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.