ThinkPad Tablet 2: Best Windows tablet

ThinkPad Tablet 2: Best Windows tablet

Summary: Windows tablets come in all shapes and sizes with varying degrees of success. Lenovo gets it right with the ThinkPad Tablet 2.

02 iPad ThinkPad side by side 600
ThinkPad Tablet 2 compares nicely with iPad (left) -- Image credit: James Kendrick/ZDNet

Windows tablet makers are trying different forms and styles of units to try to make a model that will appeal to consumers. Some of them seem to work OK while others miss the mark. Lenovo has chosen to make a simple slate model in the ThinkPad Tablet 2, and it is by far the best of the lot.

I was impressed with the ThinkPad Tablet 2 when I first reviewed it at launch earlier this year. I would have purchased one except I felt the $729 price was too high. When the price dropped recently to under $600 I had to buy one.

See related: ThinkPad Tablet 2: First look | ThinkPad Tablet 2: Inking in Windows 8 | ThinkPad Tablet 2: First impressions

I've used over a dozen Windows tablets including convertible notebooks, hybrids, and pure tablets. Some of them have been terrible, others just OK, and one or two nice but not compelling.

Hardware as reviewed:

  • Processor: Intel Atom Z2760 (2 cores, 1.8 GHz, 1MG cache)
  • OS: Windows 8 Pro (32-bit)
  • Display: 10.1-inch IPS (1366 x 768)
  • Pen: yes
  • Graphics: PowerVR SGX545 in Atom SoC
  • Storage: 64GB eMMC
  • Memory: 2GB
  • Cameras: 2MP front; 8MP rear (720p video capture)
  • Sound: stereo speakers (0.5 Watt x 2)
  • Wireless: Wi-Fi a/b/g/n; Bluetooth 4.0; GPS
  • Weight: 1.3 lbs.
  • Dimensions: 10.34 x 6.48 x 0.39 inches
  • Battery: 30 Whr
  • Slots/ports: 1-USB 2.0; miniHDMI; microSD; dock connector; 3.5mm audio

Where most of them have fallen short is in trying to do too much. It seems that when OEMs try to make a tablet that is also a good laptop, they fall short on the tablet side. For tablets to be good models, they must be thin and light enough to be used in the hand for long periods. The slate must also be small enough to be comfortable to handle.

It's all about the tablet

I'm using the pen more than I thought I would due to the nice Windows 8 inking panel. It feels natural to hold the Tablet 2 like a notepad and write on the screen.

That's exactly what Lenovo has built in the Tablet 2. The 1.3lb unit is the most comfortable Windows tablet I've used. The 10.1-inch display makes the slate an almost perfect size for doing typical tablet tasks. It works well in either landscape or portrait orientation, something most Windows tablets don't always handle well in my experience.

The black matte finish on the Tablet 2 looks nice and provides a surface for securely handling the tablet. It is far better than the sleek metal finish used on the iPad which is slippery. Secure handling aside, it has a quality that is very important for a tablet: it feels very good in the hand.

I like the removable tablet on my HP Envy x2, but the Tablet 2 is much better. The size is a big reason, a 10.1-inch tablet is simply much easier to use than a 11.6-inch model. A testament to that is I find I like reading books with the Metro Kindle app on the Tablet 2. It displays a big page and is comfortable to hold in portrait orientation for a good while.

The Tablet 2 also has one important feature the Envy x2 lacks: pen support. The pen lives in a little storage silo on one edge of the Tablet 2 so it's easy to slide the pen out and use it instead of the onscreen keyboard. Windows 8 handles inking nicely and it's a great feature for a tablet. The pen is also handy when working on the Windows desktop as screen controls can be tiny on the small screen. Tapping them with the pen is more precise than with a big finger.

The ThinkPad Tablet 2 has a physical Windows button on the bottom of the screen rather than a touch button as used on other tablets. The touch buttons give me fits when using the tablet in the hand so the physical button is a big plus for me.

