With their virtual keyboards and focus on media consumption, most tablets appeal more to couch-cruising consumers than professionals looking to get some work done. Built for productivity, the ThinkPad Tablet breaks the slate mold by providing first-rate digital pen support, business-friendly software, a durable design, and plentiful ports. With a starting price of $499 ($599 as configured), Lenovo's first Think-branded Android slate isn't perfect, but it is the best content creation tablet on the market.
The ThinkPad Tablet incorporates the same raven-black aesthetic we've come to know and love in Lenovo's ThinkPad business notebooks. Made from Corning's scratch- and break-resistant Gorilla Glass, the glossy screen is surrounded by a thin black bezel emblazoned with light gray ThinkPad and Lenovo logos. At the bottom of the front bezel sit four physical buttons that it easy to access key functions including auto rotate on/off, web browser, back, and home. Too bad the buttons are stiff; we found them more difficult to press than we'd like.
The rubberized back and sides reminded us of the sleek softtouch lids we've seen on notebooks like the ThinkPad T series. The back panel features a silver ThinkPad logo with a red light that illuminates whenever the tablet is in use. It's a nice touch.
At 10.3 x 7.2 x 0.6 inches and 1.6 pounds, the ThinkPad Tablet weighs the same as the Toshiba Thrive (1.6 pounds) and the Lenovo IdeaPad K1. However, both the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 (1.2 pounds, 0.34 inches thick) and the Apple's iPad 2 (1.3 pounds, 0.34 inches) are significantly lighter and thinner. Still, we like the solid feel of the ThinkPad Tablet, and it's easy to lean the device against your lap when taking notes with the included pen.
The ThinkPad Tablet has a broad selection of ports and slots. On the short bottom side of the chassis sit a headphone jack, mini HDMI out, microUSB, and docking station ports. Beneath a flap cover you'll find a full-size SD card reader and a SIM card slot (which only works on 3G versions of the device).
The long left side of the tablet houses a full-size USB port that you can use to attach a USB Flash drive, external hard drive, or keyboard/mouse. Lenovo's USB File Copy app allows you to transfer data between the tablet's internal storage and an external drive, but it doesn't let you perform other file management functions such as moving files within the storage system or launching installers and media files. You'll need to install a third-party app such as Astro File Manager for that.
Thankfully, the ThinkPad Tablet charges via a standard microUSB cable, not the docking connector. In our tests, the slate was able to sip some power from our desktop's USB port, but we recommend using the bundled AC adapter instead.
Display and Audio
The 10.1-inch 1280 x 800 screen on the ThinkPad Tablet offered wide viewing angles and colorful, sharp images. When we played HD movie trailers for John Carter of Mars and The Killer Elite, the picture still seemed bright and colorful even at 90 degrees to either side. Even at 40-percent brightness, colors remained vibrant.
We only wish the ThinkPad Tablet's audio quality matched its display. We could hear the lyrics when we played John Cougar Mellencamp's "Hurt so Good" via Slacker, but when we watched some trailers on YouTube we hard trouble making out the dialog. Worse, the single speaker is located on the bottom long side of the bezel where it's easy to obstruct with your finger or with your lap, making the sound even more faint.
We also don't recommend making video or audio calls without attaching headphones. When we tried conferencing with a friend on Google Talk, his voice was like a whisper.
Operating System and Interface
Though the ThinkPad Tablet is powered by Android 3.1 Honeycomb, Lenovo has added a few unique features on top of Google's popular OS. Instead of the stander Tron-esque wallpaper, this slate has a default background showing a hand holding the Tablet's stylus. The back, home, and layers buttons have a more rounded shape than their stock Android counterparts.
Like the Lenovo IdeaPad K1, the ThinkPad Tablet has the Lenovo Launcher widget on its home screen. The Launcher has five "zones" -- Watch (default launches mSpot movies), Email (Gmail), Listen (Slacker), Read (Zinio magazine reader), and Web browser.
By tapping the settings wheel on the left side of the launcher, you can change where these zones take you and toggle Lenovo's update messages. Thankfully, commercial messages were disabled by default on our review unit. On the IdeaPad K1, we were annoyed by alerts telling us to purchase an explicit rap album from Amazon until we disabled the messages.
