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Thinkpad 25 First Impressions (PICS)

T25-Retro specific matters only
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dr_st
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Thinkpad 25 First Impressions (PICS)

#1 Post by dr_st » Fri Dec 22, 2017 11:56 am

Once the rumors about the "retro" became concrete, I've decided to get it to replace my primary corporate laptop, the T410. I've kept the T410 for 7 years because the keyboard is crucial to me, so I figured out that whatever other aspects of the Thinkpad 25 (a.k.a. "Anniversary Edition 25", TP25, T25) may be, as long as it has the classic 7-row keyboard layout, it is still the best I am likely to get now or in the foreseeable future.

Lenovo selling it as a 'limited edition' via specific channels, and only in select countries, proved to be a hurdle, so I only got the machine less than 2 weeks ago. Thus, this write-up is mostly a 'first impressions' review. I don't know if it has enough substance over the dozens of TP25 reviews that have popped up in the last 2.5 months, but maybe.

To keep it short and under the size limit, all pictures are thumbnails. Click on them for full-size versions.

Unboxing

The box is far fancier than the typical Thinkpad, more like what you expect from an Apple product, or a high-end smartphone. I guess if Lenovo views it as a collector's edition, it makes some sense.

The outside cardboard box is painted black and has the Anniversary Edition 25 markings on it; inside it is a smaller decorated box containing the product, with foam in between for secure shipping (I found it adequate, some didn't); once the top cover is removed, the box is held shut by a small magnet, and opened by pulling the little loop; this causes the 'wings' to pull up so that the contents sort-of floats up from the shell (like the 701C Butterfly keyboard maybe?).

Inside you are greeted by a piece of thick cardboard hosting the 25th anniversary design booklet written by David Hill, and the 3 extra trackpoint caps (you better realize they're there, it's really easy to miss them and toss away with the packaging); the laptop itself is packed in a reusable thin black cloth sleeve (that even has its own part number) rather than a disposable plastic wrap; the extras (power supply, battery, manual) are packed in individual fancy-looking red cardboard compartments.

If there is anything in this machine that resembles the original 'Bento box' design, it's the packaging. Some like it, most (like myself) are indifferent, some ridiculed Lenovo for investing in packaging rather than delivering the laptop that people wanted. Whatever. Maybe it is a bit over the top.

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Design, feel and usage

Our long-time forum member, Bibin, posted an excellent review of the Thinkpad 25, addressing all the main points. I encourage you to read it if you missed it. It so happens that I agree with almost everything Bibin wrote, so there is no need to repeat it here, just emphasize a few points.

The machine feels firm, solid and pleasant to use. I've never used a CS13 (*40-70 series) Thinkpad before, and it feels impressively sturdy with how slim it is. The case of the TP25 is basically the T470, with some extra-nice rubber-coated surfaces a-la X300, which makes it feel a little more "high-end", although in truth I couldn't care less if it didn't have those extras. What's important is that the base design of the T470 is a good one, in terms of size, feel, port selection and expandability. I like the battery options (and may get an extended 61++ battery at some future point), I like the variety of docking capabilities. The one design element I'm a bit skeptical about is the screen hinges being part of the base and not the lid (like on older Thinkpads and on the P-series workstation models). This design makes the screen sit behind the base (and not above it) when open, making it impossible to have any ports or extended batteries on the back. However, it keeps the profile of the machine slightly lower, and contributes to a cleaner look of the top lid. Maybe that's why this design was chosen?

As far as the keyboard goes, the shorter travel of the keys (including trackpoint buttons and the power/volume controls) is immediately noticeable, but doesn't trouble me and I don't feel it ever will. The keyboard layout is what matters to me and in this sense it is exactly like on the T410, X220, T430s, all of which I've used excessively.

The trackpoint may be a little lower-profile than on old models (the caps are definitely shorter), but it does not feel different in use. As you can see, I've replaced it with a Soft Rim. I can't decide if I like it or the Soft Dome better. I like the 'Classic Dome' (a.k.a. 'cat tongue') cap the least, so it's a bit disappointing that you get 2 of these in the package (including the one preinstalled on the keyboard) versus only one of the other two kinds.

