New Lenovo ThinkPad laptops will ditch the classic keyboard

The traditional ThinkPad keyboard earned its reputation as being best for typing accuracy. Now a new contender is taking its place.

ThinkPads have long set the gold standard for laptop keyboards, but recent Lenovo laptop models and leaked photos of upcoming ThinkPads indicate the legendary, classic ThinkPad keyboards are being replaced with a more trendy chicklet-style design.

The traditional ThinkPad keyboard earned its reputation as being best for typing accuracy and comfort. For many a business user spending hours typing on their laptops, the renowned keyboard is one of the ThinkPad line’s main selling points.

For the next generation of ThinkPad laptops, however, Lenovo appears to be replacing the classic keyboards with AccuType keyboards featuring chicklet or island-style keys.

Lenovo describes the new style of keyboard this way: "An AccuType keyboard features a modern look and feel. Its flatter keys with a slight inward slope create a comfortable crevice for your fingertips; this design allows a more fluid, spacious and comfortable typing experience when compared to standard keyset designs." Many of the company's laptops already use the AccuType keyboard.

A photo of the upcoming ThinkPad X230 posted on the Lenovo forums plainly shows an AccuType keyboard being used instead of the tradition one. Lenovo is also putting AccuType on the mobile workstation ThinkPad W530, as this picture--spotted on Lenovo’s site by blogger Keith Combs--shows.

Up until now, Lenovo has used the AccuType keyboard for its consumer-focused IdeaPad line and the ThinkPad Edge series (the flashier and more affordable business laptop), although we also saw a break from the traditional keyboard last year when Lenovo introduced its Ultrabook, the ThinkPad X1.

Lenovo Fan Reaction

The design change is causing some dismay among ThinkPad keyboard fans. Many people aren’t fans of chicklet keyboards, since the shallower keys don’t give a typist as much feedback and are typically flat (not very typing-friendly).

On the ThinkPad Edge 420 product page, Lenovo reveals one reason for the redesigned keyboards: A fresh makeover. The keyboards supposedly retain the traditional feel of the original keyboard but now have a “clean, contemporary, inviting look.”

But it’s not all about looks either, because surely Lenovo knew it would be playing with fire by changing the characteristic keyboard on the higher-end ThinkPad laptops. On the Lenovo Design Blog, David Hill, Lenovo vice president of corporate ID and design, calls the ThinkPad X1’s keyboard “the ultimate keyboard.”

While moving from 7 rows of keys to 6 rows and using a 2.0mm stroke instead of 2.5mm might seem like a step backwards, the keyboard is designed to feel identical to the original. The new keys are ergonomically contoured (with a “smile”) to reduce typing errors. At a press event for the ThinkPad X1, Hill explained to me that the new keyboard was based on months of detailed user testing--each keystroke measured and constant feedback gathered from even the most devout ThinkPad users.

In my brief hands-on with the X1, I found the keys extremely comfortable and easy to type on--much more so than typical flat chiclet keys like the kind found on the Apple keyboard. PCWorld Senior Editor Jason Cross similarly found the keyboard a joy use when he tested the ThinkPad X1.

So, is it the end of an era--or perhaps a good step in the evolution of the ThinkPad? ThinkPad lovers, please let us know.

Follow Melanie Pinola (@melaniepinola) and Today@PCWorld on Twitter

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