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Lenovo ThinkPad T440s Ultrabook Review: The Ultimate Business Ultraportable?

Subject: Mobile
Manufacturer: Lenovo

Introduction and Design

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Arguably some of the most thoughtful machines on the market are Lenovo’s venerable ThinkPads, which—while sporadically brave in their assertions—are still among the most conservative (yet simultaneously practical) notebooks available.  What makes these notebooks so popular in the business crowds is their longstanding refusal to compromise functionality in the interest of form, as well as their self-proclaimed legendary reliability.  And you could argue that such practical conservatism is what defines a good business notebook: a device which embraces the latest technological trends, but only with requisite caution and consideration.

Maybe it’s the shaky PC market, or maybe it’s the sheer onset of sexy technologies such as touch and clickpads, but recent ThinkPads have begun to show some uncommon progressivism, and unapologetically so, too.  First, it was the complete replacement of the traditional critically-acclaimed ThinkPad keyboard with the Chiclet AccuType variety, a decision which irked purists but eventually was accepted by most.  Along with that were the integrated touchpad buttons, which are still lamented by many users.  Those alterations to the winning design were ultimately relatively minor, however, and for the most part, they’ve now been digested by the community.  Now, though, with the T440s (as well as the rest of Lenovo’s revamped ThinkPad lineup), we’re seeing what will perhaps constitute the most controversial change of all: the substitution of the older touchpads with a “5-button trackpad”, as well as optional touchscreen interface.

Can these changes help to keep the T440s on the cusp of technological progress, or has the design finally crossed the threshold into the realm of counterproductivity?

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Compared with nearly any other modern notebook, these specs might not hold many surprises.  But judged side-by-side with its T430s predecessor, there are some pretty striking differences.  For starters, the T440s is the first in its line to offer only low-voltage CPU options.  While our test unit shipped with the (certainly capable enough) Core i5-4200U—a dual-core processor with up to 2.6 GHz Turbo Boost clock rate—options range up to a Core i7-4600U (up to 3.30 GHz).  Still, these options are admittedly a far cry from the i7-3520M with which top-end T430s machines were equipped.  Of course, it’s also less than half of the TDP, which is likely why the decision was made.  Other notables are the lack of discrete graphics options (previously users has the choice of either integrated graphics or an NVIDIA NVS 5200M) and the maximum supported memory of 12 GB.  And, of course, there’s the touchscreen—which is not required, but rather, is merely an option.  On the other hand, while we’re on the subject of the screen, this is also the first model in the series to offer a 1080p resolution, whether traditional or touch-enabled—which is very much appreciated indeed.

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That’s a pretty significant departure from the design of the T430s, which—as it currently appears—could represent the last T4xxs model that will provide such powerhouse options at the obvious expense of battery life.  Although some markets already have the option of the ThinkPad S440 to fill the Ultrabook void within the ThinkPad 14-inch range, that notebook can even be outfitted with discrete graphics.  The T440s top-end configuration, meanwhile, consists of a 15W TDP dual-core i7 with integrated graphics and 12 GB DDR3 RAM.  In other words, it’s powerful, but it’s just not in the same class as the T430’s components.  What’s more important to you?

Continue reading our review of the ThinkPad T440s!!!

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The T440s configuration we received for review has actually been replaced with other superior options already (containing the i5-4300U CPU instead), the closest of which is most likely the model 20AQ004FUS, whose specs are identical apart from the processor.  The MSRP for this unit is $1,550, though it can be found currently for under $1,500.  Even the most expensive model available—the 20AQ004JUS, which features the i7-4600U, 8 GB RAM, and a 256 GB SSD, retails for $1,900, which is only slightly above the price our review unit initially hit the market with.

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Design and Portability

If you’re trending toward the thin-and-light, you might as well embrace the affiliated advantages.  It’s with this realization in mind that Lenovo has managed to shave even more weight off the case of the T440s to provide a notebook that tips the scales at just 3.83 lbs. with the standard battery installed, and still only 4.21 lbs. with the 9-cell battery.  Although weight isn’t everything, that’s a very portable 14-inch notebook, and one which manages to trump such close rivals as Dell’s E7440 (3.9 lbs. with the 45 Wh battery installed), even if the Dell does include what is likely a more robust casing with Tri-Metal corners and a somewhat more rigid display lid.

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The case materials Lenovo chose for the T440s include hybrid carbon-fiber reinforced plastic for the display lid and trusty magnesium alloy for the bottom.  Ergonomically-speaking, the material feels smooth and comfortable, though it’s a bit more slippery than the older plastic models were (which is most notable on the palm rest).  It’s also somewhat less resistant to scratches; there is already one small blemish visible on the palm rest of our review unit, and we have no idea how it got there (though it’s only a scratch in the finish, not the actual material itself).  Nevertheless, the design remains well-planned, with the top of the base unit comprised of a single piece, curved at the front edge of the palm rest to keep wrists happy while typing.