As with the IdeaPad K1, the ThinkPad Tablet features Lenovo's App Wheel. Tap the wheel button in the status ribbon and, no matter where you are, a rotating wheel of thumbnail shortcuts to your favorite six apps appear on the right side of the screen. You can add or remove apps from this favorites list by hitting the +/- icon.
Lenovo's biggest improvement to Honeycomb is a subtle change to the recent apps menu, which allows you to close apps by hitting a little red X in the corner of their thumbnails. On other Android tablets, users must go into the settings menu or install third-party software to kill open programs.
The ThinkPad Tablet's most compelling feature is its optional active stylus. It costs an additional $30, but is definitely worth the investment. Powered by N-trig's duo sense technology, the pressure-sensitive, single-button stylus allows you to hand-write notes, draw pictures, or simply tap your way around the operating system without using your finger.
We've seen N-trig's DuoSense pen technology on the HTC Flyer/EVO View 4G, but those devices suffered from a lack of palm rejection--leaning on the device while you wrote might cause you to hit the back button and lose your work--and their pens only worked in certain apps, not throughout the entire OS. Lenovo also includes a bay for storing the stylus in the side of the tablet when it's not in use.
MyScript Notes mobile allows you to take handwritten notes on a lined notepad background with the option of converting them to editable text. In our tests, the app's real-time OCR capability could convert printed notes with reasonable accuracy, even when someone with terrible handwriting was using the device. However, when we switched to cursive, the software recognized few of our letters.
If you disable the OCR function, MyScript Notes offers plenty of options for inserting and dealing with scribbled text and graphics. Circling an image or set of words allows you to export it or drag it around the page. You can also share your documents as e-mails or other apps that you have installed. Unfortunately, support for Word doc conversion isn't built in. Though you can export notes to any cloud storage service you have installed (ex: ArcSync), we'd also like to see Lenovo add support for automatic cloud syncing while you work.
Notes allows you to change the color of your pen and to choose from more than 20 OCR languages, but it leaves plenty of room for improvement. It lacks a search function for finding your notes, won't run in landscape mode, and it sometimes draws tiny lines or dots when you lean your palm on the screen to write. We also wish the software supported audio capture so we could record classes and meetings. We hope Lenovo will work with the vendor to improve this software, because it has so much potential.
If you want a drawing app or PDF annotator, you'll need to purchase and download them Google's Android Market or Lenovo's App Store.
In addition to the stock Android 3.2 keyboard, Lenovo includes the FlexT9 virtual keyboard and sets it as the default. FlexT9 has some intriguing features, including the ability to trace between letters (a la Swype) and to draw letters with the pen instead of typing. Unfortunately, the pen mode works so poorly we can't recommend it. Almost none of our drawn letters were accurately converted to ASCII text.
Much to its credit, the ThinkPad Tablet is one of the few slates to support haptic feedback. Both keyboards give you the option of enabling "vibrate on keypress" mode, which gives you a pleasant tactile feeling to confirm you've hit the correct key.
In addition to its security and manageability software, Lenovo includes a couple of other useful utilities for professionals and consumers alike. Lenovo PrinterShare makes it easy to print to your Wi-Fi-enabled or Cloud printer. Documents to Go lets you open MS Office files. OoVoo and Gtalk both enable video calling, though neither service worked well in our tests. Images were blocky and sound dropped even over 4G LTE.
Lenovo Social Touch is a social feed/messaging app that allows you to see all your latest e-mails, calendar events, Twitter messages, and Facebook updates in a single feed that you can see in the app itself or as a desktop widget.
The ThinkPad Tablet also comes with entertainment apps such as mSpot movies (for renting and buying videos), Netflix, mSpot music for storing and accessing your music from the cloud, and Slacker online radio. Amazon Kindle lets you buy and read eBooks, and Zinio does the same for magazines. Bundled games include Angry Birds HD and a series of card games from Hardwood Games.
