29 Jun 2011

Thinkpad T420 Review

In late April I ordered one of Lenovo's just-released Thinkpad T420 laptops. I'd grown tired of OS X and installing Linux on my MacBook proved fruitless; the easiest thing to do was get a laptop designed for the switch. (The switch from OS X to Linux after a six-year hiatus is a topic for another post.)

What follows is my review of the laptop after a few weeks of primary use, as compared with my MacBook Pro. As a software engineer, my needs and tastes may differ from yours--I spend most of my time in Vim and Terminal and I abhor GUIs. This review is slightly skewed towards people with a similar mindset and may be less useful to you depending on your distance from my point of view.


Under the hood, the Thinkpad sports

  • An Intel Core i7-2620M processor
  • 6GB of RAM
  • 128GB solid state drive (Lenovo Enhanced rev 2.0)
  • CDRW/DVD drive
  • Various ports including USB, DisplayPort, eSATA, mini Firewire, and, oddly enough, VGA.

Other configurations are available. Aside from the basic integrated Intel graphics chip, it's solidly future-proof.

Price / Performance

From a price versus performance standpoint, the Thinkpad wins hands down. This shouldn't surprise anyone given Apple's extreme markup, but I still find it remarkable that a just-released Thinkpad still costs over $1,000 less than a comparable MacBook Pro (MBP).

The Thinkpad battery seems to last longer, but I haven't managed to get an accurate or consistent number out of either machine. Anecdotally, the Thinkpad will survive around 6 hours of constant use.

Look and Feel

Having used Apple laptops for six years, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the Lenovo machine. Apple is renowned for their design aesthetic and while the Thinkpad's design has stood the test of time, I wasn't sure how I'd find the stark contrast in style. In nearly all respects, I've been pleasantly surprised.

The Thinkpad is lighter and slightly narrower than my MBP, owing mostly to its 14.1" screen (though no sacrifice in resolution was made); the Thinkpad is still taller due to its many ports and less optimized internal design. Its plastic shell and excessive bezel make it feel slightly less substantial than the MBP, though the reduction in weight was welcome.

In terms of interaction, the Thinkpad keyboard's reputation is well deserved--I've never had a more pleasant laptop typing experience. And while I recognize that "mouse nub" versus trackpad is largely a matter of taste, I'm already hopelessly addicted to the Thinkpad's nub. The Thinkpad's biggest interaction and aesthetic shortcomings are its distractingly-large screen bezel and its comical keyboard light (though its flash does serve as a great new-message indicator). However, the keyboard itself more than makes up for those.

Bottom Line

In terms of design, both the MacBook and Thinkpad are opinionated machines. The MacBook's hard, sharp lines and highly-optimized layout are beautiful and sleek. The Thinkpad seems to take itself a little less seriously, sacrificing modern aesthetic for comfort (For example, the MBP's machined-aluminum shell may look beautiful but its sharp edges can be uncomfortable.)

Apple's machines have a superior trackpad, backlight and overall profile--saying nothing of their tight integration with the operating system. The Thinkpad focuses on efficiency and comfort rather than style and flair, hence its superior keyboard, efficient mousing experience, comfortable lines, ports for all occasions, and dock support. From a day-to-day productivity standpoint, I am more pleased with the Thinkpad than I was with my MBP--though its utilitarian construction won't be turning any heads.


  • Perfect key travel and weight
  • "Eraser head" mouse reduces hand movement
  • The plastic shell is comfortable and light
  • Many ports for a storm


  • Excessive bezel detracts from aesthetic
  • Non-backlight keyboard illumination is inefficient and distracting
  • Small, gesture-less trackpad is more of a nuisance than a feature
Tagged: thinkpad