Review: Lenovo ThinkPad T430

The T430 is one of the latest additions to Lenovo's 'business performance' series of laptops.

NameLaptop: Lenovo ThinkPad T430 (2344-27M)
At a glance:Intel Core i5-3360M CPU,4GB DDR3-1600 RAM,180GB Intel 520SSD,14-inch, 1600 x 900-pixel display,351 x 232 x 30mm, 2.2kg
Summary:Powerful business laptop that some consumers might also find awesome.
RRP:$1,809 (as reviewed), models available from $1,699

You know how some shoes are so comfortable that you wear them until they wear out? That’s how I feel about Lenovo keyboards. It’s a key part of the brand, and it’s a longtime holdover from the days when the ThinkPad was part of IBM’s stable. Lenovo still retains some of the IBM design team and they still work on those keyboards. The T430 uses a keyboard introduced with some of Lenovo’s IdeaPad consumer models, which aren’t available in New Zealand. Lest I wax lyrical about keyboards for too long, let me talk about the rest of the Lenovo T430.

Lenovo’s range of laptops breaks down into the X series (lightweight), T series (business performance) and W series (workstation). While the T series has features that many businesses desire, such as stress-tolerant magnesium-alloy rollcages, fingerprint readers and screen latches, these features are equally useful for anyone with younger children.

The T430 is, admittedly, a little bulky, but you can blame the rollcage, which also adds immense durability and resilience. You can stand on this thing - we watched the Lenovo product manager do exactly that. Having said that, I found it tricky to slot into the laptop pocket of my bag - designed for a 15-inch MacBook Pro.

The 14-inch display has a 1600 x 900-pixel resolution (16:9 aspect ratio). The screen has an anti-glare finish, and seems a little wan compared to some recent laptops we’ve seen. The screen just doesn’t seem especially bright, though text and images are crisp and detailed, and colours are rich. The lack of brightness can make things seem noisier or more pixellated than they are.

In other regards, the laptop is impeccable. The island keyboard is fantastic - not the usual square ThinkPad model, but curved to fit fingertips, and with rounded edges - the bevel and shape is designed to prevent mistyping. The idea is that you avoid the key behind, reducing the chance of hitting two keys at once. I found the keyboard comfortable, but you may have noticed that I’m quite fond of Lenovo’s keyboards already. I’d suggest you try one for yourself, but you won’t find one at retail stores to try. If you trust my judgement, let me tell you that I’ve not had a more comfortable keyboard. Regular ThinkPad users may find that some keys aren’t in their usual positions, but hopefully won’t take too long to get used to the new layout.

The trackpad provided is a textured surface, and it’s small, with slender buttons right on the edge of the chassis. But it works well, with good precision and travel. I liked having the option to use the three-button setup above the trackpad or the two below-trackpad buttons, but I’m definitely a trackpad user, rather than using the included and iconic TrackPoint.

Beneath the hood you’ll find a 2.8GHz third generation (Ivy Bridge) Intel Core i5-3360M processor, alongside 4GB of RAM. It’s not amazingly powerful in spec, but its benchmark scores are outstanding. For CPU-based tasks, it smashes most of the recent laptops we’ve seen. Only our top-performing second generation Intel Core (Sandy Bridge) Ultrabook, the Asus Zenbook, comes close, but the T430 has scores around 20% better across the board. However, the benchmarks also reveal the lack of graphics grunt - most scores were around half those of Ivy-Bridge-based Ultrabooks with discrete graphics. This isn’t a laptop that’s great for gaming, at all, but it will carve through computational tasks like butter. That’s helped by the 180GB Intel 520 SSD, which is a powerful business-grade drive - consumers may find only 180GB to be a little on the skimpy side for collections of video and music.

As you might expect for an all-rounder business laptop, there are plenty of ports and slots, and the T430 has a spacious chassis to fit them all. With two USB 2.0 and two USB 3.0 ports, Expresscard/34 slot, SD card reader, mini-DisplayPort and VGA outputs, connections are well catered for. There’s a DVD-RW drive, and a dedicated wireless on/off switch. Rounding out the connectivity options are Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth.

Lenovo provides a system tools and diagnostic software module called Lenovo solutions that works as many PC utilities do. As well, there’s the almost Apple Dashboard-like - or perhaps Windows 8 tile-like - SimpleTap.

Click on the SimpleTap icon at the top of the screen, and you can access a stack of shortcut tiles. By default, there’s a set of cloud services, such as Facebook, Google Calendar, Lenovo’s 5GB free Sugarsync storage provided with the laptop, and similar on the first page. On the second, you get quick access to settings such as Wi-Fi, and on the third page, you get a host of software shortcuts, such as Microsoft Office. You can organise these tiles and spaces as you prefer.

In case you’re wondering, this "business" model Lenovo has a lot of consumer-oriented inclusions, such as Windows Live Essentials, as well as the aforementioned SimpleTap cloud consumer apps, but there are also tools for business through the ThinkVantage suite of applications. Even so, these too can be repurposed for consumers. What could be simpler than swiping a finger to access any of your web apps, by storing and linking the passwords with your fingerprint using the Password Vault? Neat idea.

Battery life is solid, but not outstanding, at 3 hours 19 minutes on our "productivity" battery life test. There’s a 9-cell battery available that can extend battery life, and given T430 weighs a relatively light 2.2kg, it may be worthwhile investing in.

Overall, this is a very strong business laptop that will also find fans amongst consumers who need a robust, long-lasting and comfortable workhorse. Lenovo will also be releasing the Lenovo T430U - an Ultrabook-qualified version of this same laptop, but it also works out more expensive. For $1,809 this model is a little higher-priced than many families could justify, but for businesses it’s a good choice.

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Zara Baxter

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