Lenovo ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Review: An Anniversary to Remember

Posted on November 14, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 9 Comments

Lenovo ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Review: An Anniversary to Remember

I define “hipster” as a millennial who is nostalgic for a past they never actually experienced. They collect Star Trek costumes, buy record players because they somehow sound “better” than other music players, and think that “Strangers Things” even remotely resembles the 1980’s. (It doesn’t.)

Well, hipsters are going to love the ThinkPad Anniversary Edition 25, a throwback laptop that tosses out some modern contrivances, both good and bad, for a retro peek at the computing yesteryear … of just a few years ago.

But here’s the thing. I love it too.

(And yes, I enjoy “Stranger Things,” though I view it more accurately as an homage to 1980’s movies, and not the real 1980’s. That’s a distinction that only real life experience—I actually grew up in the 1980’s—can provide.)

Design

The ThinkPad 25 Anniversary, as I’ll call it, is a throwback on a number of levels. Unlike more modern devices like the ThinkPad X1 Carbon and ThinkPad X1 Yoga, this is no Ultrabook, no thin and light wonder. Instead, the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary is based on the ThinkPad T470, which is a traditional, business class laptop.

It’s a good looking and familiar design. (I’ve reviewed several T-series ThinkPads over the years.) And the relative bulkiness of this device isn’t for effect: In addition to a more versatile port selection, which I’ll get to in a bit, this design buys you some other useful advantages, including a removable and replaceable second battery and a level of toughness and hardiness that thinner and lighter portable PCs simply can’t match.

While the build materials are modern—the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary features a durable, rubberized, and reinforced body—there are some nice retro touches, including the multi-color ThinkPad logo on the outside of the display lid and the wrist rest, a standalone, green-lit power button, a blue Enter key on the large retro keyboard (more on that bit later, too), and dedicated audio control buttons.

ThinkPad design is always a bit divisive in some circles: You either love this look or you don’t. I fall among those who love it, and I think the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary is a handsome and professional-looking laptop. I’d be happy to carry this 3.7-pound workhorse in my backpack.

Display

The display on the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary is nothing special, and is, perhaps, an example of retro not always being better: It’s a rather dull 14-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) multi-touch matte display that is a far cry from the high DPI, glossy, and vibrant, HDR-like displays we typically see on modern PCs.

Now, I generally prefer matte over glossy when it comes to productivity work, but this one just isn’t very bright. In my standard battery life test, for example, I set the display to 40 percent brightness, and this is the dimmest display I can recall seeing at that setting.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not terrible. But it is dimmer and less colorful than I’d like. And it’s worth pointing out that it’s surrounded by bezels that are, by today’s standard, somewhat massive.

Components and ports

Powered by a 7th-generation Intel Core i7-7500U processor and NVIDIA GeForce 940MX graphics, the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary offers throwback specs, of a sort, as well. That’s probably just an unfortunate matter of timing, but the day-to-day performance—this is a productivity PC, not a gaming rig—has been exemplary.

Performance is aided by some other decent components, including 16 GB of DDR4 RAM and 512 GB of speedy NVMe SSD storage. None of these are configurable, by the way: The ThinkPad 25 Anniversary is a special, limited edition product that comes in this single, high-end configurable.

On that note, noise and heat are about what you’d expect from a laptop, especially given the prominent exhaust port on the left side of the device. Which is to say that the fans can kick in from time-to-time. It’s noticeable, but not objectionable.

In a nice nod to the present, the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary does include a modern, touch-based fingerprint reader with Windows Hello support. This is my favorite way to sign-in, and the Lenovo unit is excellent, with fast performance.

That laptop form factor pays big dividends when it comes to ports and expandability. The list of ports reads like a wish list from the past, as it features three full-sized USB 3.0 ports, one USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port, an optional smart card reader, a full-sized HDMI port for video-out, a full-sized Ethernet port, and a 4-in-1 card reader. I can’t remember the last time I saw such a thing.

Unfortunately, Lenovo chose to go with the old-school ThinkPad-style OneLink power connector and cable instead of modern USB-C/Thunderbolt 3. (Though the available port can enable single cable wonderfulness, of course.)

Keyboard and pointing

One of the best things about the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary—indeed, this may be key a reason to invest in this PC—is its throwback keyboard, which returns the legendary ThinkPad keyboard layout and keys to their rightful place of honor. Compared to modern portable PCs, the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary keyboard may look a bit anachronistic—it is fully seven rows deep with some odd (to today) key placements and sizings, and has a quirky blue Enter key and dedicated volume buttons—but it is a delight.

It’s also a stark reminder that we’ve been perhaps too accepting of compromise in this area with more modern PC designs that are too thin to allow for this kind of key throw and feel. Gone are the flat or scalloped designs we see everywhere today. I wish every keyboard could be this good.

In another nod to the present, the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary keyboard is backlit, meaning that Lenovo did not fit this PC with its old-school ThinkLight, which literally beamed a light down onto the keyboard from above the display. That is probably for the best, though having that as an option might have been fun.

The touchpad, too, is decidedly modern, with separate physical buttons. And as on virtually all ThinkPads, it works in tandem with the TrackPoint nubbin, which is nestled between the G, H, and B keys right where it belongs. In one of many nice touches, Lenovo includes three TrackPoint caps so you can pick the one you like best.

Battery

The ThinkPad 25 Anniversary delivered about 9 hours of battery life in my standard HD video rundown test over Wi-Fi. That’s considerably better than 8:08 that the ThinkPad X1 Yoga (OLED) delivered a few months back or the 8:14 I saw with the 2017 ThinkPad X1 Carbon earlier this year. But another high-end laptop, the Surface Book with Performance Base, provided 11:30 on the same test.

ThinkPad X1 Carbon (top), X1 Yoga (middle), and 25th Anniversary.

If battery life is important to you, you can improve matters by buying an additional one. Unlike virtually all modern portable PCs, the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary provides two batteries, and one of them is removable. Larger batteries are available too, for true all-day battery life.

Software

As I’ve noted in the past, Lenovo has finally bought into Microsoft’s vision for Signature PC, and the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary ships with a clean Windows 10 Pro image that is utterly bereft of crapware. And Lenovo literally just ships two additional software applications—Lenovo Companion and Lenovo Settings—both of which are both excellent and necessary.

This configuration isn’t just preferable, it’s best-in-class. I hope other PC makers take note.

Pricing and configurations

The ThinkPad 25 Anniversary is available in exactly one configuration, which is of course represented by the review unit. The price is $1899, which is justified by the high-end components, but it will put the device out of the reach of many.

Recommendations and conclusions

That the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary holds up so well today is a testament to the timeless nature of this design. The keyboard is first-rate, the expansion is second-to-none, and Lenovo’s clean software image is a wonder to behold. The appeal of this device goes far beyond the obvious nostalgia element, which is both real and deserved. If it were a bit less expensive, I’d consider buying one for myself: This one is a keeper, and it will provide many years of service, I bet.

The ThinkPad 25 Anniversary is highly recommended.

At-a-glance

Pros

  • Delightful retro design
  • The best keyboard on any portable PC
  • Tons of expansion options
  • Clean software image
  • Decent battery life

Cons

  • Dim matte display
  • A bit bulky and heavy
  • Expensive

 

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