The LCD panel I got is the same IVO R140NWF5 R1 featured in Notebookcheck's review, where they noticed that it wasn't as bright as some other comparable panels. It's true - it is not as bright (the FHD IPS in my T430s is brighter), but it will be plenty bright enough in office environments. According to the FRU BOM, there is at least one other panel option (by AUO), and if someone gets a machine with that one installed, we may know if it's brighter or not.

The IPS screen gives good viewing angles, as expected, and the panel is matte enough. Touchscreen is nice. I don't use it much (yet), but every time I did, it felt precise - the click registered exactly where I expected it.

One pleasant surprise (for me) is the touchpad. It's a glass one, and feels so pleasant to touch and use, that it's the first laptop ever where I didn't start with disabling it in the BIOS. It supports Windows 'Precision Touchpad' features and I may end up using it for some multi-touch gestures; so far it does not seem to interfere with my typing (palm detection works well).

The keyboard backlight is nice (again, I never owned a backlit keyboard before). For lighting up the keyboard in the dark, I think it's better than a Thinklight, although a Thinklight can light a piece of paper too. Oh well. The blue paint (secondary key functions) is also translucent and backlit, except for whatever reason the Fn key is poorly lit. The light, BTW is controlled via Fn+PgUp, like on old Thinkpads, not Fn+Space like on new ones. Fn+Space still controls the magnification feature (when there is OS support).

I like the port combination on the TP25 (which is the same as on a T470) - between Thunderbolt, USB 3.0, Ethernet, full-size HDMI, and a card reader - it has everything I think I can reasonably expect from a modern machine that I plan to use as a daily driver for at least 5 years. It's a slight advantage over the ports of a T470p, since Thunderbolt can do USB-C and DP, but mini-DP cannot do Thunderbolt. Then again, the T470p gives you a quad-core CPU... Oh well, no matter what they based the TP25 on, someone would be unhappy. :wink:

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BIOS and pre-loaded software

The TP25 shares BIOS/EC with the T470. There is a bug in the implementation of the 'Primary function key' swap feature. On a T470 (and similar 6-row keyboards) it swaps the behavior of Function keys and Fn+Function keys. You would assume it does the same here, but it doesn't work. Due to some bizarre error, setting it to 'Enabled' only screws up the mic mute button (you would need to press Fn+mic mute), but every other function is unchanged. Just leave it at 'Disabled' and it works fine, exactly like you would expect it on the classic 7-row keyboard.

The following points are probably not specific to TP25, but to all modern Thinkpads:
  • The brightness controls (Fn+Home/End) do not work in pre-OS environments; the LCD is always stuck on maximum brightness there. It appears to be a design omission rather than a bug, because the other modern Thinkpad (Yoga 14) I tried it on also did not allow brightness to be controlled in pre-OS.
  • The battery discharge order that was reported here is consistent with what I've seen. I understood that it's actually supposed to be a load-balancing feature so that it discharges the battery with less wear. But I would still rather that it discharged the removable first (since it's easier to replace if it fails due to wear), or better yet - that it was user-controllable.
  • The Windows 10 Modern Apps (Lenovo Settings, Companion, Vantage) are a disappointment. I liked Lenovo Settings, but then they merged it with Lenovo Companion, and the old app stopped working. Worse, the hotkeys still sometimes take you to Lenovo Settings by default which just tells you to manually launch the other app. Now that Companion has been replaced with Lenovo Vantage, this behavior seems to have been fixed, but Lenovo Vantage itself is such a bloated annoying piece of crap that takes a few second to load every time, that I just broke down and uninstalled all of them. Fortunately, this still allows you to keep the battery bar (although you cannot view battery properties and configure thresholds), and all hotkeys still work in their default modes, even without those apps installed.
  • The UEFI diagnostics software has been upgraded to a more graphical utility, which can also be controlled with the mouse / touchscreen.

Special functions (Fn+F keys)

One way in which the new 7-row keyboard differs is the special keys. They are actually sort of a combination between modern Thinkpads and the classic 7-row Thinkpads.

