ThinkPad T440s £999
5th Feb 2014 | 21:39
With this ultrabook, endurance comes at a price
Lenovo is on a mission with the ThinkPad. It's a mission of not just making the Chinese vendor's business-bent laptops thinner and lighter, but simpler, more stylish and more versatile.
One of Lenovo's recent attempts at modernizing the brand is the ThinkPad T440s, a 14-inch professional grade ultrabook that sacrifices little, if anything, to meet Intel's standards for ultrabook status. But is this ThinkPad enough to rattle the competition, namely the HP ZBook 14 and 13-inch MacBook Air? This laptop certainly tries to, but quickly loses its ultrabook status in that effort.
The T440s comes packing a 1920 x 1080, 10 point multi-touch IPS panel, fingerprint reader and hot swappable battery technology before clicking the "Checkout" button. This is all crammed inside a slick, smooth carbon fiber and magnesium frame at a mere .80 inches thin. That's certainly a start. Sadly, this laptop lacks the dedicated graphics processing of the ZBook 14 and the whiffs on the pure portability of the MacBook Air in attempting to match its longevity.
Aside from hinges that can bend 180 degrees, the T440s doesn't have many tricks up its sleeve. This is no ThinkPad Yoga, but it's far from bare bones. With carbon fiber wrapping the notebook's clamshell lid and keyboard deck, and magnesium covering its base, this ultrabook more than delivers as far as connectivity and security are concerned.
In addition to the hot swappable batteries and fingerprint reader the T440s sports three USB 3.0 ports, VGA, mini DisplayPort, Ethernet and both SIM and SD card readers. Between that and its FHD touch display, this laptop already gives the thinner and lighter (though smaller) MacBook Air a run for its money in some regards.
Hot swap to your heart's content
Like Lenovo's ThinkPad X240 and T440, the T440s was built with two batteries: a 3-cell juice pack on the inside and your choice of an external 3-cell or 6-cell battery. Thanks to Lenovo's Power Bridge technology, you can swap batteries on the fly without shutting down the machine – as long as the internal battery has power, of course.
While the technology nearly defeated the purpose of the X240's 12.5-inch form factor, it makes at least a little more sense on a rig that's 14 inches and inherently heavier. Lenovo promises up to 17 hours of life out of this laptop with the 6-cell battery attached. I didn't witness quite as lengthy a show of endurance, but it was nevertheless impressive.
Daunting displays of lasting power aside, there is one important consideration to keep in mind, the 6-cell external battery immediately shatters the T440s's ultrabook classification, adding an additional 0.43 inches to its thickness. Not to mention that the extra juice bumps this laptop's weight from an already-dense 3.9 pounds (thanks, touchscreen) to a hefty 4.2 pounds.
That puts the T440s in an interesting position. It's heavier than most other business-friendly laptops, but it offers longevity superior to most laptops in any category. As important as it is today, endurance isn't everything, so let's take a closer look at what else the T440s offers.
The ThinkPad T440s offers everything you would and should expect from a 14-inch business laptop – almost. Lenovo seems to have drawn a line in the sand on what matters most to business users, eschewing a dedicated GPU for better battery life. But was that the right line to draw?
Measuring 13.03 x 8.89 x 0.80 (1.23 with 6-cell battery) inches (W x D x H) and weighing 3.9 pounds (4.2 pounds with 6-cell), the T440s may be thin, but it's not that light in comparison. The HP ZBook 14 comes in at 13.35 x 9.33 x 0.83 inches and 3.57 pounds, while the 13-inch MacBook Air remains king at 12.8 x 8.94 x 0.68 inches and 2.96 pounds.
So, does this notebook use its density to the best effect? Not really, considering the touchscreen alone adds nearly half a pound to the ultrabook's total weight. (Non-touch models start at 3.5 pounds.) And with the added 6-cell battery, this isn't even an ultrabook anymore. In this case, I wouldn't hesitate trading a touchscreen for a discrete GPU. Let's see what else Lenovo packed into this T440s, and for how much.
