As mentioned, the W701ds offers an astonishingly impressive array of connections. Along the left you’ll find a mini FireWire port, one combined eSATA/USB 2.0 port and one USB 3.0 port, though it’s not marked in the usual distinctive blue. There’s a 34mm Express Card slot, though we honestly don’t see a need for it on this laptop, and a secondary bay that you can choose to fill with either a second 54mm ExpressCard slot, a Smart Card reader or a CF card reader. At the front we have a physical Wi-Fi switch, memory card reader, and 3.5mm headphone plus microphone jacks.
On the left side you’ll find a further three USB 2.0 ports, one of which is marked in yellow to denote that it is ‘always on’, and can be used to charge devices even when the laptop is turned off. Next to these is that rarest of creatures these days: a modem port. Some might call it completely redundant, but there are still situations where you may need it, and it’s good to see Lenovo covering every contingency.
On the right there’s a small hole for the Wacom-enabled stylus, while optical duties are handled by a DVD-Rewriter (after all, Blu-ray is hardly required for a business machine – right?). The laptop’s back houses extensive video connectivity, including VGA, dual-link DVI and DisplayPort, together with a Gigabit Ethernet jack. Wireless is well catered for with both Bluetooth 2.1 and Wi-Fi N, and there’s a fingerprint scanner for those who hate memorising passwords.
When it comes to usability, Thinkpads are usually second to none, and the W701ds is no exception – though with a few caveats. Unlike most other laptops these days, which feature ‘slim’, isolation-style keyboards, Lenovo still provides ‘proper’, keys. Their action is superb with each key feeling very solidly planted and providing a large amount of travel that is well-defined yet soft, so it’s one of the quietest and best typing experiences around. Layout on the full-size keyboard is also excellent, aside from the Lenovo quirk of still putting the Fn key to the outside of Ctrl.
The Enter keys on both the keyboard and numpad are clothed in the traditional ThinkPad blue. There’s a full set of function keys and dedicated volume controls, as well as a dedicated ThinkPad button which can be used to access ThinkVantage features.
Anyone who has used a ThinkPad before will be familiar with Lenovo’s TrackPoint, a tiny, rubber-topped joystick in the centre of the keyboard operated with the tip of a finger. It has its own set of three buttons above the touchpad, and while it does take a little getting used to, it’s quite easy to operate and even beats the touchpad in some situations. However, unlike with the ThinkPad X100e, on the W701ds these buttons are loud! Their distinctive click can easily be heard across the office, and is very distracting.
Thankfully the touchpad’s buttons are similarly responsive but don’t suffer from the same issue. However, the pad itself is rather on the small side, as it’s cramped by the TrackPoint buttons. This is rather unfortunate on a laptop as large as this beast, though of course, with the integrated Wacom tablet providing a highly accurate third navigation option (and the likelihood that you’ll be using this monster on a proper desk where you can attach a mouse), it’s not much of a problem.