The resolution of the Tablet 2 display (1366x768) is just right for the 10.1-inch screen. While the Metro interface can handle various resolutions with ease, legacy apps on the desktop can be too small to read easily when the resolution is high. That's not the case on the Tablet 2, everything looks nice and crisp yet is still easy to read.

There is a microSD slot on the Tablet 2 and I've put a 64GB card in mine. That more than doubles the internal storage which has full Windows 8 taking up a lot of the 64GB. Now I don't worry about it with about 100GB at my disposal. My unit also has a SIM card slot as Lenovo sells models with mobile broadband. On my unit the SIM slot is not active.

I like the ability to install legacy Windows apps on the Tablet 2, and that means Chrome. I am heavily ingrained in the Google/Chrome ecosystem and I use Chrome heavily. It runs nicely on the Tablet 2 and is easy to operate by touch. I can easily switch between Chrome on the desktop and Tweetdeck running in IE on the Metro side with a swipe from left to right.

I'm using the pen more than I thought I would due to the nice Windows 8 inking panel. I can easily scribble short entries in any app (Metro and legacy) which I find easier to do than tapping on the onscreen keyboard. It feels natural to hold the Tablet 2 like a notepad and write on the screen.

Optional keyboard-- nice but too expensive

04 Tablet with keyboard side 600
Tablet 2 with optional keyboard

The optional keyboard for the Tablet 2 is handy when I need to enter lots of text. It is a rechargable unit that connects to the Tablet 2 via Bluetooth. There is a little stand that pops up to prop the Tablet 2 at a good viewing angle for typing. The keyboard is typical ThinkPad quality and while slightly smaller than full-size keyboards I can type at great speed and with good accuracy.

It lacks a trackpad so no Windows gestures are available. There is a red trackstick in the middle of the keyboard along with three mouse buttons at the bottom edge for handling mousing. The trackstick is not a joystick, it is actually a little optical touchpad for moving the cursor around the screen.

I got used to this trackpad/trackstick thingy very quickly and it now feels very natural to use. I can move the cursor easily from one edge of the screen to the other with little finger swiping. Using the middle mouse button with the trackstick is a great way to scroll down long windows.

The Tablet 2 keyboard sells for $129 which is awfully expensive. It's almost a requirement for using Windows 8 to full advantage and it would have been nice had it been cheaper or better yet included with the tablet.

Best Windows tablet

Lenovo has taken the right approach with the ThinkPad Tablet 2 by building a no-compromise tablet first and adding keyboard support separate. The tablet is the perfect size, is easy to use in the hand, and is now selling for a good price.

It's far better than the Surface RT I bought and subsequently sold as it's more comfortable to use in the hand. Plus Windows RT is useless with its inability to install the Chrome browser (or any legacy Windows apps).

I haven't used a Surface Pro but I know the Tablet 2 is superior to that tablet from Microsoft in my opinion. The Surface Pro is too big and heavy for a tablet, at least for me, and the battery life of about 5 hours is far too short. I'm getting 10+ hours on the ThinkPad Tablet 2 and I wouldn't trade that even for the faster processor of the Surface Pro. The price advantage goes to the Tablet 2 by a wide margin.

I'd like to see Lenovo produce a Tablet 3 with Haswell inside for better performance than the Atom used in the Tablet 2. The Haswell solution should keep the battery life at a level comparable to the Atom so it would provide the best of both worlds. I'm not sure the additional heat and possible bulk of the Haswell would fit in the same case as the Tablet 2 but if so that would be great.

Until that refresh happens, if possible, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 is the best Windows tablet I've used, and I suspect it will hold that title for the foreseeable future. Lenovo has hit the ball out of the park with the Tablet 2.

Topics: Mobility, Reviews, Tablets, Windows 8

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  • Thinkpad Tablet 3

    The Atom processor is just too slow.