If you want more apps, the ThinkPad tablet includes Lenovo's App Shop in addition to Google's official Android Market. All apps in the App Shop have been carefully vetted by Lenovo, and enterprises can limit what apps their employees can download from the App Shop.
Security and Manageability
The ThinkPad Tablet provides a host of enterprise-friendly applications that are sure to please even the most demanding corporate IT manager. Lenovo's Mobility Manager allows your company's support techs to perform a host of management functions over the air, including remotely erasing the tablet, setting up encryption on the storage system, changing the password, and monitoring how many failed attempts someone has made to unlock the device.
Using third-party management software from LANDesk, IT managers can also restrict what apps a user can install. They can also set up a customized version of the Lenovo App Shop, which only shows corporate-approved apps for download.
Absolute Software's Computrace Persistence enables corporate IT to control a device remotely and is so secure that it remains intact even if a thief issues a factory reset. The associated service costs $69 for one year, and $99 for three years.
Citrix Receiver is a client that allows users to securely access virtualized desktops and applications remotely. A 30-day trial of Mcafee Mobile Security protects against viruses and allows you to back up your data. ArcSync provides 4GB of free cloud storage and sync.
With its Nvidia Tegra 2 CPU and 1GB of RAM, the ThinkPad Tablet has the same specs as nearly every other Android Honeycomb tablet on the market today. The performance was generally good, whether we were playing HD videos, surfing the web, or navigating around the desktop. The integral MyScript Notes app was a bit slow to load, however, and we noticed occasional lag throughout our testing (as with all Android tablets).
On Linpack, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance, the ThinkPad tablet scored 36.8 in single-thread mode, slightly higher than the tablet category average of 33.1, the 30.5 provided by the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, and the 30.1 offered by the Toshiba Thrive. On the generically named Android "Benchmark" test, the ThinkPad Tablet achieved a CPU score of 3,089, better than the 2,708 category average and within striking distance of the Galaxy Tab (3,158) and the Toshiba Thrive (3,193).
On the graphics-intensive benchmark An3DBench, the Thinkpad Tablet scored a respectable 7,703, better than the 6,948 category average and similar to the 7,702 of the Toshiba Thrive and the 7,526 of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1. The ASUS Eee Pad Transformer was a bit better at 8,579.
We were unable to run our battery test on the ThinkPad Tablet in time for this review, but Lenovo anticipates about 8.5 hours of endurance, which seems accurate based on our experience. After playing with the device for more than four hours at various brightness levels with Wi-Fi on, we were down to 53 percent of capacity. We'll fill in exact results after we complete our test.
The ThinkPad Tablet has two cameras, a front-facing 2-megapixel lens for video conferencing and a back-facing 5-MP unit for shooting pictures and clips. The back-facing camera took sharp, colorful images with just a hint of whitewash under the incandescent light of our office.
Outdoor shots had a bit of a red hue, however.
A 720p video shot outside was also sharp and colorful.
When we were chatting on Gtalk and ooVoo, the front-facing camera was more than accurate enough to pick up fine details of our face, even in a dimly lit room.
Accessories and Configurations
Our ThinkPad Tablet review configuration retails for $599. For that price, you get the device with 32GB of storage ($569) plus the stylus ($30). However, if you're willing to live with less internal storage, you can get the 16GB version for $469, though we highly recommend paying $30 for the stylus; we simply wouldn't buy this device without one.
You can also purchase a $100 Keyboard Folio Case that provides an island-style keyboard. In our initial hands-on with the keyboard, it offered good tactile feedback. The keys are also larger than what you'll find on the Eee Pad Slider, and you get a tiny optical mouse for controlling the cursor along with two mouse buttons. However, the 1.4-pound weight of the keyboard case is heavier than the iPad 2.
Lenovo's ThinkPad Tablet is the first Android device that really gives mobile professionals the tools they need to be productive along with the security IT departments demand. For those who need to edit documents and take notes, the tablet's pen support is invaluable and unmatched in the industry. This tablet's sturdy design also inspires confidence. The audio quality is lackluster, and we'd like to see features such as automatic cloud syncing added to the note-taking app, but overall this slate is worthy of the ThinkPad brand.