Lenovo ThinkPad T420s User Review

by John Ratsey Reads (194,185)
Editor's Rating
8.43

TG Ratings Breakdown

    • Software & Support
    • 9
    • Upgrade Capabilities
    • 8
    • Usability
    • 9
    • Design
    • 8
    • Performance
    • 9
    • Features
    • 8
    • Price/Value Rating
    • 8
    • Total Score:
    • 8.43
    • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10

Overview

  • Pros

    • ThinkPad classic looks and build quality
    • ThinkPad keyboard
    • Light weight for display size
    • Full feature set including USB 3.0
  • Cons

    • Uses 7mm storage devices
    • Low capacity battery
    • Most ports are at the back
    • No backlit keyboard option
    • Poor display for price range

Quick Take

The Lenovo T420s is a lightweight 14-inch business notebook configurable with up to an Intel Core i7 processor and Nvidia NVS 4200M Optimus graphics.


If you’re looking for a thin and light 14-inch business notebook, what better person to ask about it than someone who owns several? Keep reading to find out what one of our regular contributors has to say about the ThinkPad T420s.

Background
I had planned to keep my Dell Latitude E6410 (reviewed here) for a while, partly to avoid the migration to a 16:9 display. Maybe it was the arrival of the next generation of hardware or maybe I?m getting too old to enjoy carrying the E6410 with its 9-cell battery, but I started to look around. The Dell E6420 quickly disqualified itself from consideration because it was even heavier than its predecessor. I wanted a 14-inch display with 900 vertical pixels which limited the choices. The Lenovo ThinkPad T420 claimed to be a bit lighter than the Dell, although I never trust manufacturer?s weights, but the ThinkPad T420s would definitely be lighter and worthy of consideration.

I then had to do my homework to figure out the potential drawbacks of the T420s, particularly in terms of the compromises caused by the lower weight and reduced thickness. I decided that it was worth the risk and when a Lenovo Easter 10% off voucher appeared I placed an order.

This review makes references to both the review of the ThinkPad T410s and my review of the Dell E6410.

The specifications of my ThinkPad T420s (model 4171CTO) are:

  • Processor: Intel i5-2520M CPU (2.5GHz with TurboBoost to 3.2GHz, 3MB cache)
  • Chipset: Intel QM67
  • Screen: 14.0″ anti-glare 1600 x 900 WXGA+ LED Backlit
  • Memory: 1 x 2GB DDR3-1333 PC-10600 RAM (Samsung, 9-9-9-20) (to be upgraded)
  • Storage: 7mm thick 320GB 7200rpm HDD (Seagate Momentus Thin)
  • Optical Drive: 9.5mm thick SATA (Panasonic UJ8A2 )
  • Wireless: Intel 6300 802.11a/g/n (an extra cost option)
  • Graphics: Intel HD3000 (an extra cost option)
  • UK keyboard
  • Lenovo Trackpoint + Synaptics touchpad (77mm  x 45mm / 3? x 1? ?)
  • 34mm ExpressCard slot with SD card reader (an extra cost option)
  • Web camera and microphone
  • Battery: 44Wh 6-cell + optional 33Wh  Ultrabay battery
  • Standard 65W PSU
  • Windows 7 Professional 64-bit
  • Dimensions: 343 x 230 x 24-27mm  (excluding feet 2mm to 4mm long) or 13.5″ x 9.1″ x 0.95-1.05″
  • Advertised weight: Lenovo?s T420s datasheet states ?3.94 lbs (1.78 kg) with optical drive?
  • Actual weight: 1.83kg  / 4.03 lbs (with Intel graphics, 6 cell battery, 2.5? HDD and optical drive)
  • Travel weight: 2.18kg / 4.8 lbs (with standard 65W PSU and 1m mains cable)
  • Weight with main and Ultrabay batteries: 1.94kg / 4.28lbs

Weight with optical drive and PSU

Weight with the optical drive and no PSU

The difference between the measured and advertised weight could be explained by the possible use of a minicard (micro SATA) SSD instead of a 2.5-inch HDD or SSD. Compared with most advertised notebook weights, Lenovo?s weight is plausible.


A comparison of thicknesses: Top to bottom: Dell Latitude E4300, Toshiba R700, Lenovo ThinkPad T420s and Dell Latitude E6410. The T420s narrows towards the front.

Build and Design
The T420s has a very similar appearance and layout to its predecessor, the T410s. It is slightly wider with a reduced front-to-back depth in order to better accommodate the wider display. The internal hardware has been upgraded to use Intel?s Sandy Bridge platform , the main storage bay uses the recently introduced 7mm thick 2.5? drives instead of 1.8-inch devices and a USB 3.0 port replaces the USB 2.0 / eSATA combo port. Two notable design features of the T420s are that the battery is at the front (under the right palm rest) and most of the ports are on the back. The keyboard is located as near the screen as possible which provides space for generous palm rests and a large touchpad.

The T420s comes in what appears to be black or dark grey matte paint depending on the lighting, with a few hints of colour (red trackpoint stick and highlights on trackpoint buttons plus blue ThinkVantage and enter keys) to provide a little contrast. There are no shiny surfaces to show every fingerprint.

The T420s almost meets my preconception of the ThinkPad build quality. The notebook is built from a combination of metal alloy and carbon fibre to provide a suitable balance between strength and weight. However, there is some flex on the base under the optical drive; one can squeeze the bottom of the display between the hinges when the notebook is closed (that?s where I hold the computer when carrying it), there?s some looseness of the battery and the optical drive rattles in the bay (a side effect of the extra height so that a 9.5mm HDD in a caddy can also fit). The hinges have just the right amount of stiffness to hold the display securely without needing much force to adjust it and the keyboard has a positive action without any bounce. The display does flex a little and it is possible to apply enough pressure on the back to cause some ripples on the screen.

The main hard disk / SSD sits in a cage with rubber runners that provide both shock and vibration isolation. This is a different arrangement to on the Dell E6410 where the HDD is fixed directly into the chassis. Below is a photo of the HDD / SSD caddy with rubber runners.

The T420s is slightly wider than the Dell E6410 but has less front-to-back depth. When placed side-by-side with the Dell E6410 the difference in thickness is not very noticeable. One reason for this is that the T420s has longer feet that raise it above the table but don?t affect the travel thickness.


Bottom of T420s with RAM cover open, HDD cover off and battery out

Close up of RAM, WiFi card and slot for WWAN card or mSATA device

I haven?t tried removing the base of the T420s. It doesn?t have the convenient one piece removable base of the Dell. There is a cover for the memory, WiFi and WWAN or mSATA while the main storage device comes out at one side.


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