The Great Lenovo ThinkPad X230 Keyboard Debate

Lenovo’s new ThinkPad X230 keyboard is creating quite a stir. For the first time, the 12″ ultraportable X200 series is ditching its classic ThinkPad keyboard in favor of a more modern island-style keyboard. So what’s the big deal?

Traditional ThinkPad keyboards, such as the one found on the ThinkPad X220, are the gold standard in the notebook industry. Many users swear by these keyboards and simply refuse to type on anything else.  The tactile feedback is great, the scalloped keys feel nice and the keystroke is just right. The keyboard’s layout is also applauded by traditionalists who want easy access to every key they’ve ever struck since the dawn of the computer age.


Here’s the keyboard on the ThinkPad X220. Note the cluster of keys in the top-right, including a large dedicated delete, home, end, page up and page down key. To the left of the delete key are a set of four rarely used keys (at least for most users. The top left of the keyboard features an impossible to miss escape key.

The traditional ThinkPad keyboard may look dated, but people still love it.

Here is a photo of the new style keyboard  on the ThinkPad X230 that Lenovo sent over for review. As you can see, it’s a pretty drastic change. Other ThinkPads, such as the ThinkPad Carbon X1 ship with the same keyboard and layout. Note the keys no longer touch each other and the single row of function keys.

The change is angering many ThinkPad fans, including some that posted on Lenovo’s blog when it introduced the X1 Carbon. One commenter wrote that there was “…no discernibly “ThinkPad” feature other than the red trackpoint nub- because I’m not seeing a blue enter key.” If ThinkPad users are angry about the color of the enter key, you can only imagine the choice words they had about the keyboard layout and how the keyboard feels.

Keyboards are perhaps the most personal part of any PC. People can get a little too attached to their keyboards though. As someone that’s used dozens of notebooks over the years, I know that change is okay. A new keyboard takes some getting used to, but users can and do adapt within days.

The new ThinkPad X230 keyboard isn’t just any old island-style keyboard. It feels great and it has more travel than you’d expect. The keys spring back up, providing a liveliness that’s missing from many notebook keyboards. It may not be the ThinkPad keyboard you’ve used for the past 10 years, but it is decidedly still a ThinkPad keyboard, which is to say it’s better than just about anything else out there.  The ThinkPad X230 is a joy to type.

I highly recommend ThinkPad buyers try out the new keyboard before passing judgement on it, especially if they’re buying for others at their companies. The new keyboard doesn’t have easy access to keys that programmers and other specialists want, but the new layout is friendlier to the masses.

What do you think about the ThinkPad X230’s new keyboard?