Introduction and design
Since Windows 8 a multi-headed beast, a hydra of mouse, keyboard and touch support, it’s no wonder we see tablets trying to be more than simple slates. Lenovo’s latest machine in this vein is the ThinkPad Tablet 2, a 10.1-inch tablet running the full Windows 8.
Having a real OS gives it a wide library of software to choose from, plus a keyboard dock with trackpoint mouse provides word processing power. There’s also a SIM card slot, though plans for cellular service are U.S. only so far. All that plus a light form factor give it on-the-go appeal comparable to the Microsoft Surface Pro.
Give the ThinkPad Tablet 2 a sideways glance while it rests in its dock and you might just think it was a laptop. Actually use it and you’ll be somewhat disappointed. Like the Acer Iconia W510, its Intel Atom processor offers Busch league performance in exchange for great battery life. It’s also a tad precarious, since the tablet doesn’t lock into the dock. Give it a tip and your expensive slate might go tumbling.
And it is expensive. The tablet alone is $729/£485, but to get the most out of it, you’ll want the Bluetooth keyboard dock, which will cost you an additional $119/£80. Then, since the ThinkPad Tablet 2 can’t go clamshell like a laptop, a case of some sort is a good idea. Lenovo sells a slick one for $39.99/£25. That means you’re paying $848/£564 for the tablet and keyboard, $888/£590 if you spring for the case, too.
That’s a stiff asking price for a dock and slate, a design that we’re honestly not sold on as anything but a travel device. It’s hard to stomach a full computing cost for what’s really a secondary computing solution.
Still, we would say that the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 is the best take we’ve seen on this design. It’s a functional jack of all trades that can keep you productive and entertained on the road, but its limitations will drive you nuts if you try to make it your only computing option. A fat bank account and good Bluetooth mouse are needed to make this ThinkPad part of your digital life.
At 10.1 x 6.9 inches, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 has a manageable form factor. Its matte black finish looks great and has a grippy, slightly rubberized quality that makes it a pleasure to hold. It feels a little wide for typing when using the on-screen keyboard, but it’s an excellent size and shape for watching videos in landscape orientation, or reading in portrait. It weighs just a little over a pound, about 544 grams, so it won’t weigh you down much.
A full-sized USB 2.0 port and a microSD slot make sharing media a synch. Both are hidden beneath rubber tabs to keep out dust and give the tablet a seamless appearance.There’s also a mini-USB connection that’s only for charging.
The volume rocker is on the upper right side, in easy thumbing range when watching videos in landscape mode. Below it there’s a thoughtful touch; a button that toggles auto-rotate on and off, letting you easily lock the screen.
Next to the microSD port there’s slot for a full-sized SIM card slot. Lenovo plans to market a version of ThinkPad Tablet 2 with LTE from AT&T in the United States. There’s also a Wacom stylus tucked away on the top left. As always, a stylus is a highly situational accessory, and it stays nicely out of the way when not needed. There’s also mini-HDMI on the bottom, and a proprietary port for docking with additional Lenovo accessories.
All in all it’s a strong showing of ports, though the number of mini-ports is disappointing. Nobody likes carrying dongles.
As a tablet, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 is a attractive and well built, but it rather dependent on pricey accessories to become the complete package. This is a Windows 8 device with all the compatibility Microsoft’s OS offers. You’ll be wanting that keyboard dock to take advantage of that, which has the unfortunate effect of jacking up the asking price.
The dock is a surprisingly good keyboard though. The keys aren’t so shallow or cramped as on the Acer Iconia W510. They offer a satisfying press, and having a full row of function keys makes it easy to adjust options like brightness and volume, features which are otherwise rather buried in Windows 8.
You will want a Bluetooth mouse though. We know that the ThinkPad trackpoint mouse has its fans, but we found it inadequate for anything but the most basic of pointing functions. It provides a very small surface area for piloting your pointer. Scooting the cursor from one side of the screen to the other takes upwards of three to four strokes. It’s fine for the occasional trip to the desktop or a non-mobile site, but anything else feels like taking a walk an inch at a time.
Then there’s the fact that the tablet doesn’t lock into place on the dock. Instead it rests snugly in a slot, which opens with the pull of a latch on the underside of the keyboard. Pairing is absolutely flawless though. Just pull a switch above the escape key and the two are talking in less than a second.
The Bluetooth connection is masterfully executed, but then if you pick up the dock or use it on your lap, there’s a good chance the tablet will fall forward. This takes really detracts from the otherwise premium feel of the ThinkPad Tablet 2.
The dock and tablet have a thin relationship. They’re a good looking couple, but don’t have much of a connection. A firm shake can separate them. For use at a desk, the dock holds the tablet at a less than perfect angle. Though the screen has excellent viewing angles, you’ll need to slouch to meet it head on.
It’s also a little harder to transport than such a light, compact device should be. When it’s docked, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 really shouldn’t be moved, lest you risk a fall. The two iems can’t fold up clamshell style like a laptop, or clip together in any way. This makes them delicate to transport, so the carrying case accessory is pretty necessary. Tack another $40 onto the price.
