Lenovo T420S Review
The T420S is a solid no-frills business laptop designed for standard business usage.
Our Test Machine
Our test machine is a 14inch T420S boasting a decent Intel I5-2520-M processor @ 2.5GHz and 4 GB of RAM. It’s running Windows 7 Professional (64 bit) – a decent middle-grade business notebook spec.
Out of the Box
Taking the T420S out of the box, we found a very substantial, standard looking laptop; not ‘heavy’ per say, but solidly built with what appears to be a carbon-fiber case. The entire hinge point also appears to be metal, although the thin LCD does appear to flex a little at the base. At 3.7 Lbs., the T420S is still well within the realm of ‘portability’ for the daily commute, but may be more than what some want to carry.
- 4-in-1 Card Reader
- Headphone\Microphone Jack
- Full DisplayPort
- Dock Port
- USB 2.0
- USB 2.0, Powered
- USB 3.0
The Power-USB port (yellow USB) is a novel feature that we do not see that often – it is intended for charging portable devices, and can even work with the laptop in sleep-mode. We also appreciate the VGA port having screw-points, a feature often overlooked by other OEMs. We’re puzzled by the inclusion of a DisplayPort but lack of the more-standard and common HDMI port.
We were pleased to see that the T420S includes the classic ThinkLight, which for those unfamiliar, is a small switchable white light at the top of the monitor – a unique feature of the ThinkPad line that has been present since the early IBM days. (We miss the old amber version, though).
The case also includes a dedicated Wi-Fi switch, a dedicated volume mute, volume +/- , and an excellent dedicated microphone mute. The mute keys light up when they are activated, eliminating the need to guess if your mic is muted in chat. There are also dedicated Wi-Fi and Bluetooth activation lights.
General experience – Above Average
The machine cold-booted into Windows (e.g. not using hibernation or sleep mode) in a respectable 28 seconds — about what was expected for the specs. The machine awoke from sleep mode nearly instantly.
For general use, we found the T420S to be nimble and responsive. While running multiple applications, we were able to open 25 tabs and windows of Internet Explorer, all of which running graphic, video, java and flash intensive websites, with absolutely no detectable decrease in performance. The SATA hard drive will not achieve the speeds found in a Solid State drive, but its 7200 RPM is more than sufficient for the standard business operations of an average user.
As with all Lenovo systems, it comes with a lot of well-meaning factory-installed applications that the majority of IT administrators will instantly remove. Even if the battery and wireless managers are redundant with their Windows counterparts, they do offer larger icons that are easier to read. Per standard Lenovo practice, there is a ThinkVantage utility kit that can be accessed from a dedicated keyboard button.
We found the fully charged 6-cell battery to give just over 4 hours without intentionally reducing the screen brightness or changing any settings. Note that the screen brightness inexplicably decreased slightly anyway, despite retaining the same ‘15’ (highest) setting in the control panel. The battery appears to charge at a relatively standard rate.
With 4-inch wide speakers framing both sides of the keyboard , the sound system is quite good but nothing earth-shattering. There are no special filters or mixers, as sometimes offered with other Lenovo notebooks, but sound is clear. As with most laptop speakers, the treble and bass are lacking and sound is mostly focused in the mid-range — this will work well for voice application.
The matte-surface anti-glare display is crisp and clear, although the ‘anti-glare’ capability is questionable. It has a decent .92 MP camera along with a set of stereo microphones and the aforementioned ThinkLight. For the slightly OCD and symmetry obsessed (as is this writer), the Camera and microphone points are peculiarly off-center by about an inch.
The UltraNav touchpad is decent and better than other examples we have seen. It is a little on the heavy-side, but not as bad as other UltraNav iterations.
Some of the advanced multi-touch features include:
- Pinch to Zoom
- Two-tap Scroll
- 2, 3, and 4 finger ‘Flick’ (all of which can control different things)
- Two-finger rotation
- Tap-to-launch, individually configurable for 2, 3 and 4 finger taps.
We were not able to make the above features work consistently, but the scroll (arguably the most useful) works reasonably well. The touchpad also does not interfere with typing and is able to detect an unintended palm.
The track pad is excellent and does not interfere with typing. It is not as recessed as it could be, but we have yet to hit it while typing this review.. There are three physical buttons, with the center button controlling a cool scroll-switch.
Although it seems that no two Lenovo Notebook keyboards are the same, this keyboard is much more ‘normal’ compared to other examples we have seen. We were relieved to find the document navigation buttons (page up, home, etc.) in their normal place and grouping. It is not backlit (that’s what the ThinkLight is for!), but offers a decent typing resistance.
As with other Lenovo notebooks, the FN key (function modifier) and Left Ctrl positions are reversed from Dell\HP modes. We like that the Media buttons (Play, Stop, etc.) are FN modified on the arrow key grouping. . They also include a novel hot-key for the webcam control panel. The keyboard is also fully spill-resistant and has the ‘drain’ on the bottom of the machine. We did not test this feature.
The T420S is a solid, respectable ‘Plain-Jane’ business laptop, ideal for the standard business user. We are hard-pressed to find any disadvantages of this great machine: it’s convenient, easy to use, rugged and reliable. While it does not have the ‘wow’ factor of some other ThinkPad models, it is certainly an excellent machine and in keeping with the trusted Lenovo ThinkPad tradition. Highly recommended!