Those looking for a business-friendly Windows tablet have a compelling option in the Lenovo ThinkPad 10. The 10.1-inch tablet provides solid performance, above-average battery life, helpful utilities, an active stylus and a snappy optional keyboard. At $599 to start ($749 as configured, $868 with keyboard dock), the ThinkPad 10 is less expensive than competitors from Dell and Microsoft, but with a low-cost Atom Z3795 processor, it's also less powerful. Still, this slate offers enough performance and functionality to make you productive on the go.
The ThinkPad 10 shares Lenovo's classy, business-friendly aesthetic with its little brother, the ThinkPad 8. The tablet has a simple, glossy black front bezel paired with a matte-black aluminum back. The ThinkPad logo's red light and a red ring around the camera lens provide a small dash of color.
At 10.1 x 7 x 0.35 inches and 1.3 pounds, the ThinkPad 10 is significantly thinner and lighter than slightly larger competitors like the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 (10.81 x 6.81 x 0.53 inches, 2 pounds) and the Dell Venue 11 Pro (11 x 6.95 x 0.6 inches, 1.6 pounds). The ASUS Transformer Pad TF103C (10.13 x 7.02 x 0.4 inches, 1.25 pounds) is thicker, but weighs just a little less.
The ThinkPad 10's optional keyboard dock weighs 1.1 pounds by itself, which rises to 2.4 pounds when combined with the tablet. Though the dock does not have a bendable hinge that lets it close like a clamshell, it does allow you to snap the tablet onto it face down so it serves as a cover, increasing the thickness to 1 inch.
In our tests, the ThinkPad 10's 10.1-inch, 1920 x 1200 display delivered sharp, detailed images, but colors were somewhat muted. When I watched a sample 4K video of a train rolling down the track and waves hitting rocks on a beach, shades like the silver in the engine, the blue in the ocean and the brown in the rocks were a bit dull.
According to our colorimeter, the ThinkPad 10 can display just 71.6 percent of the sRGB color gamut, well below the 91.4 percent tablet category average and the Dell Venue Pro 11's 96 percent. The budget-oriented ASUS Transformer Pad TF103C displays even fewer colors, clocking in with just 59 percent of the gamut.
If you're planning to use your tablet outdoors on a sunny day, this isn't the right tablet. When we took the ThinkPad 10 up on the roof of our office at noon on a cloudless day, we found it difficult, though not impossible, to see the content on the screen with settings at full brightness. The ThinkPad 10's screen measured just 309 nits on our light meter, below the 329 category average, the Venue 11 Pro's 370-nit measurement and the Transformer Pad TF103C's mark of 361 nits.
The ThinkPad 10's back-mounted speakers provided accurate though quiet audio output. When we played both the bass-heavy "Forget Me Nots" and the guitar-centered "Smoke on the Water," the music was clean and rich, without a hint of tin. At 81 dB on our audio test, the ThinkPad 10 is a bit louder than the 78-dB category average. However, even at maximum volume, the sound was not loud enough to fill a small room.
Stylus and Touch Screen
Lenovo bundles an active stylus with the ThinkPad 10, which feels as much like a real ballpoint pen as any we've used. At 5.5 inches long, the stylus had the size and weight of a typical pen, while its pressure-sensitive tip gave us the feeling of writing on paper, even as we pushed it against the screen glass.
We found that Windows 8.1's handwriting-recognition keyboard was able to translate most of our messy handwriting into ASCII characters as we quickly scribbled on the screen. Drawing in Windows Paint and tapping icons on the screen with the pen point were also a breeze. The single button on the stylus allowed us to easily highlight text or click objects, while the red rear end of the stylus served as an eraser head when rubbed over the screen.
However, we wish Lenovo had bundled the ThinkPad 10 with some pen-friendly software rather than just relying on users to find their own in the Windows Store. By contrast, Samsung includes a wealth of note-taking and drawing applications on its Galaxy Note tablets.
