After the confusion of the initial rush to market, Windows 8 tablets are beginning to settle into two distinct types: affordable consumer models mostly based on ARM processors and Windows RT, and more expensive business-focused models based on Intel processors and Windows 8 Pro. You won’t get any prizes for guessing which category Lenovo’s ThinkPad Tablet 2 comes into.
At around £635.99 it’s not exactly cheap, but like Samsung’s similar ATIV Smart PC Pro 700T it packs in a digitiser and pen, adding to its usability for certain applications. Otherwise, its big selling point isn’t so much the specification – the ThinkPad Tablet 2 uses the same Atom Z2760 processor and 2GB RAM combination as many budget tablets – as Lenovo’s business-class styling and build quality. This isn’t a tablet for posers, but for companies looking to deploy a fleet of tablets, or simply people who need to get some honest work done.
Design and build quality
With the ThinkPad Tablet 2, Lenovo looks to have gone for a perfect balance of light weight and rugged build quality.
It’s a plain, matt-black device of glass and rubberised plastic, with only subdued Lenovo and ThinkPad logos, the red dot of the stylus and the Windows button on the front to break things up, but then discreet and business-like have always been part of the ThinkPad aesthetic. It’s designed to appeal to corporate IT departments, not style obsessives.
The tablet is less than 10mm thick and only 565g in weight, making it lighter than both the Asus VivoTab Smart ME400 and the Dell XPS 10 and significantly lighter than either of Microsoft’s Surface tablets. It’s light enough to be held one-handed with the stylus in the other, and you’d barely notice it stuffed into your hand luggage.
Yet where rivals feel a little creaky in places, the ThinkPad feels fairly solid. Despite a magnesium alloy frame and plastic casing, there’s a bit more flex than there should be when you twist it, but otherwise it certainly seems tough, and it’s good to see the larger ports and sockets, concealed beneath protective covers.
Screen and sound
Sound is equally middle of the road, with better clarity than on some tablets, but still no real bass or warmth in the tone, and precious little stereo effect. In the kinds of environment where you'll see the ThinkPad Tablet 2 this isn't any real disaster. The audio as it is will be fine for business purposes, and you can always plug your headphones in if you plan to catch up on TV during the daily commute.
Ergonomics and options
The new ThinkPad Tablet’s lightness works in its favour as a business tool, and it’s a flexible device for work. The 5-finger multitouch display seems accurate and responsive in use, and the Windows 8 on-screen keyboard is fine for typing on provided you’re not planning on knocking out a 10,000-word report.
Meanwhile, the pen and digitiser on our sample unit are a real boon for business users. Not only does it enable you to take notes and sketch directly on the screen (more on this later), but it makes it a whole lot easier to use the full range of standard Windows applications, most of which are still designed with keyboard and mouse in mind. Moving from a mouse or touchpad to a pen takes getting used to, but the pen is certainly a lot more accurate than the finger, particularly if you’re trying to select options from a pull-down menu or a toolbar.
If you need a proper keyboard, then Lenovo does an optional Bluetooth one with a stand. This comes in at just over £100. We weren't provided with one for testing, but previews indicated a decent keyboard in the classic ThinkPad mould, albeit one that suffers from having a trackpoint instead of a trackpad. While it's not as elegant an all-in solution as Dell's XPS 10 or Microsoft's own Surface Pro, the keyboard turns the Thinkpad Tablet 2 into a viable alternative to a conventional laptop, even if the screen size is more netbook than notebook level. There’s also a desktop dock, (£81, pictured below right), which means the ThinkPad Tablet 2 could double as a low-power desktop PC.
Connectivity and cameras
One area where Windows tablets score points over rivals tends to be connectivity. Even Windows RT supports a wider range of plug-in devices than iOS or Android, and the ThinkPad Tablet 2 is running full-fat Windows 8 (Professional in this version). This device has the standard micro-USB and micro HDMI ports, plus a SIM card slot for the 3G variant and a full-sized USB 2.0 port, hidden beneath a cover on the left. Add in 802,11N Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4, and you have a pretty versatile device, though it's worth mentioning that the USB port can't supply enough juice to support an external hard drive without its own PSU.
The ThinkPad 2 has an 8-megapixel autofocus rear camera and a 2-megapixel front-facing effort. The latter is fine for video-conferencing purposes and works reasonably well in poor lighting, but the rear snapper is a disappointment, producing gloomy, low-detail pics and struggling to focus in the kind of rotten weather we’re enduring at the moment. It’s going to be fine for site photos, business cards or scanning QR codes and barcodes, but you wouldn’t want to take your holiday photos with it.
The ThinkPad Tablet 2 will win fans in the enterprise sphere just for running Windows 8 Professional and including a Trusted Platform Module, meaning it can be managed and secured using the same tools organisations use with their ordinary laptop fleet. It's also going to work well with existing email, security and intranet solutions, and run the kind of applications that big corporates already use. Much as Microsoft wants to move big enterprises to a world of cloud-based services and smaller, focused apps, it's not going to happen overnight.
Businesses of all sizes will like the simple, business-ready apps Lenovo has pre-installed, including a useful sketch app for capturing and annotating images, and the popular notes app, Evernote. Both work well with the digitiser pen, and it's not hard to see this being a great device for inventory management, mobile sales and assessment work. We still hold firm that, for business users, Windows 8 Professional rather than Windows RT is the OS to go for, because you don't lose any functionality over RT and you gain a lot in enterprise features and legacy software support. This is the right OS for this particular device.
Whereas Microsoft's Surface Pro is running a speedy Core i5 processor, the ThinkPad Tablet 2, like the Asus VivoTab ME400 and Acer Iconia W510, is built around a lower-powered Atom Z2760 processor. This means that the Lenovo isn't ready to get plugged into a monitor and used for professional image-editing or high-end Excel tasks, but it has more than enough welly for the kinds of task that you're likely to do on a business tablet: email, web applications, running PowerPoint presentations and lightweight Word and Excel editing on the move. The SunSpider score of 774ms is significantly faster than you'd see on any ARM-powered Android or Windows RT tablet.
HD video will play without any problems, and it's only when it comes to graphically intensive applications - specifically console-style 3D games - that you're likely to run into problems. Hydro Thunder Hurricane initially refused to run and had patchy frame rates when it did. But then, this is a business tablet, not a consumer device.
The upside of having a less powerful processor is that it's also more energy efficient, and the ThinkPad managed around 10 hours of mixed use without any problem. That's enough for even quite a long working day, and you might squeeze more out if you spend less time watching video and more time getting something useful done.
The ThinkPad Tablet 2 doesn’t have the fastest processor, the best screen or the most awesome sound, but it's big on features that businesses will love, and its stylus makes it a more versatile working tablet than your average Windows 8 or Android device. Battery life is excellent and Windows 8 is very much the right OS. The only real concern is the price, which while not unreasonable might put off smaller companies.
Manufacturer and model
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2
1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760
10.1in 1,366 x 768
micro-USB, micro HDMI, USB 2.0, 3G, headphone
802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0
Size and weight
165 x 263 x 9.9mm, 565g