Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 (Part 1)

3/11/2013 9:04:17 AM

Before talking about the ThinkPad Tablet 2, Lenovo’s new Windows 8 hybrid PC, we just need to talk about the original ThinkPad Tablet, which was launched in the fall of 2011 with various reviews. It was a good device, with useful features such as large-sized USB ports, supporting 1080p output and stylus, all of which are so rare on Android tablets. But the tablet itself was cumbersome, with slow performance, average battery life, and didn’t even have many Android applications designed to be used with the stylus. It was a concept that was not completely effective - at least with the operating system and indeed, Lenovo has stopped producing it ever since.

Currently, the ThinkPad Tablet has been revived in the form of a 10.1-inch Windows 8 device, starting at the price of $579 and it can be used with an optional keyboard dock. It is a much lighter product, weighing 1.3 pounds (lighter than the previous 1.58 pounds), and although it uses a more powerful Atom processor, its battery life lasts about 10 hours. (The original model lasted 8 hours in our normal test). Like the original one, it allows input by using the stylus on the selected models, but of course, Windows was made with many applications for which the stylus can be really useful. So is it the second appealing feature? That’s true!

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2

Style and feeling

The ThinkPad Tablet 2 does not have many things in common with the original one - the former ran Android, and this latter model is powered by Windows 8; one model is a bit like an odd duck while the other is our favorite at first sight. However, they both look like what you would expect from a ThinkPad tablet. That is, this new ThinkPad Tablet 2 has the same soft rubber surface as the one used on many Lenovo’s business laptops. Even the ThinkPad logo with a sparkling letter "i" has been copied here. If you order the tablet with 2 sets of digitalizers, the stylus that accompanies it comes with the red cap, which imitates the TrackPoint. The optional Bluetooth keyboard dock has also been made similar to the typical ThinkPad keyboard, but we will discuss in more detail the typing experience later.

First of all, it is about the tablet. It is extremely comfortable to hold. We are not sure whether it has a soft surface with rounded edges or a combination of both, but the safety and effectiveness here are nearly perfect. The left side edge is a bit curved, because it leaves space for the slot where the stylus is inserted. That means you have more room for your thumb on the left, and you will put your finger on the rubber layer instead of on the glass. It also feels lightweight, with just 1.3 pounds and 0.39 inches thick (lighter but thinner than the current iPad). Meanwhile, the soft edges of this tablet make it easier to hold than the square Surface tablets, but we have to admit neither of them can be a direct rival of the ThinkPad Tablet 2 at least, in terms of performance.

It is extremely comfortable to hold.

It is extremely comfortable to hold.

If continuing our tour on this device, we can choose where we have just left: the place near the stylus slot. The stylus has a V-shaped groove mounted on the top, with a series of grooves which allows you to lift the pen from the slot using your fingernail. We are pleased to inform you that this still exists, but taking it out of the slot may take some effort. Lying a little bit farther on the same side is a large-sized USB 2.0 port covered by a separate door. Unfortunately, while it's usually a good feature that any device should have, the 2.5watt jack here does not work with any external USB hard drive or optical drive, even when the tablet is plugged in. However, in theory, that is a problem you can solve by using the USB port on the optional docking station.

There is also a micro-USB jacks that you will need in order to charge the device (Lenovo says that you cannot use it to transfer data). As this is a standard connection type, you can provide yourself with separate cables, which is what you may want to, because the cable that comes in the box is quite short - specifically, it will not be able to reach from the desk to the socket on the floor. On the right side edge, you will find many things you need: a headphone jack, a volume rocker and a power/lock button. On the top (we're still in horizontal mode here), there is one other cover, which covers the microSD slot and the SIM card slot. At least in the U.S., you may have LTE via AT&T, but in other parts of the world, you will have HSPA+.

At the bottom, you'll find an HDMI output, along with a dock connector. There is no surprise here: there is a necessary physical Start button on the bevelled surface under the screen. Lenovo also provides it with a NFC radio below in case you have another device with Near-Field Communications technology. What would a tablet be like without the camera? You will have one 2MP front camera for video chat, and a 8MP rear camera with flash to capture photos with more detail.

Keyboard dock

Buy yourself a ThinkPad Tablet 2, and you will have a beautiful metal and glass slab. However, if you buy a Bluetooth keyboard at $120, you have a real ThinkPad. The 6-row layout here is not the exact copy of the layout you will find on Lenovo's new laptops, but it will look quite similar. The keyboard is designed with the same U-shaped "Smile", with fairly wide space between them - an impressive achievement if you consider a keyboard as small as that of netbooks.

As you have expected, there are a number of buttons that have been shrunk to the size of the fingernail - in particular, we often missed the Backspace key and mistyped on the Delete key. However, particularly, the keys are easy to find without looking - even the small arrow keys have been crammed into the right corner at the bottom. However, most importantly, the keys feel like those of a real ThinkPad: if there are fewer movements here, for sure we can hardly point out the differences. These buttons are arranged thickly and comfortably, supported by a sturdy panel that can withstand the strongest pressure from users. It is the best keyboard you will find on a hybrid device - something that you can use to complete some real works.

It is the best keyboard you will find on a hybrid device.

It is the best keyboard you will find on a hybrid device.

Most of the time, it was like that. Sometimes, we encountered a number of delays over a Bluetooth connection, which made the characters appear on the screen several seconds after we had typed them. You won’t be able to do much when it happens, except for pressing the power button and combining the keyboard with the tablet. The dock does not allow you to adjust the angle of the screen of the tablet, although, fortunately, glare will never be a problem. You can also put it on your lap – its weight distribution is so good that it will not slip easily. But if it falls down, then the tablet is already gone: there is no physical latch mechanism to hold all the parts of it in position.

You will also need a seprarate charger for the keyboard, although at least it uses the same micro-USB standard as that of the tablet, which means you can swap its cable if you only have one. That's pretty good, but we thought we would prefer a keyboard with latch, maybe a keyboard with built-in battery. With that way, we will be able to charge two devices at the same time and have a bit more time to do other things while waiting.

At this time, it seems like our report on the keyboard is not very good, but in fact we quite like it. Not only did the buttons convince us but the optical touchpad that is used to replace the normal TrackPoint did as well. The best way to think about it might be to compare it with the optical touchpad on previous BlackBerry devices. There is no "stick" here to push from left to right. Instead, you drag your fingers on the surface as you will do on a laptop touchpad. And it works just fine. The tracking is accurate, and the two touch buttons are arranged in such a way that they are easy to be hit by your finger. Even there is a normal third button to scroll faster, which is an interesting thing, because Lenovo has just given up all the buttons on their ThinkPads’ touchpad.

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