Lenovo, maker of the fabled ThinkPad brand, has had a long and storied history with touch-screen laptop/tablet hybrids. At a time years ago when most other PC makers wouldn't go near the tiny convertible tablet market, there was always a ThinkPad model or two with a swiveling touch screen, even if Windows XP/Vista/7 weren't particularly well-designed for touch interaction.
Then there was the infamous U1 hybrid, a clear predecessor to today's removable-screen hybrids, and a product we championed several CES shows ago, only to see it fade into vaporware.
In the Windows 8 era, Lenovo has been at the forefront of the new thrust towards touch devices, first with the folding-screen IdeaPad Yoga and rotating-screen ThinkPad Twist, and now with the ThinkPad Tablet 2, an Atom-powered slate that comes bundled with a clever keyboard dock and leather carry case.
The ThinkPad Tablet 2 isn't so different under the hood than the Dell Latitude 10, Acer W510, or other Atom Windows 8 tablets. All offer excellent battery life, but require performance compromises. They have limited onboard storage space, and frankly feel overpriced when compared to previous-gen Atom systems, which cost under $300, and full Core i5 tablets or hybrids, which can cost only a couple of hundred dollars more for a full-power experience.
The base model Tablet 2 includes the same Atom Z2760 CPU with 2GB of RAM and a 64GB SSD as seen in other Atom tablets. The slightly higher starting price, $670, can be justified by the excellent overall design and build quality, but you're going to want the keyboard dock, which is an extra $119, and the leather folio case for the tablet and dock, which costs $39. All together, this package will cost you $838, which is not far off from the base (no keyboard case included) Core i5 Microsoft Surface Pro, or any number of slim Core i5 ultrabooks with touch screens.
That said, the keyboard dock provides my favorite to-date Windows 8 tablet typing experience, and while I'm not likely to use it much, I like how the digitizer stylus is cleverly tucked into an inconspicuous slot on the left side of the tablet. After the Surface Pro, it's probably my second-favorite Windows 8 tablet overall, from a general usability standpoint -- I just wish I wasn't paying more than $800 for an Atom CPU and 64GB SSD.
|Price as reviewed / starting price||$838 / $670|
|Processor||1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760|
|Memory||2GB, 800MHz DDR2|
|Hard drive||64GB SSD|
|Operating System||Windows 8|
|Dimensions (WD)||10.1 x 6.9 inches|
|Screen size (diagonal)||10.1 inches|
|System weight / Weight with AC adapter||1.2/1.4 pounds|
Design, features, and display
As a standalone tablet, the slim, lightweight ThinkPad 2 has a basic design that looks little tighter than the similar Dell Latitude 10 or other 10-inch Atom tablets. The corners are rounded, but still tight, and the rounded left edge (which houses a stylus) is a nice contrast to the squared-off right edge. I'd say it leads this particular pack, but not by a huge margin -- from a few feet away, you may even have trouble telling these apart at first glance.
But, when you insert the tablet into Lenovo's keyboard dock -- a $119 accessory that crams a Lenovo-quality keyboard into a tiny slab -- the design really comes together, making this the best-looking tablet/dock combo I've seen in the current Windows 8 lineup. The tablet connects via Bluetooth, so the actual dock connection is a non-physical one -- a tiny flap on the dock opens up to provide a slot the lower edge of the tablet fits right into.
It feel secure enough for desktop or tabletop use, but the screen angle is not adjustable, a problem we've found in many hybrid devices. Frankly, the keyboard dock is so good, it's a must-have accessory, and has the unfortunate effect of driving up your entry price for the ThinkPad Tablet 2.
The keyboard is of the same flat-topped island style as most recent Lenovo laptops, both of the ThinkPad and IdeaPad varieties, including the excellent IdeaPad Yoga. The large keys bow out a tiny bit at the bottom to assist with error-free typing, and the (relatively) large space bar and function keys make this feel less like a compromise-filled portable keyboard.
While the actual keys are better than the keyboard cover on the Microsoft Surface Pro, I'd still have to give the Surface Pro keyboard cover the edge, as it has a small but functional touch pad built in, while the Lenovo dock has only a small optical track point nestled between the G, H, and B keys. It's actually responsive and not that hard to get used to, but actual left or right clicking requires reaching down to the physical left and right mouse buttons at the lower edge of the keyboard, which can be an awkward move.
Nestled in with the other Windows 8 UI tiles is the excellent Lenovo Settings app. Especially with the steep learning curve going from Windows 7 to 8, having all sorts of settings available in one place is very helpful.
The 10.1-inch display has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is exactly the same as every other Atom Windows 8 tablet we've tested. It's fine for such a small screen, and this is an IPS screen so it looks good from nearly any angle. Even with the low-power Atom processor, streaming HD video is no problem, and the Netflix app in the Windows 8 app store is a good example of an app that's well-optimized for this platform.
|Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2||Average for category [tablet]|
|Video||micro-HDMI||HDMI or DisplayPort|
|Audio||Stereo speakers, (combo) headphone/microphone jack||Stereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks|
|Data||1 USB 2.0, microSD card reader||1 USB 3.0, SD card reader|
|Networking||802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth||802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
Connections, performance, and battery life
While the ports and connections on the ThinkPad Tablet 2 might not measure up to even the thinnest ultrabook, it does a better job than some of the other Atom tablets currently available. One full-size USB 2.0 port is included, but other ports -- HDMI, SD card -- are of the "micro" variety and need an adapter or dongle to be useful. A second Micro-USB port is also included, but it's only for charging, not data.