A compact tablet made for business, the productivity-minded ThinkPad 8 offers more than your typical Windows 8 slate. This device ($399 starting price, $499 as configured) packs a full-HD, 8.3-inch display in a durable aluminum design, as well as high-speed USB 3.0 connectivity. The tablet also works with an optional QuickShot cover for firing up the 8-megapixel camera with a flick of a flap, as well as an optional dock for use as a desktop PC. But is all this versatility worth the premium price over the $299 consumer Windows 8 slates?
The ThinkPad 8 exhibits the same sleek, minimalist aesthetic that defines Lenovo's business laptops. The back of the slate sports a strong and smooth black aluminum body with a ThinkPad logo in the upper right corner. The dot above the "I" lights up red when you're operating the device, which is a nice touch. To the left is the camera lens, ringed in red, and LED flash. Two small speakers sit on the bottom of the backside.
The top right edge of the ThinkPad 8 houses the power button, volume rocker and a micro USB 3.0 connector. The buttons are almost too recessed for our tastes but provide firm feedback.
A micro SIM Card slot and micro SD Card slot sit behind a flap on the upper left edge of the tablet; a micro HDMI connector sits below them. The headphone jack is on the bottom edge.
Measuring 8.8 x 5.2 x .35 inches and weighing 14.4 ounces, the ThinkPad 8 is slimmer and lighter than the Toshiba Encore (8.4 x 5.4 x 0.4 inches, 15.3 ounces) but heavier than the Dell Venue 8 Pro (8.5 x 5.11 x 0.35 inches, 13.6 ounces) and Lenovo's consumer-oriented Miix 2 (8.5 x 5.2 x 0.3 inches, 12.2 ounces). However, the ThinkPad 8 has a larger, 8.3-inch screen, while those other slates pack 8-inch panels.
Click to EnlargeColorful and sharp, the ThinkPad 8 definitely has the best screen among the Windows 8 tablets we've tested. Unlike cheaper slates that feature 1280 x 800-pixel displays, this one offers a full-HD (1920 x 1200) panel. Text looked razor-sharp, both on the Start screen's Live Tiles and when reading a NYTimes article in the Bing News app. Some of the text looked too small on YouTube's homepage.
When watching the HD trailer for "Godzilla," we could make out very fine details in the destruction, including the wrecked face and snapped off arm of the Statue of Liberty. The warm color of Bryan Cranston's panicked face also looked natural.
Registering 320 on our light meter, the ThinkPad 8's display isn't quite as bright as its rivals. The Dell Venue 8 Pro (377 lux) and Toshiba Encore (331) both scored higher, and Lenovo's own Miix 2 (534 lux) is much brighter.
The two speakers on the ThinkPad 8 delivered fair audio quality on our tests. When we listened to Imagine Dragons' "Demons," Dan Reynolds' piercing vocals had significant impact, but the sound turned harsh when he had to compete with the drums and guitar.
The slate notched 74 decibels on our audio test, which is well below the Dell Venue 8 Pro (88 decibels) and Toshiba Encore (79 decibels). Lenovo's Miix 2 was in the same ballpark as its business-friendly cousin, with 72 decibels.
You'll get the best results if you lay the slate flat on a table, which allows the speakers to reverberate. However, it's too easy to accidentally muffle the sound when you hold the ThinkPad 8 in portrait mode, whether you're playing games or watching a video clip.
Click to EnlargeRunning Windows 8.1 Pro, the ThinkPad 8 offers Microsoft's dynamic Start screen, whose Live Tiles populate with updates. It's also fairly easy to move tiles around and resize them.
By swiping in from the left, you can quickly switch apps. But the real fun starts when you use Windows 8.1's split-screen Snap mode. Thanks to this feature, you can use two apps at once, something you can't do on an iPad. For instance, we pulled up our email on the right side and Skype on the left.
The Charms menu (accessed by swiping in from the right) presents Search, Share Start, Devices and Settings. The Search tool is particularly engaging, as you can search your apps, your PC and the Web all at once in a compelling graphic presentation.
It's fairly easy to get to the desktop (there's a dedicated tile), but it's not easy to get around with your fingertip on such a sharp display. For instance, the text is very close together when you right-click on the Start button.
Click to EnlargeLenovo bundles a total of 13 homegrown and third-party apps with the ThinkPad 8. Lenovo's Companion app is barely worth opening, serving mostly as a promotional portal for other apps, with some tips sprinkled in for things like connecting your PC via DLNA and making tax filing easier.
Lenovo's Settings app is marginally better; you can use it to do things like check power status and enable Cool Mode (which throttles the speed), as well as configure camera and audio settings. Lenovo Reach (in Beta) is a consumer cloud service that enables users to access cloud-based files and apps across Windows, Android and iOS devices. This includes not only files, but also photos and digital media.
MORE: Top 25 Windows 8 Apps
On the desktop side, you'll find Lenovo Solution Center, which you can use to monitor system health and security, as well as register the tablet. You can also access online support and look up warranty info.
