Introduction, Design Features
With the arrival of the Lenovo ThinkPad T470ThinkPad T460 it replaces, which is a good thing: The ThinkPad T470 retains the best-in-class build quality, unsurpassed keyboard, and oh-so-welcome swappable battery of its predecessor. New for 2017 are the latest Intel Core-i processors (in the 7th Generation “Kaby Lake” line), a slightly tweaked chassis, support over newfangled USB for Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, and a few other enhancements.
At under $900, the starting price for the T470 base model is attractive, and configuring in a faster CPU, a better screen, and other key niceties still nets out to a reasonable cost if you’re selective. On our test build, the extras totaled out to a $1,288 final price at this writing, available direct from CDW and a little more or less from other resellers. That’s not bad for a laptop that can likely withstand daily use for five-plus years if you take care of it. The ThinkPad T series is made for long-term use, and even in Computer Shopper’s own parent-company offices, lots of employees pound away the day on a mixture of ThinkPad T laptops going back to the ThinkPad T440, four generations ago. If that’s not a testament to the line, we’re not sure what is.
ThinkPad T470s we reviewed a few weeks before this model, which comes in silver or black, there’s still just that one hue for the ThinkPad T470: matte black. It might not be the trendiest-looking laptop available, but the “rubberized” finish is impervious to smudges and fingerprints. And honestly, anyone considering a mainstream T-series machine is not looking for trendy. This is a line whose design thrives on it being staid.
The chassis contours are also familiar T-series, with squared-off edges and nary a curve or a taper in sight. The case measures 20mm thick, which makes it marginally thinner than the ThinkPad T460ThinkPad T470s we reviewed a few weeks before this model (18.8mm, tapering to 17mm; it’s in essence the slimline version of the T470). The ThinkPad T470 chassis also has fewer screws than on the T460 model’s, making it easier to service for IT departments that still do that kind of thing.
As for weight, the ThinkPad T470 comes in at very reasonable 3.6 pounds with the removable three-cell battery inserted or 3.9 pounds with the extended six-cell pack. That makes it 3 ounces lighter than the outgoing T460 model, but heavier than the 2.9-pound ThinkPad T470s. All considered, the ThinkPad T470 isn’t the thinnest or lightest 14-inch ultrabook on the market, but it’s still under an inch thick and perfectly portable. Opting for the extended battery also gives the machine a nice lift at the rear, as you can see below.
In case you’re wondering, why not just go for the skinnier model (itself an excellent business ultraportable), opting for the ThinkPad T470 over the “s” variant nets you that user-swappable battery, which is a rare and welcome thing among ultrabooks these days. Turning over the T470, we were happy to see the familiar outlines of the battery in its bay. We almost wept…
Moreover, the battery is not just user-replaceable, it’s hot-swappable. The ThinkPad T470 incorporates an internal three-cell battery in addition to the removable battery, along with a technology that Lenovo dubs “Power Bridge.” When the removable battery starts to run low, you can swap it out for a fresh pack without powering down the machine or plugging in, since the internal battery will keep the laptop going. And when the laptop is on AC power, the internal battery charges first, so it’s always ready to go.
If you are purchasing a spare battery, we recommend you opt for the six-cell. (The three-cell is the standard issue.) Yes, it adds bulk, but it protrudes from the bottom of the device just enough to put it at a comfortable angle for typing, and it provides a convenient handgrip to boot, as you can see here…
The battery flexibility alone is worth having the ThinkPad T470 on your short list if you are a serious business traveler, but the T470 design also has durability as a selling point. The lid is made of a magnesium hybrid that’s lightweight yet strong, while the bottom of the clamshell is glass-reinforced plastic. The machine meets or exceeds the standards for eight MIL-STD 810G military certification (a.k.a. “MIL-SPEC”) tests for exposure to humidity, vibration, sand, mechanical shock, altitude (operating at 15,000 feet), low temperature (kept at -4 degrees F for 72 hours), high temperature (cycles of 70 to 140 degrees F), and temperature shock (a swing from -4 degrees F to +140 degrees over two hours). Then Lenovo engineers layer on their own tests for dust, bumps, electrostatic discharges, drops, and things being dropped on the lid, among other hazards.
We’ve used—and praised—a lot of ThinkPad keyboards over the years, but in terms of feel, the keyboard on the ThinkPad T470 might be the company’s best effort yet.
As before, the island-style keyboard is spill-resistant, able to withstand a few ounces of water without damage to the unit. If you are a heavy touch typist, you’ll appreciate the rock-solid feel; there’s no flex in the middle, as we’ve experienced with some keyboards. Key plunge (the amount of up-down travel) is spot on, while the size, spacing, and ever-so-slightly cupped shape of the keys makes for fewer mistakes as your fingers move from one to the next. The only slight difference we perceive from previous ThinkPad keyboards is less audible feedback as you press a key. Of course, some users may prefer this near-silent keyboard, especially if you are prone to typing in meetings or after-hours with someone trying to sleep in the same room.
