Chris Nuttall Lenovo thinks afresh for T431s ThinkPad design

T430s, T431s – the notch up in model numbers between Lenovo’s last-generation T-series ThinkPad and the new one launched today is minimal, but the design decisions are dramatically different.

The T431s is the product of nine months of testing in nine countries with 900 users and the “clean sheet” design principles that have emerged will influence many more of Lenovo’s notebooks down the road.

The company showed me the T430s next to the T431s in San Francisco on Friday and the differences are immediately obvious (see photo).

The screen is the same 14in size, but the bezel is much narrower – more of a thin beading than a frame.

The hinge has been changed to raise the notebook slightly, while still allowing it to be adjusted through 180 degrees. Audio is channelled up through the screen’s hinge from speakers now placed on the bottom, rather than on the sides of the keyboard, disposing of the speaker grilles that were previously on the left and right.

Also missing from the base are the three left-right-scroll buttons above the trackpad – testing showed users were confused about their function. Instead, there is a smooth glass touchpad twice the size of the previous trackpad.

The signature red trackpoint in the middle of the keyboard remains, but the keyboard itself has been modified so action keys, such as volume and brightness, take preference over function keys at the top.

Latches to close the notebook have been removed as well as protective rubber bumpers. There is a rubber rim instead and the notebook closes naturally.

This is the thinnest T- series to date, up to Ultrabook standards at 20.6mm, although the lack of a touchscreen means it falls short of Intel’s new specification for the category. Lenovo is also not waiting for the fourth-generation Core processors due in the summer.

The T431s will have third-generation Cores when it is introduced next month, starting at $949 for one with a Core i5 and without a backlit keyboard. Battery life is as much as nine hours. With business users the focus, Windows 7 is being offered as well as Windows 8, although many consumers may still prefer the older operating system as well.

As well as being thinner, the T431s is also lighter than its predecessor, at 3.6lbs versus 3.9lb, but it still has the same ruggedness with a magnesium base and carbon fibre top cover.

With the cleaner, simpler design comes a different shade of black – Graphite Black – but the distinctive matt colour and the durability of the construction still mark this out as very much in the ThinkPad mould.