In Embracing the Future, ThinkPad (Re)Asserts Its Leadership

Posted on December 28, 2016 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Windows 10 with 22 Comments

In Embracing the Future, ThinkPad (Re)Asserts Its Leadership

Great news, ThinkPad fans: Your favorite laptops and portable PCs are about to get even better.

Well, not your ThinkPads. Instead, Lenovo has made three strategic decisions that will impact the future of this vaunted line of PCs in a very positive way. And those decisions nicely level a playing field that has been upset by HP, whose own premium PC lines now rival ThinkPad.

So, what have they done?

First, Lenovo has embraced Microsoft’s Signature PC program and will sell its own crapware-free PCs directly to customers. This makes more sense than you may realize, and while ThinkPad already offers something akin a Signature PC experience, it’s important to know that Lenovo has been onboard with Microsoft’s Clean PC efforts since the “Velocity” program for Windows 7. In other words, these guys have been partnering on Clean PC for about a decade already.

(But only on ThinkPad. As you may recall, Lenovo’s consumer PC products were once renowned for being crapware receptacles, a situation that was finally reversed in the wake of the Superfish debacle.)

Second, Lenovo is dropping its excellent but proprietary one-cable docking solution, called OneLink+, for … wait for it … USB-C/Thunderbolt 3. As I’ve written previously, this technology is the future, and Lenovo’s embrace of it is both pragmatic and smart. And it’s doing so everywhere, not just on its PCs, but also on its docks and displays. One cable to rule them all indeed.

Finally, Lenovo is also adopting Microsoft’s Precision Touchpad standard, which I’ve called on HP and all PC makers to implement. This is the ideal way to control this type of pointing device in Windows 10, and it’s only going to get better in the next major update to this OS. (My understanding is that Precision Touchpad support will one day become a requirement for the “Designed for Windows” logo, so Lenovo is moving quickly on this one.)

Looking back on 2016, Lenovo was neck-and-neck with HP for the title of best PC maker in my book—I’ve not published this yet, but I’ve awarded the two a tie—so these developments are very interesting. HP already offers Signature PC-like experiences on its premium PCs, but then so did ThinkPad. HP already adopted USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, so that, too, is a tie.

But now that Lenovo is embracing Precision Touchpad, things are starting to shift. ThinkPads already offer excellent—some might argue “superior” or “basically perfect”—typing and pointing experiences, and this really helps. That ThinkPads use lighter carbon fiber and hybrid alloy materials than HP’s aluminum designs could really put things over the top for many.

Point being, ThinkPad is fighting back, baby. It’s nice to see. And we’ll see a lot more at CES 2017 next week, when Lenovo formally unveils its new devices. Brad and I will both be there.


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Comments (22)

22 responses to “In Embracing the Future, ThinkPad (Re)Asserts Its Leadership”

  1. 9562

    I wish MS would apply the "Clean PC" efforts to cleaning the crapware and spyware out of Windows 10.

  2. 5510

    This will certainly be interesting. HP has been creating some very elegant machines that are not only pleasing to the eye, but inspire "success." As Microsoft looks to continue their mimic of Apple with it's silver machine-like appeal, I hope Lenovo follows the same course HP has been taking.

    Computers have evolved from the workstation desktop. They are now personal accessories, even if the computer is a desktop. They need to evolve, not just with tech, but with style as well. When i talk about computers, I also mean Chromebooks, Android, and even Macs, that's because we all that whether it's HP, Lenovo, Samsung, etc.... they'll make any kind of computer for anybody.

  3. 180

    I keep reading this "Thinkpads are already mostly crapware free," but that's not my experience. ReachIt, SendIt, Lenovo Message Center, 2 different update softwares, McAfee, and usually some other garbage, shipping Signature is going to be a significant shift I think, and a positive one.

  4. 2394

    I'm not as high on the keyboard as when I first got my t450s ThinkPad. The Fn key (which I have discovered is aptly labeled for the amount of frustration it causes) is outside the left Ctrl key on the keyboard, which is annoying non-stop when trying to code in Visual Studio, for example. My next will be not-Lenovo.

  5. 5072

    The update to USB-C and Thunderbolt is encouraging. Perhaps they'll also adopt industry standard malware instead of their home grown variety?

