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Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 review: Great features for a Atom tablet, but it'll cost you

Great features for a Atom tablet, but it'll cost you

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
8 min read

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.


Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2

The Good

The <b>Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2</b> is the best-looking Atom Windows 8 tablet yet, and the optional keyboard dock is excellent. All-day battery life makes it great for travel.

The Bad

The Tablet 2 is expensive, especially considering the small 64GB SSD, lack of USB 3.0, and generally slow Atom performance.

The Bottom Line

This Windows 8 tablet from Lenovo scores with great industrial design and battery life, but adding practically required accessories makes the ThinkPad Tablet 2 very expensive for what you get.

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
Graphics Intel GMA
Operating System Windows 8
Dimensions (WD) 10.1 x 6.9 inches
Height 0.34 inch
Screen size (diagonal) 10.1 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter 1.2/1.4 pounds
Category Tablet

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
Optical drive None None

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.

An active digitizer stylus is included, and tucks into its own built-in slot on the left edge of the system. Windows 8 was definitely built around finger interaction, not a stylus, but there are cases where it could come in handy, and other than that, it stays out of the way.

The keyboard dock we tested has no additional ports or connections, but a non-keyboard dock is also available, offering three extra USB 2.0 ports, an Ethernet jack, and full-size HDMI.

Atom-powered systems, such as the ThinkPad Tablet 2 or HP Envy X2, are going to be much slower in benchmark tests than Core i5 tablets such as the Surface Pro. It's important to keep this performance difference -- which can be as much as four to five times greater in terms of application speed -- in mind, but it's not necessarily a deal-breaker.

For basic tasks, you may not even notice. The Windows 8 UI works smoothly on Atom systems, as do Microsoft apps, such as IE10, which are clearly optimized for this hardware. Some third-party apps are less consistent. Netflix worked fine, but Google's Chrome Web browser was very stuttery (a problem that a software update could easily fix).

If you're not engaged in moderate-to-heavy multitasking, or trying to run big Photoshop filters or encode video, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 might be just enough machine for you. But I suspect it works better as a secondary or travel computer -- using it on your desk all day, every day, would accentuate the performance limitations.

Battery life is where you see the real advantage of having a tablet with Intel's Atom platform. The system ran for eight hours and 53 minutes on our video playback battery drain test, which is a little less than some other Atom tablets we've tested, but not by much. This is iPad-level territory, and Windows 8 is much smarter about sleeping and preserving battery life, so this could be an all-day computer quite easily.

The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 moves up to being my favorite current Atom-powered Windows 8 tablet, on account of its strong industrial design, excellent keyboard dock, and great battery life. I'd still pick up a Surface Pro (or maybe an IdeaPad Yoga) instead for all-day use, and adding the must-have accessories only makes this tablet more expensive than something with this level of hardware should be.

Multimedia Multitasking test
(In seconds; shorter bars indicate better performance)
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2
Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test
(In seconds, shorter bars indicate better performance)
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2
Apple iTunes encoding test
(In seconds, shorter bars indicate better performance)
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2
Video playback battery drain test
(In minutes, longer bars indicate better performance)
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2
Load test (average watts)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2

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System configurations

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2
Windows 8 (32-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760; 2GB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 737MB (Total) Intel GMA; 64GB MMC SSD

Dell Latitude 10
Windows 8 (32-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760; 2GB DDR2 SDRAM 800MHz; 747MB (Total) Intel GMA; 64GB MMC SSD

Microsoft Surface Pro
Windows 8 Pro (64-bit); 1.7GHz IntelCore i5; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Sharedl) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Micron SSD

Acer Iconia W510P-1406
Windows 8 Pro (32-bit); 1.8GHz Intel Atom Z2760; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,066MHz; 747MB (Total) Intel GMA; 64GB SEM64G SSD

Acer Iconia W700
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 128MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Toshiba SSD

Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 13
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 3317U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 32MB (Dedicated) Intel HD 4000; 128GB Samsung SSD


Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 6Battery 9Support 8