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Hands on: Lenovo ThinkPad tablet

We spent some time with Lenovo's business-focused Android tablet today, checking out some of its unique features and wondering why business users should have all the fun.

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Built for business

You'd be forgiven for thinking that Lenovo's ThinkPad was the boring business tablet that you could probably skip over as you decided between the ever-growing number of Android tablets hitting the market at the moment, but the tech savvy will look twice. The ThinkPad is built with business in mind, but it actually includes a bunch of features that we feel all tablets should have.

Lenovo expects to ship the first ThinkPad tablets to Australia early in September, with the 16GB Wi-Fi-only model costing AU$599, and 32GB, 64GB and 3G variants also available. But don't expect to find these bad boys in your local electronics retailer; non-commercial consumers will need to place an order online at the Lenovo Australia website to secure a unit.

For starters, the ThinkPad has a pretty solid build. Lenovo reps tell us that tech designed for corporate use needs to be pretty solid, as most employees will tend to treat their company-supplied tech with less care than they might if they had paid for it themselves.

Sure, it's not wrapped in rubber like the bullet-proof Sonim mobile phone, but its Gorilla Glass display can take a beating, and its soft-touch plastic chassis feels sturdy. It sports a 10.1-inch, 1280x800 display, on par with the Android tablets from the other PC makers, and Lenovo manages to keep the weight down to 713 grams, or about a Mars Bar lighter than the Motorola Xoom.

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You can dock this

Lenovo has some nifty first-party accessories waiting in the wings for when the ThinkPad launches in the first week of September. This is its Keyboard Folio, a leather case that opens up to reveal a netbook-sized keyboard within. We had a quick bash on these keys and found it to be far more user friendly than it looks at first glance. Lenovo will price the Folio at about AU$99.

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You can dock this, too

In this image, you can see Lenovo's second dock, a charging stand with USB ports. Apparently, this dock can connect to any standard Lenovo notebook charging pack, and will allow you to charge the tablet up to four times faster than with the travel adaptor that you get in the box. The keyboard in this picture is not included with the dock; it's just a standard Lenovo USB keyboard, which could obviously be replaced by any keyboard from your favourite manufacturer. This charging station will retail for about AU$70, but pricing will be confirmed just before the ThinkPad tablet launches in a few weeks.

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A port for all connections

This is one of the angles of the ThinkPad that captured our attention the most. Understanding that business users won't simply work with a single proprietary USB port (listening, Apple?) Lenovo includes a range of connections that you would expect to see on any self-respecting PC. Left to right in this image, you see a full-size SD card slot, a SIM card slot, a proprietary socket for connecting to Lenovo peripherals, a micro-USB port, an HDMI port and a 3.5mm headphone socket.

But wait; there's more ...

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USB

The only port missing from the previous image is found just around the corner. The ThinkPad has one full-size USB host port for connecting removable storage or peripherals like a mouse or a keyboard.

As great as it is to include these options, Lenovo is also aware that the inclusions will not all be welcome in certain corporate environments. As such, Lenovo includes remote management software for IT managers, who can choose which features of the tablets in their fleet should be accessible, and which should be turned off. IT managers might decide that the USB port is a good idea, but that the SD card slot poses a threat, or that the tablet's two cameras (a 5-megapixel rear-facing camera and a 2-megapixel front-facing camera) could be used inappropriately. In these cases, the features can be toggled as needed, using a single management tool.

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Buttons? Why not!

Google Android Honeycomb OS is one of the first mobile device platforms not to require any mechanical buttons on the device itself. That said, the ThinkPad comes with some just in case. On the left is an orientation lock, then a quick-launch button for the browser, a long Back button and a Home key. Lenovo has designed these so that they can only be depressed when you push down on them, and not from the edges, saving you from accidentally exiting applications.

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Electronic pen

Probably the best feature of the Lenovo ThinkPad is this electronic stylus for use on capacitive touchscreens. Powered by an AAA battery, the pen-shaped stylus can be used to navigate the Android home screens, for annotations in certain applications — like documents and PowerPoint presentations — or you can use this nifty Lenovo-designed handwriting recognition app for converting handwritten notes into electronic text.

The pen is included with the all models of the tablet, which is more than you can say for most other tablets in the market at this time.

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