Category Archives: mobile computing

ThinkPad T430s Review (Part 1)

Part 2

I decided at the end of last summer that it was finally time to replace my Dell Latitude D820. I looked at 14″ business laptops from both Dell and Lenovo. I started looking at the T430s, saw a good deal, and jumped on it.

The T430s is thin, light, and sturdy. The build quality on this thing is great. I regularly carry it around open by the corner of the palm rest, and I don’t detect any flex. At just under an inch thick (0.83in – 1.02in), it’s easy to move it around and get it in and out of bags one-handed. The screen is a tad flimsy (it’s maybe a quarter of an inch thick), but this hasn’t really been a problem. The hinges, of course, are indestructible.

Probably the most controversial thing about the Tx30 line is the new keyboard. Lenovo’s recently been switching all of their laptops to a chicklet/island style keyboard. This change rubs some veteran ThinkPad users the wrong way, as ThinkPads are known for their awesome keyboards. I never spent much time using a ThinkPad before this machine, so I can’t compare with the old keyboards. I can say that the keyboard on my ThinkPad is the best keyboard I own. The keys have a fair amount of travel, and their response is satisfyingly crisp. I believe it’s the best laptop keyboard available. Consumer laptops all have mushy keyboards (I recently assessed the state of keyboards at Best Buy), and the keyboards on Dell’s business laptops, while much better than the consumer laptops, still leave something to be desired.

My only keyboard complaints are the Caps Lock, Page Down, and Page Up keys. The Caps Lock key doesn’t have an associated LED, and I regularly find myself brushing it and then wondering if I hit it hard enough to activate Caps Lock. Without an indicator, I’m forced to guess and check. The Page Up/Down keys are tiny and are nestled in above the left and right arrow keys. The arrow key matrix is the only place on the keyboard without much gap between the keys, and I sometimes have problems hitting Page Up when I really meant to hit left arrow.

On a related note, I decided to get the backlight option on the keyboard, and I must say that that was a very good choice. This option pays for itself the first time you try to work in the dark. I hit Fn+Space and I can see my keyboard again. The backlight has two brightness settings. I can change the current setting by tapping Fn+Space. Tapping Fn+Space a third time turns off the backlight and turns on the ThinkLight, which is another great feature (albeit one that’s apparently disappearing on the next generation).

One disadvantage of having a compact 14″ laptop is the loss of depth. The keyboard is roomy, but what I get in keyboard space I give up in touchpad arrangement. The arrangement gives priority to the TrackPoint nub/buttons, which I don’t often use. I prefer to use the touchpad and the Left/Right buttons below the touchpad. Unfortunately, the buttons aren’t very tall (1/3″?) and are situated right on the edge of the chassis. They’re easy to miss.

The touchpad itself is rather large. The size is nice, because it basically gives me more resolution for small gestures. Unfortunately, the size of the touchpad and the lack of a physical delimiter on the pad means that I tend to palm the touchpad when typing. A few generations ago (Tx00?) Lenovo started using textured touchpads. It took some getting used to, but I actually like having the little bumps.

This post pretty well covers my thoughts on the keyboard and other input devices. I’ll talk about other features and give more thoughts in a future post.

Part 2

My Mobile Upgrade

I switched my mobile service to Ting in late March of last year. The experience has been great, and I’m glad I switched. Why did I switch? I’ll get to that. First, let me give you some background.

(OK, so this post turned into a narrative of my journey from feature phone to smartphone. I’ll post my thoughts on Ting in a separate post.)

I had come to the end of my contract with Verizon in 2010 (I think). In the summer of 2011, I began looking at upgrades from my flip-phone (don’t remember why), and saw the Microsoft Kin (I was shopping feature phones, because $30/month data plans are dumb). It had 802.11 wireless, a halfway decent camera, and a crippled browser, so it seemed to be a clear upgrade. I could pay for data at $10/75MB which also seemed reasonable. So I visited a local Verizon reseller. They didn’t have good things to say about the Kin (I don’t think they even had them in stock). I ended up looking at the low-end smartphone options. This was about the time that Verizon was killing their unlimited plans, so there was some uncertainty about exactly what it was going to cost just to have a smartphone. I ended up getting an LG Ally. It took me about a day to reach full-blown buyer’s remorse. I figured out quickly that a) this thing came with a $30/month ball and chain and b) it was never going to be worth $30 per month. I returned the device after about a week.

The Ally was definitely nice (still the best mobile keyboard I’ve ever laid thumbs on), and I still wanted a smartphone. I started doing more research on data plans and the available devices, and began looking at exactly what a smartphone was worth to me per month. I started paying attention to the device market, looking for a device that could have better utility for me.

It was around this time that a number of MVNOs with reasonable data plans started popping up. Their plans were more geared toward someone like me who spends 95% of their waking hours in range of a wireless access point. I was aware of these providers, but I found their phone selection unacceptable (I had two requirements: physical qwerty and at least a 400×800 screen). News of the Droid 4 also leaked in the fall of 2011, and it looked promising. I began biding my time, waiting for Verizon to release the phone. Between a great device and an 18% discount on our family plan (which I had previously been unaware of), the cost of a data plan was acceptable, just barely. December came, it looked like the Droid 4 might release along with the Droid Razr, and I was ready to pull the trigger on an upgrade.

December went, and there was no announcement of the Droid 4. Then, some time in January, one of my lab-mates switched to the Ting beta. I was already aware of Ting at the time, but this kept them in my attention. They had a flexible plan structure, and appeared to be all about providing excellent wireless service. Within the next month or so, Ting ended their beta and started selling to the general public, and I started paying attention to Ting’s blog, along with their Facebook and Twitter presences.

That’s right, they’re a brand new wireless service with presences on Facebook and Twitter. And not just sales and PR drones trying to sell the service. These presences were actually managed by real, living, thinking, feeling human beings. People asked questions, and Ting was obviously trying to be as open as they possibly could in their responses. Some people came to Ting on Facebook and Twitter with problems, and Ting would start troubleshooting right then and there, on the public Internet. This usually ended with a “You’ll need to contact with your personal information. They should be able to fix you up.”, but this is a big step from the way any other service provider interacts with their customers (and potential customers).

Sometime in March, the HTC Detail made it into Ting’s device lineup. Now Ting had a pricing model that worked for me and a device that I found acceptable. By the end of March, I was a Ting customer. I was paying only maybe 30% more than with Verizon, but I had a smartphone and a data connection. If I wanted to contact Ting, I could contact them via email, Facebook, or Twitter, or I could pick up the phone and call them and be talking to a human being in less than 10 seconds. Oh, and did I mention that there was no ball and chain contract involved? Take that Verizon.