The 10-point touch screen was highly responsive to our touches, even allowing us to draw with all of our fingers at once in Windows Paint.
As a business-oriented tablet, the ThinkPad 10 has plenty of ports. The right side of the tablet houses a 3.5-mm audio jack, a volume rocker, a microSD Card slot for memory expansion and a micro HDMI out port. The left side holds a full-size USB 2.0 port along with a proprietary power connector.
The optional $119 keyboard dock provided strong tactile feedback and a comfortable, efficient typing experience overall. Though some of the keys such as the backspace are undersized, they have 2.2 mm of key travel, which is more than many high-end laptops provide. For example, Lenovo's own ThinkPad X240 offers only 1.7 mm of travel.
The ThinkPad 10's keys require a solid 55 grams of force to actuate, which is on a par with most laptops, which range from 50 to 60 grams (higher is usually better). Because of this strong feedback, we scored 92 words per minute with a 2 percent error rate on the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor test, faster but slightly less accurate than our 86 wpm / 1 percent average.
Unfortunately, the 3.5 x 1.35-inch buttonless touchpad doesn't match the quality of the keyboard. We found the pointer often sticking midscreen, and our clicks did not always register the first time. Other times the cursor moved erratically.
Multitouch gestures such as pinch-to-zoom or swipe for charms did not work at all for us. We got so frustrated at times with the inaccurate clickpad that we found ourselves reaching over the keyboard to use the touch screen for navigation instead.
Unlike many docks, the ThinkPad 10's keyboard connects to the tablet via a physical docking connection rather than Bluetooth. This makes setup a lot easier because there's no pairing involved. Unlike the Venue 11 Pro's $139 keyboard, which has its own battery, the ThinkPad 10's keyboard has no power source of its own, so it must draw its juice from the tablet. When connected, the tablet is comfortably and securely mounted in landscape mode. However, when using the keyboard on our lap, we worried that the tablet could fall off because its connection is not that strong. The keyboard does provide a holder for the stylus and allows you to snap the tablet into it for easy carrying.
With its quad-core 1.6-GHz Intel Atom Processor Z3795 and 2GB of RAM, the ThinkPad 10 doesn't have the raw processing power of Core i5-powered competitors such as the Surface Pro 2, but it is more than fast enough for most productivity tasks. Navigating through the OS, using any of the bundled apps and playing HD videos were completely smooth and seamless.
On Geekbench 3, a synthetic benchmark which measures overall performance, the ThinkPad 10 scored a solid 3,120, well above the 2,210 tablet category average as well as the Intel Atom Z3770-powered Dell Venue 11 Pro's score of 2,692. Still, the ThinkPad 10's score is comfortably behind the Core i5-powered Microsoft Surface Pro 2 (5,138).
The ThinkPad 10 took a modest 15 minutes and 18 seconds to complete the Laptop Mag Spreadsheet test, which uses a macro to match 20,000 names with their addresses in the Open Office Calc spreadsheet application. That's noticeably slower than the 13-minute, 46-second category average and way behind the Surface Pro 2's mark of 5:11, but faster than the Atom-powered Dell Venue 11 Pro's time of 15:46.
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The tablet's 64GB of internal flash memory is not particularly speedy. The ThinkPad 10 managed a mere 26.9 MBps on the Laptop Mag File Transfer Test, which involves copying 4.97GB of files. That's less than a third of the 82.9-MBps category average and the Surface Pro 2's speed of 154.2 MBps. The Dell Venue 11 Pro also notched a faster speed of 40.7 MBps.
We wouldn't recommend gaming on the ThinkPad 10, but because its Atom processor has hardware support for 4K, it was able to play a full Ultra HD video without a hint of lag. On 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme, a synthetic benchmark that measures 3D graphics, the tablet scored a respectable 16,544, well above the 9,362 category average and slightly higher than the Venue 11 Pro (16,363). However, the Surface Pro 2 was nearly three times as fast, scoring 40,106.