This is the ThinkPad T440s configuration sent to TechRadar:
- CPU: 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U (dual-core, 3MB cache)
- Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4400
- RAM: 4GB DDR3L
- Screen: 14-inch 1920 x 1080 FHD with 10-point multi-touch
- Storage: 128GB SSD
- Ports: 3 USB 3.0 (one with charging), VGA, mini DisplayPort, Ethernet, 4-in-1 card reader, SIM card reader, Smart Card slot, headphone/mic jack
- Connectivity: Intel dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
- Webcam: 720p front-facing camera
- Weight: 3.9 - 4.2 pounds
- Size: 12.46 x 8.7 x 0.80 - 1.23 inches
The grand total for this configuration? $1,543 (about £935, AU$1,759) after a web coupon on Lenovo's website. Before that price scares you away too quickly, keep mind that a majority of these components come standard. Every T440s model within this SKU, titled the "ThinkPad T440s Touchscreen Ultrabook," start with the Core i5 chip, 1080p panel and fingerprint reader. Unsurprisingly, it's the solid-state drive that drives up the price from $1,363 (around £829, AU$1,558) after the coupon. Plus, this model comes packing Windows 8 Pro, which costs an additional $50.
This asking price falls somewhere in the middle value-wise, considering a similarly-configured HP ZBook 14 would run you about $2,247 (about £1,363, AU$2,562). (However, HP's offering has a dedicated GPU in all configurations.) That said, you could grab a 13-inch MacBook Air with a faster 1.7GHz Intel Core i7 CPU, double the RAM and twice as much storage in its SSD for just another six bucks.
Keep in mind, though, that the ZBook 14 holds a larger selection of ports, easy access to its insides and the almighty dedicated graphics processor above the T440s. Inversely, the MacBook Air simply cannot compete in terms of ports and other hardware features, not to mention display sharpness.
A ThinkPad T440s upgraded to the nines would cost you a cool $2,049 (around £1,242, AU$2,332). That would get you a 2.1GHz Intel Core i7 4600U chip, 12GB of RAM and a 240GB SSD. Sure, that puts this laptop more in line with the maxed out ZBook 14, but still falls short without that discrete GPU.
At this point, your decision boils down to what matters most to you as a business user: raw power and options or longevity, portability and a penchant for design. The T440s falls somewhere in the middle between these two ideologies, excelling at neither.
Lenovo's notebook offers quite a bit in terms of connectivity and hardware features, but falls short in power. On the other hand, this ultrabook offers battery life unmatched by most competing ultrabooks, but loses its ultrabook status in the process. But a laptop is more than just a sum of its parts; it's about the experience.
No surprises here in terms of power, save for one: battery life. I ran the ThinkPad T440s through a gamut of synthetic tests, and it spat back results in line with every other Core i5 (Haswell) system I've tested. But that beefy 6-cell battery just might be worth the trade-off in weight and girth. Here's how this laptop fared:
- 3DMark: Ice Storm: 38,097; Cloud Gate: 3,973; Fire Strike: 487
- Cinebench 15 - Graphics: 15.84 FPS, CPU: 223 pts
- PCMark 8 Battery Life: 2 hours, 33 minutes (3-cell); 5 hours, 17 minutes (6-cell)
You won't get much gaming out of this machine beyond your random diversion of Bejeweled. (Even the HP ZBook 14 would game better with its enterprise AMD graphics chip.) But that's not the point here. The point is a notebook that's going to last you on that next business trip – even if it means losing much of its portability in the process.
Between its snappy Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM and 128GB SSD, this ultrabook handled my daily workload with ease. That includes a load of 15 or more Google Chrome tabs, a chat app filled with GIFs, a PDF reader, Spotify streaming high bitrate music and TweetDeck amidst streaming video and holding video meetings.
That said, my day-to-day doesn't involve digging into spreadsheets with macros or editing large graphic files in Photoshop. While the latter might give this machine some trouble without a dedicated GPU, the general business user should have no trouble doing their daily deeds on this rig.
How important is endurance to you?
Is it worth your laptop gaining nearly half a pound and growing a rather large bottom? That's what you'll have to consider with the T440s. Thanks to its 6-cell battery, this laptop was able to last 5 hours and 17 minutes – a lifetime compared with the 3-cell's 2 hours and 33 minutes on PCMark 8. (Keep in mind that the T440s has an internal 3-cell battery.)
