September 11th 2013 8:40 am

final rating

reviewed on
this review has been viewed 4004 times

Criteria Comments Rating
  • Speed and features State-of-the-art eqipment and configuration options great!
  • Design and form factor Design looks fine, but a step down from predecessor models. No physical mouse buttons; replacement activity (pushing down the trackpad) is poor replacement. so-so
  • Battery life Rated at 6h, which sounds plausible-- not impressive nowadays. so-so
  • Display High-resolution display option available, but be warned that that one is reflective. great!
  • Durability Keyboard broke on the first day of use. Screen flexes. No more screen latches. so-so
  • Expandability Highly configurable and upgradeable for a laptop. great!
  • Noise On par with other good laptops. good
  • Portability (size / weight) I've seen lighter laptops, but if you're willing to sacrifice a little weight for more power, this is a good trade-off. good
Detailed review
Thinkpads used to be the best machines that professionals could buy for reasonable amounts of money, unless you were looking for the Apple side of things. This machine is still good, and it might still be among the top of its field, but it, along with its Thinkpad kinsmen, no longer stands out.

Let's start with the good bits: the machine sports a display with what I'd call a good screen resolution (2880x1620), which is probably the highest resolution my eyes can work with effectively without having to change the default xterm font. This is a truly liberating experience. The touch/keypress experience of the keyboard, also, is a slight improvement over my current T510. The on-board Haswell chip worked like a charm, and thanks to full Intel graphics support for the display, wrestling with NVidia kernel driver packages is a thing of the past. On that note: Installing Debian required a very recent boot image but otherwise worked fine-- as usual, Linux is well-supported.

Unfortunately, most of these good bits seem to be due to purchasing decisions on Lenovo's side (except perhaps for the keyboard). So let's move on to the bad bits. First off, if you buy the high-resolution screen, be warned that it is reflective. It's not as atrocious as it is on other machines that I've seen, but still significantly worse than on earlier Thinkpad displays. The keyboard also is not as durable as those of the past-- I've had a key come off on my very first day of use. The loss of the older keyboard layout is also slightly lamentable, though I have made my peace with it. (Note that the old function keys require Fn to be pressed, but the system comes with an Fn lock feature that it persists across rebooting.) Another minor gripe I had was the power cord-- I suppose that changes in power requirements warranted a power cord update, but I don't get why they had to switch to a three-prong connector cord (which renders my international extension cords useless), nor why the brick takes up about twice as much space as before. What pained me more, though, was the loss of the ThinkLight-- which I'd often used to review some paper documents-- and of the status LEDs, which were invaluable for debugging networking issues or checking whether some long-running disk process has finished.

Easily my biggest qualm, though, is the trackpad, which is useless and my main reason for returning the device. While the trackpad works fine as long as you only want to register `move' events (pushing the pointer around or scrolling left and right), it lacks physical buttons. If you want to left-click, you have to depress the upper left corner of the pad. This design is broken in three ways: (a) it generates more noise, (b) it necessarily and unavoidably causes the pointer to slip at the very point when you are pressing the button, and (c) it complicates disambiguation between the pointer buttons. The third point is important to remember: sometimes you'll think that you're doing a middle click, but the systmem will register it as a right click. Since there's no physical separation between the buttons, you can' be sure unless you look before you push. Furthermore, the middle mouse button doesn't always register, possibly requiring multiple attempts.

At the end of the day, this is still a very good machine, as long as you plug in an external pointing device and an external keyboard (or are more lucky with your built-in keyboard than I was). So as long as you only use it as a desktop machine and not while you're travelling, it might serve you well.

EDIT: Ended up returning it and getting a refurbished W520.
review history
Design and form factor rating changed from 4 to 3
Edited comment on Design and form factor
Updated detailed review