When Apple's very first iPad hit the scene in 2010, their take on the "modern tablet" was destined to become ubiquitous: a thin, rigid slab of touchable electronics covered by a sheet of shiny Gorilla Glass. Following the iPad's resounding success, Apple (and others) made no apologies for designing their tablets as though they weregiant smartphones -- or at the very least, something less than a full-fledged computer.
Gone were the days of custom software installations, file system management and editing config files; in their places appeared one-click app store installs, locked down software hell-bent on shielding users from directory structures and an often times disappointingly spartan selection of customization and configuration options.
Consider this though: Windows 8 Pro on a tablet challenges this mindset.
Say what you will about Microsoft's latest (and arguably not greatest) OS, but Redmond's software gives users back much of the control and utility lost during the shift to Apple's and Google's mobile operating systems. Thankfully, Windows 8 achieves this while simultaneously providing a mostly pleasurable tablet experience, even though they sometimes get in the way of each other.
Although this isn't a review of Windows 8, the OS is a wholly inalienable part of the latest Lenovo tablet experience and what the ThinkPad 2 offers is something Android and iOS have traditionally not: a fully functionally PC experience on your tablet. Let's see how it delivers on that promise.
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 - $580
- 10.1″ IPS Display (1366×768)
- Dual-core Intel Atom (Z2760 1.80GHz) w/ 4 threads
- PowerVR SGX545 graphics
- 2GB / 800MHz LPDDR2 RAM
- Windows 8 Pro 32-bit
- 64GB Flash Memory
- ThinkPad 11a/b/g/n + Bluetooth 4.0 combo chip, GPS
- Mini-HDMI, 3.5mm Audio In / Microphone Jack combo
- USB 2.0, micro-SD, docking connector
- 262.36mm x 164.59mm x 9.90mm
- 0.58kg (1.30 lbs.)
- Lithium Polymer Battery, 30Whr
- Sensors: ambient light, 3D accelerometer and magnetometer, gyroscope
- ThinkPad 2 tablet dock
- ThinkPad 2 bluetooth keyboard stand
- Fitted Sleeve and caring case
Apple won't appreciate my perversion of their iPad Mini slogan, but the Lenovo ThinkPad 2 is every inch a ThinkPad. Polarizing as it may be in the consumer world, ThinkPads have long donned an inky-black design with well defined corners and edges. Love or hate it, the ThinkPad 2 tablet lives up to its namesake.
Lenovo's tablet is thin and light -- barely over a third of an inch thick at 1.3 pounds -- and feels like a sturdy and solid slab of quality materials. Overall, it's a handsome, premium feeling device. The tablet is a comfortable shape and pleasant weight to hold. The back cover and sides sport a familiar rubberized coating, not unlike most modern ThinkPad laptops. The rubbery material has a satin-like quality which is both pleasant to handle and less slippery to hold than bare aluminum-back designs (I'm thinking of you, first-gen iPad).
Our ThinkPad 2 review unit is leaps and bounds improved over its progenitor, the original ThinkPad tablet -- a chunky Android-based device which appeared in 2011, marred by poor battery life and a still maturing tablet market.
Subjectively, Lenovo's ThinkPad 2 tablet provides a smooth experience for most common activities; web surfing, checking your e-mail (even with Outlook), typing up a report in Word, opening up programs and streaming music. Despite only having a 720p screen, 1080p and high quality content from various online sources (e.g. YouTube, Hulu, Netflix) worked without any notable hiccups.
Although the inclusion of Clover Trail silicon holds the ThinkPad 2 back from being a true PC contender, it performs well enough in context to what it is: a fanless, portable tablet. Having two cores and four threads certainly provides some multi-tasking benefits, although I found it interesting that Windows 8 would only show CPU usage as though it were a single core.
Really though, its shortcomings don't surface until visiting media heavy websites, multi-tasking with resource intensive desktop applications or scrolling through web pages with lots and lots of busy elements. During these times, swiping and tapping can become a bit sluggish. Of course, graphics editing, video editing and media conversion are to be performed at the user's own peril.
In Futuremark's browser-based benchmark Peacekeeper, our ThinkPad 2 scored a 420. This means it fared slightly better than Acer's Iconia W500 and was on par with Apple's iPhone 4S. That puts it in the same league as some solid tablets like the Nexus 7 and Galaxy Tab 10.1. In all of its desktop-meets-Metro complexity though, Windows 8 seems a little tougher to run than either iOS or Android.
In 3DMark 2006, the device managed a paltry 455 -- a score indicative of its general uselessness for PC gaming. Being a fanless Atom-based tablet though, should we expect better? No. However, owners will find Angry Birds and other tablet-centric titles run quite well.
