Review: Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2

A stylus-toting business tablet for serious work, is the ThinkPad Tablet 2 up to scratch?


The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 is a business tablet with a few accessories to make it more useful.

Lenovo released one of the more interesting consumer Windows 8 devices with the Yoga 13, a device that transformed between laptop and tablet on the fly. The device marked the culmination of Microsoft’s prophecy that Windows 8 would advance computing form factors with two interfaces in the same operating system.

Unfortunately the business side of mobile Windows 8 devices hasn't been met with the same boundary pushing. Few enterprise tablets have been released using Microsoft’s latest operating system, and even fewer actually do anything to set themselves apart. For many on-the-go professionals, the mobility found in tablets and capabilities of a full Windows operating system are necessities, especially when companies have already invested in enterprise solutions for Windows.

Lenovo’s ThinkPad Tablet 2 isn’t quite as unique as the Yoga laptop line, but it does feature several optional add-ons that extended functionality, and an active digitizer and pen should be a welcome feature in many offices. The Tablet 2 is certainly portable enough for most on-the-go working men and women, but whether the tablet sets itself apart from the competition is up for debate – and may be something that stops companies from adopting it.

Design & Specifications

The appearance of the Tablet 2 fits with what has come to be associated with the ThinkPad line – a business-like exterior that probably won’t win any awards, but gets the job done.

Since IBM first launched the ThinkPad line in 1992 (Lenovo acquired IBM’s computer division in 2005), it’s largely been defined by its traditional black-and-grey business look with key input features accentuated in red, the same color used in the ThinkPad logo. The Tablet 2 sticks nicely to the design style, as an optional pen that works with an active digitizer features the signature red dot traditionally reserved for the touchpad and “trackpoint” pointing stick found in ThinkPad laptops.


The ThinkPad Tablet 2 features an active digitizer and optional pen tucked away in the device's body.

At 10.1 inches and 1.3 pounds, the Tablet 2 is surprisingly light, weighing less than either an iPad or Surface RT, although it’s roughly the same thickness as the aforementioned tablets. The Tablet 2 has a nice rubberized coating on the back, similar to Amazon’s Kindle Fire line. It’s not coated quite as heavily as Amazon coats its tablets, giving it just enough grip without being distracting.

On the left side of the tablet are USB (covered by a rubber panel) and microUSB ports, with the latter used to charge the device. The bottom of the tablet features a docking port for optional accessories as well as a mini-HDMI port, while the right side features a headphone/microphone combination jack, volume rocker and a handy rotation lock button. On top, the tablet has an enclosed bay for SIM and microSD cards as well as a power button on the far right.

At 1.3 pounds (580g), the Tablet 2 is surprisingly light

The volume rocker is particularly sturdy, something I immediately noticed after becoming accustomed to Surface RT’s wobbly volume rocker which can be easy to accidentally press. Conversely, the ThinkPad’s power button is flush with the rest of the tablet – not exactly something that was a pleasure to press.

Unlike Microsoft’s Surface tablets that have capacitive touch Windows buttons to return to the Start screen, the button on the ThinkPad Tablet 2 is physical. That’s not necessarily better or worse, but it is significantly smaller than the physical button on the iPad, and it’s flusher with the device than the concave iPad button.

In addition to the multiple input options are an 8-megapixel camera on the back and a 2.1-megapixel camera on the front. An ambient light sensor is located near the right edge of the tablet, and it lucky works better than the wonky sensor found on the Surface RT.

The full specifications for the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 are as follows:

  Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2
Display 10.1-inch IPS display (1366x768)
Processor Intel Atom Z2760 1.8GHz dual-core CPU
Graphics PowerVR SGX545 integrated graphics
Storage 64GB solid-state hard drive
Memory 2GB DDR2 RAM
Connectivity Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n
Bluetooth 4.0
GPS
Mobile broadband version available
Cameras 8 MP rear-facing camera and LED flash
2.1 MP fixed-focus front-facing camera
720p video recording
Ports 1 x USB 2.0
1 x microUSB 2.0
1 x mini-HDMI
1 x microSD
1 x 3.55 headphone/mic combo jack
1 x docking connector
Battery 30Whr lithium polymer
Size, Weight 10.34 x 6.48 x 0.39 inches
1.3 pounds
Price $679

Display & Audio

As with Surface RT, the ThinkPad Tablet 2’s 1366x768 resolution screen isn't quite up to par with the iPad or Nexus 10 when it comes to pixel density, but the IPS technology provides vibrant colors and great viewing angles. Given the current scaling of the desktop in Windows 8, the lower-resolution screen may be for the best at the moment.


The Lenovo Tablet 2 features excellent viewing angles and vibrant colors.

