Lightweight Ultrabooks did not sell as well last year as Intel and other hardware makers had hoped. This past week, Lenovo announced a new ThinkPad Ultrabook that is the thinnest-ever T series machine, which could point the way to a more competitive year for the form factor.
The new ThinkPad is a high-performance model targeted at the enterprise . It features a back-lit keyboard, five-point Trackpad and a central TrackPoint, a sleek finish, up to 12GB of memory, a choice of up to a 1 TB hard disk or up to a 256 GB solid-state storage drive, a 14-inch HD+ 1600x900 display, enhanced graphics and either an Intel i5 or i7 processor.
Interestingly, the machine, which weighs 3.6 pounds and is 0.82 inches thin, comes equipped with the Windows 7 operating system instead of 8, but 8 is available as an option. Prices start at $949 in the U.S., and the model will be available next month.
Lenovo RapidBoot 2.0 can provide a 40 percent faster boot-up time, an optional fingerprint reader adds log-in security, a 720-pixel HD camera offers face-tracking, and there are two USB 3.0 ports, a docking port, and a Polycom reader for video and voice communication. Lenovo said the battery can last up to 9 hours.
The large, multi-touch Trackpad is designed to work well with the tile-oriented interface in Windows 8, if an owner chooses that option, and there's a central TrackPoint stem. The screen has a 180-degree hinge that can fold flat.
China-based Lenovo said the model's design is the result of intensive, global customer research over nine months. Dilip Bhatia, vice president and general manager of the ThinkPad Business Unit, said in a statement that the T431s "is the first device featuring Lenovo's new design, which represents a comprehensive examination of user experience and input."
The research was conducted with ThinkPad and non-ThinkPad users, and involved researchers shadowing users in their homes and workplaces over thousands of hours, asking questions and observing behavior. The key takeaway for Lenovo: users "prioritize simplicity and modern elements when it comes to their technology."
The company updated the T-series ThinkPad precision keyboard with improved key placement, a new Graphite Black color and a very thin bezel. The carbon-fiber top cover and magnesium exterior keep with the ThinkPad line's ruggedness.
Laura DiDio, an analyst with industry research firm Information Technology Intelligence Consulting, said the appeal of the ThinkPad line was enhanced by "the fact that a lot of people still equate the ThinkPad with IBM." IBM sold its personal computer division to Lenovo in 2005. DiDio noted that IBM still provides service and support for ThinkPads.
The newest model points to a possibly better year for Ultrabooks, DiDio said, with an improving economy and Ultrabook prices trending downward.