ThinkPad Anniversary Edition 25 Review

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Over my professional career, I have recommended one brand of laptop more than any other: The ThinkPad. The line recently celebrated it’s 25th anniversary. This alone is a remarkable achievement. To celebrate this milestone, Lenovo released the ThinkPad 25. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to own one.

After all, it’s a thoroughly modern machine with the classic 7-row keyboard I still use daily on both USB keyboards and the X220 and W520 I still cling to. I ordered it the day after it was announced, and it arrived this week. Here are my thoughts on the ThinkPad 25.

This is quite possibly the most balanced laptop I’ve ever used. It has a great screen, it’s thin enough, light enough, has great battery life, has a GPU that’s good enough for any current game, it runs Linux perfectly, and has the absolute best keyboard I’ve ever used.

There are thinner. There are lighter. There are faster. There are better gaming machines. But. I am not aware of any other machine on the market that so closely aligns with my priorities. It really does seem to be the perfectly balanced machine. I think I will own and use this computer for a very, very long time.

Keyboard

This is the pinnacle of ThinkPads. Of course we need to have a keyboard section. In short, it’s perfect. The nicest keyboard I’ve ever used. It is essentially the same layout as the X220 but the finish on the keys is smoother and nicer. The keys have the perfect amount of travel and clickiness. If you are a long-time ThinkPad user, as you surely would be to own this laptop, you will love this keyboard.

The coating on the keyboard deck feels great. Far nicer than the W520 or X220, my previous favourites. It’s a little thing and sounds fussy, but it really makes it more comfortable. Between the great keyboard and the coating, this is now my favourite typing experience on any device.

The keyboard is backlit. It reminds me of the backlighting on old Mac PowerBooks. I’d rather the old ThinkLight but this is good too.

Really, Lenovo has perfected the keyboard with this laptop. They should use this or an incarnation of it, for all of their laptops. And they should stop messing with it. The keyboard is now a solved problem.

Screen

The ThinkPad 25 shares the T470’s 1920×1080 IPS matte touchscreen. I’ve read criticisms of the screen but I don’t understand the complaints. It’s bright, I rarely run it at full brightness, it’s matte, so glare is non-existent, it’s IPS, so viewing angles are great. I’d prefer something other than a 16:9 screen. Maybe 1920×1200 or 4:3. 2056×1536 would have been fabulous.

This is the one area where I wish they’d done a little more with the T470 frame that they started with. There’s quite a bit of room with the big bottom bezel. Still, I’d far rather a solid 1920×1080 matte screen than a fancier glossy screen or a QHD screen. At some point the software will catch up to the hardware for QHD. We aren’t there yet.

The touchscreen works well. I don’t need it, I won’t likely use it that often, I don’t mind it. It doesn’t add a lot of thickness to the display like the touchscreen on the XPS 13.

Overall, this is a solid display. If you’re going to stick with 16:9, this 1920×1080 IPS matte display is an excellent choice.

Noise & Sound

Silent running idle, quiet when running under normal, heavier use, a bit loud when gaming

The speakers are good. Not amazing, but better than I’d expect from a ThinkPad.

Ports

Given that this is a 3.5lb machine, the port selection is awesome and appropriate for now and the future. Full HDMI, USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, 3xUSB 3, SD slot, and Ethernet. And a Kensington lock! Oh, and a proper dock on the bottom that I gather is compatible with several generations of T400 laptopa. I guess mini displayport would have been nice, but I’d rather HDMI.

Ethernet because it fits and is key for many, many users. HDMI for now, USB-C/Thunderbolt for the future. Please take note, Apple. We don’t just look at our computers. We use them. With ports. Multiple ports. At the same time. Imagine.

And then there’s optional dock that looks like it may be compatible with the T440 and newer, so users upgrading may already have a dock.

About the dock. My ThinkPad Yoga S1 has a special power connector that includes a dock connection. At the time, it sounded like this was the way Lenovo was going for docks. I bought it, it is a great dock. Sadly, I haven’t found another ThinkPad that it’s compatible with. This is a shame. It was a good evolution of the dock. I wish this laptop supported it.

Internals

Being based on the T470, this is an i7 with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB NVME SSD. It’s a ULV dual-core CPU. It’s the fastest CPU I’ve used. Some people have complained that they didn’t shoehorn a quad core CPU. That would have been nice but the CPU seems great to me.

A big part of the price of the ThinkPad 25 is because of the 16GB of RAM and 512GB NVME SSD. These are expensive components but will make this machine last for many. many years. The SSD is blazing. You won’t be waiting on the IO. The RAM means that, even running VMs and many large programs, the machine never skips a beat.

