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.
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)
Graphics: PowerVR SGX545 in Atom SoC
Storage: 64GB eMMC
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
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.