Fn+F2 - lock desktop
Fn+F3 - blank screen (or Power options, if you have Power Manager / Lenovo Vantage installed)
Fn+F4 - sleep
Fn+F5 - mouse/trackpoint/pad properties (this was Fn+F8 on older Thinkpads)
Fn+F6 - Microphone mute control (or Microphone/Camera properties if you have Thinkvantage Communication Toolbox / Lenovo Vantage installed)
Fn+F7 - multiple screen control (like Win+P)
Fn+F8 - wireless control / airplane mode (this was Fn+F5 on older Thinkpads)
Fn+F9 - Windows settings
Fn+F10 - Bluetooth control (this was Fn+F5 on older Thinkpads)
Fn+F11 - Keyboard Manager (Configure Fn/Ctrl swap and custom action for Fn+F12; more options if Lenovo Vantage is installed)
Fn+F12 - custom action (can be configured through keyboard manager).

It seems there is no option to set Fn+F12 to hibernate, at least not easily, but since it can launch custom apps, maybe I can set up an app to trigger hibernation, then use that. I'll think about it later.

Summary

I find the TP25 a worthy upgrade and a good laptop for fans of the classic keyboard layout. I enjoy using it and expect that it will serve me as well and as long as most of my Thinkpads do. I have no problem with a 16:9 screen and with FHD resolution, and other than that, there is not much not to like about this laptop from the technical PoV (price and availability are another discussion). It's not a 'retro' Thinkpad. It is simply a good, modern Thinkpad with a traditional, no-compromise, 7-row Thinkpad keyboard.

I planned to finish this with a round-up of comparisons to other similar machines in my possession, but in the end decided to make it a separate thread.

So instead, here is a picture of the TP25 in full darkness with keyboard backlight on high, using the preloaded '25th Anniversary' desktop theme. I think it looks pretty cool, except the offset 'B' on the keyboard is a potential OCD trigger. :D

Image
Current: Thinkpad 25 (20K7), Yoga 14 (20FY), X220 4291-4BG, T410 2537-R46, T60 2007-QPG, T42 2373-F7G
Collectibles: T430s (IPS FHD + Classic Keyboard), X32 (IPS Screen)
Retired: X61 7673-V2V, T60 1952-F76, A31p w/ Ultrabay Numpad

gofishus
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Re: Thinkpad 25 First Impressions (PICS)

#2 Post by gofishus » Tue Jan 02, 2018 2:14 pm

Thanks for the great review. Yeah I agree a lot of negative comments about this laptop are about the price, or not being retro enough but if we look at it as a modern day laptop instead of a 'retro' one, I think we can appreciate it a bit better. It is strictly superior to the T470 and almost any other laptop of its size on the market. I think you can find cheaper laptops, or laptops with better CPUs or GPUs but the TP25 combination of keyboard + ports + traditional thinkpad versatility can't be beat.
2017 TP25 | 2016 X1 Yoga | 2014 X240 | 2007 X61

dr_st
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Re: Thinkpad 25 First Impressions (PICS)

#3 Post by dr_st » Sun Jan 07, 2018 1:32 pm

After using it for a couple more weeks there are two minor negative points I want to bring up. They are not specific to TP25, but are present also on T470/T470p/T470s/T570.
  • The power/sleep indicator LED embedded in the red "i" dot on the outside lid - it's good that it's there but it's not good enough. In dark environments it's very obvious, in somewhat bright light conditions it can be hard to tell if it's on or off - because the color is the same red color of the dot, just brighter. The moon/battery indicators on old Thinkpads were better in that sense. The power button indicator (lit/pulsing) also works well, but only when the lid is open.
  • When the laptop is docked into one of the mechanical docks, the rear USB port on the left side is blocked. It does not sound like a big issue, since there are two more on the right side, and several on the back of the dock, and TP25/T470/T570 also have a USB-C port. However, it is the only USB-A port on the left side, so if you keep the dock on the right side of your desk, and it happens to be next to a wall, then you lose the option to plug a small USB device conveniently. Unfortunately, at my work, this is exactly how the dock is set up. This annoyed me enough to get a small USB hub. In the future I am considering getting a monitor that has its own USB hub, so I can plug the device there instead, and then it won't be a problem.
Current: Thinkpad 25 (20K7), Yoga 14 (20FY), X220 4291-4BG, T410 2537-R46, T60 2007-QPG, T42 2373-F7G
Collectibles: T430s (IPS FHD + Classic Keyboard), X32 (IPS Screen)
Retired: X61 7673-V2V, T60 1952-F76, A31p w/ Ultrabay Numpad

