ThinkPad Tablet: Ready for the boardroom (review)

Summary:The ThinkPad Tablet by Lenovo is a Honeycomb slate that has typical ThinkPad engineering and quality of construction. It is as comfortable in the boardroom as it is the living room.

Android tablets are a dime a dozen, but the folks behind the ThinkPad line of notebooks are looking to change that. The ThinkPad Tablet by Lenovo brings professional styling, sturdy construction and special features to the tablet that are unique to the genre. Android is ready for the boardroom.

The ThinkPad Tablet has typical black styling familiar of the line of laptops, and while a bit heavier than some Android tablets there is no mistaking the solid construction. The attention to detail is evident in every aspect of the tablet, from the solid casing to the buttons beneath the screen covered with Corning Gorilla Glass. The ThinkPad Tablet will satisfy anyone wanting to give a professional image.

Check out the ThinkPad Tablet with pen and Keyboard Folio captured in photos


Image Gallery: ThinkPad Tablet with optional pen input and Keyboard Folio
Image Gallery: Charge
Image Gallery: Charge
Hardware

Specs as reviewed:

  • OS: Android 3.1 Honeycomb
  • CPU: NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual core mobile processor (1.0GHz)
  • Display: 10.1” Multi-Touch Capacitive-Touch IPS Display, 1280 x 800 resolution, 16:10 aspect ratio
  • Memory: 1GB system RAM, 32GB storage (expandable through SD slot)
  • Cameras: 5MP rear-facing; 2MP front-facing camera
  • Connectivity: 802.11b/g/n, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, SIM slot for 3G (not tested)
  • Ports: Full USB 2.0, MicroUSB 2.0, MiniHDMI, 3.5mm combo jack, DC-in jack for AC adapter, dock port
  • Battery: 3250 mAh Li-polymer
  • Measurements: 10.3 x 7.2 x 0.56 inches
  • Weight: 1.6 pounds

The specs of the ThinkPad are fairly typical of the genre, but Lenovo has included some special stuff to make this stand out from the crowd. Foremost is the use of an N-Trig dual digitizer which allows optional pen input on the screen in addition to the typical multi-touch input. The pen rests in a silo on the tablet when not in use.

Lenovo put a full SD slot on the ThinkPad, and a regular USB port that works with the optional portfolio case. The USB port can be used with standard USB flash drives for file exchange. File transfer can be done via the SD slot, too.

The 10.1-inch IPS screen is not the brightest I have tested, but it has outstanding viewing angles which is a good trait for a tablet. The front-facing camera does a decent job with video chatting, and the speaker, while not anything special, is quite loud for a tablet.

In a move rare for a Honeycomb tablet, the ThinkPad Tablet has four hardware buttons beneath the screen (in portrait orientation). These are a Lock Screen Rotation, Browser launcher, Back, and a Home button. These buttons are very rigid and can be hard to press. I find I end up using soft buttons on the screen out of habit.

There are two cameras on the ThinkPad, a 2MP front-facing camera and a 5MP camera on the back. The front camera delivered decent video chatting using Google Talk. The rear camera is nothing spectacular, as I found photos taken with it to be very basic. This tablet will not replace your basic point-and-shoot given its lackluster quality photos, not to mention its unwieldy size for snapping shots.

The ThinkPad construction used in the tablet make it easily the most rugged tablet I have used. It is heavy at 1.6 pounds, but it feels nice and solid in the hand.

Software

Lenovo is aiming the ThinkPad Tablet at the enterprise worker, and the software that comes standard reflects that aim. While there is plenty of entertainment software (Slacker, Netflix, Kindle, Zinio, Angry Birds), the tablet is loaded with apps for the worker. These include LANDesk, Computrace, Citrix Receiver, and McAfee Mobile Security. A full version of Documents to Go comes standard allowing viewing/editing of MS Office documents.

Lenovo has customized Honeycomb 3.1 to add a home screen launcher and a favorite apps wheel for easy access to the apps used most often. The Lenovo App Shop is front and center offering apps the company deems fitting for the ThinkPad.

The onscreen keyboard included on the tablet is the flexT9 keyboard by Nuance. This keyboard has good predictive text and autocorrection that starts learning from your typing as soo as you begin using it. I found it to be a decent keyboard, and it works with the optional pen to allow coarse editing of documents by pen. This experience was variable, and perhaps it would be better over time.

