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ThinkPad 10 (review): Great Windows tablet, good laptop

Lenovo has updated the ThinkPad Tablet 2, and the ThinkPad 10 may be the best Windows tablet.
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Topic: Mobility
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1 of 17 James Kendrick/ZDNet

The ThinkPad product line from Lenovo represents great laptops, and that has extended to tablets. Last year I proclaimed the ThinkPad Tablet 2 the best Windows tablet, and Lenovo has done it again with the new ThinkPad 10.

The ThinkPad 10 is a full business tablet that is equally at home in the boardroom and the living room. The thin, light 10.1-inch tablet is a great tablet running Windows 8.1, and Lenovo has produced some accessories that make it a full laptop replacement.

Hardware specs as reviewed:

Processor Intel Atom Z3795, 1.6GHz
Display 10.1-inch, 1,920 x 1,200
Memory 2GB (up to 4GB)
Storage 64GB (up to 128GB)
Communications Wi-fi a/b/g/n; Bluetooth 4.0
Cameras Front: 2MP, Rear: 8MP
Ports Audio, microSIM, microHDMI, USB 2.0
Battery 10 hours
Dimensions 10.09 x 6.96 x 0.35 inches
Weight 1.3 lbs

Tablet first

For Windows hybrids to be good options they must first be a great tablet. If a device is too big for comfortable use, it fails as a tablet.

The ThinkPad 10 is a solid touch tablet that is available with pen support, in a package only 1.3 pounds and 0.35 inches thick. The Atom processor with Bay Trail technology runs the tablet at full speed with nary a hiccup. The high resolution screen (1,920 x 1,200) is well suited to its 10.1-inch size. Lenovo has given every attention to detail and it shows when you pick up the ThinkPad 10.

The construction is typical ThinkPad quality, and that means as good as it gets. The black matte finish provides a secure grip for using the tablet in the hand, something you’ll want to do a lot when you pick it up.

Holding the ThinkPad 10 in the hand in portrait orientation is perfect for taking notes with the pen. It feels like a paper notepad of old brought to the digital age. The only downside to this is the lack of a storage silo in the tablet for the pen. That is rectified with the keyboard dock covered below.

The only bad decision Lenovo made in the design of the ThinkPad 10 is using a touch Windows button on the bezel instead of a physical one. For a device meant to be used in the hand, it makes no sense to use a button that is regularly touched unintentionally. This throws the user to the Windows Start screen when that is not the desire. Microsoft should prohibit Windows buttons operated by touch since OEMs keep using them.

Ultrabook Dock for laptop use

The key to a hybrid device being a good laptop replacement is the keyboard dock, and Lenovo has a good one for the ThinkPad 10. The Ultrabook Dock has the best keyboard I’ve used on any Windows hybrid, by a wide margin. ThinkPad laptops are known for high-quality keyboards, and the Ultrabook Dock doesn’t disappoint.

The keys have good feel and travel, and even though the keyboard is slightly under-sized given the width of the tablet, fast touch typing is natural. The key layout is as expected and the keys nicely sized.

The Ultrabook Dock has a wide, short trackpad at the front which, like the keyboard, is the best I’ve used on a Windows hybrid. Working with Windows 8.1 using the trackpad and keyboard feels like a real laptop, something not always the case with other devices. Between the Ultrabook Dock and the tablet touch screen you can take full advantage of Windows 8.1. It’s worth noting there is a storage silo in the dock for the pen.

All is not perfect with this dock due to a bad decision on Lenovo”s part. The ThinkPad 10 doesn’t attach to the dock via a hinge as is common with hybrids, instead the dock and tablet are two pieces that remain separate when used. The tablet attaches magnetically to the dock for transport, but the tablet must be removed and propped up in a slot on the dock for use.

This is not ideal and Lenovo shouldn’t have done this. It makes the combination less like a laptop and restricts operation to a single viewing angle. It works well enough, but having a standard laptop hinge arrangement would have been much better. Poor, poor decision by Lenovo to make this a two piece combination.

