The ThinkPad W701ds adds two more pointers to the mix: the classic TrackPoint eraserhead and a two-button touchpad. Both feel great, and the buttons seem precise and responsive. You can switch between the input devices on a whim, or customize one to activate only certain functions -- such as scrolling -- while leaving the other for general mousing.
The utilitarian keyboard complements the rest of the laptop design. The classic, blocky key shapes and tight mechanisms feel responsive for touch typing, and the full-size number pad can speed data entry. A few extra buttons control the volume and launch the snooze-inducing ThinkVantage software. Dedicated media buttons are not missed; I prefer their absence over an attempt to cram them in unnecessarily.
Among the laptop's weaker points, relatively speaking, are the speakers, which sit behind a grille above the keyboard. Music and movies sound okay, and the laptop can get loud without warbling distortion. However, the speakers favor high tones, thinning out for lower pitches--the typical originated-on-a-laptop sound. Unfortunately, this means that mobile audio and video producers will have to plug in speakers or headphones for most of their work.
The ThinkPad W701ds has a bunch of ports and extras that can be useful in various situations. The fingerprint scanner unlocks the system without a password. Two LEDs mounted at the top of the display can cast light a little over and around the keyboard, allowing you to see papers in a dark room. Expansion slots include Express Card, CompactFlash, and a five-format SD-card reader. It's loaded with other ports and connections, too, offering audio-in and -out, one USB 3.0 port, four USB 2.0 ports, eSATA, FireWire, gigabit ethernet, 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and a modem. The full-size Display Port, DVI, and VGA ports can connect up to two additional displays.
Disk options mostly meet expectations. Two hard-drive bays can accommodate RAID setups; our test unit included two 320GB disks. Regrettably, this system had only a CD/DVD burner, not a Blu-ray reader or burner. With a laptop of this level, mobile content creators might expect to read--and author--Blu-ray discs.
Though Lenovo sits in the middle of our most recent laptop reliability survey, the ThinkPad W701ds feels solidly built. You'll have to lug the massive 8.97-pound system between big desks, but it's like carrying a powerful workstation almost anywhere. The battery lasts for about 2 hours, 10 minutes, a reasonable length for a portable with this much power and speed. Considering this machine's complete roster of ports and extras for content creators--including the color calibrator, the Wacom tablet surface, and the extra LCD--this high-end laptop seems equipped to help you complete any challenging job.