Though color reproduction was fantastic, the contrast of the Tablet 2’s screen sometimes caused problems. Navy jackets of law enforcement personnel in “District 9” blended with black backgrounds, although overall, the color vibrancy and viewing angles outweighed the contrast issues.

Two speakers are located on the back of the Tablet 2 at the bottom right corner and on the bottom left side, sometimes resulting in muffled sounds depending on hand placements or if the tablet is laid on a flat surface. There’s more depth to the sound than in the Surface RT and much less distortion than the average tablet, but it's not quite comparable to most laptops.

Software & Performance

The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 operates on Windows 8, meaning it can run traditional Windows applications, unlike Windows RT tablets – technically, at least. Because the Tablet 2 has an Atom processor, many of the more intensive desktop applications won’t run as well as users hope.

Many of the more intensive desktop applications won’t run as well as users hope

That said, the 1.8GHz dual-core Atom Z2760 processor is fairly snappy for the Metro interface of Microsoft’s latest operating system. It’s clearly nowhere near as fast as the Core i5 found inside Microsoft’s Surface Pro – not that the two tablets are competing for the same users – but it’s slightly speedier than the Tegra 3 found in the Surface RT when it comes to non-gaming applications. Browsing with the Metro variant of Internet Explorer is buttery smooth, and Microsoft’s first-party applications such as News, Weather and Mail are all faster with an Atom processor instead of an ARM chip.

Lenovo’s included a few bundled apps with the Tablet 2, but most aren’t particularly useful. The first-party QuickSnip app, for instance, lets users crop photos and draw on them, but Skitch Touch, a third-party bundled app from Evernote, does the same thing and features more options. Luckily most of the included software comes in the form of Metro apps, meaning they can be uninstalled directly from the Start screen instead of having to located them in the control panel’s programs menu.

One of the more useful bundled applications is the first-party Settings app, which allows users to modify power, location awareness, camera and audio settings in one place. It’s not the most feature-packed app in the world, but it provides quick access to certain settings without delving into separate apps.


Lenovo's Settings app is somewhat useful in that users won't have to jump to different apps to change settings.

Unfortunately for those who want to run traditional Windows programs – which is likely substantial given the business audience Lenovo is targeting – the desktop environment lacks the smoothness of Metro. Internet Explorer and Microsoft Office run well enough, but other applications aren’t as friendly. Chrome and Firefox, for instance, chug along at times and often scroll slower than Microsoft’s browser.

In PCMark 7's default test, the Tablet 2 scored 1,422, placing it in line with most other Atom-powered tablets, such as the Acer Iconia W510. For comparison’s sake, the Surface Pro scored 4,835, indicating the vast discrepancy between an Atom-powered tablet and a tablet powered by a mid- to high-range chip (Windows RT tablets such as the Surface RT can’t run PCMark 7, so no comparison can be made on that front).

Due to its integrated graphics, the Tablet 2 was unsurprisingly incapable of running 3DMark 2011. Based on Metro games played with the tablet, however, it’s lags far behind ARM-powered tablets for multimedia purposes. “Crash Course Go!” and “ilomilo plus” were sluggish at best, and the Tablet 2 even chugged through menus of both games, with frame rates occasionally dipping into the single-digits.

Most business users likely won’t care too much if games aren’t playable, but it is indicative of the overall graphical performance from the tablet. Beyond playing HD videos (only 720p, as 1080p files are nearly unplayable – not exactly a problem given the tablet’s resolution, however), graphically intensive tasks should be avoided on the Tablet 2.

Cameras

As few people legitimately use a tablet as their go-to photo-taking option – instead relying on smartphones when not using a dedicated camera – the cameras found in most tablets are extremely poor, and the Tablet 2 is no exception.

The cameras found in most tablets are extremely poor, and the Tablet 2 is no exception.

A 2.1-megapixel fixed-focus camera for video chatting is located on the front of the device, while an 8-megapixel camera with LED flash is found on the back. The latter camera can only be used in a 4:3 aspect ratio for the full 8 megapixels; for 16:9 photos and videos, the rear camera is just 2.1 megapixels.

Both cameras feature lackluster quality, but they are serviceable. Color reproduction on the rear-facing camera was average, as bright hues were often washed out and there’s little range, but overall it’s better than most tablet cameras.


Color reproduction is decent on the rear-facing camera but washed out in some areas, such as the concrete.


A 100 percent crop of a flower in the above image shows surprisingly decent definition.


There's not much range with the camera – shadows are often too dark, as seen in the lower left.

