Consistency wins the race. To that end, the Lenovo ThinkPad T431s follows on as Lenovo's mainstream business corporate laptop. It takes some cues from next-gen systems like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, like carbon fibre construction and a sealed battery, but it's still a powerhouse to be considered when you're buying 10 or 10,000 laptops per order. A couple of features need improvement, but overall the T431s is a solid business laptop, and users should have no problem adapting to it from previous T-series ThinkPads.
The T431s measures about 330 x 230 x 20mm (WxDxH), and weighs in at a svelte 1.53kg. It represents a total redesign of the ThinkPad line, though it still undoubtedly looks like a ThinkPad. The older Lenovo ThinkPad T430 had three separate mouse buttons below the spacebar for use with the TrackPoint pointing stick, and two more for use with the trackpad. The new T431s has a one-piece trackpad with five mouse buttons integrated into its top and bottom edges. The bottom area is useful for the trackpad user, while the three sections of the top edge work just like the three separate buttons for the TrackPoint.
That way, users who just can't change the way they do things can still left, right, and centre/scroll click as they're used to doing. It has a different feel compared to the three separate buttons, particularly since the top edge of the trackpad is flat and not raised like the previous buttons, but it's easy to get used to.
The trackpad is multi-touch, and supports the usual Windows 8 gestures and swipes. The one thing you won't get on the ThinkPad T431s is a touchscreen. For that, you'll have to upgrade to the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon Touch (which costs around £1,500). Like the Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch, the T431s uses carbon fibre composites in its top lid, and magnesium construction in the bottom chassis to save weight and add strength.
Another feature that saves weight is the elimination of the optical drive option. DVD and CD technology is mostly dead at this point anyway, but if you still need optical drives, your IT manager can buy a few external USB drives, which still work fine on the T431s.
The T431s also eliminates a legacy technology that will be missed: It drops the removable battery in favour of a sealed battery. This will be a bother for the road warrior who has the discipline to keep several spare batteries handy at all times, but if your users mainly keep their laptops docked, then it won't bother them. The T431s still has a standardised Lenovo docking port on the bottom for use with ThinkPad Series 3 docks.
The T431s has some ruggedised features, including draining channels in the keyboard deck to help with liquid spills. The system is tested to Mil-STD-810 levels for temperature, pressure, humidity, vibration, and dust resistance. In addition to the ruggedised features, the T431s we tested came with a backlit keyboard and scalloped key tops, which makes it easier and more comfortable to type on. As usual, Lenovo's mainstream business laptop has one of the best keyboards in the category. The system we tested also had a fingerprint reader and the requisite security hardware behind it, as well as a smartcard reader.
The T431s matt finish screen measures 14in diagonally and has a 1,600 x 900 resolution. Lenovo and other manufacturers call it an HD+ screen, but it still falls short of the 1,920 x 1,080 resolution required for full 1080p HD. You can view 720p content natively, but 1080p graphics will be scaled down or cropped. This deficit won't bother most text-based users, but spreadsheet jockeys will miss the extra screen real estate. For those folks, consider using a docking station or the built in VGA and mini-DisplayPort to connect a large screen external display.
Speaking of ports, the T431s comes with a full-size Ethernet port, two USB 3.0 ports (coloured black), a headset port, Kensington lock port, and a Sim card slot for an optional WWAN adapter. The system we reviewed had 4GB of system memory and a 500GB SATA hard drive for storage.
That storage can be equipped any way your IT folk decide, but this review unit came with a selection of Lenovo and third-party software packages preloaded.
The T431s showed a decent, if rather pedestrian, performance on our benchmark tests. The T431s is slowed a bit on the day-to-day PCMark7 test by its spinning hard drive, which is outpaced by systems like the SSD-powered Dell Latitude 6430u. That said, this Lenovo laptop was quicker on our multimedia tests than competitors like the HP Elitebook Folio 9470m. Basically, the system will perform well enough, but if your users complain about load and wait times, you should consider buying a competitor with SSD storage like the Dell, or upgrade to the Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch.
The T431s matched the Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch on the battery life test, with a time of 5 hours and 41 minutes on our battery rundown test. This was about 15 minutes longer than the Lenovo X1 Carbon Touch, so the difference is essentially a wash. The Dell 6430u lasted hours longer, with 7 hours and 40 minutes of battery time. While that's significant, five-and-a-half hours is sufficient for a business laptop simply moving from meeting to meeting.
Ultimately, the choice of laptops falls to your IT buyer and the current installed base of systems. If you're a Lenovo shop, the Lenovo ThinkPad T431s is a worthy successor to the ThinkPad faithful, though the new trackpad may take a little while to get used to.
The Dell Latitude 6430u has significantly more performance under its hood, so is still our pick over this model, but if your company relies on Lenovo systems, the T431s is a very good workhorse PC for your rank and file workers.
Manufacturer and Model
Lenovo ThinkPad T431s
Intel Core i5-3437U
Microsoft Windows 8 Professional
Intel HD Graphics 4000
1,600 x 900
General Purpose, Business, Small Business
500GB hard disk