The combination of Windows 8 and Intel's latest generation of low-power, Atom processors has led to a new wave of productivity-friendly tablets with long battery life and the ability to run desktop apps like Microsoft Office, along with all the touch-friendly apps from the Windows Store. Possibly the best device in this category so far, Lenovo's business-friendly 10.1-inch ThinkPad Tablet 2 packages a bright screen, an accurate stylus and long battery life into an attractive chassis that's significantly lighter than a fourth-gen iPad. But does this light-weight slate ($729 as configured, $579 to start), justify its somewhat steep price?
At just 1.2 pounds on our scale, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 is significantly lighter than the fourth-generation iPad, despite its larger screen (10.1 inches versus 9.7 inches). In practice, the 10.3 x 6.5 x .4 inch tablet felt light enough to hold with one hand and paper-light when held with two. By comparison, the Dell Latitude 10 weighs 1.6 pounds with its default battery (1.8 pounds with the extended unit) and the 10.6-inch Microsoft Surface Pro weighs a whopping 2 pounds while the Acer Iconia Tab W510 weighs the same 1.2 pounds.
The ThinkPad Tablet 2 shares the same classy aesthetic as Lenovo's business notebooks. The soft-touch black back reminded us of a ThinkPad laptop lid with its silver Lenovo and ThinkPad logos. The glossy black front is also adorned with a ThinkPad logo while the sides share the same soft-touch material.
Display and Audio
The 10.1-inch IPS screen provided sharp and colorful images, despite its modest 1366 x 768 resolution. When we watched 1080p trailers for "Iron Man 3" and "The Avengers", the colors of costumes were accurate and rich. The picture did not wash out at all, even when viewing from a full 90 degrees to the left or right or when holding the tablet flat and away from our face.
At 389 lux on our light meter, the Tablet 2's screen is about on par with the Microsoft Surface Pro (394), a bit brighter than the 365 tablet category average and significantly better than the Dell Latitude 10 (304).
We wish the ThinkPad Tablet 2's audio quality matched its display prowess. Though the sound was good enough for watching video clips and just loud enough for a small room, results were mixed during music playback. When we played the bass-heavy "Forget me Nots," the sound was accurate though rather flat, but when changed to the guitar-heavy tunes like Judas Priest's "Breaking the Law," the sound was tinny and grating.
Touch and Pen Experience
Whether we were scrolling through the Start screen or pinch-zooming on Web pages, the display was highly responsive to all of our gestures. Because the panel supports 5-point touch, we were able to draw lines in Windows Paint using all the fingers on our hand at once.
The ThinkPad Tablet 2 comes with an optional active stylus, which adds $30 to the price, but must be purchased at order time. If you buy the Tablet 2 with stylus, the tablet comes with the 4.5 x .25-inch pen, a bay for storing it in the upper left corner of the chassis and a digitizer on the screen that takes stylus input. If you buy the Tablet 2 without stylus support, it won't have the digitizer on the screen and the hole will be filled in so you won't be able to add a stylus after the fact.
If you're going to buy the ThinkPad Tablet 2, spring for the stylus, because it's great for note-taking, handwriting recognition, drawing and navigating the Windows 8 desktop without a mouse or keyboard. The slim, 0.2 ounce black plastic pen felt great in our hand as we drew lines in Fresh Paint and Skitch or scribbled text in One Note.
Our favorite pen application is Windows 8's built-in handwriting recognition keyboard, which allowed us to draw letters in a box at the bottom of the screen and have Windows turn those lines into ASCII characters we could insert in any program, from the editing screen on Wordpad to the address bar in Internet Explorer. Even though our handwriting was extremely messy, Windows recognized a high percentage of our letters accurately and quickly, making pen input a good way to enter text, particularly when using the tablet while standing up.
Unfortunately, if we leaned on the glass while writing, most programs did not have adequate palm rejection and our hand ended up either drawing lines or activating controls by accident. In One Note, we were able to draw letters with our hand on the screen, but the page did occasionally scroll up and down if we moved our hand too much while drawing. In Skitch, we couldn't draw with our hand on the glass, because drawing mode would turn off if our palm brushed against the toolbar. In Fresh Paint, we drew quickly with minimal interference, even with our hand on the screen. The Windows 8 handwriting keyboard occasionally registered extra lines or dots if we leaned on it. Of course, if you write without leaning directly on the screen, you won't experience any problems.
Just as some programs were better at ignoring our palm than others, some were more responsive to our strokes. While the digital ink followed the tip of our pen very well in the handwriting recognition keyboard and in Skitch, there was a very noticeable lag in One Note and Fresh Paint.
The pen is particularly useful for targeting the small widgets, icons and buttons you'll need to select in Windows 8's desktop mode. Though it doesn't have a battery, the stylus is also able to produce a hover mark when near the screen and provide the equivalent of a right click when you click its single button. By hovering near small objects and looking at the cross hairs, we were better able to hit things like the close button on a window or a file icon in Windows Explorer.
