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Lenovo ThinkPad T430s review

This post covers the second half of my experience moving back to a Linux desktop but I figured it was a good opportunity to focus on the ThinkPad T430s itself as well as the Lenovo ordering experience. If you follow me on Twitter, you know about my service experience. I’ll save that for the end of this post.

This post is a little on the long side, so here’s a TL;DR for you if you’re in a big hurry:

  • Good: build quality, port quantity/location, input devices, battery life, quiet operation
  • Bad: LCD display is very washed out and has a blue tint, poor sales support from Lenovo
  • Suggestions: Don’t buy via Lenovo, try GovConnection and get faster delivery with better service

The Laptop

If you asked me for a one-sentence description of the T430s, I’d have to say it’s a well-built, lightweight laptop with a good keyboard and a less than mediocre screen.

The island-style keyboard was very easy for me to use coming from a MacBook Pro with chiclet keys. The spacing between the keys and the size of the keys themselves were good. I kept pushing the Function key when I meant to push Control, but that can be quickly swapped in the BIOS to make things easier.

Even coming from the MacBook’s amazing trackpad, the trackpad on the ThinkPad was superb. It tracked gestures and taps extremely well without much configuration in Linux or Windows. It’s light years ahead of the Samsung Series 9’s trackpad and it’s marginally better than the latest Dell laptops. The “nipple” controller wedged in the keyboard was easy to use and the extra set of mouse buttons below the keyboard (but above the trackpad) were convenient.

I really like having the hardware WiFi on/off switch on the front right side of the laptop for situations where I want to ensure my laptop doesn’t start searching for access points before I can be sure it’s connecting to the right one. The USB ports were well placed and the “always on” port on the back is handy for charging phones and tablets when the laptop is powered off (you can disable that in the BIOS if you prefer). The fingerprint reader hasn’t been tested since there aren’t any open source drivers available for it in Linux.

It’s apparent that build quality is above average with this laptop. It’s certainly not terribly attractive (when compared to a Mac), but for a solid business laptop, it’s ahead of the curve. The screen hinges are tight and they don’t flex even when typing on a wobbly surface. This really helps when you’re using the webcam with the laptop resting on your legs. The ThinkLight above the webcam is a little quirky (this is my first ThinkPad) but it is really useful in lowlight situations.

Now, about that screen. I ordered my laptop with the 1600×900 HD+ screen (best one available). The color representation is downright terrible. Almost everything is washed out with a blue tint. If you open a web page with a mostly white background, the text is readable but it hurts my eyes to read it. You can almost see gaps between the pixels on the screen at regular intervals and it gets really distracting when you’re editing photos. Even after applying different monitor profiles in Linux and Windows, I’ve found the screen to be frustrating to use. The panel on mine is a Samsung panel and I’d expect a better performing screen from them.

Outside of the screen itself, the video performance of the Intel HD4000 is impressive. Onboard GPU’s have really come a long way. I hooked up a second monitor via the DisplayPort and found that the graphics performance was still extremely good. You can play games like Civilization V on this laptop with onboard graphics pretty easily.

All in all, I really do like the ThinkPad. If the screen doesn’t bother you, the remainder of this laptop is very convenient and powerful. However, for my use, I need something that performs well for business work as well as creative work. I’ve yet to find something better than the MacBooks for this kind of workload.

The Service

I generally try to start out with something positive when I try to review something, but the only positive thing I can say about Lenovo’s ordering experience is that it’s consistent. Consistently bad. Here’s a timeline of my first order:

  • Sep 3 - Ordered laptop. Sales page said laptop would ship around Sep 12.
  • Sep 4 - Order confirmed. Ship date pushed to Sep 27.
  • Sep 8 - Order status showed “Released to Manufacturing”.
  • Sep 10 - Order status page showed laptop shipped Sep 9 and would be delivered Sep 16.
  • Sep 12 - Received an email saying a part had delayed my shipment.
  • Sep 17 - Order status page shows laptop shipped Sep 14 and would be delivered Sep 21. I emailed Lenovo for more detail.
  • Sep 18 - Lenovo representative replies saying the graphics card was the constrained part. Due to ship in 3-4 weeks or less. I emailed back asking about canceling the order. My email was never acknowledged.
  • Sep 19 - I emailed Lenovo stating that I wanted my order cancelled immediately. My email was never acknowledged. I received an automated email stating that my order was delayed and would ship within 30 days. I called Lenovo’s support line to cancel and waited on hold for almost two hours. Gave up.
  • Sep 20 - I called Lenovo again and my call was answered after 90 minutes on hold. The representative tried to talk me out of canceling several times and then finally canceled it. My cancellation was only a “request”, not a guarantee. I was referred to sales and they wanted me to order a different laptop - I declined.
  • Sep 21 - My order was confirmed cancelled.

The salesperson suggested ordering a different laptop without the NVIDIA Optimus graphics card, so I did that on September 21. The order page showed a ship date of September 27, so I was quite pleased. As soon as I paid for the order, the ship date immediately slid out to October 16. Needless to say, I felt like I’d been bait-and-switched once again.

It’s important to note that through both orders, Lenovo’s public-facing order status page worked while the internal order status page accessed via my account page showed timeouts. The internal order status page hasn’t worked before, during or after shipping at all after multiple attempts. I’ve notified them more than once about it so they could make repairs.

Someone on Twitter suggested trying GovConnection to order a ThinkPad since they keep models in stock with fast shipping. I ordered one on a Sunday and it shipped on a Monday. The back panel behind the screen was badly damaged and they cross-shipped me a replacement the next day. Their service has been superb and they provided timely updates for my order.

In the end, Lenovo did actually ship my second laptop (without the NVIDIA Optimus card) and it did arrive slightly ahead of schedule. I’ll be sending it back to them since I already received a ThinkPad from GovConnection.

Some of you might be saying that I should expect some delays when a laptop is built to order. I’m generally fine with that and I’ve had minor delays from Dell and Apple in the past with previous orders. The big difference is that the other companies warned me about the delays prior to purchase and also warned me about the parts I added that might cause delays to my order. That bit of forward thinking allowed me to decide whether a certain part was important to me or if I was able to wait for the product to arrive. When it comes down to communication, Lenovo has a lot to learn.