In short, the island-style keyboard is the best we’ve used on a business laptop (really among all laptops, barring the few freakish, huge gaming laptops with true mechanical keyboards), and the new version seems a bit quieter than the one on the previous model. The all-new touch pad is roomy and responsive, and the classic TrackPoint pointing nubbin is there for the dozen or so humans left who are adept at using it…
For you hunt-and-peck typists, you’ll appreciate the backlight that delivers a soft white light through the letters on the key tops. Speaking of key tops, we also appreciate the “multimedia Function keys,” where the primary task of the top row of keys is to control actions such as volume/mute, screen brightness, toggling to an external display, and turning off Wi-Fi, versus being F-keys first. No need to bother with a Fn-key combo unless you actually need F11. We also love the microphone mute button—a lifesaver when you’re on a conference call from home and the dog starts barking—as well as the tiny LEDs embedded in the corners of that mic mute key, the speaker mute key, and the Caps Lock key to show when those are activated.
We mentioned the TrackPoint pointing stick, nestled between the G and H keys; it has its own set of dedicated left/right buttons above the touch pad. The ThinkPad T470 does feature an all-new touch pad versus what is on the ThinkPad T460. The roomy, single-piece pad (which has mouse buttons integrated into its lower corners) is a Microsoft Precision Touchpad that aims to standardize which gestures do what on Windows machines, such as the handy three-finger swipe: move your fingers up (toward the keyboard) to switch to “task view” to see thumbnails of all currently open applications, or down to see the Windows desktop. And instead of making use of third-party drivers, as with a touch pad sourced elsewhere, the drivers are built in to Windows 10; hence, any needed updates are delivered in the normal course of updating the OS.
The ThinkPad T470 can be ordered with one of three 14-inch screens. (All are LED-backlit.) The base model comes with a 1,366×768-pixel twisted-nematic (TN) panel. While we like that resolution for a 14-inch screen (less squinting and zooming for those of us over 40…er, make that 50!), we would spend the extra $70 and step up to the 1,920×1,080 in-plane switching (IPS) panel, as on our test unit. Not only do you get full 1080p resolution for watching HD video or more easily using two windows side by side, the IPS panels have much wider viewing angles so you don’t have to worry about a color and/or brightness shift if viewers are seated off-center. If you are a fan of Windows 10’s touch abilities, spend another $50 for the touch-enabled 1080p IPS panel that Lenovo offers.
The screen on our unit exhibited excellent brightness and clear, sharp text. Colors popped, and video looked terrific. In short, it’s a top-notch panel that’s a pleasure to work on. We were also impressed with the sound system in the ThinkPad T470. The twin 2-watt speakers offer surprisingly good stereo separation for a laptop, plus plenty of volume for sharing presentation audio with a group assembled around a conference table. As with most laptop speakers, the bass response is lacking, but we didn’t notice any clipping or distortion even at top volume. Oh, and note another reason to opt for the extended six-cell battery: It lifts the bottom-mounted speakers off the desk surface just enough to create fuller sound.
The one mediocre component in the multimedia suite is the 720p (a.k.a. 1-megapixel) Webcam. It’s serviceable enough, but images are notably low-res compared to the multi-megapixel video you can get from your phone.
As for connectivity features, the ThinkPad T470 delivers everything you are likely to need. Yes, the VGA port went away a couple of iterations ago, but for video connectivity you get an HDMI-out port and a multipurpose USB Type-C/Thunderbolt 3 port. The latter offers faster throughput for the latest peripherals (really, only relevant in that sense for getting the most out of an external SSD or RAID array) and also supports delivering video output up to 4K resolution on Thunderbolt-equipped external displays.
The Thunderbolt port also features Lenovo’s “anti-fry protection.” When using the Type-C port to charge phones or other devices, intelligent circuitry inside the ThinkPad T470s monitors voltage levels and prevents poorly designed third-party chargers and accessories from sending incorrect voltages that could damage the ThinkPad.
Rounding out the list of standard ports/slots are three traditional (Type-A) USB 3.0 ports (one of them powered, for charging connected devices even when the laptop is off), an Ethernet jack, a headphone/mic combo miniplug jack, and an SD/MMC memory card reader. Lenovo offers an optional SmartCard reader for businesses that need it. (One might wonder why these are still around in this age of biometric security, but it’s common for government buyers to mandate this level of security.)
How do the ports break out around the edges? The layout on the left edge is the USB-esque rectangular Lenovo power jack, a USB 3.0, and the Thunderbolt Type-C port, as well as the spacer for the SmartCard slot…
The right edge is home to the other two USB 3.0 ports, the HDMI out, the Ethernet jack, the SD slot, and a notch for attaching a security lockdown cable…
Our test unit came with a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) for onboard storage, which is the lowest-capacity drive Lenovo offers on this model. The other two choices are a 512GB SSD (a bargain at $90 extra, down from Lenovo’s too-high initial upgrade price of $320) or a 1TB SSD (a reasonable $230 upsell when on sale, as opposed to the listed non-sale price of $570). Lenovo is putting a stake in the ground that a mainstream business notebook should have an essentially crash-proof SSD, and we can’t disagree. But we do miss being able to configure in copious, cheap onboard storage in the form of a traditional hard drive. Then again, we also miss having an optical drive and/or a second hard drive in a swappable bay like in the way chunkier T-series models of yore, so we’re clearly showing our age.
Other key connectivity features include dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.1 wireless connectivity, plus the option for a 4G wireless broadband chipset ($180) built in. For security, the T470 comes standard with discrete Trusted Platform Module (TPM) circuitry to help handle authentication and encryption chores, plus Lenovo offers an optional fingerprint reader (a $20 uptick). The latter is a fancy new “Match in Sensor” reader, where the identifying points of the fingerprint image are stored on the chip in the sensor module itself, not on the host machine, for faster response and reduced hackability.