Ultraportable Windows 8 tablets and hybrids tend to cover a lot of the same ground. Low-power Intel Atom, Pentium or Celeron CPUs, prices around $300-400, and somewhat creaky plastic bodies. Some, such as the Acer Switch 10 , have pull-apart bodies that latch a separate slate and keyboard dock together, while systems like the HP x360 or Lenovo Yoga 2 11 have hybrid hinges that fold back into a tablet mode.
Stepping up to the next level in terms of build quality, features, and performance takes you up to something like the Surface Pro 3 , starting at $800 ($930 with a keyboard) and going way up from there.
Finding something in between those two extremes can be difficult, forcing some hard choices between design, performance, and features. Lenovo attempts to thread that particular needle with the ThinkPad 10, a 10-inch Windows 8 tablet with a feature list that takes from both low- and high-end tablets and hybrids.
Lenovo currently sells a single base configuration, with an Intel Atom Z3795 CPU, 4GB of RAM, an active stylus, and a big-for-a-tablet 128 SSD, for $746 (it starts at £440 in the UK and AU$849 in Australia), although I've seen it on Amazon for as little as $499. Note that our review unit is a slightly different configuration, with a smaller 64GB SSD.
That's significantly more than many other Atom-powered PCs, and would be a hard sell, if not for the big 128GB SSD and high resolution 1,900x1,200 display. Lenovo's typically excellent design and construction makes this tablet, a mix of aluminum and plastic with a Gorilla Glass screen feel very sturdy and road-worthy.
The biggest selling point, however, is the large ecosystem of accessories and add-ons that Lenovo offers for the ThinkPad 10.
The $120 Ultrabook keyboard (£97 in the UK and AU$139 in Australia) is a keyboard stand close in size to a standard ultraportable keyboard and includes a small but workable touchpad. The ThinkPad 10 can fold on top of the keyboard for easy clamshell-style transport, but it doesn't actually attach as a hinged hybrid would.
The $129 tablet dock (£96 in the UK but not currently available in Australia) is very similar to other tablet docks we've seen, offering connections for a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and Ethernet, allowing you to set the ThinkPad 10 up as a desktop PC, or just prop it up in front of a small audience for video or PowerPoint presentations.
A $45 Quickshot cover (available for £34 or AU$44) feels like a snap-on iPad cover, but with a fold-back corner to expose the rear camera lens for easy on-the-go photography. Lenovo has also shown off some other options, including a water-resistant protective case with a hand strap.
The upshot is that you can pair the ThinkPad 10 with one or more of these accessories to create a multimode PC that works for your office or on-the-go needs. Add a keyboard, mouse and monitor to the dock, and you have a simple all-in-one desktop, or use the keyboard attachment for a very laptop-like experience, thanks to its excellent keyboard layout.
Combining the tablet and all its accessories can drive the price up quickly, and when you factor in the slower performance of the Atom compared to Core i-series (or the new Core M) CPUs that can be found for nearly the same price, the ThinkPad 10 doesn't feel like a great value.
But especially if someone else is paying for it (as many ThinkPad systems are sold to companies for employee use), the ThinkPad 10 works as a very flexible tablet-based platform that uses clever accessories to transform itself based on your needs.
|Price as reviewed||$746, £440, AU$849|
|Display size/resolution||10.1-inch, 1,900x1,200 touchscreen|
|PC CPU||1.6GHz Intel Atom Z3795|
|PC Memory||2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz|
|Graphics||32MB Intel HD Graphics|
|Networking||802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
Eight-inch Windows 8 tablets are common, comparing favorably with Apple's iPad Mini. But slightly larger 10-inch models are harder to find, in part because at that size, a slate gets a little awkward to hold and one might be tempted to make the leap directly to an 11-inch laptop or hybrid. Lenovo is one of main purveyors of 10-inch Windows tablets, including the recently introduced Yoga Tablet 2 (available in both 8-inch and 10-inch versions).
