IBM/Lenovo ThinkPad T43 Review
- Type 2668-AH3
- Intel Pentium-M 1.73GHz processor
- 1GB of DDR-II RAM (533MHz FSB)
- 14.1" SXGA LCD Display (1400 x 1050)
- Hitachi 80GB hard disk, 7200RPM (HTS721080G9AT00)
- ATI X300 Graphics Card with 64MB RAM
- Intel PRO/Wireless 2200 802.11 b/g internal wireless card
- Bluetooth, IRDA
- Microsoft Windows XP Professional w/ Service Pack 2
- Two Lithium-Ion batteries: 6-cell (default) and 9-cell for extended use
T43 Datasheet (1.8MB): IBM T43 Datasheet
The ThinkPad line has always been targeted at business and corporate users, and the T43 is no different. It comes in a traditional black finish that is pleasing to the touch, with the only hints of color coming from the red, green, and blue of the "IBM" logo. The high-quality finish used on the ThinkPads is less susceptible to finger prints, a problem that is evident with many competitors’ glossy plastic finishes.
Construction-wise, the ThinkPad is top-notch — "Solid" best describes the feel when I first examined the unit. The screen is reinforced with a metal-alloy to prevent any stress due to warping of the screen. Combined with a display release latch that can be operated with one finger, you can easily release and open the display with just one hand. The resistance from the hinges is just-right for this purpose, while the weight of the base will keep the unit on the table as you flip open the screen.
I deliberately chose a high-resolution panel for my T43. Having been "limited" to 1024 x 768 on the T41, I felt there was a definite need for more desktop space, and with 1400 x 1050, I got all I bargained for. Text is crisp (after having enabled ClearType), and with no dead-pixels, general Windows usage was very smooth. What did take a bit of adjustment was the combination of 1400 x 1050 with a 14" LCD — the resolution was even higher than my 1280 x 1024, 17" LCD at work. There were no problems for me adjusting to the text-size, but if you find yourself straining to make out the text, Windows XP has options that will easily allow you to increase the font size.
(An alternative method is to decrease the resolution, but this is not recommended as the display quality is significantly degraded at any resolution other than 1400 x 1050. Click here to see why.)
Color uniformity and viewing angles leave a bit more to be desired. When your eyes are level with the top of the screen, you will find a noticeable and obvious color difference when compared to the bottom of the screen. Adjusting the panel’s angle alleviates this problem somewhat, but it is nonetheless an issue, albeit a minor one. Horizontal color saturation problems are not as obvious, with text being viewable up to 45º on each side.
Bonus: Check out this excellent site for an awesome collection of ThinkPad wallpapers, themes, and screen-savers!
The ThinkPad’s keyboard is easily one of the best on the market, and it shows: a surprisingly large number of users prefer it even over their own desktop 104-key keyboards. Tactile response, key travel, and spacing between keys are all perfect. There are 7 full rows of keys in all, with an "inverted-T" arrow key setup that is rare on today’s notebooks. Note especially the pre-engineered grooves beneath the arrow keys that give your fingers the perfect amount of space for comfortable usage. The grey "forward" and "back" browsing keys just above are, as the saying goes, the icing on the cake.
Kudos as well to the engineers for the desktop-style layout of Ins-Del-Home-End-PgUp-PgDn in the top right corner. This arrangement means new users coming from desktop keyboards will require very minimal adjustments.
Again, construction-wise, the keyboard lives up to the ThinkPad’s quality zeal. Forget about pressing keys "too hard" and feeling the keys cave in, as the entire keyboard sits on a metal-reinforced tray. Interestingly, this tray will also prevent minor liquid spills from reaching the innards of the laptop. Minor is the keyword here: don’t test the durability by dousing a bucket of water onto the keyboard!
Finally, there are several Function-key combinations worth mentioning: (Fn key is located at the bottom left)
- Fn+PgUp = ThinkLight™. A neon-white light built into the top of the display illuminates the keyboard, convenient for usage in a dark environment. For the purposes of testing, I typed this part of the review in a completely dark environment, and can attest that having the ThinkLight "on" definitely helps with key visibility.
- Fn+Space Bar = Zoom function. This is essentially a resolution quick-switch: one press of this combo changes the display to 640 x 480; another press will return it to previous setting.
- Fn+Home/End = LCD Brightness adjust. Fn+Home to increase; Fn+End to lower brightness.
- Fn+F3 = Switch on/off LCD.
- Fn+F5 = IBM Access Connections software: a powerful yet easy-to-use application for managing your connectivity options.
- Fn+F12 = Hibernation: saves current desktop "state" to the hard drive and shuts down computer. Upon powering up, the "state" will be completely restored.