    A Lenovo Tablet 3 with a Haswell CPU is a much better idea.
    I'd even accept a little extra thickness and weight to accommodate Haswell.
    • Not me

      The thickness/weight is what makes a tablet work for me. Even Haswell wouldn't make me willing to compromise.
      • Compromise on everything then

        You'd be lacking in a number of key things that you like about this tablet:

        Form factor (thickness, weight, noise)
      • More than likely

        I think that the Tablet 3 will likely have a Bay Trail chip inside. It's supposed to have better performance and battery life than Clover Trail. If it has a quad-core bay trail, it will be hard to beat.
      • Windows RT (ARM) is the future for the masses.

        For the masses, RT (ARM) is much better then Intel based tablets.

        + Thinner then intel based
        + Cheaper then intel based
        + Works without a cooler
        + Better battery life
        + Office is included
        + Safer for users. They do not install any crap on those machines which will make them slow after a year!!!

        - Cannot run Windows desktop apps (first ask yourself, if you need them on a tablet machine)

        So, if you are thinking about a tablet and you just use it for browsing, checking e-mails, working with office - RT device is perfect for you.
        Don't let yourself listning salesman crap, that you NEED full Windows 8 tablet!
        • Do some research

          You're wrong. I have an Asus T100 with the BayTrail Atom quad core. It is thinner than the Surface 2 RT and several other RT tablets. It is cheaper than the Surface 2 RT and other RT tablets. It works fine without a "cooler", it doesn't need a fan and runs no warmer than an ARM powered RT device. My tablet gets 9-11 hours of battery life too. My tablet came WITH MS Office Home & Student, the real x86 version which is far more capable than the RT version (Microsoft allows it to be given for free on tablets under 11.6". And a full Windows 8.1 tablet isn't slow or "dangerous" for users unless you have no common sense and download a ton of malware on purpose. You should do some more research before you comment. Windows RT has no advantages anymore since Win 8.1 and BayTrail arrived. It isn't faster. It isn't cheaper. It doesn't get much better battery life. It doesn't really run cooler. It comes with Office, but it's the gimped Office RT. Windows RT is a dead end and Microsoft knows it, they are just in denial about it. The only person who buys an RT tablet now is someone who has not done their research.
      • I have to agree Mr. Kendrick

        Tablet weight and cool to the hand are very important. Equally battery life and capabilities. I now read most of your articles because you focus on first hand experience rather than impressions from a few minutes handling at a tech show or loaner.

        I have the X2 and owned Android 10.1 and 7" Samsung Tabs, a Surface RT with keyboard, and two older Galaxy phones. Our most recent acquisition is a Lenovo Ideapad Lynx 11.6" tablet. The Android Tabs and Surface RT were sold a while ago after about six months to two years ownership.

        The Lynx is a keeper. It weighs in at 1.4 pounds and feels much lighter than my X2. Good micro USB, micro HDMI, and the USB is also for charging.

        The current crop of Windows tablets are missing USB 3. I love mine but if the new crop of clover trail and Haswell have USB 3 light tablets, I will sell these and buy at least one. I am satisfied with the current speeds for tablet and laptop work. I will not buy another non-Windows tablet or phone again. I can't wait to see what the new Nokia/MS phones will do and spec.

        Again, for those who don't use them everyday, these ain't yer netbook's old slow Atom processors. These scream in comparison.
      • Bay Trail

        Bay Trail will be perfect. I would have bought a Thinkpad Tablet 2 if it had Bay Trail now, but Lenovo hasn't rolled it out yet. In the meantime I have a Bay Trail Asus to keep me entertained. When Lenovo inevitably brings out a Bay Trail TP Tablet 3 next year, Ill be first in line.
    • Atom is just fine

      My wife has the Envy X2. For all that she does, the Atom processor is just fine. She gladly takes the 8-14 hours of battery life over the faster processing speed. Everything she does on there is either a Windows Store App, a web browser or Office.
      A Gray
      • Agreed, these Atoms are great.

        Although, I'd wait for Bay Trail before buying anything.

        HD 4000 graphics and 64-bit support sounds amazing.
    • Have you tried one?

      This is not the same Atom found in previous netbooks. It's as fast as a Pentium D 3.0Ghz desktop I have. Boots and opens apps faster than my quad core Phenom desktop.

