Love or hate the boxy styling that has defined ThinkPad laptops for over a decade now, there’s no denying that the popular business notebooks sport some of the most revered mobile keyboards out there. Like hotrodders still turn to Chevy’s ancient 350-cubic-inch small block V8 when it’s time to lay down rubber on the street, business users still turn to ThinkPad’s timeless keyboard when it’s time to lay down essays, articles and spreadsheets. It’s classic, time-tested, and dead reliable. And now Lenovo has gone and changed it.
As a ThinkPad user myself (tapping this out from an X61), I initially cringed when I read about the company’s transition to a chiclet-style keyboard. To me, they’ve always been an instance of form over function, feeling limp, spongy, and unresponsive to the touch. But decided to hold out and try it for myself. As it turns out, I’m glad I did.
I sampled the new keyboard on both the netbook-like ThinkPad X100e and the larger 13-inch ThinkPad Edge. According to the Lenovo rep who showed us the new notebooks, company engineers basically looked at the “cap” (the flat surface that your finger actually touches) on existing Lenovo keyboards and cut straight down from that top profile, rather than beveling them outward. They were actually able to increase the size of the touchable area with this approach, making the tactile portion of the new keys larger than the old ones.
While I wouldn’t say the new experience feels “better,” it certainly feels no worse. The keys retain the signature ThinkPad springiness and have plenty of travel – something many other companies seem to cut back on to make their notebooks thinner and thinner. And the bright red rubber TrackPoint joystick is there to stay.
Fear not, ThinkPad diehards. Lenovo has given its old V8 a new set of headers and a paint job, but it will still perform where the rubber meets the road – or where the key meets the finger.