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The display lid, meanwhile, is held in place by two stainless steel hinges located a couple inches from either edge, and the hinges provide ample support with minimal wobble during typing.  The carbon-fiber reinforced display lid feels relatively rigid, though the lid can be twisted without too much force and distortions are visible on the display when pressing in the center from the back.  The whole package feels quite solid as very little flex is evident in any location except the center of the base, where it’s still minimal.

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In terms of ports, we’re treated to three USB 3.0 ports, VGA, mini DisplayPort, a card reader, and Gigabit Ethernet.  There’s also a smart card reader alongside all of the other usual suspects (3.5 mm combo audio, Kensington Lock).  On the bottom you’ll find a new variety of Docking Station port which is incompatible with the old accessories; instead, you’ll need to invest in a new ThinkPad Ultra Dock if you’re interested in such connectivity.  Overall, the selection of ports is fairly robust for a 14-inch business Ultrabook, and a few bells and whistles (such as dual video outputs, the Smart Card Reader, and a small hatch on the side for a SIM card) help to really set it apart.

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Maintenance on the T440s is pretty simple in the world of Ultrabooks from which it hails.  Following the removal of eight Phillips-head screws on the bottom, the rear magnesium panel is then pried upward using a plastic scribe to dislodge the panel from the base unit.  The only tricky part is to ensure that you double-check any uncooperative screws; on our review unit, we had to pry upward while unscrewing on a couple of them to get them to back out of the threaded sockets in the base unit.  After that, the panel comes off pretty easily.  Beneath it lies access to just about anything you’d ever want to replace, including the storage devices, wireless card, CMOS battery, internal battery, CPU, heatsink/fan, and secondary RAM slot (the primary SODIMM is soldered to the motherboard).

February 3, 2014 | 02:37 PM - Posted by pdjblum

I am purely a desktop guy, but I mostly always read pc per laptop/notebook reviews. I thought the touchpad is a critical i/o part of a laptop? Assuming this is the case, I really do not know how you can give it a gold award with such a fatal flaw? Whenever I had to use laptops in the past, I used an external mouse because I could never get used to touchpads. But I am in the minority, and I would think having a horrible touchpad would be a deal breaker for most veteran laptop users.

Otherwise, very nice review. Thanks.

February 3, 2014 | 02:44 PM - Posted by Jwolf (not verified)

You cant go wrong with a Thinkpad. Besides the keyboard layout change I find their laptops perfect. They dont look pretty but wont break if you drop them.

February 3, 2014 | 02:46 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Love Lenovo`s battery options and their getting the things that matter right.
Sounds like the right company bought Moto ; )

February 3, 2014 | 03:01 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Do a review of the OneLink Dock ! Sounds amazing !

February 3, 2014 | 03:02 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Hello Moto !

February 3, 2014 | 09:39 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The unit you reviewed came with the AUO display? I heard a lot of people are having issue with LG display
can you please check and let us know ?

February 3, 2014 | 11:10 PM - Posted by Daniel (not verified)

Look out with these models if you want to plug in an external display. I've got 150 of these (touchscreen model, Windows 8.1) here at work running through the pro docks, and the attached display will lose sync and blank out at random intervals. Sometimes it will come back, other times you're forced to unplug and replug the display.

Lenovo have acknowledged that there's an issue with the display subsystem, and are currently working with Intel on a fix.

We've seen the issue whether connected through DisplayPort, analog VGA, or DVI-D - and on several different makes and models of connected external display. We've been told that we're not the only customer experiencing this issue either.

That said, I've got two HP LE2202x displays currently plugged into my own T440s, and it has been fine for the several months that I've been using it.

As for pointer jumpiness when clicking the trackpad, I find that it's not too bad once the correct Synaptics software's installed. If the software's not installed, the trackpad's basically unusable. Still, the pointing interface is worse than on old models like the X1 Carbon. The lack of separate buttons above the trackpad for use with the touchpoint is a real pain if you're used to the old design.

I think they're a good machine, and even despite the display issues would still buy them again if I had to do it over. They're solid-feeling, have a good keyboard, the touchscreen works well, and they have good battery life.

February 4, 2014 | 12:15 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Man..This is quite maddening. I am an IT consultant for the past 20+ years and for the past 6 have been using an older MacBook pro. Still working on it now. It is showing it's age and honestly I am quite bored of OSX. I work with windows, OSx and Linux and have been researching notebooks for the past month or so to find one for me. Basically my plan is to install Linux as a desktop OS and virtual box Windows 8.1, etc if I need windows apps.