In my own experience, this notebook lasted an even longer 6 hours and 17 minutes with the 6-cell juice pack attached. That was with the machine running my usual spectrum of apps: around 15 Google Chrome tabs (with some streaming video thrown in), Spotify streaming high bitrate tunes, a chat app, PDF reader and TweetDeck.
Both of our battery tests are run on the high performance power setting. During PCMark 8, the screen is set to maximum brightness, the keyboard is not backlit and the volume is muted. During my own test, I keep the keyboard backlit, the screen to about 70% brightness and the volume at about half. That said, cranking the power setting a bit and reducing the brightness might net you another hour or two.
That's impressive for a Windows 8-based laptop for sure. And that you can swap batteries on the fly means that the T440s can last as long as the amount of charged batteries you bring along. (The ability to share these batteries with the ThinkPad X240 and T440 is an added bonus.) However, is that added endurance worth the extra weight and dimensions?
Considering that the 13-inch MacBook Air can last between 9 and 12 hours on a charge and still come in under 3 pounds and 0.70 inches, I'm not sure. Of course, Apple's leading laptop doesn't push 1920 x 1080 pixels or touch control behind its screen. But is that extra poundage worth it when the lighter ZBook 14 offers a discrete GPU? Now the value of the 6-cell batteries is doubly dubious.
Keyboard and touchpad: upholding the standard
Fans of Lenovo's signature touchpad and keyboard will not be disappointed by the T440s. Featuring a full-size set of smooth, back plastic keys with bright backlighting, this laptop offers the standard-setting typing experience I expect from Lenovo clamshells.
In typing this review, the keys reverted immediately after each press, snapping back into place and ready for the next hammering from my fingertips. This was a relief following the X240's overwhelming squishiness. The multimedia-first function keys were also a major plus.
Lenovo also makes some of the best touchpads around. Unsurprisingly, the T440s provides a smooth glass tracking surface. I pulled off Windows 8 gestures flawlessly – in the rare event that I needed to.
More importantly, this is one of Lenovo's first ThinkPads to feature the new touchpad design. Now just a single clickable button, the approach works without a hitch while opening up the tracking area for touchpad users. The TrackPoint mouse is still present and accounted for, but remains largely useless outside of pleasing diehard fans. (Newsflash: Touchpads actually work now.)
Don't go smudging that sharp screen
At this configuration, the T440s comes with a crystal clear, 1920 x 1080 IPS (in-plane switching) LCD with 10 point multi-touch control. I'm fine with everything in that sentence right up until the end. Colors look vibrant and viewing angles are nearly a non-issue on this brilliant panel, especially with its bezel narrower than the previous generation.
This laptop's screen is mighty bright, to boot. I had to crank it down a notch during testing to work comfortably, so have no fear of a dim display. But it's the touch control that has me reeling. Even on a machine that bends 180 degrees – why I haven't the slightest – it seems rather pointless.
Touchscreens make sense on a laptop-tablet hybrid; it's half of what earns them the moniker. But on a standard laptop, one for business, no less? There's little that I ever do on a laptop that I would touch the display for. I have a touchpad and keyboard for that, thanks. As responsive as it is, this touchscreen only serves to tack on the pounds and, more importantly, the dollars to an otherwise fine notebook.
Lenovo isn't normally a bloatware offender, but the T440s comes with quite a number of apps that don't belong pre-loaded on a business laptop, like Kindle, Rara Music, Zinio and more. Thankfully, the company loaded a bunch more apps that are relevant, like a tool that pulls driver updates from Lenovo, cloud storage powered by SugarSync and custom settings for key T440s features among others. Here's a closer look at the more notable apps available:
- Lenovo Companion: This Modern UI app acts as a hub for most of Lenovo's custom apps and a guide for users that are new to Windows 8.
- Lenovo Instant On: Sends the ThinkPad into a low-power state when the lid is closed for quicker resume times. But Lenovo warns that it's a power drain. With an SSD and how fast Windows 8 is to start already, don't bother.
- Lenovo QuickCast: The ThinkPad can share files with other mobile devices on the same Wi-Fi network with this tool. Yet, it requires said device to have the app, which is not yet available on iOS.
- Lenovo QuickControl: Over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, QuickControl allows a mobile device with the matching app installed to directly control the ThinkPad. Sadly, both methods are a total pain to configure.