      Not sure how the Lenovo is better than the Envy X2. It's a $100 more, smaller screen and no keyboard. Then again, the X2 has some pretty bad bugs where sound and battery drain is concerned.
      • build quality + digitizer?

        I can vouch for the build quality/durability of the ThinkPad Tablet 2... it's fairly rugged and durable, very lightweight... so that's one way it may be better than the Envy X2 (although I haven't tried the X2)... also, the battery life gives you a full 10 hours of continuous use, they weren't lying about that.

        But the biggie for me is this: the Thinkpad Tablet 2 comes with a pressure-sensitive Wacom digitizer/stylus... the X2 does not (despite original claims to the contrary... I considered the X2 until I found out they had falsely advertised that feature, and they had gone back and changed the website to reflect that it does NOT, in fact, have an active digitizer.)
    • Good post

      just as Larry responded I'm alarmed that a single mom can make ($)7030 in 1 month on the internet. did you read this web link... c­a­n9­9.ℂ­ℴ­M
    • Thinkpad Tablet 3?

      Google doesn't find this device. Where can I see it, or find out about it?
      • it doesn't exist yet

        There is no Thinkpad Tablet 3... yet. Try searching again in Q1 2014.
  • No, I wouldn't agree that it's the best Windows 8 tablet available.

    It might be the best Atom based Windows 8 tablet available, however.

    In the article, James compared the Tablet 2 to the Surface Pro. And, in that comparison, James quickly evaluated all the Surface Pro negative attributes in relationship to the ThinkPad Tablet 2's strengths.

    To be fair, let's compare the SPro's strengths to the ThinkPad Tablet's negative attributes.

    The Surface Pro is a "professional" tablet - for lack of a better term. The most honest reviews that I have read regarding the Tablet 2 (from Amazon and elsewhere) have stated it is not the tablet for Photoshop or any other high end software package due to it's Atom processor.

    The Surface Pro has the superior display. Enough said.

    However, as a consequence of that display, it also has a superior digital inking capability. (Although, to be fair, if one was simply to limit the digital inking experience to simple hand written notes or simple graphical annotations, for example, drawn circles or lines, than the greater resolution of the Surface Pro's digital inking experience can be negated.)

    If one was to pair the Surface Pro with a Microsoft Type cover and compare that system combo to the ThinkPad Tablet 2 with it's optional keyboard, than the combined system weights are very close to each other. This would negate the weight advantage that the Lenovo tablet has, especially when transporting the Tablet 2 to work destinations or using it, as James does, as a blogging tool.

    Note: I was not able to find the actual weight of the Lenovo keyboard. Lenovo itself does not publish that data on it's tech sites. The closest I came was a Amazon shipping weight of 1.4 pounds for this keyboard. I assumed a 0.5 pound cardboard shipping container for the keyboard which left an estimate for the keyboard weight around 1 pound.

    So, what we have when comparing the two boils down to battery charge duration (no contest) versus superior performance.

    James likes to do "light duty" tablet work with his mobile tablet devices and therefore, an Atom based machine perfected fits into his lifestyle.

    Other users who need a professional Win 8 tablet, whether it is a Surface Pro or not, may have different views on which tablet best describes the current "Best in Class" for Windows 8 mobile devices.
    • I'll stick with Surface

      Add memory to that issue. Unless you want to run Win Lite, 64gb just isn't enough for this OS. This reminds me mre of the Netbook debate. Tried it and went UL - better fit.
      James, from the sound of it, if you wanted Wndows, an RT system would be a better fit for you.
    • Not willing to compromise

      I agree that the Surface Pro has some nice features, but the negatives I mentioned are deal-breakers and would make the Tablet 2 a no-go.
    • Pixelated Display

      How can it even be considered the best tablet with such a low resolution display. Even Amazon figured out this is to low be used extensively.
      • It's a really good display, though.

        The contrast is excellent, and it's pen-enabled to boot.

        As the Nexus 10 has shown, just having more pixels doesn't necessarily make it better.