Lenovo launches ThinkPad T400s with a thinner design, new keyboard

Update ribbon (small)

CORRECTION FROM THE M.E.: Here's a correction Betanews is happy to make. Although information Angela Gunn and I received last month appeared to verify that the big blue ThinkVantage button that was one of IBM's original signature ThinkPad features would be discontinued starting with the T400s unveiled earlier this week, Betanews was told by Lenovo today that not only does the T400s include the ThinkVantage button, but that the feature is not being discontinued after all.

What's more, the feature will do what it has done in the past, including give users the ability to recover their systems starting with the single button click. Though there will be changes to the feature over time, Betanews was told that the plan now is for those changes not to be nearly as drastic as had been indicated last month.

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So we're correcting this article to reflect that fact, with our thanks to Lenovo for the clarification.


June 23, 2009 10:54 am EDT · A redesigned keyboard mechanism is one of the key features announced by Lenovo today, with the rollout of its improved T400s notebook.

"This is just the beginning," said Francisco Carias, product manager for Lenovo's ThinkPad series. Going forward, all ThankPad laptops will be based on the redesigned keyboard. Lenovo is also eyeing future innovations beyond the new laptop's keyboard, multitouch touchpad, and expanded VOIP support.

In a pre-briefing for Betanews on a recent New York City press tour, Carias showed off specific new features in the T400s that include tightened keys, for keeping dust and pizza crumbs from falling in between the cracks, and enlarged delete and escape keys. As part of the extensive usability testing done in creating the T400s, Lenovo discovered that the average user hits each of these two keys about 700 times a week, Carias noted.

To support the increasing numbers of VoIP calls happening on laptops, VoIP applications can now be activated using a hotkey combination of the function and F6 keys. The keyboard includes a toggle switch on top for adjusting volume. Users can toggle the volume to be up to twice as loud as on the T400, predecessor to the T400s. The new portable PC also comes with a 2 Mp camera for sending higher resolution images during VoIP calls or for other purposes.

To cut down on distractions from the noise of fingers clicking on the keypad, new keys are added with separate speaker and mute buttons. Dual digital microphones are now located just above the keypad, he said.

The touchpad in front of the keypad is larger than before, and it now integrates multitouch. Lenovo has also redesigned the back of the ThinkPad, to make it easier to open for inserting new batteries, for instance. The six-cell Li Ion prismatic battery and optional bay battery provide up to six hours of battery life, according to Carias.

Levovo has been conducting usability tests around redesigning its consumer laptop line, too, Betanews was told. In April, Lenovo released new IdeaPad Y650/Y550/Y450 laptops for consumers, along with the IdeaCentre A600 all-in-one desktop PC and an updated IdeaPad s10 netbook.

The new T400s laptop is 0.83-inch thin, Carias said. At just under four pounds, it is 20% lighter than the T400, largely because of its 14.1-inch LED backlit, antiglare WXGA+ display. The screen is based on the Top Cover Roll Cage design -- first included in the earlier ThinkPad X300 -- which uses a lightweight but sturdy monocoque carbon reinforced material that originally appeared in airplanes and bike frames.

Priced starting at $1,599 and available immediately, the T400s comes with a choice of solid state drive up to 128 GB, or 250 GB hard disk drive.

Other capabilities include Intel 2.53 GHz Core 2 Duo standard volt processors; a 9.5 mm optical drive with Blu-ray, multi-burner DVD, or combo DVD; a 34mm Express Card slot or five-in-one multimedia readers; support for up to two monitors through a Display Port and VGA connector; a built-in USB/eSATA combo port, standard USB 2.0 port, and Powered USB 2.0 port; Energy Star 5.0 compliance; and Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and optional WiMAX, WWAN, Bluetooth, and ultra-wideband connectivity.

Also today, Lenovo is releasing three new add-ons for the T400s, geared to connecting the ThinkPad to peripherals such as mice and printers: the ThinkPad Port Replicator Series 3; ThinkPad Mini-Dock Series 3; and ThinkPad Mini Dock Plus 3.

In a world PC market badly bruised by the recession, China-based Lenovo faces intense competition, particularly from top players Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and up-and-coming Acer. Last Friday, hardware analysis firm iSuppli reported an 8.1% annual shipment decline in the overall global PC market, with Lenovo contributing to that decline by shipping 370,000 fewer PCs in the first quarter of this year than in Q1 2008.

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