- Lenovo Solution Center: With system-wide monitoring and alerts as well as access to Lenovo support, this is one of the more useful apps available.
- ThinkVantage Active Protection System: Similar to Toshiba's hard drive protection, this tool can lock down your storage in the event of a sudden shock to prevent damage or data loss. It's not quite as useful with an SSD.
With its square, uniform, clean 14-inch frame, the ThinkPad T440s is likely the closest you'll get to the traditional ThinkPad experience. And it lives up to the experience you expect with gusto. But laptops have changed a lot, even in the business scene, since IBM blazed the trail and Lenovo picked up the mantle. They've made leaps and bounds in the struggle between power and portability.
It's clear that Lenovo recognizes that, what with this laptop's ultrabook certification, updated innards and pristine panel. However, at 3.9 to 4.2 pounds the T440s is packing a few too many pounds for the power it offers, given that the competition is offering it for fewer pounds and fewer dollars.
Frankly, I have reasons to both be impressed and bummed out by many of this laptop's core features. Either this particular form factor has hit its limit or Lenovo picked the wrong battles.
There's no denying the lasting power that the 3-cell and 6-cell battery combo provides, not to mention that these batteries are swappable. I witnessed over 6 hours of juice on the highest power setting from this notebook, which is nothing to sneeze at. Lenovo claims 10 to 17 hours of battery life.
After running my anecdotal battery test a second time at the "Balanced" power setting (all else the same save for the PDF reader) the T440s lasted for an entire work day: 8 hours and 7 minutes. Not only is that much closer to Lenovo's claim, it's longer than just about any Windows 8 laptop I've tested.
A comfortable, reliable typing and tracking experience is paramount on a laptop, and this clamshell upholds the Lenovo standard. When typing portions of this review, I could feel the keys forcefully rebounding from my presses. Plus, the backlighting is brilliant and evenly distributed throughout.
While I don't dig the deep give when clicking ThinkPad touchpads, navigating with this glassy tracking surface was a delight. (I'm not exactly the biggest fan of the TrackPoint, either.) I could go as fast or slow as I wanted, and tap-to-click served me just fine. All in all, Lenovo's new TrackPad design is a winner.
The IPS panel at 1080p was also a sight for sore eyes. The display offered excellent viewing angles close to 180 degrees and brilliant brightness. I could get used to working on an FHD screen everywhere I go, and it's about time that it became the standard.
Nearly all-day battery life is something that most business laptops still aspire toward. But is it worth the trade-offs Lenovo made to get a whole work day's worth of endurance? I'm not so sure. At 3.9 pounds at least and 1.23 inches, the extra power of a discrete GPU would be more appealing as a business user.
Competitors have achieved all-day battery life in thinner and lighter packages, though they are smaller and push far fewer pixels. And when similarly-sized laptops offer a dedicated GPU in a smaller frame, the extra weight and size is even less appealing.
The presence of a touchscreen, which adds nearly half a pound to the machine's total weight, raises an important question: Why? It's not as if this is a laptop-tablet hybrid like the ThinkPad Yoga. If, as a business user, hybrid devices seem rather pointless to you, than touch control on an otherwise standard laptop looks simply asinine.
There are few, if any, cases in which I would touch the screen rather than navigate using the touchpad. In fact, I had no reason to touch the T440s screen during my time with it other than to test its performance. While it performs quite well, this alone is testament to its utility, or lack thereof. At that point, all the touchscreen serves to do is drive up the poundage and price.
Make no mistake: The ThinkPad T440s offers the experience you expect from a Lenovo laptop. The typing and tracking experience on this ultrabook is bar none, and you'll have a hard time wearing the machine down with general business-oriented tasks. In that regard, this is a work horse that would serve you well.
However, you must consider the utility of a bulky, hefty 6-cell battery and touchscreen. The two make this a 4.2-pound, 1.23-inch thick laptop when stacked against the competition. The T440s offers battery life close to that of the 13-inch MacBook Air, but at nearly double the thickness. And with a machine this large, you should expect dedicated graphics, like those found in the HP ZBook 14.
While I would love to recommend the T440s, it's difficult to do so at this configuration. If lasting power from a Windows business laptop is key for you, then lose the touchscreen at checkout. Otherwise, look elsewhere (like the paragraph above) for more focused machines.