The web browser is typical Android with some special features. In the Settings screen there is a Labs function that makes web pages display in a full screen mode. Swiping in from either the left or right side of the screen causes a wheel menu to appear with common browser functions, such as Next and Previous. I normally use the Dolphin Browser on Android tablets, but this is a decent alternative.

The optional pen works with the MyScript Notes Mobile app that is preinstalled and uses a notebook metaphor to allow taking ink notes with the pen. Handwriting can be automatically converted to digital text if desired, or ink notes can be left as written. The latter worked better for me, as the ink-to-text conversion was not very accurate. The pen is the only input method allowed with the Notes app, which was a bit odd given the presence of an Android keyboard.

Performance, Keyboard folio, and conclusion »

Performance

The Tegra 2 performed as expected, and I found the overall performance of the ThinkPad Tablet to be similar to other Honeycomb tablets I have used. As is common with Android, I found the ThinkPad to occassionally lag at times for just an instant. It wasn't bad enough to be aggravating, but enough to be noticeable. The lags happened frequently when the screen was auto-rotating and when unlocking after sleeping.

Battery life is decent, and I easily went all day on a charge. I would rate it similar to the Galaxy Tab 10.1 I use, perhaps a little shorter.

Options

Lenovo sent me two options to test with the ThinkPad, the aforementioned pen and the leather portfolio case with an integrated keyboard.

The pen ($30) is a typical tablet pen that works with the N-Trig digitizer. It has a nice heft in the hand, and is comfortable to hold. While some will find the ability to use a pen to be important, I felt the pen input was limited in scope. I did find it nice that the pen could be used as a pointer on the screen, unlike the HTC Flyer I reviewed recently. It was nice to be able to swipe and point with the pen when it was already in my hand, while I was constantly frustrated with the Flyer which only recognized the pen in certain apps.

The leather keyboard folio ($100) surprised me when I took it out of the box as I was unprepared for how heavy it is. The folio has the same ThinkPad styling and sturdy construction, and this results in the case weighing in at 1.4 pounds which is almost as heavy as the tablet. The combined weight of the Tablet and the folio is 3 pounds, a considerable weight for a combo of this nature.

The reason for the hefty case is the quality construction that makes it stand up to the rigors of frequent travel. The inside of the folio is a plastic frame that secures the ThinkPad Tablet. The tablet is a bit difficult to remove from the case for taking it solo.

The real story of the folio is the keyboard that turns the tablet into a very decent laptop standin. It is typical ThinkPad keyboard fare, which means very good things for typing. The keys are wonderful, and the tactile feedback is very good. There are dedicated keys for controlling the tablet, eliminating the need to remove the hands from the keyboard. There are three slots that allow propping the tablet at different angles for viewing as desired. Magnetic closure is used to keep the tablet held securely while working with the keyboard.

There is an optical trackpad in the middle of the keyboard that moves a little cursor around the screen. The two mouse buttons beneath the keyboard work as expected. I imagine it would take a little practice to get proficient with this trackpad. I found it easy to just touch the screen most of the time.

The tablet has a sliding door on the side that covers the full USB port, and this port is used to plug into the folio keyboard. It's a snug fit, and that's why the tablet is tough to remove from the case as mentioned.

I could easily see travelling with the ThinkPad Tablet and keyboard folio combination for short business trips. It's not quite a full laptop but as close as anything I have used in the tablet world.

Conclusion

The ThinkPad Tablet is not the cheapest Honeycomb tablet out there but it is the best constructed by far. The rubberized ThinkPad coating makes this look and feel as comfortable in the boardroom as the living room. Lenovo is stuffing lots of software on the tablet, and while some will not appreciate all of this I think most will find the apps to be useful.

The ThinkPad logo on the back of the tablet is not just for show, with a red LED that indicates when power is on. The ThinkPad engineering and quality are reflected in all aspects of the tablet, and professionals will appreciate the package.

This tablet is not the thinnest nor the lightest available, but with the optional pen and the keyboard folio it is the most versatile tablet I have used.

Related:

Topics: Laptops, Hardware, Mobility, Tablets

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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