Introduction, Design Features
When we heard the news that Lenovo was planning a retro-themed Anniversary Edition ThinkPad, we had to smile at the irony.
Lenovo, by and large, has stayed true to the trademark all-black-slab ThinkPad look since acquiring IBM’s PC division many years ago. And even back then, IBM had been maintaining the look since the original ThinkPad debuted in 1992. We couldn’t help but wonder then what, exactly, was going to be retro about it; surely it wouldn’t be the technology inside. (That would probably have to be the Museum Edition—just kidding, of course.) Our questions were answered when we opened the box of our review unit.
Behold the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition. It brings some color to the ever-popular ThinkPad T470 chassis, Lenovo’s premium 14-inch business notebook that we awarded a lusty 4.5 stars a few months back. The biggest change on the Anniversary Edition is the keyboard. Gone is the T470’s island-style keyboard, replaced with the legendary keyboard layout we last saw on the circa-2011 ThinkPad T420. Not only that, but you also get four different caps for the UltraNav pointer (that is, the pointing stick). There are a few other minor changes, as well, which we’ll detail soon.
Keep in mind that it’s not like the ThinkPad T470 chassis wasn’t already stacked with semi-retro features of its own. Take, for example, its swappable rear battery, user-accessible memory and storage, and snap-in docking station support. Few business notebooks sold today offer all of those in combination.
But before we drool over the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition’s keyboard too much (which, with that in mind, is fortunately spill-resistant), let’s delve into what else is retro about this one-off ThinkPad.
Look past the retro-styled keyboard, and the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition is largely a standard ThinkPad T470. That’s not a bad thing, as we gave that model such a high rating and an Editors’ Choice nod in our review. We’ll encourage you to read that article for the nitty-gritty details, especially around its military-grade durability rating.
The outside of the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition is still all-black, the corners are squared-off, and it looks perfectly at ease in a corporate office. Lenovo has cleverly spruced up the look by giving the ThinkPad badge on the palm rest a touch of IBM color in tribute.
To designate this model as an Anniversary Edition, there’s lettering to that effect at the top left of the chassis. Something else up there that we especially like are the dedicated volume controls, a rarity on modern notebooks. We personally love having stand-alone buttons, as they’re more intuitive and quicker to find than keyboard shortcuts.
In brief, the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition is built about as solid as they come. The outside of the chassis is plastic, but on the inside, it’s reinforced by a metal rollcage. The chassis, as a result, exhibits virtually no flex. The plastic exterior could still be viewed as a con, as some competitors offer more premium-feeling metal exteriors. The Toshiba Tecra X40-D is one example; it’s all lightweight magnesium-alloy. We do, however, like the rubberized coating on the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition. If you know ThinkPads, you know that coating.
We should note that Lenovo sells a slimmer “s” model of the T470. The non-“s” T470 measures 13.3×9.2 inches wide and deep, eight-tenths of an inch thick, and moves the scale needle to 3.5 pounds. By comparison, the ThinkPad T470s is 13×8.9 inches, a tenth of an inch thinner, and just 2.9 pounds. Unfortunately, Lenovo doesn’t offer the Anniversary Edition in a T470s flavor.
But that’s not for naught. The benefits of the regular ThinkPad T470 versus the “s” model are that it has two user-accessible DIMM slots for memory (as opposed to one) and a swappable rear battery. In addition, the T470 is capable of holding a traditional 2.5-inch storage drive, while the T470s is limited to M.2 solid-state drive (SSD) storage. It seems quite fitting that Lenovo chose to make the Anniversary Edition out of the T470 chassis, as ThinkPads of the past were quite user-friendly in terms of replacement parts.
Now, if you skipped down to this part of the review to read about the keyboard, we don’t blame you. The ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition brings back the traditional seven-row keyboard. This is, hands-down, the most productive keyboard layout you can get in this chassis size. The top two rows are where you’ll find most of the differences versus a typical notebook keyboard. For starters, the F1 through F12 keys are separated into three groups of four keys each, as they would be on a desktop keyboard. The Escape key is extra tall, taking up two rows. The same is true of the Delete key, which is part of the Home, End, Page Up, and Page Down cluster that we have so sorely missed on today’s notebook keyboards. If you’re a text-editing junkie, this layout is a godsend.
The ThinkPad heritage doesn’t stop there. The purple Enter key, the rectangular green LED in the Caps Lock key, the scooped navigation buttons next to the arrow keys, and the media controls embedded in the arrow keys are all welcome throwbacks. The arrow keys, while not full-size, are at least divorced out from the main keyboard area, and are not the dreaded half-size up/down arrows bracketed by full-size left/right keys (a frequent HP affliction).
The retro nature of this keyboard didn’t prevent Lenovo from adding backlighting. There are two levels, toggled by the Function and Page Up keys. (Be sure to turn off the backlighting before trying to convince a ThinkPad die-hard that you have a rare old ThinkPad, though.)
The tactile feel of this keyboard is wonderful. The up-and-down travel doesn’t feel as long as we remember it being on older ThinkPads, but it’s still more than sufficient for good feedback. As you can see in our photos, the keys have a traditional shape, as opposed to the island-style keys on modern ThinkPads. The keyboard doesn’t flex or bend anywhere thanks to its solid support deck. Simply put, the keyboard on the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition is the best in the business.
