The monochrome, sunlight-readable displays remain largely synonymous with e-readers, but they're moving into other devices large and small.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Lenovo's ThinkPad Tablet 2 comes in Wi-Fi-only and Wi-Fi plus mobile broadband versions, costing £569.99 (inc. VAT, £474.99 ex. VAT; US$699) and £699.99 (inc. VAT, £583.32 ex. VAT; US$949) respectively. If you want to use it with a keyboard dock, that'll cost you another £103 (inc. VAT, £85.83 ex. VAT; US$120). That's expensive for an Atom-based Windows 8 tablet, although the ThinkPad Tablet 2's specifications are impressive — including a digitizer pen, an IPS screen, good connectivity and excellent build quality. Could this be the Windows 8 tablet that business users have been looking for?
The 10.1in. ThinkPad Tablet 2 has all the branding you'd expect, including the familiar black styling with the ThinkPad logo (complete with red dot above the 'i') on both the front and back, plus a red tip to the digitizer pen that sits in a slot on the top left edge of the chassis.
As ever, the design of the ThinkPad Tablet 2 is thoughtful and the build quality excellent. This is a thin and light tablet, measuring just 26.26cm (10.3in.) wide by 16.4cm (6.5in.) deep by 0.98cm (0.39in.) thick and weighing 585g (1.29lb) if you opt for the Wi-Fi-only model (600g/1.3lb with mobile broadband).
The Tablet 1 feels extremely comfy in the hand — not only because of its trim dimensions but also because of the backplate's smooth, grip-friendly rubbery finish.
Another more subtle feature contributes to the Tablet 2's satisfying feel: the left short edge is no further away from the screen than the right one, but its outer section is finished in rubber. If you hold the tablet in landscape format in your left hand, this small section, no more than a centimetre deep, affords a more comfortable rest for your thumb than the plastic finish that forms the screen bezel.
The overall feel is of a tablet we'd be more than happy to carry in our bag or hold in the hand for a couple of hours if necessary.
Although you'll have to learn to live with its reflective coating, the Tablet 2's screen is impressive. A 10.1-inch IPS panel supporting five-finger multitouch with a (standard) resolution of 1,366 by 768 pixels, it's sharp and bright, and offers good viewing angles. That said, it's no match for the latest iPad's 2,048 by 1,536 pixels in a 9.7in. screen — that's a pixel density of 264ppi compared to the Tablet 2's 155ppi. Windows 8 in 'modern' mode looks superb on the Tablet 2, but desktop mode is difficult to navigate by touch with the default 100 percent scaling factor. The screen's 16:9 aspect ratio does mean that the on-screen keyboard is reasonably comfortable to use though.
Our one issue with the Tablet 2's build quality it is that it's difficult to extract the digitizer pen from its slot on the top left edge of the chassis. You have to get a fingernail along a short ridge on the pen itself and prise it out upwards. We'd prefer a spring-loaded mechanism.
The x86-based ThinkPad Tablet 2 runs (32-bit) Windows 8, with the mobile broadband model getting Windows 8 Pro.
The processor is the same dual-core 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760 Dual-Core found in other Atom-based Windows 8 tablets like the Asus VivoTab and Dell Latitude 10. You get 2GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage, with storage expansion available via a microSD card slot.
Dual-band Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) and Bluetooth (4.0) are both present, while the top-end model, as already noted, supports mobile broadband (HSPA+). The ThinkPad Tablet 2 also supports Near Field Communications (NFC) and includes a GPS receiver.
There's a thin, narrow on/off button to the right-hand side of the top edge, while the right side has a microphone/headphone combo jack, a pair of volume controls and a button that locks the screen's autorotate function.
There are two cameras — an 8-megapixel unit with a small LED flash at the back, and a front-facing 2-megapixel camera capable of shooting 720p video. A Windows button in the middle of the bottom screen bezel toggles you between 'modern' and 'classic' (desktop) Windows 8 views.
On the left edge of the Tablet 2 there's a Micro-USB socket that's used for charging. Although it's good to see Lenovo eschew a proprietary charging cable system, you'll need Lenovo's 10W AC adapter as many standard smartphone chargers can't provide enough power.
Next to the microUSB, under a hinged cover, is a standard USB 2.0 port. We plugged in an ordinary USB mouse, a standard keyboard and a USB stick, all of which worked fine.
On the top there's another hinged cover, beneath which you'll find a microSD card slot and — if your model supports mobile broadband — a SIM card slot. On the bottom there's a Mini-HDMI connector and a proprietary connector for an optional docking unit.
Lenovo sells a dock for £80 (inc. VAT, £66.67 ex. VAT; US$100) offering three USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet (RJ-45) port, a full-size HDMI connector, audio in and out jacks and a power connector.
Performance & battery life
The ThinkPad Tablet 2's Windows Experience Index (WEI) is just 3.2 out of 9.9. Although distinctly mediocre, this score is in line with similarly specified Atom-based Windows 8 tablets like the Dell Latitude 10 and Asus Vivo Tab.
The WEI-defining 3.2 score went to Gaming graphics (3D business and gaming graphics performance). The remaining subsystem scores were 5.6 for Primary hard disk (Disk data transfer rate), 4.7 for Memory (RAM) (Memory operations per second), 3.6 for Graphics (desktop graphics performance) and 3.4 for Processor (Calculations per second):
The digitizer pen is pressure sensitive, which may please the more artistically minded business users. The tablet's ability to convert handwritten notes into editable text is pretty good: it gave up when we started scrawling, but did a good job with normal-speed, reasonably careful script. It's certainly an alternative to the keyboard unless you're a particularly untidy writer.
We found the pen less efficient for tapping at options in Windows, and certainly less ergonomic than simply using a fingertip (precision issues in the Windows desktop interface notwithstanding). Still, this is the first Windows 8 tablet we've seen with pen support, and Lenovo adds an app, QuickSnip, that lets you configure the pen's button to take a screenshot.
Battery life is quoted at up to ten hours. We found it to be above average and would expect it to see you through a day's work with relative ease. On one occasion, for example, a half-day's gentle usage reduced the battery no further than 80 percent. We'll add some formal battery tests in due course.
Sound quality is mixed. There's plenty of volume — enough, we'd expect, for delivering a multimedia presentation to a small group, for example. There is some distortion at the highest volume levels, and the quality is treble-heavy, but as tablets go it's perfectly acceptable.
As with any slate tablet, you're really going to need the optional (£103/$120) keyboard dock (left) to get laptop-like functionality out of the ThinkPad Tablet 2. Although that makes it an expensive option, the ThinkPad Tablet 2's physical design is excellent, while pen support is a real bonus.
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Caption by: Sandra Vogel
Caption by: Sandra Vogel