|Introduction and Specifications|
|Lenovo's first ThinkPad tablet was a bit of a disappointment to be candid. Even the best Android Honeycomb tablets were severely lacking on a number of fronts, back in the day. What was the use of a business tablet that couldn't run business apps? Well, forget all that. The ThinkPad Tablet 2 is a real business tablet, and one that actually feels like a ThinkPad--albeit one that has a detachable keyboard. It runs Windows; not Windows RT, not Android, not Windows XP, but real Windows 8 (or Windows 8 Pro). It has a gorgeous 10.1-inch 1366x768 LED IPS multitouch screen, an optional active digitizer stylus, optional mobile broadband, and ThinkPad good looks (if you're into that). Its optional keyboard dock is not really a dock and not really optional, but we'll get to that in just a bit.
The ThinkPad Tablet 2's Atom Z2760 processor is dual-core and hyper-threaded, but it's still an Atom processor. Add in just 2GB of DDR2LP (low-powered) at 800MHz and it's obvious this computer isn't going to be breaking any land speed records--not while running desktop Windows. But the purpose of Atom is not to be the fastest; the purpose of Atom is to be good enough to run Windows while sipping power. If you want fast, get a Core processor. The ThinkPad Tablet 2 isn't supposed to be a speed demon; it's supposed to be a tablet for business users, one with an emphasis on productivity--and with the keyboard dock, it's obvious that's not just lip service.
So, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 is a tablet that thinks it's a ThinkPad laptop. Is it good enough to be a ThinkPad? Is it even good enough to be a good tablet? Let's find out...
|Design and User Interface|
Imagine, if you will, a Lenovo tablet with a ThinkPad's design language. The ThinkPad Tablet 2 looks a lot like that device in your imagination. It's a slate with a 10.1-inch screen, a glossy black bezel, and the usual ThinkPad-style soft-touch matte black finish to the sides and back. The rear edge of the right side is beveled, so the tablet feels even thinner. The left side is not, so as to accommodate the stylus, which slips right into a dock on the tablet's left edge. The result is a 1.3 pound tablet that, especially compared to others in its size class, feels solid but comfortable and easy to hold. And unlike tablets with backs made from glossy, cheap-feeling plastic or industrial-looking aluminum, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 feels, well, like a grown-up tablet. It's serious business.
The left edge of the tablet has a microUSB port for charging and a rubberized flap covering a full-sized USB 2.0 port. Unfortunately, you can't use the microUSB port to sync with a desktop. It's for charging only. And the full-sized USB port only puts out 2.5W of power, which isn't enough to power a portable hard drive or optical drive.
The stylus slots into the top left corner and leaves a little red nub showing on the top left edge of the tablet. The nub, of course, looks just like the fabled ThinkPad trackpoint. Another flap covers the SIM and microSD card slots on the top of the tablet just to the right of the webcam. The far right of the top edge holds the power button. The right edge of the tablet has a headphone/mic jack, the volume keys, and an auto-rotate toggle, while the bottom edge holds a mini-HDMI port and a port for the $100 desktop docking station (sold separately).
The bezel around the screen is just around 2cm on each side. Above the screen (in landscape mode) is the 2MP webcam; the round Start button is its counterpart on the bottom bezel. The right bezel contains the ambient light sensor, and the ThinkPad logo is picked out on the right edge of the top bezel. The back of the tablet has an 8MP camera, LED flash, and the Lenovo and ThinkPad logos.
The 10.1-inch 1366x768 LED-backlit IPS screen is beautiful. Its colors are rich and accurate, and it looks great from any angle, though it's hard to use in direct sunlight due to its extreme glossiness and tendency to pick up fingerprints. The resolution isn't as high as you might want, but pairing high-resolution, small-sized screens with desktop Windows is a perilous task--just look at the Surface Pro's 10-inch 1920x1080 screen and its weird desktop scaling issues. Lenovo took the easier route and stuck with a 1366x768 screen and the standard UI scaling. Even at this scale it's hard to use the desktop mode without mechanical aid, but you don't have to, provided you spring for the keyboard and stylus. And you really should.
|The Optional Keyboard and Software|
The ThinkPad Tablet 2 by itself is clearly inspired by the design of its namesake laptops, but when you add the $120 keyboard dock, it suddenly transforms into a miniature ThinkPad laptop.
First, the great things about the keyboard dock. The six-row, island-style keyboard uses Lenovo's "smile" key shape, meaning the bottoms of each key are rounded to help you pick out the right ones. Its function row button includes actual functions--volume, mic mute, and screen brightness, as well as some Windows 8-specific shortcuts to Settings, the app switcher, and the All Apps list. The keyboard even has a red trackpoint, and the left, right, and scroll buttons that go with it. True, It's not a real trackpoint--it uses an optical sensor to track your finger movements, so you have to swipe with your finger rather than tilt it. The keyboard is netbook-sized, so it feels a little bit cramped, but I was able to type over 60wpm--just about as fast as I can on a ThinkPad X1 Carbon's full-sized keyboard.