  6. 217

    I owned a Thinkpad Yoga, the very first one made. It was great, my next laptop will definitely be a Lenovo - great hardware, great performance, and very Linux friendly (IF I decided to go that route) ;-)

  7. 316

    I'd initially been an enthusiastic ThinkPad user but lately have become a rather begrudging one, sticking around mainly because of the TrackPoint.

    If they hadn't reversed their earlier decisions on the touch strip and the integrated trackpad buttons, I would have abandoned them (I got stuck with one of the integrated trackpad button models at work and the TrackPoint experience is so far degraded by this change that I stopped using it on that device and switched to an external mouse).

    These changes get me very interested again, if they carry forward to the X1 Carbon/Yoga.

    It all points in the direction of "we want to make the best Windows device possible".

  8. 4482

    I chose a Lenovo ThinkPad x260 this fall when I realized I have treated my ancient work-provided x220 like a rental car, and it still runs fine.  Could there be crapware Defender and NOD32 are not detecting?  Sure.

    But I'm happy with this machine. They keyboard and screen are good, and the huge removable battery is a great plus.

  9. 1377

    I just can't share the opinion about HP laptops. I suppose I'm too old to change, but I make lots of use of cursor keys, and HP's arrangement is, for me, the absolute worst of all the major OEMs.

    As for Lenovo, I bought one of their laptops for my son a few years ago for college, and in less than a year it needed its battery replaced. Since that laptop's base was glued together, it needed 2 weeks to ship to Texas, have then pry it open, replace the battery, glue it back together, and ship it back. At least it was under warranty.

    Gimme Dells.

  10. 820

    Paul.  Many in the IT industry feel that Lenovo has burned bridges so badly with lies and crap ware tahr they have shown they simply can't be trusted ever again.  They put profits over customer privacy, then lies about it for weeks and months. Finally after taking incredible heat in the media, sadly not enough here if you ask me, they released a fix that removed supetfish, etc.

    I have sworn off buying Lenovo stuff pretty much forever more, to save my company and those that ask my opinion.

    Sadly people seem willing to just forget about the incredible public trust they broken and continue just tossing their money at them.

  11. 5234

    "a situation that was finally reversed in the wake of the Superfish debacle"

    Sorry, but you're just plain wrong on this.  Lenovo was found at least THREE MORE TIMES IN THE SAME YEAR to have included insecure or otherwise spy-worthy software on PC's, including on Think machines.


    Edit: make it FOUR more times.  Here are the culprits from 2015: Superfish, Lenovo Service Engine, Lenovo Customer Feedback Program, ShareIT, Lenovo Solution Center.

  12. 5530

    ThinkPads for life!!!!

    • 5234

      In reply to FalseAgent:

      See my comment in the Premium Comments section.  The last 2 were on ThinkPads.


      Here's another viewpoint:

  13. 790

    Glad to see Lenovo finally woke up and is bringing the ThinkPad lineup up to date as my X201 is getting long in the tooth.  Been waiting for USB 3.1 and Type-C and not thrilled that it took 2+ years for Lenovo  to get around to USB 3.1 and Type-C.

    Since my last HP product suffered defenestration due to complete and total lack of support, there won't be one of those in the house, ever.

  14. 1442

    I bought my Yoga X1 at a Microsoft store, and have had a continuously better experience on it than on my SP3-4s that I have been using while my Achilles tendon knits from surgery (you don't carry anything around with you bigger than a phone, even in the house). I have serious questions as to if we will buy Surface again, there just have been too many hits from MS.

  15. 9985

    Having owned the ThinkPad since the original 720c, 701 (with the butterfly keyboard) 755, 765, T40, T42, T400, W510, E520, I have had nothing but positive experiences. Yeah they lost their way a little bit in the name of expressing value with the experience software silliness, but they are recovering quite well and hungry for new opportunities. I work with HP's, Dell's, Acer's, Toshiba's, No Name OEM's, all the time. 

    No one can beat the typematics of the Lenovo keyboards.  The ThinkPads also hold up over time.  Not the other Lenovo stuff, I mean the core T and W Series stuff. I purchase lots of ThinkPad refurbs, some that have been treated really bad, and I am surprised how long they last.  Recently a 10 year old Pentium M T40 finally died due to a planar malfunction. The keyboard, screen and accessories were working perfectly. Only the battery had been replaced at 5 years and it was running Linux.

    Everyone's experience varies, but mine have been wholly positive.