ThinkPad Design: Classic or Classless?

ThinkPad X300I’m going to spell out my personal biases right up front. I love the look and feel of ThinkPads and have for years. I love the sleek black chassis, accented by just a dot of color here and there on the blue enter key or the bright red TrackPoint. I have to admit I was really excited this morning when I was the first person at LAPTOP to lift the new ThinkPad X300 out of its box, touch its thin black shell, and revel in the sheer thinness of its design. I had no idea how it would perform, but I liked what I saw. I liked it so much that I actually drooled a little. Good thing none of my coworkers were there to see me and that my thick beard absorbed the spittle before it could fall on my shirt. True, the basic color scheme and shape of a ThinkPad is the same now as it was in its launch year of 1993, but why mess with a great thing? I think of ThinkPad as the Rolls Royce of laptop design, elegant and timeless. So today, I was surprised when I saw how many users say the ThinkPad design’s time has come and gone. Just look at some of these negative comments. From our video hands-on with the X300, user Ben says:

Hey Lenovo, the 80’s called and they want their laptop back! Colour, shape, form, semantics and aesthetics. It seems Lenovo hasn’t thought about any of those aspects and made what in my opinion is possibly the ugliest laptop EVER!

ThinkPad 760 (circa 1997) - Image Courtesy of Wikimedia CommonsUser Glenn says:

You have got to be kidding me. That thing looks so cheap looking!

Meanwhile, a user who viewed our video on YouTube commented:

That thing is ugly. It looks like a thinkpad or whatever 1990′s laptop where called

So who’s right? Is ThinkPad the Rolls Royce or the Chevy Nova of notebooks? Tell it to me straight in the poll and comments sections below. I can take it. I’m the same person who listens to Kenny G., wears Velcro sneakers, and waits impatiently for thin ties to make a comeback. So I know I don’t always have the best taste, but I’m pretty sure I’m on solid ground in saying the ThinkPad design is a timeless classic.

AUTHOR BIO
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. poisoneye Says:

    It’s the blue Enter key that really gets me. Sticks out like a sore thumb, and it’s not like I need help finding the Enter key on any keyboard. Make it black and you’re halfway to a nice looking laptop.

  2. Ed F Says:

    Interesting that you compare ThinkPad to Rolls Royce. Famous car brands know that certain design elements form their brand identity. They keep those elements over the years but each car generation needs to evolve from the previous. For RR, the current Phantom is instantly recognisable as a RR, but you take just one look at it and know it’s a brand new car. The ThinkPad X300 is 100% recycled in terms of aesthetics and makes no effort to try to tell you that it’s a 2008 IT product.

  3. Jon Gl Says:

    The problem, as I see it, is that this look has been so consistent, that they almost _have_ to stick with it. It’s their brand identity. Unfortunately, it’s too “sharp” for me. I prefer something more graceful and rounded–and less “busy.” I’m quite satisfied with my aging Pismo, but _really_ likethe look of the new Air. BTW, Apple really pulled off an optical illusion with the Air. By tapering it to the edges like they did, the book looks even thinnger than it really is. The Lenovo, by being boxy from edge to edge, looks fatter than it really is. But that is part and parcel of the “Thinkbook” brand.

    -Jon

  4. Sam Says:

    It could be “rounded off” a little come to think of it. Funny though, no comment about function, reliability or ease of use. Just having the “little red nipple” will keep me with Lenovo.

  5. Todd Haselton Says:

    The ThinkPad design will always be in style, like a fresh pair of reebok pumps

  6. d.ross Says:

    Jon GI nailed it. The ThinkPad design–in fact, all Windows notebooks, in my opinion–suffer from busy, clunky design. That lip around the bezels? Yuck.

    Maybe Lenovo is satisfied with recycled aesthetics, but I’d rather see notebook design pushed in new and exciting directions. Good thing we’ve got Apple to move things forward.

  7. Mauvezin Says:

    The TP is the notebook as the Colt 45 is the pistol
    It’s out of fashion coz it’s useful

  8. Chris Hoffman Says:

    In my opinion, ThinkPads are the best notebook’s out there. Thin, light, exceptional keyboards, feature-rich for productivity use, and has a TrackPoint that few do, which I prefer.

  9. Chris Hoffman Says:

    PS – I meant to add that the ThnkPad is built for actual usage, whereas so many today are built for toys and/or flash. You can get real work done on a ThinkPad, especially due to its excellent keyboard design.