Third-party apps include Skitch Touch, Evernote Touch, Accuweather, Kindle, Zinio, Norton Security and the rara music service. We've never heard of Hightail, but this app helps you access your files across devices, send files and track downloads.
The Windows Store stocks more than 100,000 apps, including everything from Facebook and Photoshop Express to the "Halo: Spartan Assault" game. The iPad offers more than 475,000 apps, but it's nice to see the selection improving for Windows 8.1.
Click to EnlargePowered by Intel's 1.46-GHz Intel Z3770 quad-core Atom processor, 2GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC memory, the ThinkPad 8 turned in slightly better performance scores than its closest rivals on some tests.
For example, on PCMark 7, which measures overall performance, the ThinkPad 8 notched a score of 2,554, compared to 2,263 for the Dell Venue 8 Pro and 2,496 for the Toshiba Encore. The Mixx 2 netted 2,384.
To further gauge productivity performance, we ran our OpenOffice spreadsheet test, which matches 20,000 names to their addresses. The ThinkPad 8 took 16 minutes and 32 seconds to complete this task. That's not brisk, but it beats the Venue 8 Pro (20:36), Mixx 2 (20:22) and Toshiba Encore (21:02).
In terms of graphics prowess, the ThinkPad 8 was in the same ballpark as the Venue 8 Pro. The slate scored 8,884 on 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme, compared to 8,830 for the Dell. However, the Toshiba Encore (9,746) and Miix 2 (9,739) both scored higher.
The ThinkPad 8 offered mixed performance in everyday use. Swiping between apps felt swift, and returning to the home screen from most apps took less than a second. However, launching the camera from a cold start took close to 3 seconds, and the ThinkPad 8 changed screen orientations slowly when we flipped the device from portrait to landscape mode. This is typical of Windows 8.1 devices.
After we updated the Lenovo Settings app, the ThinkPad 8 refused to let us sign in, presenting an error message. Fortunately, resetting the device (using the paperclip-sized hole between the Power and Volume keys) solved the issue.
The ThinkPad 8's endurance falls short of other Windows 8 tablets. The device lasted 7 hours and 4 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi on 40-percent brightness. That runtime is not only considerably less than the tablet average (7:42), but also trails the Dell Venue 8 Pro (8:18), Miix 2 (8:26) and Encore (8:35) by more than an hour.
Click to EnlargeThe ThinkPad 8 features an 8-megapixel camera with flash, offering more resolution than the 5-MP shooters on competing Windows 8 tablets. In an outdoor shot of intricate stonework, the slate captured a fair amount of detail, even in the shadows. The blue sky looked quite crisp, and we could easily make out individual twigs on a nearby tree.
The camera also did a nice job with an indoor close-up of our wireless Apple keyboard (complete with grime). A 1080p video we shot on our office building roof looked smooth and clear as we panned around.
The 2-MP, front-facing camera performed fairly well in our testing. When we took a selfie near a window, the ThinkPad 8 faithfully captured our multi-colored, striped tie and dark gray shirt. However, some parts of the image looked fuzzy.
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Click to EnlargeLenovo sells an optional QuickShot Cover for $35, which attaches magnetically to the tablet. Folding the cover over and then raising the flap fires up the camera app. This is a clever feature, but keep in mind that you can launch the camera from the lock screen just by swiping down. Buy the cover for protection first.
You can also use the cover to put the ThinkPad 8 in tent mode, which can come in handy when you're giving a quick presentation or watching a movie. Just keep in mind that the cover isn't super sturdy in this mode.
If you want to press the ThinkPad 8 into service as a desktop, you could spring for Lenovo's USB 3.0 dock, which costs $139. With this dock you can connect up to two full-size monitors, get Gigabit Ethernet and connect up to 5 USB devices.
Our configuration of the ThinkPad 8 features Intel's Atom Z3770 processor, 2GB of RAM and 64GB of eMMC storage. While our model came with Windows 8.1 Pro (a $99 upgrade), you can opt for regular Windows 8.1. The cheaper OS comes with Office 2013 Home & Student Edition, but Windows 8.1 Pro users will need to spring for their own copies of Office.
Click to EnlargeThose looking for an 8-inch Windows 8 tablet for business and pleasure will find the ThinkPad 8 to be a solid choice. The full-HD display and USB 3.0 connectivity -- not to mention the sturdy aluminum backside -- help this slate stand out versus cheaper consumer-oriented options. You also get a fairly sharp 8-MP camera for capturing images in the field. However, the below-average battery life is a turn-off, and the speakers could be louder.
Among all small Windows 8 tablets, Lenovo's Miix 2 is still our top choice, as it offers a brighter display and longer endurance than the ThinkPad 8. But if you want a sharper screen and the ability to use your slate as a full-fledged desktop (with an additional accessory), the ThinkPad 8 is worth the splurge.