The 10-inch display on the ThinkPad 10 feels dwarfed inside the bounds of the thick screen bezel, but the chassis itself is thin, with a flat matte surface on the back that gives you just a hint of gripe.
The tablet needs to work on its own, without any accessories, so the outer edges are ringed with buttons and ports. But the small, black plastic buttons vanish into the black plastic and aluminum edge, and are nearly impossible to see. I found myself tapping one at random to see if it was the power button. After some trial and error, I found that the top edge (when holding the system horizontally) has the power button on the far right, with a auto-rotate toggle just to the left. The right edge has two volume buttons, plus a few ports under plastic flaps.
I'm not sure anyone has been able to create a Windows 8 tablet that fully satisfies as a standalone slate, and this is no exception. But, paired with its laptop-style keyboard accessory, it becomes a very workable hybrid.
The keyboard, which at $120, is probably a must-have add-on. It has Lenovo's typically excellent design, with large, well-spaced island-style keys that have a satisfying deep click. Interestingly, this slim keyboard cover has much deeper keys than Lenovo's premium Yoga 3 Pro, a larger 13-inch hybrid laptop. The shallow, elongated touchpad is less practical, its minimal surface area and stiff clickpad-style buttons making it good only for basic navigation, and not precise cursor control. I found myself using the touchscreen to scroll down long pages, rather than using a two-finger scroll on the touch pad.
The display is the heart of any tablet, and the 10-inch one here is a real system highlight. The IPS panel looks great even from wide viewing angles, and the 1,900x1,200 resolution gives it premium point-of-differentiation from other similar products.
The Windows 8 interface does an excellent job scaling to the high screen resolution, so you shouldn't worry about things looking too small. Many programs are now optimized for Windows 8 and also scale well, but some individual apps handle this better than others.
|Audio||Stereo speakers, combo headphone/microphone jack|
|Data||1 USB 2.0, micro-SD card reader|
|Networking||802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
On a slim tablet you're not going to get a large number of ports for expansion or connectivity, simply because space is at such a premium. Here, the single USB 2.0 port is full size, but the HDMI and SD card slots are of the micro variety, requiring an adaptor or dongle to use. Sticking with USB 2.0, rather than 3.0, and 802.11n Wi-Fi over the newer 802.11ac standard, also feels less than premium.
If you do need more connectivity, the sold-separately dock includes three USB 3.0 ports, an Ethernet jack, and a full-size HDMI connection.
With an Intel Atom CPU inside, this ThinkPad 10's performance shouldn't come as a surprise. While the Atoms of old (back in the netbook era) were painfully slow, today you get reasonably good performance, especially when you're running one app at a time. The downside is that you'll get occasional pauses or slowdown when multitasking. It's not enough to dissuade you from using this on-the-go or for short periods, but used as an all-day, every day PC, the difference will be noticeable compared to a faster Core i-series system.
In our benchmark tests, hybrids with Intel Pentium processors, such as Lenovo's own 11-inch Yoga 2, were much faster at multitasking, while the ThinkPad 10 fell in line with other current Atom systems. The real issue here is that you're paying Core i3/i5 prices for an Atom tablet.
Battery life, however, was very good. The system ran for 8:09 on our video playback battery drain test, which was longer than other recent 10- and 11-inch PCs, such as the Acer Aspire Switch 10 or Lenovo's Miix 2.
The sheer flexibility of the ThinkPad 10 ecosystem is appealing for using a single device -- in different configurations -- at home, at the office, or on the road. In practice, I found it worked best paired with the keyboard cover as a coffee shop or airplane seat computer. On its own, it's a harder case to make, but that's largely because Windows 8 has yet to prove it really works as a satisfying full-time tablet OS.
The ThinkPad 10 feels great in the hand, but the price, especially considering the sold-separately accessories, gives me pause. If you can find the base tablet for under $500, as I've seen on Amazon, it's reasonable. At the more than $700 Lenovo is selling it directly for right now, it's overpriced for the performance it offers.