T Series would be immune from such tinkering. Not so, and the T430 wasn't spared, either.
But a funny thing happened as we started to dash off a letter of complaint to Lenovo: We found we actually liked the new keyboard. It's rock solid—none of the flex in the middle that we've experienced on others—and the key plunge (the amount of up/down travel) seems better than on other chiclet-style keyboards we've tried. The spacing of the keys is perfect, and the concave curve of the keytops feels comfortable. What's missing is the spot-on audible and tactile feedback of the old ThinkPad keyboards, but as far as island-style keyboards go, this one is arguably the best. And, in the bargain, Lenovo was able to make this keyboard backlit, something the company couldn't do with the old-style unit. So, in addition to the standard ThinkLight (a small white LED above the screen that casts a gentle light on the keys), for $40 you can opt for a backlit keyboard with two brightness levels.
The T430s is chock full of other features that add to its usability, convenience, and security. The most visible is the 14-inch screen, a mainstay of T Series models for years. The LED-backlit panel is very bright, and the 1,600x900 resolution makes for crisp text. While that high-res panel allows you to have a couple of application windows open at once, if you're over 45 you'll probably want to click on "Make text and other items larger" in Windows' Control Panel to hike the default size of text and icons. If you think it will still be an issue, opt for a 1,366x768 panel and save yourself $50. Both screens use an advanced anti-glare coating that cuts down on glare and reflections without muddying up the onscreen image.
Our one complaint about the screen is that the TFT panel is of the twisted nematic (TN) rather than in-plane switching (IPS) variety, which means somewhat limited viewing angles, especially in the vertical direction. So if you're stuck in coach and can't open the lid far enough because the yahoo in front of you insists on reclining, you'll see a noticeable color/brightness shift. Similarly, the viewing sweet spot for video playback is rather small. On the plus side, DVD video looked terrific on the screen, with no noticeable blur and lifelike color reproduction.
Above the screen, the T430s delivers a new 720p HD Webcam with face tracking. It's a noticeable step up from the T420s camera, delivering very good low-light sensitivity, although highlight areas tended to be overexposed in bright light. Held over from the previous generation are a couple of features to make videoconferencing more convenient. First, there's a dedicated microphone mute button above the Function keys, which lets you quickly disable the mic—ideal for when the dog starts barking during that GoToMeeting session when you're working from home.
Second, the Lenovo Communication utility offers two microphone settings. Private Chat focuses the mic pickup in front of the laptop and suppresses background noise, so your party can hear your voice over the din of, say, an airport waiting area. Conference Call mode opens the audio capture field to a full 360 degrees around the machine, which is ideal for a group of participants around a table. In our trials, with the microphone setting on "one voice," the voice of the speaker directly facing the screen was pronounced, while the voice of a speaker off to the side was much more muted. When set to multiple voices, we were able to walk around the T430s in a complete circle, and at all points the voice pickup was nearly the same.
ThinkPad purists will be happy to see that, while the keyboard has changed, the stick remains the same: The T430s keeps the TrackPoint pointing stick nestled at the intersection of the G, H, and B keys, and the associated left- and right-click buttons are large and responsive. As expected, however, that setup steals some room from the touch pad, which is on the small side. The latter's pebbled surface is comfortable to use, though, and we found mousing action using either the stick or pad to be precise.
For those who hate to use a headset, the stereo speakers flanking the keyboard are another nice touch. They deliver very good sound quality for videoconferencing, as well as for movies. We were a little disappointed with the playback quality for music, as the sound was lacking bass—that is, until we discovered the included Dolby Home Theater v4 utility. This good-looking app offers precise control over audio settings, including equalizer presets for music, movies, and games, plus five custom settings. We dialed up the low-frequency sliders on the onscreen equalizer to add more bass to The Killers' "Sam's Town" and were impressed. Other slide controls let you adjust the virtual surround sound, enhance dialogue, and level the volume. And we're happy to see that Lenovo has not done away with the dedicated volume and mute buttons. Other laptop lines have switched back to function-key control of audio, claiming that buyers really didn't care about having handy buttons. Really? We think it's a sorry excuse for saving five bucks in manufacturing costs.
We also like Lenovo Enhanced Experience 3 for Windows 7. The improved-for-2012 edition features RapidBoot technology that optimizes system files, processes, and hardware settings to start the laptop, Lenovo claims, 40 percent quicker than a typical Windows 7 system. As before, Enhanced Experience also speeds up resume from sleep and connection to Wi-Fi networks upon wakeup.
As mentioned, stepping up in size from an ultrabook to a thin-and-light nets you not only an onboard optical drive but a modular bay configuration. Our T430s came with the standard multiformat DVD burner plus the three-cell bay battery option ($120). You can also opt for a 500GB, 7,200rpm second hard drive ($90) or a 1TB, 5,400rpm drive (a rather pricey $350).
Our unit came with an internal 500GB hard drive, and you can augment that with a 16MB SSD cache drive that speeds performance. Alas, if you do so, you can't add an integrated mobile broadband option ($250, and not part of our build).
Another optional component that was part of our configuration is dual graphics. Our ThinkPad included the standard Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated graphics (part of the Intel processor in this machine), plus a discrete Nvidia NVS 5200M graphics chip with that company's Optimus technology. Optimus switches between the two graphics subsystems depending on application demand to balance performance and battery life.
We also got the $30 Bluetooth option in our configuration, along with Intel's Centrino Advanced-N 6205 adapter for Wi-Fi connectivity. On the convenience front, the ThinkPad T430s includes the new ThinkPad Mobile Hotspot feature, which lets you share its Wi-Fi or optional WWAN connection with up to five other devices within range.
On the wired-connectivity front, the T430s comes with the standard selection of ports. On the left side you'll find a USB 3.0 port, a headset jack, and your choice of a 4-in-1 memory card reader, a 34mm ExpressCard slot (as on our build), or an ExpressCard/memory-card combo reader....
Around back are the Gigabit Ethernet jack, another USB 3.0 port and a powered USB 2.0 port, and mini-DisplayPort and VGA connectors for attaching external displays. We prefer HDMI to DisplayPort since HDMI monitors are more common here in the United States, but an adapter can be had for around $5 online.
As a corporate standard, the T430s platform delivers a number of features targeted at the enterprise IT department. The available Lenovo Transition Service can be used to load a customer's unique hard drive image (meaning the OS and all applications and settings) at the factory, and Lenovo can even pre-encrypt the drives, saving IT staff four to six hours of deployment time per machine, according to Lenovo's estimates.
If a corporate customer experiences a hard drive crash under warranty, Lenovo will replace the failed drive without requiring that the latter be sent in, so the company always retains possession of its data. Finally, the T Series batteries are common among Lenovo's T, L, and W series ThinkPads, with docking options shared among those models, as well as the X series. This makes it easier for an IT department to stock accessories, even if everyone isn't on exactly the same ThinkPad platform.
Table of Contents
2.6GHz Intel Core i5-3320M|
500GB hard drive
DVD±RW (swappable bay)
14.0-inch LCD (1,600x900 native resolution)
Nvidia NVS 5200M
Windows 7 Professional (64-bit)