Although modern ThinkPads include the UltraNav solution—that is, the rubber pointing stick in the center of the keyboard—they don’t necessarily include different caps. The ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition includes a total of four caps, including the fuzzy ones you see above. The pointing stick has its own set of dedicated buttons below the space bar. We probably sound like a broken record at this point, but the UltraNav solution on ThinkPads continues to be the best implementation of a pointing stick that we know of.
The ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition includes an updated Microsoft Precision touch pad. It has firmer and quieter clicks than we remember from the touch pad on the standard ThinkPad T470. The soft-touch surface is smooth and plenty usable. We wouldn’t change a thing.
The display on the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition is the top-end display offered on the standard ThinkPad T470. It has a 1,920×1,080-pixel (full HD) resolution and support for 10-point touch input. The panel’s IPS technology gets you the always-welcome wide-viewing-angle support.
Also, the anti-glare surface mutes reflections. It’s an excellent display for productivity, although for multimedia usage, the colors don’t exactly jump out. The same goes for the contrast; it’s not lacking, exactly, but we wouldn’t mind if it were boosted a bit.
In our time with the machine, we found that the brightness range was perfectly adequate in most situations, but we didn’t feel a need to turn down the brightness in darker environments. We did feel the need to do that with the competing Toshiba Tecra X40-D.
We don’t remember the ThinkPads of yore having the best speakers, and the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition won’t be remembered for its set, either. Located within the chassis, the speakers in this notebook have adequate volume for personal listening. There’s more bass than we expected, but the audio is otherwise a little muffled and nondescript.
Above the display, you’ll find the 720p/30fps Webcam right in the center of the bezel. It had surprisingly good quality and sharpness in our scientific let’s-see-how-our-face-looks-in-a-Webchat testing. To its left, you’ll see two smaller circles. These are the IR sensors that allow you to use facial recognition via Windows Hello in Windows 10. You can also use Windows Hello with the built-in fingerprint reader, positioned to the right of the keyboard. These are features you would emphatically not have found in a ThinkPad of the early 1990s.
Let’s take a look at the port selection…
Along the left edge, you’ll find the parallel and serial ports, the modem jack, plus the…wait a second, the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition isn’t that kind of retro. In all seriousness, the port selection is good for this size of notebook. The left edge holds the USB-like AC power jack (familiar from other Lenovo late-model machines; it isn’t a USB port), a Type-A USB 3.0 port, a Thunderbolt 3 port (using a Type-C USB connector), and the cooling fan’s exhaust cutouts. The SmartCard slot is blocked off; it’s not an option on this model, but is on the standard ThinkPad T470.
The right edge of the chassis has the audio combo jack, a pair of Type-A USB 3.0 ports, the HDMI video-out port, an Ethernet jack, and a full-size SD card reader…
The right-most of the USB ports is a sleep-and-charge port, capable of supplying power while the notebook is in standby mode. Also back here is a notch for a security lockdown cable.
On the underside of the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition, you’ll find the dedicated connector for Lenovo’s traditional snap-in docking solutions…
You can also use Lenovo’s new Thunderbolt 3 docking solutions via the port on the left edge, though something that high-tech might give your retro notebook an identity crisis.
The ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition comes in one fixed configuration, but it’s a good one. This notebook pretty much tops out the specifications offered in the ThinkPad T470. The Intel Core i7-7500U dual-core processor and 16GB of RAM are a quite strong combo for office tasks and multitasking. The 512GB solid-state drive (SSD) is both fast and capacious.
Curiously, the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition includes a dedicated Nvidia 940MX 2GB graphics card. That option is not offered on the regular ThinkPad T470, only the more powerful ThinkPad T470p. From a gaming perspective, this GeForce card is low-end in terms of performance, but it can just keep its head above water in today’s games if you dial back the detail and resolution settings. Also inside the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition is the expected, integrated Intel HD Graphics 620 solution, courtesy of its Core i7 processor. The 620 automatically kicks in whenever 3D performance isn’t needed. This switchable-graphics functionality reduces power usage and improves battery life.
As for the wireless connectivity, the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition includes a top-of-the-line Intel 8265AC wireless card and Bluetooth. (But in keeping with the spirit of the past, you may want to use the Ethernet jack, instead.)
Accessing the guts of this notebook means undoing six screws, and then using a pry tool to take off the bottom panel by going around the edges. It was a mildly hair-raising process; we weren’t convinced the plastic clips holding the bottom panel were all that durable. But we got in…
Either way, the removal of the panel gets you access to the two memory DIMM slots and the 2.5-inch drive bay, where, in an interesting twist, the M.2 SSD in our review unit was mounted. Note the front-mounted internal battery pack.
The one cooling fan is visible in our photo, above. It sends warm air out the left side of the chassis when it’s on. The fan wasn’t always on in our testing; it usually ran on low while we were surfing the Web or watching an HD video. The fan will be noticeable running at higher speeds, but we didn’t really hear it running except while we were running our benchmarks, stressing the CPU and GPU.