MWC 2023 | New Lenovo ThinkPad Z series feature haptic Sensel trackpad for the first time
Touchpads have evolved a lot during the decades. In the beginning, laptop touchpads were small, their surface was made out of plastic and there were dedicated buttons for right- and left-click. In time, touchpads grew, which is why the buttons were integrated into the touch-enabled surface. This meant that the lower part of the touchpad, now a clickpad, was now clickable. This type of touchpad is still the dominant form in the laptop market.
Since a few years, the next step of the evolution has begun to emerge. Manufacturers started to replace the click-mechanism with a simulated, haptic click. This saves space and also meant that the whole touchpad was now clickable.
Lenovo, currently the largest PC manufacturer, used this technology for the first time in its ThinkPad line in 2021 with the ThinkPad X1 Titanium Yoga. In this case, this was done to decrease the z height of the chassis. The touch-sensing and force-sensing solution was provided by Sensel, a company founded in 2013 that specializes in haptic technology. The haptic motor was not made by Sensel in this model.
The second instance where Lenovo experimented with haptic touchpads on ThinkPad was the new ThinkPad Z series that came out last year. ThinkPad Z13 Gen 1 (available for $1,770 from Amazon) and ThinkPad Z16 G1 used the haptic trackpad not just to save space, but also to integrate the formerly dedicated mouse buttons used for the ThinkPad TrackPoint.
The buttons present a unique problem for Lenovo, as they take up valuable space, but are necessary for the function of the TrackPoint. Historically, Lenovo tried to integrate them into the clickpad before with a mechanical solution in 2013 - which ended in disaster, as Lenovo returned to the traditional design just one year later. The mechanical clickpad used in machines like the ThinkPad T440s was simply not suitable for such a design.
When we reviewed the ThinkPad Z series, we were mixed on its haptic trackpad, which was provided by Elan instead of Sensel. It was a good touchpad, but the haptic click was not ideal for use with the TrackPoint.
With the second generation of the ThinkPad Z series that launches at MWC, the ThinkPad Z13 Gen 2 and ThinkPad Z16 Gen 2, Lenovo opted to ditch the previous touchpad supplier in favor of Sensel. This marks the first time that a laptop uses the complete technology stack from Sensel, including Force sensing, touch sensing and the haptic solution. While the integrated TrackPoint buttons persist, Sensel hopes that the new trackpad will improve the haptic click. Sensel also promises that this new trackpad will be more accurate than the standard Windows Precision touchpad and provides improved palm rejection.
The new Sensel trackpad solution will be released for the first time alongside the ThinkPad Z13 G2 and Z16 G2 in the summer of 2023.