Lenovo's Top-Notch T410

Last year, millions of consumers flocked to netbooks, the stripped-down machines viewed as low-priced alternatives to laptop computers. If you were one of the netbook converts, a few minutes with the Lenovo ThinkPad T410 laptop might make you backslide.

Like many of Lenovo's business-focused ThinkPad laptops, the T410 is nothing special to look at. Don't be fooled by the matte-black industrial shell that evokes the ThinkPad's IBM lineage.

Under the hood, the $1,350 T410 is smoking fast. It uses Intel's (INTC) new Core i5 dual-core chips, which boast a clock speed of 2.53GHz and a chipset design that removes speed bottlenecks. The notebook took about half the time to download photos, music, and video as my six-month-old Sony (SNE) laptop, which has a comparable chip clock speed.

To keep computing tasks humming along, Intel's processors adjust clock speed up or down, depending on the task being handled. Lenovo also built in power-management software that it says boosts battery life 25% over previous generations, up to 10 hours. The timing assumes you're using the laptop mainly for word processing; otherwise, expect about four hours of battery life.

big plus: Lenovo Access utility

Lenovo's T410 also rises to the challenge—largely posed by Macintosh maker Apple (AAPL)—of making computing easier. For one, it features the Microsoft (MSFT) Windows 7 operating system, a vast improvement over its widely derided predecessor, Windows Vista.

Then there's a handy tool called the Lenovo Access connections utility, which scans for wireless access points and then shows a map that is zoned by relative signal strength. It also tells you if the connection is an open or a secure network and it lets you switch the computer between competing wireless choices, including Wi-Fi, WiMax, and 3G wireless broadband.

The connection tool will become all the more important later this year, when WiMax becomes more widely available in the U.S., and in coming years, as mobile-phone service providers Verizon Wireless and AT&T (T) introduce LTE 4G, a more advanced version of mobile broadband.

loads of connectivity options

I tested the T410's WiMax prowess in a coffee shop in Las Vegas, a city where WiMax is available. I found it generally a joy to use—although the WiMax connection did drop out occasionally. Web page download speeds were on par with what you'd get from a home cable or DSL connection, and video viewing was crisp, thanks in part to Lenovo's decision to include a standalone Nvidia (NVDA) graphics chip that supplements Intel's integrated graphics at times of heavy video demand.

The T410 also packs a lot of connectivity options into its 7-lb. chassis. Users can connect up to four USB devices, including one that can recharge devices even when the laptop is off. There's also a VGA output for basic video display; a displayport/HDMI combo connector for more high-quality video; an ExpressCard slot for connecting peripheral devices such as mobile broadband cards and TV tuners; an e-Sata port for connecting an external hard drive; and a multimedia memory storage card reader. The high-quality WXGA 14.1-inch screen includes an LED power-saving backlight; a touch-screen upgrade option is available for a price. There's also plenty of trial-ware for the individual buyer, including Norton Internet Security and Microsoft Office.

If you can get over the doubts inspired by the utilitarian exterior and put the T410 to the test, you might emerge a believer.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.