The stylus is pretty good, too. It should be since it uses Wacom digitizer technology. It's active, so you can see a little crosshair on the screen when the pen is within about a centimeter of the surface. When the screen detects the pen, it shuts off the capacitive digitizer, so you can rest your hand on the screen for sketching. The touch digitizer comes back on immediately once the pen is away, though, which can lead to weird hand detection errors if you lift the stylus up too high. If you can see the cursor/crosshair from the pen, it's detected. Otherwise it's not, and you can use touch. If you don't use a stylus for sketching, you're likely to only use it with Windows handwriting-recognition keyboard, which takes the place of the regular onscreen keyboard. My handwriting is resolutely awful but Windows was able to decipher it the vast majority of the time.
The tablet's integrated Intel SGX545 graphics are enough to easily do basic productivity tasks on its 1366x768 display, or a 1920x1080p external monitor connected via the mini-HDMI port. You can even use both at the same time, with caveats. Because the mini-HDMI port is on the bottom edge of the tablet, you can't rest it upright while the HDMI is connected, unless you spring for the $100 Lenovo desktop dock, which includes three USB 2.0 ports, HDMI, Ethernet, and a 65W AC adapter that charges the tablet faster than the one that comes with the tablet. So unless you spring for that dock or jimmy-rig your own solution, you can use the tablet display or an external, but not both at once.
The ThinkPad Tablet 2 runs 32-bit Windows 8 Pro, so it has access to both the Metro interface and the real desktop, not the stripped-down facsimile that comes with Windows RT. That means access to Photoshop, Office, weird Cisco VPN software--anything that runs on Windows. That said, with 64GB of flash storage (plus up to 64GB more via the microSD slot), an Atom processor, and 2GB of RAM, it's not going to replace a laptop or desktop for people who need serious computing power.
|If you've read any of our other reviews of Clovertrail Windows 8 tablets--the Lenovo IdeaPad Lynx, Acer Iconia Tab W510, or Samsung ATIV 500T--you already know what to expect from the ThinkPad 2. For the most part, it doesn't deviate from the paths set by these tablet hybrids.
The ThinkPad Tablet 2's SunSpider score is right up there with two other Atom Z2760 tablets. The Atom processor, while pokey by desktop and even laptop standards, is a speed demon compared to the ARM-powered competition.
The ThinkPad Tablet 2's PCMark 7 score is indistinguishable from that of the IdeaPad Lynx, which has identical hardware and scored a 1438. The Samsung ATIV 500T, despite its similar hardware, got a 1275. Compare this to the benchmark chart in our latest ultrabook review, the Dell XPS 13, where scores for ultrabooks with Core i3 processors (and up) started in the low 2000s and topped out around 4500.
Last but not least, it's SiSoftware SANDRA, the System ANalyzer, Diagnostic and Reporting Assistant. We ran four of the built-in subsystem tests (CPU Arithmetic, Multimedia, Memory Bandwidth, File System).
Nothing new to see here; the Z2760 in the ThinkPad Tablet 2, plus its 2GB LPDDR2, put it right with every other Windows 8 Atom tablet on the market.
|HD Video Playback and Battery Life|
HD video playback is a bit of a mixed bag. Attempts to watch 1080p video on the desktop--Vimeo or YouTube streams via desktop versions of Chrome or Internet Explorer, as well as H.264 and MP4 videos in Windows Media Player or VLC Player--invariably resulted in dropped frames and screen freezing. It's a bit of a funky test anyway, though, because the ThinkPad Tablet 2's screen is only 768 pixels high, so 1080p content has to be downscaled to 720p anyway. 720p HD video streamed from Netflix or Xbox video was flawless.
You can see the Atom processor really struggling to keep up with the 1080p I Am Legend trailer in VLC. Interestingly, the same 1080p I Am Legend trailer that skipped and dropped frames in VLC or Windows Media Player on the desktop played without issues in the Metro interface's Video app.
BatteryEater Pro gives the tablet a heavy workload, putting more strain on the battery, exercising graphics, memory, storage and its processor. Because everything you do with your tablet impacts its battery life, your experience will be different from our benchmarks, but they provide good, consistent data points for comparison with other tablets and ultrabooks on the market.
Before running these tests, we set the display brightness to 50% and disabled the screensaver, hibernate, and similar power-conserving settings so we could see how the tablet performs under constant use. Wi-Fi was on so the tablet could connect to the Internet.
The ThinkPad Tablet 2 lasted nine hours in our web browsing test, and 5:44 in Battery Eater Pro.The Samsung ATIV 500T and the IdeaPad Lynx each outlasted it by over an hour in the web browsing test, though the ThinkPad Tablet 2 lasted longest of the three in the Battery Eater Pro. In the course of testing we got all-day performance from the ThinkPad Tablet 2 every day we tested it, no matter what we were using it for. This is hugely important in any tablet, but especially one for business.
The ThinkPad Tablet 2 is a difficult thing to suss out. It's clearly great at what it is: being a business-optimized Windows 8 Atom tablet. However, the form factor itself is sort of an awkward compromise that is pretty good at most things, but not quite great at any one thing, save perhaps for media consumption -- which one might argue is a tablet's primary domain.
The ThinkPad Tablet 2's keyboard itself is so great you might think ought to be permanently attached. As it is, though, you can’t adjust the screen angle when docked, which means there’s absolutely no way to use the keyboard dock for long stretches in a way that doesn't end up hurting your wrists or your neck. The stylus is great too. As always, you pay a premium for ThinkPad build quality, styling, ports, and features.