User Interface, A/V Quality, Cooling
What began as the Lenovo AccuType keyboard has since evolved into what Lenovo refers to simply as the “Precision Keyboard Enhanced for Windows 8”. Fortunately, it’s every bit as excellent as the older ThinkPad keyboards that the AccuType models replaced—better, in fact, than any of the AccuType models before it that we can remember, and comfortable enough to recommend without any reservations to any business user. It features a medium actuation force with an average-length key travel distance, culminating with a crisp—yet not overly noisy—stopping point. We immediately took to fast, error-free typing on the T440s, to the point which a significant portion of this review was written on it. (Full disclosure: the reviewer’s current notebook is a Lenovo X220, whose keyboard is traditional ThinkPad fare, but whose key spacing, organization, and tuning resembles that of the T440s.) The keyboard is also spill-resistant and backlit, featuring two levels of brightness (in addition to Off).
Then we turn our sights to the Synaptics touchpad, which—at least, by our judgment—is quite the opposite experience. While some people have proclaimed acquaintance with the new five-button clickpad design, we simply can’t bring ourselves to ignore its inadequacies. Whereas the previous designs with the two bottom integrated buttons were manageable after some short-term adjustment, this device simply doesn’t feel anywhere as precise as before. Sure, the pointer accuracy and general navigation—including multifinger gestures—work just fine, and the glass surface is smooth and extremely comfortable, but spend a little time double- and right-clicking and odds are you’ll quickly grow to resent this change. The top set of buttons for use with the Trackpoint have also been removed, leaving room for a larger clickpad, but forcing Trackpoint users to deal with the same struggles.
Let’s back up for just a moment. The way the clickpad works is as such: with each press of a finger, rather than a physical button depressing or a portion of the pad, the entire pad depresses. This was first encountered on earlier ThinkPad Edge models, and now it’s migrated over to the mainline ThinkPads. The five different quadrants (four corners + the middle) are customizable to work as you please, and you can grow and shrink various quadrants to your liking. But the problem isn’t so much with the implementation as it is with the basic concept as a whole. First of all, depressing the entire pad is annoying, not to mention noisy. Even simply placing a finger on the pad produces an unsatisfying rattle which feels cheap. Second of all, in most cases, the pointer’s current position doesn’t survive a button press without some degree of collateral movement, which can be absolutely maddening. While it’s likely that future drivers may help to mitigate the movement while tapping issue, nothing can be done about the overall feel and design of the clickpad without entirely replacing it. Perhaps this is a partially subjective matter—and there are certainly far worse touchpads out there—but if you ask us, for a brand that prides itself on top-notch input devices, this new design is simply subpar.
On to the final mode of input (and another newcomer to the series): the optional touchscreen—which, as expected, is excellent overall. As is typical these days, it’s a capacitive 10-point multitouch screen, and it’s as accurate and easy to use as you’d expect. However, what is atypical is the finish: rather than the usual gloss of modern Ultrabook screens, you’ll find a semi-matte finish that falls someplace in-between on the glossy/matte spectrum (let’s call it 50% matte). Thanks to this, the notebook is operable in brighter conditions without the obstructive reflections that are common with glossy touchscreens—though it’s still not as comfortable as full-on matte panels are. On the other hand, like the Yoga, the notebook also lacks the Gorilla Glass NBT that protects so many modern Ultrabooks—so the screen is most likely not as durable. It’s a bit of a give-and-take, but in summation, we applaud the fact that the T440s still accommodates those searching for a matte finish even in the face of its optional touch panel implementation.
We’ve already begun to cover this in the last section, but in addition to the comforts of the semi-matte finish on our T440s touchscreen, we were also greeted by rich colors and a bright, vibrant picture. Lenovo quotes 300 nits brightness, which seems just about right comparatively. While the least expensive T440s display panel is 900p (1600×900) resolution (and just 250 nits quoted brightness), our review unit came with a 1080p (1920×1080) IPS screen. We noticed no illumination peculiarities and we found the picture overall to be quite warm and pleasant. Outdoor usage, while possible (especially in the shade), is still a challenge in direct sunlight, however, primarily thanks to the fact that the screen finish isn’t fully matte and the plastic surface extends beyond the edge of the panel in “edge-to-edge glass” like style. But it’s far better than traditional glossy touchscreens, and if you’re planning on a lot of outdoor use, you can always spring for the non-touch 1080p option, which is still IPS and which appears to be of the same overall quality.
In terms of speaker quality, two strips on the bottom of the notebook at the far left and right edges are responsible for projecting the sound downward onto the surface below. As with all thin notebooks (and especially business models), the sound quality lacks low frequency reproduction. Also, as with all down-firing speakers, the sound quality is fuller and louder when the notebook is resting on a hard surface. Although it wouldn’t work well for music or entertainment for extended periods of time, the volume level is sufficient and the sound quality is clear enough to suffice for general use.
Serving as a reminder that what you are dealing with in the T440s is more Ultrabook than portable powerhouse, Lenovo has implemented extremely conservative thermal control policies that see the CPU throttling under even the slightest bit of GPU load. Fortunately, these same limitations don’t apply to CPU stress, as we’ll examine in greater detail in just a bit.
But the upside of this approach is—of course—a serious opportunity for lower temperatures and quieter operation. And this is just what we see with the T440s: a machine whose internal temperatures never reached above 66°C in our tests (full 100% CPU and GPU load using FurMark/CPU Burner for 30 minutes), but also which is relatively quiet with only a very faint whir that is audible only in the calmest of environments. The air ejected from the vent on the left side of the notebook isn’t even all that hot, so there would be very few (if any) situations where using the T440s on the lap would prove uncomfortable. It’s the best of both worlds—that is, as long as you aren’t looking for class-leading performance.
We would have preferred an option for either scenario; that is, different power plans that would either keep the system quiet and cool or loud and powerful.