  10. fsckr Says:

    The Thinkpad is the Darth Vader of the laptop world. Cold, ruthless and ready for galactic domination… It doesn’t go around asking: “Does this make me look fat?” (and neither should its owners)

  11. Jon Says:

    i love the look of the lenovo notebooks because they are like “sleeper” cars, they look plain and kinda boring, but they are really powerful and slip under the radar of potential thieves

  12. Roy C. Says:

    People who think the design of MacBooks is superior to ThinkPads mistake “cool” for “elegant”. Which is, really, their own problem and no one’s else. I couldn’t care less.

    (Written on an Eee PC, which is neither cool nor elegant, but rather gets the job done, much like a pair of parachute pants.)

  13. Mike Says:

    I love the design and look of the ThinkPad and have had one since they came out. As much as I would like to have the x300 to make travel easier, I can’t justify the price difference between the x300 and the Eee PC which meets all of my on the road computing needs.

  14. iñigo Says:

    well, i am going to be a switcher from PB Ti, PB Alu to Thinkpad (linux), most of the mac users and i have been for the last 5 years just make their complaints on the design, its enough for me. I am not going to spend 2000+ euros on a laptop that will break somehow (trackpad, dvd writer, hinge..) after two years.
    Apple have the best industrial designs when talking about computers, but i want something that last and dont let me down, and i think moving to thinkpad can be the right choice.
    However will wait for better processor and bigger HD cappacity.

    And as fsckr said, yes, its Darth Vader, i cant wait to wiredriving.., and its black!

  15. chris Says:

    the thinkpad design is timeless. It is reserved in appearance because it is a business laptop. Would you laugh when someone pulls out their pink Imac or flashy silver HP at a meeting. I would wonder if they are there for business or to make movies and play with photos. (Which kills me about the pc guy versus mac kid commercials–> you can make movies on your mac, but spread sheets, we’ll leave that to pcs) Its just like black town cars versus cabs. Its about class, people.

    Oh, and I am not a stodgy old guy either, 27 and 3rd year med. I have owned a T20 and now have t60.

  16. iDave Says:

    If a ThinkPad reminds you of the Rolls Royce of laptop design, what does a MacBook Air remind you of?

  17. RV Says:

    Lenovo laptop design is the best! There is nothing wrong with form following function. I’ve been slipping mine in and out of my rucksack, carrying it on commercial airlines and military fixed and helo doing survey fieldwork in Iraq and it is a very tough case. My company now thinks that I need a Toughbook because of the rough handling that my Thinkpad gets. Now if you want butt ugly case cast your peepers on a Toughbook. It is as ugly as it is impractical, which come to think of it describes a HummVee. I also own a Gateway which that’s about three years old and it has a plastic case that is very fragile in comparison.

    Case design needs to work, and Lenovo’s does and that makes it beautiful.

  18. Elliot Says:

    Classy, and timeless, but a bit too busy.

  19. JanErik Says:

    It is a tool, it doesn’t need KelloKitty-ness. It’s not like I would choose my angle grinder or chainsaw based on the color or design.

  20. Erick Says:

    Thinkpad is another masterpiece of design, their timeless design ,classical appereance,..
    you can said you have thinkpad, not laptop

  21. Brian Says:

    YOU LISTEN TO KENNY G!?

    Kidding aside, I don’t think they’re particularly attractive, but they look goddamn functional, which is really what they’re built to be.

    They can be attractive, but I think it is perhaps in the same way that a nicely tailored business suit is attractive: they seem capable, confident and in control, without being ostentatious and with little chance of being offensive. They are conservative, and in my mind have always seemed that way.

  22. Tee Says:

    Thank goodness I have a choice. I want a thoughtfully designed tool to work with and rely on. I don’t want bling, or silver plastic that wears badly, or light-up logos, or a crutch for my self esteem. I want to focus on getting things done, not making a fashion statement. I want something that lasts. I want international support. The ThinkPad is all this.

  23. Zeta Says:

    Right, Thinkpad, (especially T & X) is timeless design and built. You either love it, or hate it. Me; I’ve used T30, T43, T61, and now using T410. Glorious time.

  24. Hamish Says:

    Uuuuggh I can’t believe so many people love this design… It is ugly to me in every way, there is literally nothing I can think of to say to praise it… It’s just sloppy, amateurish, clunky looking design.

    Someone mentioned the Toughbook before, I honest to god would take a Toughbook over this, because it’s look actually communicates its strength and ruggedness. The design of it really says this machine has been built to take a beating, and you shouldn’t be afraid to test just how strong it is.

    Whereas this Thinkpad almost looks like it should be strong enough to take a beating as well, because the lack of concern over aesthetics says to me that you need not be afraid of marking, scratching, damaging it…

    Anyway I know I’m in the minority here from the poll at the top, it just really shocks me! But to each their own.