The other big differentiator with the ThinkPad 25 is the discrete Nvidia 940MX. Again. I’ve read complaints about Lenovo not using the replacement part that is a generation newer and faster. Whatever. ThinkPads have long used well-tested rather than bleeding-edge parts. This is a great mobile GPU. It turns the ThinkPad 25 into a decent gaming machine.

I ran Alien Isolation and Tomb Raider on it. It was great. At least as good as my quad-core i7 desktop with an Nvidia 660. I didn’t buy this computer for the graphics card. To be honest, I’d have been happy with a high-end Intel GPU. I’ve been blown away by the GPU performance and am very happy with the decision to include the 940MX.

Battery

The battery setup on the ThinkPad 25 is interesting. It has an internal 3-cell battery and a user-replaceable 3-cell battery. This gives about 5-6 hours of light use in Ubuntu with Gnome 3 and tlp installed. I always have Dropbox and Firefox running.

Under heavy use with VMs, this looks to drop to ~3 hours. Good enough for me. I’m sure I could use it for a day of average computing. It seems on-par with my Dell XPS 13.

The dual-battery setup is intriguing. I could add a 6-cell and swap it on battery. The internal battery charges fist, the external battery discharges fist. I love this setup. I doubt I’ll make use of it, but many people at work would.

Size & Weight

This is a well-proportioned machine. It just looks and feels right. It’s not too thin or overly thick, it’s pretty much what you’d hope for in a machine of it’s size in 2017. It’s definitely not an ultrabook but it isn’t meant to be. It fits right in between my Dell XPS 13 and 15” MacBook Pro.

At 3.5lbs it’s very light for a 14” machine. That said, it’s noticeably heavier than my XPS13, weighs about the same as both the Yoga S1 and the X220, but manages to do so with a 14” screen and a perfect keyboard. It’s a pound less than the 2015 15” MacBook Pro. 3.5lbs is a good weight and beyond the large bottom bezel, the ThinkPad 25 makes good use of it’s size and weight, offering a great combination of internals, ports, and battery life.

Linux Compatibility

The ThinkPad 25 ships with Windows 10 Signature Edition with Bitlocker enabled. It works and seems like a very light version of Windows. no bloatware etc. I don’t do Windows, so of course the first thing I did was install Linux.

ThinkPads have long been the laptop of choice for Linux users, the ThinkPad 25 is an excellent Linux laptop. The distribution am using is System 76’ Pop!_OS. It is based on Ubuntu 17.10 and uses Gnome 3 as the desktop environment.

I’m very pleased to say that everything, and I mean everything, works perfectly in Ubuntu 17.10. GPU, keyboard hotkeys, power management. It’s perfect. Not close. Perfect. If you are a Linux user, this is a great laptop for you.

Price

The list price for the ThinkPad 25 in Canada was $2500, that included a three year warranty. It’s already listed as no longer available, so clearly there was demand. $2500 is a lot for a laptop. I’ve read many complaints about the price.

Let’s compare. If you configure a stock T470 with the top i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD it is more than $2500. That’s with a one year warranty, lacking the 25’s keyboard, and has no discrete GPU.

My co-worker bought a Surface laptop with a similar configuration to the ThinkPad 25. (16GB/512GB/i7) it was $2500. Again, no GPU. The Surface laptop arguably has a better (though smaller) screen. It’s a far lighter, very nice machine. It also isn’t repairable and isn’t a ThinkPad. I wouldn’t trade him. There’s only one ThinkPad 25.

Comparing with a Mac, the first MacBook Pro with a discrete GPU is $3100CDN. That gets you a quad-core CPU, a bigger screen, but a terrible keyboard and virtually no ports. Again, I’d much rather this ThinkPad.

I ended up paying $2294 for the ThinkPad 25 because I was able to get academic pricing. This is a lot of money for a laptop. The last one that I bought that was close to this was my old 12” PowerBook. However, the specs on the ThinkPad 25 justify the price. Good ThinkPads aren’t cheap. This is the best ThinkPad.

Wrapping Up

I realize that the machine is not terribly different from the T470, but it’s the differences, subtle and otherwise, that make this such a nice machine.

I have used dozens of ThinkPads over the years. The ThinkPad 25 is unquestionably my favourite ThinkPad to date. It hits the weight that I like (~3.5lbs), has the screen I like, a 14” 1920×1080 IPS display, has all of the ports I need, and has the perfect keyboard.

What more could I possibly ask for?

GoSaBe Blog - Oct 21, 2017 | Hardware, Linux, ThinkPad