When we brought the ThinkPad 10 up on our office rooftop for a quick photo session, the tablet's rear-facing 8-MP camera captured bright, sharp images. Images of a red tree, a building with a green dome and a wall relief all showed plenty of detail with highly accurate colors. A 1080p video we shot of cars rolling down the street was also smooth and sharp.
The front 2-MP camera captured fairly detailed images of our face, but we noticed quite a bit of noise and whitewashing both indoors and in direct sunlight.
The ThinkPad 10 lasted 8 hours and 43 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of screen brightness. That time is 23 minutes longer than the category average (8:20), 41 minutes ahead of the Surface Pro 2 (8:02), and the Dell Venue 11 Pro without its dock (8:00). With its dock, though, the Dell lasted an exceptional 15:40.
In addition to the $119 keyboard dock, Lenovo offers a number of optional accessories for the ThinkPad 10. The $44.99 Quickshot cover provides simple, lightweight protection for the screen, but also has a corner that folds down and launches the camera app when it's sitting on the back. Our favorite accessory, the $69.99 rugged cover, shields the ThinkPad 10 from water and drops while providing a strap on the back so you can hold the tablet with one hand. Both covers provide holders for the stylus.
A $129.99 desktop dock props the ThinkPad 10 up and provides charging along with three USB 3.0 ports, a full-size HDMI out, Ethernet and a 3.5-mm audio jack.
Lenovo bundles the ThinkPad 10 with a handful of useful utilities and a minimum of crapware. Lenovo Video Editor is a simple touch-friendly movie maker that lets you trim and combine multiple clips and use one of five custom templates to make your projects look more polished. Lenovo Photo Editor provides a touch-friendly photo-editing experience, complete with a slew of artistic filters and fine control over fine details such as color saturation and white balance. We particularly enjoyed using the touchup tools to smooth the skin on the face in our selfie.
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Lenovo also includes the standard suite of ThinkPad utilities we've seen on a number of its notebooks and tablets. Lenovo PC Experience gives you quick access to driver updates and to Lenovo's password manager. Lenovo Settings is a touch-friendly control panel that lets you control the camera, audio, touchpad and power settings. Lenovo Support points you to online resources such as hints and tips, a knowledge base and support forums. Lenovo Companion is a colorful menu that points to a number of Lenovo apps and services, many of which are promotional vehicles like the Lenovo YouTube channel or Lenovo Picks, which aggregates recommended apps from the Windows Store.
Hightail for Lenovo is a cloud storage service that makes it easy to share large files with colleagues and comes with 5GB of free storage. RedKaraoke is a service that lets you sing along to songs. Norton Internet Security provides virus protection.
Lenovo bundles the ThinkPad 10 with a standard one-year warranty on parts and labor. Businesses and users can purchase extended warranties, on-site service and other upgrades from Lenovo.
The ThinkPad 10 starts at $599. For that price, you get the tablet with 2GB of RAM, 64GB of storage and Windows 8.1. Our review configuration came with Windows 8.1 Pro, which adds another $150 to the price. You can also purchase the tablet with 4GB of RAM and / or 128GB of internal storage.
The Lenovo ThinkPad 10 has enough performance, battery life and functionality to be a strong companion to your business laptop. Though we wish Lenovo would include pen-friendly software, the ThinkPad 10's accurate stylus provides a particularly compelling productivity experience for users who need to work while walking around an office, hospital or factory floor. However, while we love the keyboard on the optional dock, the touchpad is too finicky (perhaps a firmware update would help).
Among Atom-powered business tablets, a comparable Dell Venue 11 Pro offers much greater endurance with its keyboard dock and a larger 1080p display for $80 less. If you're looking for a business tablet that provides as much performance as a pricey Ultrabook, a Core i5-powered tablet like the Microsoft Surface Pro 2 is better choices. If you're looking for a slate to add to your arsenal of productivity devices, however, the ThinkPad 10 is a strong contender.