Under CrystalDisk, I found solid storage performance typical of mid-range to higher-end tablets. Sequential 1024K read/write scores hover around 81 MB/sec and 34 MB/sec, respectively. Meanwhile, smaller 4K read/writes slowed down to 8.6 MB/sec and 2 MB/sec. Although not anywhere close in performance to most standalone SSDs, opening applications and common file operations felt snappy and responsive.
When it comes to booting up, the ThinkPad 2 goes from off to Windows 8 logon screen in about 8 seconds.
Screen. Stylus Pen, Battery, Cameras
When it comes to connectivity, there's not much here to set the ThinkPad 2 apart from other tablets in its class. The tablet features a single, full sized USB 2.0 port, micro-SD slot, mini-HDMI and a micro-USB dock connector. It's also bundled with the usual host of wireless options as well, namely Bluetooth 4.0, GPS and a 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi chip.
Full disclosure: high PPI displays (i.e. Retina equipped iPads, Nexus 10) have ruined my objectivity for low pixel density screens. For a 10.1-inch 1366 x 768 display though, Lenovo's got it going on.
Despite its relative pixel deficiency, it's as sharp as you'd expect with good contrast and fantastic brightness. It's an IPS panel and definitely looks the part, boasting excellent viewing angles and vivid colors: no complaints here. Relative to its size, the 768p panel delivers a decent work area at a usable size, particularly for users blessed with good vision and ample digit precision.
With fingers the focus of virtually every consumer touchscreen device, it's easy to scoff at the age old idea of a stylus pen. Admittedly, using a stylus doesn't always feel 100 percent natural on Windows 8 -- an operating system where fingertips rule. To be fair though, I love options and the pen definitely has its uses.
For starters, the stylus is great for writing input. Handwriting recognition is something the ThinkPad 2 and Windows 8's handwriting “keyboard” tool does well. The resulting performance and accuracy was excellent; just be sure to watch your palm placement, since accidental inputs are a little easier than you might like.
The stylus is also useful where greater precision is required (think: desktop mode), since fingertips can, on occasion, be imprecise enough to cause frustration.
It should be mentioned the stylus is passive (no batteries required). Even so, the tablet's digitizer can sense the tip of the stylus as it hovers an inch above the screen. This action prompts Windows to display a white dot which follows the stylus. This magically small touch only adds to its usability.
Thanks to its passive design, the stylus itself is feather light, making it easy to point and write. Its slim width and stiff clicker though can generate some unfortunate hand fatigue if you're at it for awhile. Once you're done, simply slide it into its designated hole in the upper left corner of the tablet until it clicks into place.
In spite of its Intel insides and its 30Whr battery, the ThinkPad 2 fits comfortably within the realm of “all day” devices. Under moderate use, the battery lasts about 9 hours. Your mileage will vary based on your activities, but I hammered on the tablet and its Bluetooth keyboard for two four hour writing sessions filled multi-tabbed web browsing and some light photo editing. Even so, I still made it out with a sliver of battery left before having to juice up again.
Pre-installed software and bloatware
For better or worse, ThinkPads generally come pre-loaded with tons of Lenovo (ThinkVantage) software. In all fairness though, I've always found Lenovo's (and IBM's) utilities more useful than those bundled with competitors like Acer, Dell and HP.
In the case of the ThinkPad 2 though, you'll find a less aggressive set of utilities than found on ThinkPad laptops, namely just Lenovo Companion (assistance, accessories), Lenovo Settings (utilities), Lenovo Cloud (SugarSync) and Lenovo QuickSnip (screen grabbing tool).
Lenovo Settings is the power user's tool here with features like “Location Awareness”. Location Awareness, much like Lenovo's ThinkAdvantage Access Connections, allows users to create profiles which are automagically selected based on your location. These custom profiles can be set to override your default network configuration, VPN, home page and even set your default printer for you -- very useful features for anyone toting their ThinkPad 2 back and forth between work and home.
Meanwhile, Lenovo has done nothing truly insidious when it comes to bloatware, choosing to pre-install only a few innocuous apps like Skitch, Evernote, Skype and AccuWeather. A trial version of Norton Studio does lurk on the ThinkPad 2, but I think we've come to expect that from most PC makers. It's easily uninstalled if you aren't keen on Norton.
As on other tablets, the ThinkPad 2's front-facing camera is merely a platitude; it's a quick ‘n dirty solution for video chat and nothing more. The higher quality 8MP rear-facing camera though isn't all that impressive, either. Then again, most tablet cameras aren't.
Even so, the rear-facing camera performed well enough in brightly lit spaces and delivered surprisingly vibrant colors in some of the sample shots I took while visiting Mexico -- or maybe Mexico just looks better? I'm not sure.
