If you have to buy a tablet this year, the ThinkPad should be on your list. It includes features other tablets forgo or charge extra for, without sacrifices in price or performance.
Computer manufacturer Lenovo is a little later to market with an Android-powered tablet than its PC-making competitors Asus, Acer and Toshiba, but not so late to have missed the boat. Has Lenovo spent this extra time wisely?
Lenovo comes to market with two tablet options: the consumer-focused IdeaPad, with its colourful plastic chassis, and the much more sombre ThinkPad. The latter is encased in black, soft-touch plastic, not unlike the BlackBerry PlayBook that we reviewed several months ago, so it feels nice to grip, and it doesn't get covered in a multitude of greasy fingerprints.
This tablet's display measures 10.1 inches diagonally, and sports in-plane switching (IPS) tech for a sharper image on a wider range of viewing angles and Corning Gorilla Glass that should protect the panel from most nicks, bumps and scratches. Its WXGA resolution (1280x800 pixels) appears to be more than enough to display high-definition content on this smaller screen.
The ThinkPad is noticeably heavier and marginally thicker than Apple's iPad 2, but it also accommodates a lot more tech. The width of the tablet, for example, is only just thicker than a full-size USB port, which the ThinkPad has and the iPad 2 does not. At 715 grams, the ThinkPad can feel a little too heavy after long periods of holding it up to read, but this is par for the course for 10-inch tablets this year.
Around the edge of the ThinkPad is an exciting array of plugs and switches. Alongside the standard volume rocker and power button, you'll also find the aforementioned USB port, a micro-USB port(for charging and PC syncing), a micro-HDMI port for outputting the display to a larger monitor or TV and an SD card reader slot for expanding the tablet's 16GB, 32GB or 64GB storage capacity. Our review unit also had a 3G SIM card slot, although this is an optional extra.
Lenovo takes the clean canvas of Android Honeycomb, and has added a few neat tweaks to enhance access to a user's favourite apps and tools. In the centre of the standard Android taskbar, at the bottom of the screen, is an icon that launhces a carousel-like shortcut wheel. This wheel is user customisable, so you can load in your favourite tasks and jump to them quickly from within any app.
Lenovo also pre-loads a stack of popular and useful apps, otherwise downloadable for a price through the Google Android Market. Alongside a small collection of games, media and communication tools, Lenovo has also included some excellent business applications. Documents to Go is standard, as is Citrix Receiver, McAfee Mobile Security, Printer Share and FlexT9 text input from Nuance — makers of the excellent Dragon Naturally Speaking software for PCs.
Better yet, you also get free access to ComputerTrace software for tracking and deletion of data if the tablet is lost or stolen, plus IT managers will love the geolocation tools available, and the flexibility of configuration for tablets issued en masse to employees within an organisation.
Our favourite feature of the Lenovo ThinkPad tablet, and the feature that really sets it apart from other tablets at the same price point, is the inclusion of the capacitive stylus (or digitiser, as Lenovo refers to it). This battery-powered pointer comes standard with the ThinkPad tablet (unlike with other Android tabs where similar "stylii" are an optional extra), and fits neatly into a stylus slot at the top of the device.
The stylus is the Lenovo's killer feature.(Credit: CBSi)
The use of the stylus is not mandated by any function or feature of the ThinkPad tab, but it offers an excellent third navigation option alongside the touchscreen and the hardware buttons. You can use the stylus to navigate the home screens and keep the screen fingerprint free, and you can use it to accurately enter text using FlexT9's handwritten input mode. You can also use the Lenovo-designed MyScript apps to take handwritten notes and have them converted into electronic text.
Using the stylus quickly on the glass screen can become noisy, though no noisier that the sound of someone clacking loudly on a PC keyboard, and its usefulness far outweighs this minor quibble. This is a feature that we want to see included with every tablet.
Lenovo powers the ThinkPad tablet with the Nvidia Tegra 2 chipset, a near-ubiquitous inclusion in Android tablets in 2011, and matches this with 1GB of RAM. The resulting performance is good, but not outstanding. For most of our time with the ThinkPad, we enjoyed a smooth user experience, although we did notice some semi-frequent lag spikes and some ugly flickering when scrolling down long, full-sized web pages in the browser. Web browsing was otherwise fine, with the ThinkPad maintaining a strong connection to Wi-Fi networks.
Battery life for this tablet is right on par with the other similarly sized tablets that we've seen this year. Lenovo claims over eight hours of battery life with Wi-Fi connected from the included 3250mAh capacity battery — claims that just about matched our average usage tests of seven hours of web browsing and over five hours of video playback in Flight Mode.
Lenovo's first attempt at an Android tablet is amongst our favourites of the year. The computer maker thinks outside the square, and includes a couple of unique features that you won't get out of the box from most of its competitors. The full-size USB port is a must-have for business, its suite of included software has something for every user and its digital stylus is a stroke of genius. The construction of the ThinkPad tablet is solid and assured, although this does make for a somewhat heavier tablet.
The Lenovo is far less of a toy than Apple's iPad or Samsung's Galaxy Tab range, and IT managers that are familiar with Lenovo's laptop solutions will be pleased with the level of support for businesses on offer here. If you have to buy a tablet this year, the ThinkPad should be high on your list of options, but don't be surprised when it is quickly superseded by tablets with quad-core processors running an even newer version of Android.