August 17, 2014

Lenovo losing it's Thinkpad roots?

When IBM sold off it's desktop line of products to the Chinese company Lenovo in 2005 many people thought that this would be the end of an amazing product line. After Lenovo took over we observed the opposite, things were actually getting better than before.

For many years I've been a happy die-hard Thinkpad user. My previous laptop was a T520. Before that I had a T500, T61 and T60. Thinkpads have traditionally been "built like a tank" and not changed much in physical build between different models. This has made the transition to a newer model totally safe, because you always knew what to expect.

Now that my T520 was getting old it was time to get a new one. My employer now has some sort of BYOD system (Bring/Buy Your Own Device) where you can choose between a range of products. You can choose to get a free one or you can pay some extra to get top models. I could have gotten a T540 for free, but chose to go for the ("better bells and whistles") W540 instead. The T and W series laptops are usually quite similar, but the W series are equipped with better GPU and larger SSD.

Such an upgrade would give me a computer that was similar to the one I had, but with new and better components. This was something I had done many times before so I didn't waste time on reading reviews since I had a good idea of what to expect.

The day the new laptop arrived I was not late installing my favorite desktop OS instead of the preinstalled Windows 8 that was default.

My disappointment was however endless as I figured out the new computer was unusable due to the way they have changed the keyboard/trackpoint layout; no "mouse" buttons and included an oversized touchpad left of the center of the keyboard. Instead of the buttons you are supposed to use push on the touchpad as if it had buttons. They have also included a numeric keyboard, reduced the number of rows and removed special keys for wifi, sound controls, mute, and removed leds for caps lock, num lock and lid light.

You see, I'm one of those guys who are not using an external mouse. I'm using the little red joystick in the middle of the keyboard that Lenovo refers to as Trackpoint. The little red stick was still there, but without those three buttons it was useless.

My anger and frustration was similar to the reaction of Hitler in this YouTube video:

Many years ago I used mouse as my main pointing device (like most desktop users), but I started getting mouse arm/elbow symptoms. I decided to try change my habits and start using that little pointing stick in the middle of the keyboard. My mouse arm started to recover and I also discovered that I would do things more efficiently as I didn't have to move my arm away from the keyboard in order to move the pointer.

I did some attempts on using the TouchPad of the new W540, but basic tasks, such as marking a text that was more than one page was giving me headaches. Video and picture editing was frustratingly hard, and you could just forget gaming. I started looking for alternate ways of solving this, and in the end I bought a Lenovo usb keyboard that had TrackPoint, buttons and it even lacked a TouchPad (I always disable the TouchPad).

I'm now using the W540 as my main computer and bring it everywhere. It works quite nicely now that I'm having a proper keyboard/pointing device setup, even though it shouldn't have been necessary.

Other than that it seems that the overall quality of the new Lenovo series is not as good as the  good old ones:

  1. The lid is thinner than before and lacks a grip for carrying.  You're probably better off closing the lid before carrying it.
  2. The lid has no lock mechanism.
  3. Why has the power connector suddenly become square and incompatible with all old adapters?
  4. Hissing sound! There's a hissing sound both from the speaker and when using a headset. A noise canceling headset solves this, but should not be needed for daily use.

The screen is however superb. At first I thought having a screen resolution of 2880x1620 on a 15.6" screen would be a bit too much. And for some applications it is, but in most situations it's awesome. It could be a good idea to adjust the DPI settings for your display manager. It gives you a very large work space and allows for more information on less space. I have also tested it outside in the sun thanks to it's IPS LED technology it's possible to work outdoors. It's not perfect, but better than my previous laptops and much better than a glossy thing that many vendors are selling.

The NVidia GPU is also very nice with it's 576 cuda cores, but it gets very hot when under high load and not suited for lap operations. By using an IR Thermometer I have recorded temperatures above 50C at two areas under the laptop (probably where cpu and gpu are placed).

I wish Lenovo would reconsider their design and bring back the good old buttons and also consider not to try to become Apple like Dell, HP and a few others seem to be trying to. Better stand out from the crowd with proven solutions.

If a Thinkpad is not a real Thinkpad anymore then there's no reason I should choose Thinkpad (the workaround with that Thinkpad usb keyboard+trackpad would work with any vendor and I also have to use it with my MIIX2 11 that also suffers from the same problems as the W540 except that it lacks the TrackPoint completely).                                                                                                                                                            


  1. Wow. Sounds like my journey with Lenovo. Various T models, ending with a T60 and a T61p. Then I got the W500. That was pretty good. I loved the 1920x1200 display. Worked well. Then I went to the W510 and they took away my 1920x1200 and left me with 1920x1080. I owned the W510 for nearly six months before I finally moved. I did not want to give up the screen real estate. Then came the W530 which was similar, better CPU but constant little issues with docking and startup. I just moved to a W540 and said that it could well be my last ThinkPad since it just seems cheaper and the TrackPoint is nearly useless with the wobble-pad button thing. My HP at work is better than this. With the W540, I will use the internal KB/TP as little as I can. And the new dock seems like a cheap piece of junk compared to the previous ones. The W540 hangs over a lot. It does not have a good way to position the laptop for docking. Just seems badly thought out.

  2. I've talked to a Lenovo rep about this issue and he told me that Lenovo will start shipping laptops with Trackpoint buttons again next year. On the Lenovo web site I've also found info about a model that hasn't shipped yet, where the missing buttons are present. It's really weird that they didn't find this problem during QA.