At least the case Lenovo sells is handsome. It’s faux-leather with a black and red finish that matches the signature ThinkPad keyboard. It has a light magnetic seal to keep it shut, with two slots for holding the tablet and the keyboard dock, but no room for the charger. There is a thin slit on the interior for holding business cards. All in all it’s a nice case at a reasonable price, it’s just unfortunate the separate tablet and dock design necessitates it.
Getting back to the screen, videos on YouTube, Hulu and Netflix all looked good, and the lightweight processor held up just fine under the strain of streaming video. The ThinkPad Tablet 2 is definitely a nice way to watch a film while traveling. The speakers are rather lightweight, nothing you’d want to use for anything except for viral videos of cats or people falling down.
Performance and Battery Life
Put a full version of Windows 8 on a tablet you’re in for a bit of a juggle, just ask the Microsoft Surface Pro. You’ve got two balls to keep in the air: processing power and battery longevity. While the ThinkPad Tablet 2 often fumbles with the former, it flourishes with the latter.
Unlike the Surface Pro or the Surface RT, which are powered by an Intel i5 and an ARM processor respectively, this tablet has an Intel Atom chip. You may remember this processor from the netbook era of a few years ago, before tablets came along and cleaned their clocks. Now the Atom is back to power Windows 8 slates, like this and the Acer Iconia W510.
The ThinkPad Tablet 2 handled web browsing well enough, with Internet Explorer at least. Sites load at an acceptable speed, and we were able to begin scrolling down the page almost instantly, before images and video embeds finished loading. Google Chrome, as well as the Google app, performed poorly though. There’s an obvious need for a patch or two here.
The system had just enough grunt for some light multitasking. Using Window 8’s neat split-screen feature, we could watch run a YouTube video while browsing news headlines in the Bing Daily news app. We also enjoyed listening to music via the Music app while playing some Angry Birds or Cut the Rope.
That’s the limit of the ThinkPad Tablet 2’s gaming and multitasking abilities. The low-wattage Atom processor is meant for battery life, not blazing speeds. Lenovo estimates the battery life at 10 hours. We generally came in around 8 hours, after taxing it with heavy web use and streaming video. That’s not bad at all, enough to get you through the average work day, or to watch several movies on a long flight.
While we enjoyed the battery life the Atom provided, it had us wondering why it was paired up with Windows 8. What’s the point of making a device with wide compatibility if it doesn’t have the horsepower to run the most important legacy apps? Food for thought, especially if you’re between this and the more powerful but not as long lasting Microsoft Surface Pro, or just a regular old laptop.
2GB, 800MHz DDR2
Intel GMA graphics
1366 x 768 resolution
The ThinkPad Tablet 2 is a device that’s between worlds. As a tablet it’s solid if expensive, and in its dock, it does a decent ultrabook impression, but lacks the grunt and portability of similiarly priced comoputing options?
Still, it’s handsome, has great battery life and the keyboard dock is good enough to actually get some typing with. So can we reccomend the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 in spite of its faults? Let’s break it down.
The tablet’s matte black finish is very sharp, and feels nice to grip. Given that and it’s red on black keyboard, it definitely looks like a ThinkPad.
It also types like a ThinkPad. As far as typing functionality goes, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 has one of the best keyboard docks we’ve used. The keys are just big enough, provide enough press and are laid out well, so we’re not making constant errors. It also syncs flawlessly using Bluetooth.
There’s also a good selection of ports. Having a full-sized USB 2.0 port is handy, and so is the microSD support.
Thanks to the Intel Atom processor, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 boasts battery life in the 8-10 hour range. That’s a real asset for a travel machine.
So is the option of picking up 4G LTE support from AT&T.
Finally, having the full compatibility of Windows 8 brings a lot to the table. A ton of old Windows "legacy" software you already own will run on this tablet.
We have our complaints, but the only real deal-breaker is price. At $729/£485, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 is an expensive slate. Tack on the extra cash for much-needed accessories like the keyboard dock and carrying case, and you’re brushing up against ultrabook pricing.
And ultrabooks/laptops are just so much more functional. They can fold up for fast transportation, and don’t need pricey cases and accessories to be packed up or get the job done.
The dock leaves something to be desired in the way it holds the slate. The angle is not perfect for using it at your desk, and if you shift around with it on your lap there’sa good chance it will fall forward.
There are also a lot of mini-ports on on this machine, which means purchasing and packing those annoying little dongles everyone loves so much.
While this tablet may have Windows 8, it can’t run everything that OS offers due to processor limitations. The Intel Atom provides great battery life, but does so by sacrificing performance. Don’t expect a do-it-all machine here.
Finally, a 64GB SSD is none too big for a slate at this price.
We like the Lenovo ThinkPad 2, but just barely. It won us over with its good looks, solid keyboard and excellent battery life. Still, we’d never recommend it as your sole computing option. This is a traveler’s device, for when you don’t have the bag space for a real computer.
This tablet will save your shoulders, and keep you entertained and productive while on the road. It’s well built, and Lenovo is offering some very smart, but pricey, accessories. However, we do have to say that you could get a lot more functionality if you spend a bit more and spring for an ultrabook, or spend the same amount of cash and put up with the weight of a laptop.
Despite that, if you’re in the love with the tablet and dock set up (we’re not), you won’t do much better than the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2. It’s handsome, functional and long lasting. We’d be glad to have it as a travel companion, as long as the trip wasn’t too long.