The Ultrabook Dock is not included with the ThinkPd 10, and is $119 from Lenovo. Even with its noted limitation it is a crucial option for most buyers.

Other accessories

For those who prefer a flat keyboard with touch keys like the Surface Touch Cover, Lenovo has a similar model for the ThinkPad 10. It is a folio case that acts as a stand for the tablet when used with the keyboard. The ThinkPad 10 Touch Case is $119 from Lenovo, and was not provided for review.

Those wanting to use the ThinkPad 10 as a tablet will want to check out the Quickshot Cover. It is a typical smart cover that turns the tablet on and off when open and shut, respectively. There is a unique feature that lets you fold down the corner covering the camera on the back of the ThinkPad 10 for taking pictures. Folding down the cover fires up the camera app. The Quickshot Cover is $45 from Lenovo. There is a loop on the cover for holding the tablet pen.

There is a desktop dock with ports for connecting peripherals to turn the ThinkPad 10 into a full desktop system. These ports include three-USB 3.0, Ethernet, and HDMI. Just drop the ThinkPad 10 in the dock and connect to everything at once. The dock also fast charges the tablet. The ThinkPad Tablet Dock is $129 from Lenovo.

Best Windows hybrid yet

The ThinkPad Tablet 10 is a great tablet given its small size. That, coupled with the Ultrabook Dock, even given its noted limitation, allows the Tablet 10 to work as a better laptop replacement than other options in this writer’s view. ThinkPad keyboards are really good, so give the edge to the ThinkPad Tablet 10 as both a tablet and a laptop replacement.

Other Windows hybrids have a better processor, but the Atom Bay Trail is more than powerful enough to run Windows 8.1. It also allows the Tablet 10 to run for 10 hours on a charge.

The ThinkPad Tablet 10 is priced at $599 as reviewed. Of course, you have to pony up another $119 for the Ultrabook Dock.

Pros
• Nice tablet
• Pen support available
• Fantastic keyboard option

Cons
• Touch Windows button
• Ultrabook dock without hinge

Reviewer’s rating:
9/10

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2 of 17 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Good tablet

The ThinkPad Tablet 10 is comfortable to use as a tablet for long periods. This is due to the 0.35 inch thickness and 1.3 pound weight.

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3 of 17 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Good in portrait

Tablets feel natural to use in portrait orientation and the ThinkPad 10 is very comfortable used this way.

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It's a ThinkPad

The black matte finish provides a secure surface for holding.

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Hard to hit power button

The button is small and recessed flush with the edge of the tablet and can be hard to hit as a result.

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ThinkPad 10 Quickshot Cover

This optional accessory ($45) attaches magnetically to the tablet and has smart cover technology.

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Clandestine photo taking

Flipping the corner of the case open uncovers the camera and starts the camera app.

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Red on the inside

The Quickshot Cover looks professional in black but is red on the inside.

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9 of 17 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Ultrabook Dock

The keyboard in the dock is typical ThinkPad -- great keys for fast touch typing. It is the best keyboard on a hybrid used to date out of dozens the author has tried.

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10 of 17 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Thin and light dock

The Ultrabook Dock only adds ounces to the weight of the tablet.

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The missing hinge

Unfortunately, Lenovo chose to use a 2-piece design for operation instead of putting a laptop-type hinge on the dock.

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Ready for action

When opened and the ThinkPad 10 tablet in the slot on the Ultrabook dock, the combo is like a nice laptop.

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Side view

This is a side view of the tablet and Ultrabook dock ready for typing.

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Left side

When closed, the Ultrabook dock and ThinkPad 10 tablet look like a ThinkPad laptop.

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Pen included

The ThinkPad 10 tablet comes with a pen but lacks storage for it. The Ultrabook dock has a silo on the right side for the pen (red top).

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Desktop dock

Lenovo has a dock for the ThinkPad 10 that adds a lot of ports for using with peripherals to turn the tablet into a desktop system.

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17 of 17 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Dock ports

The standard ports are on the back of the desktop dock.

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