Thinkpad RIP

While this might, in the fullness of time, end up looking alarmist and reactionary, I believe that this is acceptable and, in fact the circumstances which would make that so would probably be welcome.
Last week Lenovo unveiled their new 2012 Thinkpad lineup. Most years there would not be much of interest to any but the most diehard of hardware geeks and Thinkpad aficionados (my reader/s might be aware that I have a small collection of Thinkpads but I do not count myself in the group I am referring to here). This time is something of a different situation. This year Lenovo has made it clear that they see "Thinkpad" as a brand in terms of name and color scheme only.
This time, they got rid of the keyboard.

People who know me know that I am particular about keyboards. They have seen my review of the Das Keyboard (which is still in use exactly where it was when I reviewed it), they have seen my late manufacture M5-2 and heard my periodic diatribes on why I love it. They usually have trouble understanding why my smartphone and tablets all have keyboards. Guests in my home have been woken in the middle of the night by the noise of me typing on one of the several mechanical switch keyboards on my desk. I am particular about keyboards.

Thinkpads, when they were introduced in 1992, did not have any real competition or comparison in the laptop market since one did not really exist at the time. As time went on though Thinkpads retained their increasingly distinct keyboards while other manufacturers and brands dropped mechanical spring switches for membrane switches, ignored spill protection on all but the most ruggedised  or expensive models, introduced ever flatter and cramped keyboards culminating in the current crop of "chicklet" keyboards. Thinkpads managed to keep all the keys of IBM's classic 'space saver' design while even occasionally adding a couple of unique function keys which made laptops more comfortable to use.

This past week put an end to all of that. Lenovo, out of a desire to "standardise across all lines" replaced the nearly 20 year old keyboard design with the "isolation" (read 'chicklet') keyboard that they had introduced on their consumer and ultra budget lines. They claim that this new six row design improves typing speed and comfort and that they 'tested it with hundreds of users'. I used one on a Thinkpad Edge (a Thinkpad in name only made for the brand conscious on a budget) that I was given for work during the winter holidays, it was a nightmare. While some of the problems I had were unrelated to the keyboard itself (task critical software and hardware issues and the unaccustomed weight and bulk of a 15 inch laptop after years of using 9-12 inch netbooks and ultraportables) typing on this new keyboard was a nightmare. Breaking up the classic operation and navigation cluster (home, end, insert, delete, page up, page down and the arrow keys) and scattering them around or relegating them to Fn+* combination functions made common tasks more difficult and the flatter keys with significantly reduced travel made it physically painful to type, even at angles and conditions that have been perfectly comfortable to use my X201 in.

If Lenovo does not return to using the true Thinkpad keyboard, I will have to resort to nursing my old Thinkpads along as long as possible (a task made more difficult by Lenovo's design and build quality failings) until I can find someone who does make a laptop for real use.

1 comment:

  1. However, typing on usual laptop's keyboard has a better feeling.. They're still the best i think..