Windows 8 computers have slowly been getting smaller: the 8-inch full Windows barrier had been cracked most recently by the Dell Venue 8 Pro, and Toshiba Encore 8, both of which were a bit better than previous 8-inch models. So, if you ever wanted a Windows tablet that felt like an iPad Mini, you have plenty of options. The best of the bunch, however -- provided you can afford a little price bump -- is the Lenovo ThinkPad 8, which like the ThinkPad Tablet 2 applies the ThinkPad brand to a small tablet. This is no laptop, just in case you were confused.
The ThinkPad 8 is a great-feeling device, and one of the most solid 8-inch tablets I’ve tried. It costs $399, compared to the $300 (or even $270) price for Dell and Toshiba’s tablets, but you also get more: 64GB of storage, and a higher-resolution, clearly superior display. Going to 64GB would cost around as much with both of those models, and the ThinkPad 8 has better design, extras, and all-around performance.
It’s the best 8-inch Windows 8 tablet out there. That doesn't mean it's the best Windows 8 tablet, however, in fact you could argue that 8 inches is a downright weird territory for an OS that really still wants to be a full computer operating system, with only slight overtures at touch-friendliness. But if you want a full Windows experience on a little tablet, and still leave yourself room for versatility once you get to a desk, this is an intriguing little solution.
|Lenovo ThinkPad 8||Asus Transformer Book T100||Acer Iconia W3|
|Display size/resolution||8.1-inch, 1,920x1,200 touch screen||10.1-inch, 1,366x768 touch screen||8.1-inch, 1,280x800 touch screen|
|PC CPU||1.46GHz Intel Atom Z3770||1.3GHz Intel Atom Z3740||1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760|
|PC Memory||2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz||2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz||2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics||Intel HD Graphics||Intel GMA 1003MB shared|
|Storage||64GB SSD||64GB SSD||64GB SSD|
|Networking||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 Pro (32-bit)||Windows 8 (32-bit)||Windows 8 (32-bit)|
Design: ThinkPad-classy, with a very fine screen
Black matte metal, glass across the front, and a little ThinkPad red LED light on the back logo: the ThinkPad 8 has a slick, clean feel, easily one of the best designs on a Windows tablet. It also looks a bit like an extra-long iPad Mini.
The Lenovo ThinkPad 8 is an 8-inch tablet -- 8.3 to be precise -- and has a sleeker look than the previous (and larger) ThinkPad Tablet 2.
At 5.19 inches by 8.83 inches and 0.35 inches thick, and weighing 0.95 pound, it feels dense but manageable. It’s heavier than a Retina iPad Mini, but the same weight as the Dell Venue 8 Pro. The Toshiba Encore 8 is a tiny bit heavier still.
A Windows logo on the front display is a touch-sensitive button for snapping back to "tile" mode, and gives off a slight haptic buzz. A flat sleep/power button and volume rocker on the top edge of the right side, if you’re holding in upright portrait mode, are the only other buttons. A headphone jack sits in the middle of the lower edge, and the only other ports are a charging port, Micro-HDMI, and a pop-out panel where a microSD card can be inserted. The ThinkPad 8 can support USB 3.0 via its Micro-USB port, which is also where you charge the tablet.
The 8.3-inch, 1,920x1,200-resolution IPS display is easily the ThinkPad 8's best feature: screen quality pops, viewing angles are stellar, and there's a little more screen room for 10-finger multitouch. Still, the extra-wide 16:9 aspect ratio is better for watching movies than for Web browsing or magazine reading: even Windows 8 tile-based app icons feel like they’re not filling the long-rectangle space properly, leaving too much empty space.
Games, videos, and Web pages all look fantastic, however. Stereo speakers which pump sound through two little grilles on one side of the tablet’s back sound really good, too, but it’s too easy to accidentally cover up the speakers with your fingers.
An 8-megapixel flash camera on the rear and 2-megapixel on the front, both able to shoot 1080p video, looked better than expected, and offered more than I'd need for my average chats or tablet photography.
Accessories not included
The ThinkPad 8 has a clever magnetic Quickshot Cover that folds over on one corner to allow the rear camera to work, and bends back to a tent-type mode for a desktop-viewing stand. But, it's not included with the ThinkPad 8: you have to buy it separately, for $34.99.
There’s no stylus, either, something the Dell Venue Pro 8 included. And, unlike the ThinkPad Tablet 2, there’s not even an optional made-for-ThinkPad 8 keyboard or keyboard case. You can dock the ThinkPad 8 via a USB 3.0 dock, but you could also just snake an HDMI cable into the Micro-HDMI port and connect to a monitor, too.
It means that the ThinkPad 8 isn’t really as modular a tablet-to-desktop PC solution as other products, including Microsoft’s own (but much more expensive) Surface Pro 2.
Processor, performance, specs, and configurations
There's only one configuration of the ThinkPad 8, really: 2GB of RAM, 64GB of onboard storage (Lenovo claims there's an upgrade to 128GB for $140 more, but I couldn’t find it on the order page on their site), and a quad-core Intel Z3770 Atom processor that's part of the Bay Trail family, which has given surprisingly decent performance in products we've tested. This particular processor is better than the one in the Dell Venue 8 Pro we reviewed, and as you can see in our tests, it performed better, not dramatically so, but noticeably. Really, it’s a very good processor for everyday tablet use, and could even hold its own doing some basic computing on a larger screen. Just don’t expect to do any serious gaming or graphics work.
Lenovo also has the Miix 2, yet another 8-inch Windows tablet with similar features, and weirdly, it costs about the same ($389) (http://shop.lenovo.com/us/en/tablets/ideatab/miix-series/miix-2/#customize) despite offering a slower processor, a lower-res screen, and only 32GB of storage. Don’t get that: get the ThinkPad 8.
The ThinkPad 8 is $399 for its main configuration, which comes with Windows 8.1, or you can add Windows 8.1 Pro for $100 more. Our review unit has Windows 8.1 Pro. I wouldn’t recommend anyone pay up for that, unless you have a clear reason to.