w0qj
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Re: Thinkpad 25 First Impressions (PICS)

#4 Post by w0qj » Mon Jan 08, 2018 1:13 am

Well, think on the bright side!

Understand that you have replaced your T410 with your ThinkPad 25.

We are still using our T410, and it was a major pain to do massive Gigabytes of data backup via USB 2.0 slow connection.
It was painful.
(Went away for a few hours for USB 2.0 backup, then came back to it.
Wouldn't be bothered to set up our eSATA connection with external AC Adapter and lots of cables).

At least your ThinkPad 25 have USB 3 and USB-C faster connections for backup purposes!
Daily Driver: X1 Carbon 4th Gen (X1C4): i7-6600U 2.6GHz; 16GB DDR3 1866 MHz; 1TB PCIe-NVMe SSD; 14" WQHD 2560x1440; LTE EM7455 Mobile Broadband; Win7 Pro 64bit
Current Thinkpads: X1C4 | X1C3 | X250 | X230 | T410
Retired Thinkpads: T42 | 560 (circa 1996)
~~IBM Thinkpad era computer bag !

dr_st
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Re: Thinkpad 25 First Impressions (PICS)

#5 Post by dr_st » Mon Jan 08, 2018 3:16 am

Absolutely. These are not deal breakers by any means. :)

I don't frequently find myself backing up or transferring large volumes of data from my work laptop to an external drive. There is an incremental backup to the network. However, I did equip the T410 with a USB 3.0 Expresscard; even limited by the PCIe Gen1 and the performance of the controller itself, it was still much better than using the onboard USB 2.0, the couple of times when I needed it.
Current: Thinkpad 25 (20K7), Yoga 14 (20FY), X220 4291-4BG, T410 2537-R46, T60 2007-QPG, T42 2373-F7G
Collectibles: T430s (IPS FHD + Classic Keyboard), X32 (IPS Screen)
Retired: X61 7673-V2V, T60 1952-F76, A31p w/ Ultrabay Numpad

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Re: Thinkpad 25 First Impressions (PICS)

#6 Post by chx1975 » Sun Jan 14, 2018 5:21 pm

Very nice review. My first impression: you need to change the TrackPoint speed! Gosh, I was so disappointed at first at the sluggish TrackPoint of my new, expensive, probably-will-spend-a-decade-with-it laptop but it turns out that was just because I kept Windows 10 and the initial speed is terrible. Go to Mouse in Control Panel and crank it up to Fast or one notch down from Fast. The keyboard is nice, the middle button of the TrackPoint is differently angled compared to the T420 but your fingers still can find it very easily.

I am happy, I even tested a Xiaomi USB C to DisplayPort (and two USB ports) dongle and it worked -- once the monitor was plugged in. Don't let the scary Windows message make you think it's not working. It does; but apparently it doesn't switch USB C into DP Alternative Mode until a DP monitor is actually plugged so Windows is complaining about the strange state the device is in.

I would be happier if the ThinkLight survived but oh well. I will live.

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Re: Thinkpad 25 First Impressions (PICS)

#7 Post by TPFanatic » Sun Jan 14, 2018 6:11 pm

w0qj wrote:
Mon Jan 08, 2018 1:13 am
Well, think on the bright side!

Understand that you have replaced your T410 with your ThinkPad 25.

We are still using our T410, and it was a major pain to do massive Gigabytes of data backup via USB 2.0 slow connection.
It was painful.
(Went away for a few hours for USB 2.0 backup, then came back to it.
Wouldn't be bothered to set up our eSATA connection with external AC Adapter and lots of cables).

