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Just two keys over from the space bar—to the right of the R ALT button—you'll find a key on the S431 Touch that most 13- and 14-inch laptops lack entirely: a dedicated Print Screen button. It's a small thing, but this simple design feature embodies the focused, productivity-oriented bent that makes us appreciate the S431 Touch. (For many people—TechRadar writers and editors included—Windows screen captures are a daily component of life.)
In fact, the best thing we can say about this laptop is that it is a well-thought out system with clear, focused intent around personal productivity and business use.
There is a lot to like here because ultimately, the ThinkPad S431 Touch gets a lot of things—big and small—right. First and foremost, we like the price, and the relatively high level of performance (both synthetic and day-to-day) it provides in tandem with Windows 8.
Second, we like the way this ThinkPad looks, and how slim a profile it possesses. Thin laptops packing this much power greatly please us. 14-inch screens packed into 13-inch laptop chasses also make us smile.
Most importantly, we love the way the S431 feels. Working on it for long stretches of time is no problem at all, thanks to the sturdy, comfortable keyboard and the ultra-reliable clickpad, which we continue to marvel at. We also appreciate the presence of the old-school red thumbstick—we imagine that a number of ThinkPad devotees will never want to see it disappear. This extends to the touch screen.
Also likeable: the relatively low amount of bloatware pre-installed on the system. It's nice to not be constantly prompted to purchase, install, or register numerous pieces of unwanted software upon set-up.
Finally, it's a peripheral that costs $120 extra, but we like the OneLink Dock, which provides a nice, single plug-in solution for desktop use. The OneLink connector is the real star here—we witnessed no degradation of video or overall performance while docking the S431.
Our biggest beef with the S431 is the display. In our minds, a $900 laptop—particularly one for business and productivity—should offer better clarity at indirect viewing angles. It's not bad enough to be a deal-breaker here, but it is immediately noticeable. The only saving grace here is that the way most people use their laptops means that this will rarely be a major source of frustration.
Aside from this, the only other major beef we have is the battery life. At 5 hours of normal operating, it just barely meets the ultrabook threshold, and falls short of the cross-country flight test. (Although you could argue that between the 20-minute delays for takeoff and landing, it does actually make the grade.) Yes, we know we're being greedy here.
While the keyboard peccadilloes—specifically, the awkward, error-inducing placement of the FN key and the frequent mis-strikes we encountered due to the reduced size of the cursor controls and their proximity to the Page Down keys—were annoying, these will be minor concerns for most people, and we found ourselves adapting over time.
Finally, while we love the OneLink Dock, we dislike that it costs over 10% of the total price of this system. This effectively turns a $939 laptop into a $1,050 system.
Ultimately, verdict-izing a mid-range laptop or ultrabook boils down to two simple questions: Would we use such a system in our day to day life, and/or would we recommend it to friends and family?
After spending 10 days toting this system with us to meetings, on planes, and in our home office, the answer is a slightly qualified yes. At this price point and in this configuration, the S431 Touch is certainly a winner. It is comfortable to type and work on, with reliable mouse controls and snappy performance. And it has very few of the kinds of recurring annoyances that so many other PC laptops (at all price levels) possess.
Furthermore, the S431's heavy-duty chassis and OneLink Dock would make this an ideal higher-end laptop for students—who tend to be rough on their stuff—as well. (In this case, the inability to play games would actually be a bonus.)
The only real negatives are the sub-par screen and battery life. Neither will be a deal-breaker, however, for people who mostly use their laptops in their office plugged into a dock, display, or power socket.
This said, if the S431 Touch had an even average screen and offered 50% more battery life, it might literally be the perfect laptop. At $949, it's hard to complain too vociferously about such things, however.