MORE: Top 25 Windows 8 Apps
Like many other Windows 8 tablets, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 has a full-size USB port that's meant to help you connect to a whole universe of peripherals, from external mice to storage devices and printers. Unfortunately, the port provides 2.5 watts, so many bus-powered devices won't work with it.
In our testing, three different USB hard drives we tried didn't work with the tablet, but USB Flash drives and a USB keyboard did. Fortunately, you can use powered hard drives and other peripherals through a powered USB hub like the one in the $99 ThinkPad Tablet 2 docking station.
In addition to the USB port, which sits under a port cover on the left side, the top of the ThinkPad Tablet houses a microSD card slot and a SIM card slot for the optional mobile Sierra Wireless EM7700 Gobi 4000 broadband card. The bottom of the chassis holds a mini HDMI port and a proprietary docking port.
If not connected to its dock accessory, the Tablet 2 charges via a microUSB port that sits just below the full-size USB port. Because microUSB is a standard, finding replacement cables or sharing cables with your smartphone is easy.
The front-facing 2.1-MP camera took relatively bright images of our face, even in low light. However, dark areas suffered from some visual noise.
The 8-MP back facer shot sharp, colorful images in bright light and sharp, but somewhat dull images in shadow. Photos we took of a city street had rich tones: the yellow in a store sign and the red brick on a building seemed especially vibrant. The back-camera also has an LED-flash, which lit up our pitch-black bathroom well enough to take accurate photos of a vitamin bottle.
The ThinkPad Tablet 2 only supports 720p video capture, but the video we shot of the same street looked especially detailed as steam billowed up from a grate and cars moved slowly down the pavement.
This slate wouldn't be worthy of its ThinkPad name without offering an excellent physical keyboard. For $119, Lenovo sells the ThinkPad Tablet 2 keyboard, a Bluetooth device with snappy island-style keys, an optical TrackPoint and a stand for holding the tablet upright.
Though the Backspace and Enter keys on the 0.8-pound, 6.5 x 10.3 x .4 inch keyboard are a bit undersized, all of the keys are in their standard locations and provide the same excellent level of tactile feedback we've experienced on notebooks like the ThinkPad T430. When using the Ten Thumbs Typing Tutor test, we scored a rate of 86 words per minute with a 2 percent error rate, around the same rate we get on a full-size ThinkPad.
In between the G and H keys on the keyboard sits a red dot that looks like a typical Lenovo Trackpoint pointing stick. However, this nub isn't rubber and it doesn't move around. It's an optical device that reads the movements of your finger as you move around on top of it. While we would have preferred a physical stick, we found the optical TrackPoint accurate though a little slippery because of its glossy top. Two mouse buttons and a scroll button sit beneath the space bar.
We wish that Lenovo had built a charging dock into the keyboard, but we highly recommend it for anyone who wants to write long documents on the ThinkPad Tablet 2.
The ThinkPad Tablet 2 felt cool throughout our tests. After streaming a video at full screen for 15 minutes, the backside measured just 80 degrees Fahrenheit, though a hot spot near the rear camera reached as high as 99 degrees. We consider temperatures above 95 degrees on major touch points uncomfortable and those above 100 degrees unacceptable.
With its 1.8-GHz Atom Z2760, 2GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage memory, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 isn't powerful enough to replace your primary PC, but it offers competent performance that's good enough for doing office work, playing HD movies and even running low-impact games.
On PCMark 7, a synthetic benchmark that measures overall performance, the Tablet 2 scored a modest 1,428, less than half the tablet category average of 3,488, but on par with other Atom-powered Windows 8 tablets such as the HP Envy x2 (1,428), the Dell Latitude 10 (1,440) and the Acer Iconia W510 (1,305). The Core i5-powered Microsoft Surface Pro predictably scored much higher at 4,721.
The 64GB of eMMC Flash memory booted Windows 8 in a reasonable 16 seconds, which is better than the 20 seconds it took the Acer Iconia W510, but a bit slower than Envy x2's 14 seconds. The flash chip took a a mediocre 4 minutes and 6 seconds to complete the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, which involves copying 4.97GB of mixed media files. That's a rate of 20.7 MBPs, less than half the 58.4 MBps table category average but about on par with the HP Envy x2 (22 MBps) and the Dell Latitude 10 (22 MBps).
The ThinkPad Tablet 2 took a rather long 30 minutes and 33 seconds to complete the LAPTOP Spreadsheet Macro Test, which matches 20,000 names to their addresses. That time is much longer than the 13 minute, 30-second category average but within striking distance of the HP Envy x2 (29:45), the Dell Latitude 10 (29:48) and the Acer Iconia W510 (29:56). The Microsoft Surface Pro completed the macro in 5:33. Fortunately, we doubt most users will be running a 20,000 row VLOOKUP operation on the ThinkPad Tablet 2, but instead save that kind of CPU-intensive number-crunching for their primary PCs.