Basically, it was a toss up with the dell xps 13 and this T440s and the XPS 13 has some sort of high pitched whine issue so that pushed me closer to getting the T440s. The trackpad on the T440s really does not bother me since I have been using the trackpad on the macbook all this time and am used to the full pad. I have never used the trackpoint. So this system really seemed to be the one.

However, what are the lead times on these? Lenovo has a sale going on now and it looks like 3-4 week leads. I am really hard on computers and this one really seemed to fit the bill.

ALSO, is anyone else running Linux on these boxes? I have been reading issues with Wifi and touchpad.

Thanks
Dave

February 24, 2014 | 04:22 AM - Posted by Giako (not verified)

Hi Dave,

I am also coming from a 5 years of MAC Pro and through reviews I found the T440s the most suitable successor. However before to buy it I stil l want to see clear this trackpad point. I used with the MAC Pro trackpad which let me forgot the mouse. Do you think the T440s has a comparable trackpad?

February 4, 2014 | 04:01 PM - Posted by Steve Schardein

@pdjblum:

Yes, the touchpad is definitely really important.  In fact, it's one of the primary reasons this machine did not receive an Editor's Choice, which--given a better touchpad and improved GPU performance--it otherwise certainly would have.  It is an excellent PC, but with just a couple of notable drawbacks.  My next review, the ThinkPad X240, will be going live soon as well.  The conclusions there are slightly different... it's a delicate game. :-)

All in all what I want to communicate here is that this is a top-tier model, but that a few missteps hold it back from what I would consider to be the pinnacle of excellence that many of its predecessors were.  Gold seems appropriate to me under the circumstances!

 

@Anonymous:

Yep, this one is an AUO display.  No quality issues that I can detect.

 

@Daniel:

Thanks for the feedback/warnings on this.  I didn't notice any problems with display output, but then again I didn't operate with either a dock or an external monitor for any lengthy period of time.

 

@Anonymous2:

No idea on lead times or Linux compatibility... all I know is mine worked great with Windows and it arrived without my even asking! ;-D

 

Thanks for the feedback everyone, glad you enjoyed the review.  Stay tuned for my X240 review soon!

 

-Steve

February 4, 2014 | 04:51 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Hello. Thanks for the great review. The X240 has the same touchpad. But I have to say that I come from a mac. The touchpad for the last several years has been the large glass one where the button pushes down. To me coming from a mac the touchpad appears like it will be awesome. The 2 physical buttons (to me) appear to be old school. I know on my mac when I figured out all of the gestures and scrolling, etc I found the experience on any other touchpad painful. So I guess it is where you come from and how you are used to using the notebook. I think if people give it time they will come to the conclusion that it is far better...IMHO.

Plus, no offense but I could never imagine ever using the trackpoint. Again from my perspective I think..."Hello...This is the 1980's and we want your trackpoint back". But again it depends on how you interface with the notebook. Trackpoint for some and touchpad for others. It seems like the new touchpoint is being crucified by a lot of purists. I think they need to give it time.

One thing that does bother me too is that the CPU is dual core and not quad core. And the HD4400 is not wonderful. A Macbook Pro 13 has a dual core and an HD5200 (iris) graphics and the price is about the same. A midrange macbook pro 13 is $1499.00

So fun.

Thanks
Dave
Again, thanks for the awesome review. Love it.

February 5, 2014 | 05:55 PM - Posted by Dan (not verified)

Waiting to see some reviews of the actual workhorse laptop in the T-series, the T440p.

February 5, 2014 | 06:59 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

the T440P is not worth it
with the max configuration it comes to $2000+

February 5, 2014 | 07:53 PM - Posted by localhostrulez (not verified)

What are idle CPU temps like? When you actually use the machine, does it ever feel slow? (ex. open 10 pages in new tabs at once)

February 6, 2014 | 12:38 AM - Posted by blitzio

Nice writing, really enjoyed the review!

February 9, 2014 | 02:08 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Having used it, the touchpad and fake "buttons" are indeed horrible, give terrible control, and the entire trackpad apparatus rattles and moves around with use.

February 12, 2014 | 06:46 PM - Posted by Radomir (not verified)

T440s the best The Ultimate Business Ultraportable laptop with 14" display.The best foto of laptop on entire web.You have stile.

Radomir SERBIA

March 2, 2014 | 09:41 AM - Posted by amadsilentthirst

What the blazes are these modes for battery life??

Reading the review with no links or explanation as to what the Classic or Reading "MODE" actual is, makes all the graphs and details about the battery null and void

At least put a link to where you explain your testing methodology, and yes I can imagine what a reading test is, but that's not numbers...

May 5, 2014 | 04:41 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Clicking the huge Touchpad as right/left click buttons for the TrackPoint reminds me of a BlackBerry Storm. (That's not a compliment)

August 3, 2014 | 12:55 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

hi..

how to enable mouse pad for lenovo t440s

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