It looks like Lenovo will be updating their ThinkPad line with a couple of new members this Spring. A user manual for a new ThinkPad T431s and ThinkPad X230s found on the Lenovo Chinese language website are available and help to reveal quite a bit about these upcoming Spring / Summer 2013 ThinkPad releases.
The ThinkPad T431s will be the update to the current T430s, which is basically a slimmed down version of the flagship T430. While there are no specific internal specs revealed in the T431s user manual, such as what processor will be used, we can see form factor changes. Most notably, it appears based on the user manual diagrams that the dedicated mouse buttons associated with the trackpoint are eliminated in favor of buttons being integrated into the touchpad. While this allows for a generously sized touchpad, the integrated trackpoint button approach is another change to the keyboard layout on a traditional ThinkPad that might rankle long time users. The upcoming ThinkPad Helix uses this same integrated button approach, but since that has yet to hit store shelves there’s not much user feedback on how the integrated trackpoint buttons compare to the traditional buttons.
Another keyboard change is the fact the Function buttons (F1 – F12) will now, like the MacBook, be first and foremost media keys and to use them as a regular F1 – F12 key for things such as Windows and program short cuts you will have to either press in the Fn + Esc key to turn on Function Lock and toggle this behavior or hold down Fn + the function key you want for one time “normal” usage of that key. For casual home users the new media key first priority is probably more useful, but power users and work desk jockeys that have used ThinkPads for decades might find this change jarring. Due to the use of the Fn buttons as media keys, the actual dedicated volume up/down and mute buttons are gone. The touchpad is becoming the king of taking up space, somewhat ironic since just a few years ago Lenovo didn’t even provide a touchpad on some ThinkPad models.
Other changes worth noting is a new hinge design, it uses the dropdown hinge present on the ThinkPad X1 Carbon. This allows the screen to ride lower, which can be useful for creating a lower clearance and easier fit on an airplane tray when the guy in front decides to lean back on you. However, the hinges look thinner and it is assumed the screen will not be able to open 180 degrees now as it could in the past. It also looks like there is a single RAM slot empty for upgrades instead of the traditional two, accessing the RAM will require removing the entire bottom of the laptop instead of just a door.
The ThinkPad X230s is another upcoming ThinkPad with a design inspired by the ThinkPad X1 Carbon Ultrabook. It sports a 12.5” screen, just like the regular X230. The design changes for the X230s are the same as what you get on the T431s – integrated trackpoint buttons, function keys that act as media buttons and a smaller hinge with dropdown design. Also note that in the illustration below shows that the “i” in ThinkPad on the lid lights up, just like it does now on the Edge Series.
What’s not exactly clear is whether these changes to the keyboard and design for the X230s and T431s will be carried through to the mainstream models, expected to be the X240 and T440 later in the year. It could be that these designs are reserved for the sleek Ultrabook like models, or a harbinger of changes to come. We’ll of course find out later in the year when the mainstream enterprise models are released, or possibly earlier if further user manuals and information leaks surface!