Definition of shots at full-resolution was fairly decent – shots were slightly blurry when viewed at 100 percent, but it’s essentially equal to most smartphone cameras.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the camera is that Windows 8’s default software is terrible. Focusing on an object is impossible, and there are no lenses for hardware partners to implement, unlike what companies such as Nokia do with Windows Phone 8. Beyond changing the resolution, the only real options available are brightness and contrast settings.

Battery Life

Technology companies often give their devices favorable battery life estimates by using misleading tests, but Lenovo may actually be slightly underestimating the device’s endurance when it says the Tablet 2 lasts 10 hours.

Lenovo touts the ThinkPad Tablet 2 as a device with an all-day battery life, and there’s no reason to think otherwise.

Neowin’s battery test of playing a locally stored 720p film on a loop with WiFi on and brightness controlled by the tablet’s ambient light sensor resulted in a battery life 10 hours and 55 minutes – that bested the Surface RT’s result by 12 minutes. The test was run simultaneously with the Tablet 2 and Surface RT placed side-by-side on the same table, so each device’s ambient light sensor was impacted the same amount by lighting changes.

Under the most extreme uses, the Tablet 2 lasted at least seven hours of continuous computing – including a mix of multitasking with web browsing, media streaming and file editing – though in normal conditions the tablet lasted 10 to 11 hours. Lenovo touts the ThinkPad Tablet 2 as a device with an all-day battery life, and there’s no reason to think otherwise. The tablet should last almost any business user an entire workday without needing to be recharged.

The Tablet 2’s battery life places it on the higher end of the spectrum not only for Windows 8 tablets, but tablets in general, easily rivaling the battery life of the iPad.

Accessories

The Tablet 2 review unit furnished to Neowin came with two accessories – a slim folding case ($49.99) and Bluetooth keyboard ($119.99); a docking station ($99.99) that adds a number of ports is also available.

The folding case is somewhat akin to Apple’s iPad smart cover in that it folds over the front of the tablet to protect the screen, although the two accessories go about this goal in different fashions. Apple’s smart cover uses magnets to attach to the side of an iPad and cling to the front of the device. Lenovo’s slim folding case, by comparison, envelops the entire device with a hard back, and the folding front lies over the tablet’s screen with no magnets or latches.

Lenovo’s cover is much more business-oriented in both appearance and style, but it’s not particularly innovative in any way – it’s just a regular folding cover to protect the tablet when traveling. There’s a slight bump located on the back of the cover that allows the front to prop the tablet up, but it’s a nearly useless feature since it stands the tablet completely vertical. The only legitimate purpose it has is if a movie or music is being played and no interaction with the tablet is necessary.


An optional Bluetooth keyboard is in keeping with the keyboard style of Lenovo's ThinkPad laptops.

The Bluetooth keyboard is a bit more unique in that it uses the familiar TouchPad layout and features the standard trackpoint pointing stick as well as mouse buttons at the bottom edge of the accessory. Keys are somewhat cramped, although they’re likely just as good – if not better – than the majority of Bluetooth keyboards available for tablets, and it easily feels better to use than Microsoft’s touch or type covers available for the Surface tablets.

Feedback on the keys was surprisingly good, as the keyboard is almost identical to the versions found on Lenovo’s ThinkPad laptop line, just miniaturized. Unfortunately the same can’t be said about the mouse buttons, which didn’t have good resistance, feeling slightly wobbly. The trackpoint works admirably by comparison, functioning the same as it does on Lenovo’s laptops. Don’t expect any battery gains by using the keyboard, as it operates on its own batteries and doesn’t connect to the tablet itself.

A small stand is located on the rear of the keyboard, propping up to hold the tablet. It’s not a setup that works well on a lap, but on a desk it’s perfectly serviceable. For the roughly $120 price, however, it’s hard to see why anyone would purchase the keyboard unless they have a strong affinity for Lenovo accessories.

Conclusion

Lenovo’s ThinkPad Tablet 2 is a well-made tablet, but unfortunately it’s hamstrung by a weak processor and unimaginative hardware that does little to separate it from the pack. The Tablet 2 does an admirable job maintaining the ThinkPad’s reputation for build quality, but it can’t overcome technical limitations.


Despite unimaginative hardware, Lenovo's Tablet 2 features strong build quality the ThinkPad line is known for.

Businesses are surely looking for Windows 8 tablets capable of integrating with their solutions, and right now the Tablet 2 is probably the best bet – but that’s not exactly saying much with a dearth of options in the market. The long battery life makes it compelling for business users on the go, but I imagine most companies will wait until Windows 8.1 is released and more powerful Atom processors come out that are actually capable of running desktop applications without much slowdown.

The Tablet 2 provides enough power for companies that only need a device for basic data entry, and Windows 8 should allow it to work with most enterprise solutions that have already been deployed. For anything more than that, the best option is to wait.

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