Lenovo ThinkPad T420 Review: Kickin' It Old School
Display and Audio Quality, Cooling, Portability, Software
Display and Audio Quality
As mentioned earlier, our review unit arrived with a resolution of 1600x900. That’s outstanding for a 14” display - only a handful of laptops of similar size offers as many pixels. All T420 displays are of the anti-glare variety, which makes them relatively easy to use in bright rooms or outdoors.
Anti-glare has a reputation for diminishing image quality, but Lenovo appears to have worked some magic here. Though the visual “punch” of colors is still far short of what you’d find on a great glossy laptop display, contrast and black levels are acceptable.
The superior display quality is clear when watching video or playing games. Though not able to compete with the best I’ve ever used, the T420’s display is robust for a laptop and is capable of providing an enjoyable media experience. Most laptops with an anti-glare coat can’t claim this.
Audio quality doesn’t disappoint, either. Complex music, particularly music with significant bass, can cause distortion. Otherwise the speakers are clear, crisp and loud. They’re more than adequate for anyone stuck in a hotel room who wants to play a movie or game.
A common benefit of a large laptop is cooling that is both effective and quiet. The T420 does not seem to be an exception to this rule. At idle fan noise is virtually inaudible so long as there’s any amount of ambient noise and external temperatures are just slightly above room temperature on both the top and bottom of the laptop.
Stress testing the laptop with Furmark and OCCT of course caused the fan to ramp up, making it easy to notice. However, the volume was still low relative to most laptops and the tone of the fan lacks any annoying whir or metallic quality.
The laptop remained cool throughout the stress tests. The highest temperature recorded was 92.7 degrees Fahrenheit at the rear left bottom of the laptop. The forward right bottom warmed no more than 82.1 degrees. These figures are low, and they translate to a laptop that’s comfortable to use in most situations.
At 1.2 inches thick, the ThinkPad T420 is a beefy laptop by today’s standards. Having reviewed many laptops that were thinner, we can say the extra bulk is certainly felt, though not overly troublesome. This laptop will fit into the same bags you could fit any other 14” laptop - but you may need to do a little more pushing and shoving with some smaller messenger bags.
Weight comes in at 4.84 pounds, which isn’t terrible for a 14-inch laptop (though not low, either). You will certainly feel the bulk of this laptop when you travel with it, but it shouldn’t become an annoyance unless you’re backpacking to your destination.
As mentioned earlier, our review unit came with both 6-cell and 9-cell batteries. We tested both of them. Let’s look at the results.
With the six-cell battery the T420 manages almost six hours in the Battery Eater reader’s test. That’s not an astounding result, but it’s not terrible, either - considering the hardware offered, I’d say it’s about average.
Install the nine-cell and the picture changes. The Reader’s Test now offers almost ten hours of endurance, and even the extreme Battery Eater Standard test eats through the battery in two hours and thirty minutes. This puts the T420 in nearly the same league as the phenomenally portable ASUS U36S.
The larger battery does stick out from the rear of the laptop, but this laptop is already far from the easiest to tote around, so the additional bulk isn’t hard to live with. If battery life is important to you, spending an extra $50 for the nine-cell option is a great idea.
Lenovo’s suite of ThinkVantage apps came pre-installed on the T420. Usually we are not a fan of bloatware, but the ThinkVantage suite is well thought out. It’s designed to provide added value to enterprise users by adding tools such as a more detailed Wi-Fi manager and controls for features like the active hard drive protection system. There’s software for the fingerprint reader, as well.
Not all of the functionality of ThinkVantage is outstanding, however. For example, pressing the ThinkVantage button brings up a grid of laptop settings icons in an odd, tablet-esqe interface. If you page over, you’ll also find a big tile of apps, just like you’d find on a tablet. And that would be cool if this were a tablet, but it’s not - so I don’t know why this interface has been included.