The camera's low-light performance is predictably worse though -- grainy and unforgiving like you might expect. It does have an LED flash though, which allows usable if not good photos in otherwise dark areas.
The shutter speed was seemingly faster than many of the tablet and phone devices I've handled. Admittedly, Windows 8's Camera app left a lot to be desired (HDR, panoramic
The Keyboard, Final Thoughts
Alongside our ThinkPad 2 review unit, Lenovo shipped an optional bluetooth keyboard stand, a companion device specifically tailored to the ThinkPad 2 which retails for about $120. Please note that the keyboard is simply a keyboard and stand -- nothing more. However, Lenovo does offer a full-on dock accessory complete with port replicator for about $100 which we did not test.
When it comes to typing on portable tablet keyboards, the bar has been set pretty low save Microsoft's TypeCover keyboard (I haven't used the TouchCover, though) for Surface. However, the EBK-209A seems like one of the most solid options out there in this niche; in fact, it even bests many laptop keyboards I've used (and I've used many).
Its chiclet style keys are surprisingly firm and responsive, particularly so given the device's shallow depth and its membrane-based inner workings. The keyboard is close in size to those found on most laptops, although the backspace and return keys have been horizontally miniaturized. Even so, their position remains roughly equivalent to a standard keyboard. The relatively satisfying key response is doubly surprising considering how quietly it operates -- an important feature for mobile devices in public spaces. I think most users will find the keyboard easy to adjust to.
Also located on the keyboard is a seemingly familiar pointer nub -- an alternative to trackpads found on most ThinkPad laptops. Unlike traditional nubs though, this one doesn't actually work like a joystick. Rather, it's equipped with a touch sensor which translates your finger swipes to cursor movements.
Admittedly, I found this pointing device clumsy and perhaps even confusing -- a touchable joystick? I routinely preferred my finger -- even the stylus -- when appropriate. I also found that I really wanted to tap-to-click the nub, much like one might tap on a touchpad. If Lenovo added a tap-to-click feature here, the pointer stick would get a weak 3 out of 5 stars here, instead of an unemphatic 2.
Lenovo describes the keyboard accessory (EBK-209A) as a “stand”. While that may be technically true, it certainly fares better as a keyboard than it does a stand. Essentially, one edge of the ThinkPad 2 nestles into a shallow channel located near the rear of the keyboard. Meanwhile, the brunt of the tablet rests precariously against a less-than-sturdy plastic kickstand. It doesn't lock or snap into place -- it just kind of sits there.
Now, it should be said the system works well enough on a solid, level surface (i.e. desk) but I found the lack of any tilt adjustment headache-inducing. Although the included literature doesn't indicate suggested usage, I do believe the EBK-209A is designed for desk use only. Its no-slip rubber feet and stabilizing rear heel are ideal features for solid surfaces.
For use anywhere else though (e.g. lap), I found the experience harrowing. The tablet weighs significantly more than the keyboard, making it top heavy and prone to fall backwards. Even though you may know better, it just feels scary -- like its going to fall the moment you lift your hands. Ironically, tilting it forward to compensate would only prompt it to fall on you rather than away from you.
Basically, if you were hoping the ThinkPad 2's keyboard would let it act like a convertible, you'll want to check outLenovo's Yoga lineup instead.
Pairing was as simple as Bluetooth pairing can get and the battery life was plentiful. The keyboard survived two four-hour news writing sessions and week-long trip out of town before needing a charge.
Like it or not, Windows 8 on a tablet is a liberating experience, particularly if you've ever felt boxed in by Android or iOS. Even if you haven't, Windows 8 tablets are kind of the Swiss Army knife of mobile computing -- they essentially run anything your Windows PC can; this provides an incredible amount of on-the-go flexibility that apps can't always deliver. At $580 on Amazon right now, it's certainly not a bad value for a Windows 8 Pro device either.
Lenovo's ThinkPad 2 may have been designed with business users in mind, but professionals and consumers alike will be able to appreciate the good stuff it offers, namely the excellent keyboard (although the stand could use some work), great battery life, sleek yet sturdy design and a solid Windows 8 experience. Additionally, the stylus and its unique ThinkPad-esque look and feel sets it apart from the competition.
There is no shortage of input options here: a Bluetooth keyboard, pointer nub, touchscreen and stylus. While fingertips rule as a primary mode of input, having a stylus can be very useful for handwriting recognition and the type of precision work sometimes demanded by Windows 8's desktop environment. The keyboard is top notch.
The ThinkPad 2's performance and specs are so-so, but plenty adequate for most typical tablet uses. With passively-cooled Haswell chips and AMD's Temash on the way though, its Clover Trail innards are destined to become outclassed in the coming months.