Review: Lenovo T400s, an incredibly lightweight ultraportable for business use

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Review: Lenovo T400s, an incredibly lightweight ultraportable for business use

Lightweight but perfect for heavy duty business, this ultraportable is sure to impress.

Lenovo has been producing some excellent low-priced models in recent times. Part of the excellence is the traditional IBM keyboard, which provides for comfortable all-day computing.

At the very top-end of the market, Lenovo has also been producing top-notch machines, including the W700ds that took our Labs Winner and A-list awards in last issue's Ultimate Laptops group test. So we were keen to see how the mid-range T400s would perform.

The T400s is a replacement for the older X300 laptops that have featured in our A-list over the last year. And as with the X300, the first thing you notice about the T400s is the incredibly light weight. It feels featherlight in the hand, with a slender screen and overall thickness of just 25 mm at the front, increasing to a still-slender 33mm at the rear of the machine.

While the styling is typically Lenovo - matte-black throughout - it's a much sleeker version than the cheaper models in the Lenovo range, such as the SL500.

One look at the gentle curves of the wrist rest - both to the outer edge of the laptop and to the keyboard - make it clear that this is designed with ergonomics in mind. Uncommon to many laptops, the sides and front of the laptop are relatively clear of ports - most are on the rear of the device. The curve at the top of the screen adds to the gentle but luxurious feel.

The screen has a surprising amount of flex - with some warping evident when we applied pressure. The two solid hinges on either side allow for considerable bend in the centre - a small plastic chock prevents the screen from flexing out too far, but it can flex inwards without hindrance. Even so, it's quite resilient.

The 14in 1440 x 900 widescreen LCD is bright and text is clear and crisp. The screen is matte, rather than glossy, and is well suited for a business environment. It copes excellently under neon lighting and bright light, and the only niggle we have is with the slight blue cast overall.

The outside of the T400s, then, is far from disappointing, and the insides are similarly impressive. The Core 2 Duo P9600 offers support for the included 2GB of DDR3 RAM, and while we might wish for an extra GB, 2GB performs just fine with the supplied Windows Vista Business OS.

There's no dedicated graphics card; the integrated GMA4500MHD is far from being games-capable, but in our 2D benchmark suite it performed well with Photoshop and other graphics applications.

The overall performance is assisted by the 128GB MLC Toshiba SSD, with a claimed 100MB/s peak read speed and 40MB/s write speed. The combination achieved an overall score of 1.37 in our benchmarks - an excellent result for a laptop at this price range and comparable to the best of the "ultimate" laptops we tested last month.

But it's in usability where the T400s stands out. The trackpad is a beautifully textured matt surface, and makes skimming around the desktop a breeze. We could wish for two-finger scroll or multitouch, but If the trackpad and subdued buttons don't inspire you, you can opt for the included trackpoint.

The keyboard, as is usual with Lenovo laptops, is remarkably comfortable for hours of typing. Of particular interest on this model is the double-sized Esc and Delete keys.

These are surprisingly welcome - you might not imagine they have a large effect, but Lenovo's research has shown that these keys are used far more often than most of the other access keys on the keyboard; by increasing the size and making them easier to hit, Lenovo goes a step further in comfortable keyboarding.

It's these little touches where the T400s stands out. Take the multimedia buttons above the keyboard, for example: the simple sound mute and mic-mute buttons are a useful addition to the volume controls. The finger print reader is less obtrusive than many we've seen, too.

With business in mind, the T400s includes VPro for more powerful system management if you want a model to be part of a laptop fleet.

The chassis has a roll-cage to protect from bumps and knocks, and the SSD assists with the overall ruggedness. Connectivitywise, there's the usual USB, as well as a USB/eSATA hybrid port and, unusually, displayport. For networking, there's wireless-n, Ethernet and Bluetooth.

It's a shame then that the battery life on the T400s is so poor. On our heavy-use benchmarks it scraped in a very lacklustre 1hr 16mins, which is the poorest battery life we've seen for a laptop in this price range in some time.

Even on light use, with nothing more than the desktop running, it could only clock up a nudge under 4 hours. While everyone in our office who has tried it falls in love with its usability instantly, the battery life stops them in their tracks. It's a lovely laptop, but you may find that you rarely take it out of the office.

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