  25. Nick Says:

    Hamish, we love it for what it is
    Count me in the love it group
    I have a apple laptop and ThinkPad, I prefer the ThinkPad design over the apple
    why? for starters, it’s minimalism in it’s truest form, because it does not have a apple logo that glows up when you use it, or say toshiba in all caps in bold
    it does not have a design on it like the toshiba and dell laptops I see all the time, it just makes me cringe,uuugh
    i do not like colors like silver and pink, and blue, which is another thing that bothers me using a ThinkPad as my windows laptop, my ThinkPad is black
    the logo does not glow when you use it
    you can say you have a real laptop, i know other laptops are real too, but ThinkPads are true laptops in my opinion
    The design is so standard, you know it’s a ThinkPad

  26. Brandon Says:

    Thinkpad design was classic! Up until the X200 when they still had blue enter keys and the option to not have a trackpad!

    Thinkpad was originally a Japanese bento-box design. It was clean, MINIMALIST, with each design element serving a PURPOSE. It followed the artistic design principle of “Form Follows Function,” which you can Wikipedia if you want to read more into it.

    Just an example: the red trackpoint. Takes about an hour to get used to if you are coming from a trackpad, but it makes SO MUCH SENSE…you NEVER have to lift your fingers from the home row! Nor do you ever worry about accidently “bumping” the trackpad and losing your space.

    Thinkpads were very easy to work on, well supported by both Windows and UNIX-like operating systems, and had by far the greatest keyboard of any laptop.

    Now they have changed everything. Lenovo is owned by the Chinese now who do not know style. They want to add everything to sell sell sell and gain market share. So they have very very low margins as they try to capture a majority market space and destroy the clean, timeless look of the Thinkpad. They do not understand the art behind the Thinkpad, nor do they care. Lenovo will just throw the name “Thinkpad” on any laptop these days because the name has traditionally been a top-seller. It is a shame.

    BTW, Apple is complete opposite of what Thinkpad used to be. They are trend setters, and the latest trend is “THIN” laptops. I think this is more like an eating disorder, the annorexia of computing design, as it yields poor heat dissipation and a fragile frame. The intended use is light and for aesthetic appeal, not serious computing. Look at the Mac forums at the number of MacBook Air users whose trackpad no longer registers clicks on one side (usually the right side) because the frame has bent from people resting their palms on it (I know this because it happened to my wife’s first MacBook Air). If you have a slightly used MacBook Air or a friend who has one, close the lid and see if the top is parallel with the bottom anymore…chances are its not because the frame has NO SUPPORT. God forbid you ever drop one of those…I’m sure the idiots at the “genius bar” will be happy to tell you it is irrevocably broken.

  27. Jason Says:

    Thinkpads are the bomb… straight up. I’ve never owned a desktop computer but have owned a few laptops. Had a Compaq Armada 1750, which was a tank, had speakers that rival most laptops today, and had a built in power adapter so all you had to do was plug in the power cord. That made it rather thick though.

    I also have a Dell Inspiron 6400 that I just retired from serious audio and visual post production (was slow but got the job done for about 7 years with zero issues). The Dell’s plastic filled attempt at a pseudo Mac style has a lot of flex, the silver paint is a bad idea, and the fit and finish are questionable but it still works and is currently being used as a media machine/PVR in my house… works awesome.

    NOW… enter the Lenovo W530. I have used many laptops outside my own and there are a lot of machines that I have to say were just a complete nuisance to use. Poor ergonomics, crappy materials, etc. Apple always seemed to beat them out build wise… every one of them except for Thinkpads. I think this design is timeless, strong, serious, and hey… you can actually service/upgrade your system. Good luck trying to open most of the modern Apple products if you have to.

    I find that Lenovo packs a lot of their useful software and user interface ideas into their machines. I enjoy being able to choose from an external mouse, or the Trackpad, or the Trackpoint depending on what kind of WORK I’m doing. I stress the word “work” because that’s what these machines are made to do. Yes they will play just as good as a Mac. Yes, I can browse the internet in a coffee shop wearing Ray Bans, a scarf, and skinny jeans too… I’ll just be the only one doing that on something other than a Mac.

    Anyway, with it’s micro Carbon Fiber based lid, Fiberglass reinforced plastic on the bottom, and magnesium alloy inner cage it definitely fits the bill for toughness. Also… it has a fingerprint reader for security and the machine invites scalability.

    Now I really get it… scalability and the ability to open your system for repair do not promote the planned obsolescence model of Apple. They would rather that you f*ck it, chuck it, and buy something new. Sounds great for the environment.

    Anyway… clean, functional, tough, and awesome… thanks Lenovo.

    Lenovo W530
    3.6GHz (Turbo) i7
    2x 250GB Solid State Drive
    32GB RAM
    NVIDIA K2000 2GB
    1920×1080

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