If there must be a negative, most T-series owners would point to the lack of Windows key to be a weak link in the otherwise perfect keyboard. Perhaps after exhaustive hours of design, the conclusion was that there was simply no more room for a Windows key. Luckily, IBM has included a Keyboard Customizer Utility that can re-map a key of your choice to include this functionality — I currently use the right ALT-key to act as the (IMHO) all-important Windows key.
The IBM ThinkPad T-series is one of the very few laptop computers on the market to sport both a touchpad and a touchstick. This is truly a unique feature that needs to be tried in order to be fully appreciated.
It is worth nothing that 3 different TrackPoint "caps" are included: 1) hard, sandpaper-like; 2) soft dome cap; and 3) large rubbery cap.
All of the buttons and sensitivity settings are fully configurable with the included UltraNav Wizard. The attention to detail and customization cover nearly all options imaginable. A few highlights-
Centre "Blue" Button – can be configured as either scrolling or magnifying glass function when used in conjunction with the TrackPoint.
TouchPad Palm Check – filters out palm contact or other accidental contact that may inadvertently move the cursor.
TouchPad Tap Zones – each of the four corners of the touchpad can be configured to a pre-assigned Windows shortcut function. Among the options are Start Menu, Minimize, and Maximize window, for example. By default, the right- and bottom-edges of the TouchPad are configured for scrolling.
One of the new features that the T43 brings to the table is the integrated fingerprint scanner. Increasingly becoming popular, these scanners are showing up in more and more notebooks. They are slowly creeping their way to midrange configurations to provide biometric security.
The included Fingerprint software allows you to register at least 2 fingers (or all of them if you so wish) as access control points. The stored prints can be used as a replacement for the Windows logon password. With a quick swipe of my finger, I start the logon process into Windows, bypassing the "traditional" method of CTRL+ALT+DEL and text password. The same swipe may also be required after the laptop is resumed from a state of hibernation.
Going further, IBM has preloaded a powerful "Client Security" suite that can encrypt your files/folders, or store passwords for your use with various web applications. The procedure is quite simple. For the initial setup, you must specify a robust passphrase, which is essentially the "master password".
Each new bootup of the operating system will require the passphrase once before saved passwords can be accessed biometrically. After the passphrase has been authenticated, pressing the default shortcut CTRL+SHIFT+G will bring up a screen prompting for your finger swipe. As an example, say you are accessing your Hotmail account: when you get to the password field, hit the aforementioned key combination, swipe your finger, and the password will be entered automatically (masked by asterisks, of course).
My T43 is fully-armed with 802.11b/g, IRDA, and Bluetooth. This allows me to stay in touch while on the road. To be honest, Bluetooth was not a feature I was sure I needed, but having the extra peace of mind is definitely a plus for emergency situations. Just this past weekend, I was able to find a use for Bluetooth by linking together my T43 and PDA to transfer photos. (IF only the T43 had a built-in card reader!)
Wi-fi is ubiquitous in Hong Kong nowadays and needs no introduction (read the Basic Wireless Router guide if you need a brief primer), but things worth mentioning with regards to the T43 are:
- The antenna is placed on the upper right edge of the display for improved reception. Most manufacturers have the wi-fi reception points embedded inside the base of the unit, where it is prone to interference from other internal components. Again, this is a testament to the ThinkPad’s commitment to quality and innovative design.
- The included Access Connections software package makes it easy to setup multiple wireless access points and switch between profiles. Using the Fn+F5 key shortcut key combination will bring up this application.
I happened to receive a package deal for a bundle of 2 batteries: one standard 6-cell, and one extended 9-cell which protrudes from the back of the unit. During testing, the extended battery allowed more than 4.5 hours of general office usage (wi-fi on the entire duration, Word, email, etc.)
The included Power Manager has several pre-defined battery profiles, each with different settings for performance, system temperature, fan sound level, and battery life. A custom mix and match of these settings will give you the best configuration, depending on your usage requirements and environment.
Officially, the 14" T43 starts at 4.5lbs and is less than 1" thick. Including the power adapter puts the entire package at just over 5lbs. Carrying the T43 with me daily in my commute to and from work, I realize it would certainly be nice if it was lighter, but it would come at the expense of the screen, battery life, and cpu speed. IBM/Lenovo had it right by describing the T-series as a "perfect balance of performance and portability for highly mobile users who work just about anywhere".
After several weeks of usage, I have nothing but praise for the T43. "You get what you pay for" is really the phrase that applies when it comes to ThinkPads. The overall construction, attention to detail, and engineering marvels come at a premium. Make no mistake, IBM did not cut any corners when designing the ThinkPad T-series — and the minute you pick up one, I trust that you will agree.
IMPORTANT! (September 29, 2006) – Lenovo has announced a BATTERY RECALL which may affect your T43. If you are the owner of a T43, please see this thread for more information.