At least your ThinkPad 25 have USB 3 and USB-C faster connections for backup purposes!
Are you backup drives 2.5" or 3.5"?

If 2.5" you can use something like https://www.ebay.com/itm/2-5-Inch-Hard- ... 2749.l2649 with the T410.

I have not yet tested if plugging the USB into the Yellow Powered USB is enough power for 3.5".
lenovo T61 T7500, SXGA+, 8GB
lenovo T410s i5 520m, WXGA+, 4GB
lenovo T430 i5 3320m, FHD, 8GB
lenovo T500 P9700, WUXGA, 8GB
lenovo T520 i7 2760QM, FHD, 8GB



Enable 2 finger scroll on any Synaptics touchpads with registry: http://forum.thinkpads.com/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=122612

dr_st
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Re: Thinkpad 25 First Impressions (PICS)

#8 Post by dr_st » Mon Jan 15, 2018 3:49 am

TPFanatic wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 6:11 pm
I have not yet tested if plugging the USB into the Yellow Powered USB is enough power for 3.5".
My understanding is that all 3.5" drives need 12V in addition to 5V. USB type A connectors (2.0 or 3.0, doesn't matter) never provide 12V, so it would not work, regardless of amperage. A USB type C port can provide 12V (and also 5V, and 20V), but I am not sure of all the possible combinations.
Current: Thinkpad 25 (20K7), Yoga 14 (20FY), X220 4291-4BG, T410 2537-R46, T60 2007-QPG, T42 2373-F7G
Collectibles: T430s (IPS FHD + Classic Keyboard), X32 (IPS Screen)
Retired: X61 7673-V2V, T60 1952-F76, A31p w/ Ultrabay Numpad

w0qj
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Re: Thinkpad 25 First Impressions (PICS)

#9 Post by w0qj » Mon Jan 15, 2018 8:52 am

Yes, we exclusively use 2.5" HDD for backup, and that is very useful, thank you!!

A Y-cable for additional USB power input to power up the eSATA connection, ingenious ;)
TPFanatic wrote:
Sun Jan 14, 2018 6:11 pm
Are you backup drives 2.5" or 3.5"?

If 2.5" you can use something like www.ebay.com/itm/2-5-Inch-Hard-Disk-Dri ... 2749.l2649 with the T410.

I have not yet tested if plugging the USB into the Yellow Powered USB is enough power for 3.5".
Daily Driver: X1 Carbon 4th Gen (X1C4): i7-6600U 2.6GHz; 16GB DDR3 1866 MHz; 1TB PCIe-NVMe SSD; 14" WQHD 2560x1440; LTE EM7455 Mobile Broadband; Win7 Pro 64bit
Current Thinkpads: X1C4 | X1C3 | X250 | X230 | T410
Retired Thinkpads: T42 | 560 (circa 1996)
~~IBM Thinkpad era computer bag !

dr_st
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Re: Thinkpad 25 First Impressions (PICS)

#10 Post by dr_st » Tue Jan 16, 2018 4:30 am

dr_st wrote:
Fri Dec 22, 2017 11:56 am
Fn+F12 - custom action (can be configured through keyboard manager).

It seems there is no option to set Fn+F12 to hibernate, at least not easily, but since it can launch custom apps, maybe I can set up an app to trigger hibernation, then use that. I'll think about it later.
An update: setting Fn+F12 to hibernate turned out to be very trivial. A simple batch file to run shutdown /h (not even necessary to run it as administrator), then assigning the custom Fn+F12 action to open that batch file via the keyboard manager (Fn+F11).
Current: Thinkpad 25 (20K7), Yoga 14 (20FY), X220 4291-4BG, T410 2537-R46, T60 2007-QPG, T42 2373-F7G
Collectibles: T430s (IPS FHD + Classic Keyboard), X32 (IPS Screen)
Retired: X61 7673-V2V, T60 1952-F76, A31p w/ Ultrabay Numpad

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