The tablet took a solid 1 minute and 39 seconds to convert a 5-minute HD video to iPod Touch format using Cyberlink Media Espresso. While Intel Core i5-powered notebooks typically complete this test in under 20 seconds, the Dell Latitude 10 (1:38) and Acer Iconia W510 (1:39) took about the same amount of time.
The ThinkPad Tablet 2's integrated Intel graphics chip was good enough for us to play 1080p videos on the 1366 x 768 screen and to engage in a game of third-person shooter, "Judge Dredd vs. Zombies," but don't expect to play any more intense titles. The tablet can only run DirectX 9, making it impossible to run many modern games or even use the 3DMark 11 benchmark we typically run on PCs. When we tried to play "World of Warcraft" at autodetect settings, we got a slideshow-like 2.9 frames per second.
Despite its light weight and slim form factor, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 provides fantastic endurance without requiring a bulky extended battery. On the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi, the tablet lasted an impressive 9 hours and 42 minutes, 2.5 hours longer than the tablet category average and far better than competitors like the Dell Latitude 10 (7:16), HP Envy x2 (6:52) and Acer Iconia W510 (8:49) did without being attached to powered keyboard docks or extended batteries. The Core i5-powered Microsoft Surface Pro lasted a low 4 hours and 37 minutes on the same test.
With the extra heft of a 4-cell battery that took it up to 1.8 pounds, Dell's Latitude 10 lasted an amazing 17 hours and 40 minutes on a charge while the HP Envy x2 gets 11 hours and 57 minutes with its keyboard dock attached. The ThinkPad Tablet 2 doesn't offer an extended battery or powered keyboard dock.
We appreciated being able to charge the ThinkPad 2 over microUSB, but in our testing, it took the device a really long time to charge. During one charge session, the device had reached only 46 percent charge after over an hour and a half.
Software and Warranty
Lenovo preloads the ThinkPad Tablet 2 with a few useful utilities. Lenovo Settings, a Windows 8-style app, allows you to control a handful of audio and network settings while showing your battery charge level and status. Lenovo Support shows information about overall system health and memory usage while providing an instruction manual, a hints and tips database, a knowledge base and a front-end for Lenovo's forums.
Lenovo QuickLaunch provides a Start menu replacement for the desktop, but doesn't work nearly as well as third-party alternatives like Stardock's Start8, which looks more like the original Windows 7 start menu and allows you to disable the hot corner so you don't accidentally end up back at the Windows 8 Start Screen. QuickLaunch isn't persistent on the left side of the task bar (you have to pin it like any shortcut) and doesn't have folders you can use to organize your shortcuts.
The most useful bundled utility is Lenovo QuickSnip, an application that allows you to take screenshots by clicking the pen button and then clip out the sections of the screen that only you want. We particularly enjoyed cropping in odd shapes that weren't just rectangles, but this app will be most useful to business users looking to share just a small piece of information such as a picture of a Web page with a contact.
In addition to Lenovo Utilities, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 comes with a few freeware apps you could have downloaded on your own, including drawing program Skitch, Evernote, Accuweather, Skype and Amazon Kindle reader. Norton Studio lets you manage any Norton applications you might have installed and see how they are securing all of your PCs.
Lenovo backs the ThinkPad Tablet 2 with a standard one-year warranty on parts and labor. The company sells additional coverage that allows you to extend the warranty up to three years or get on-site service / accidental damage protection. See how Lenovo did in our most recent Tech Support Showdown and Best and Worst Brands Report.
Our review unit of the ThinkPad Tablet 2 carries an MSRP of $729 because it comes with the optional stylus and Windows 8 Pro instead of regular Windows 8, a $50 option. Though we found only one vendor with the base model in stock, the Tablet 2 starts at $579 with 64GB of storage, standard Windows 8, but no stylus. However, you shouldn't even consider buying the Tablet 2 without the stylus, which costs $30 more ($679) and can't be added after you buy. Lenovo charges a whopping $949 for the device with Windows 8 Pro and a 3G/4G radio, a $220 delta for adding mobile broadband.The broadband version also does not support NFC, which comes with the Wi-Fi only models.
In terms of accessories, the comfortable ThinkPad Tablet 2 keyboard goes for $119 while the charging dock runs for $99.
With its all-day battery life, light weight, comfy keyboard and accurate stylus, the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 is a truly compelling productivity companion that will let you check email, take notes, edit documents or work on presentations from anywhere, even when you're standing. That said, this device isn't perfect: Lenovo should include the absolutely necessary stylus as standard, and its inability to connect directly to USB-powered hard drives will annoy some. If want to save some money, the business-oriented Dell Latitude 10 starts at $499 but weighs more, has no portable keyboard option and costs about the same price as the ThinkPad Tablet when you configure it with 64GB of storage and a stylus. However, if you're looking for the most attractive and portable business tablet around, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 should be at the top of your list.