Although it had been rumoured for some time beforehand, the first real details about the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 came last August when detailed specs were leaked. Having the device in hand, I can say that for what it is, it doesn’t disappoint (on the whole). That said, there are some minor disappointments with the unit that I’ve been supplied. Firstly let me say that the unit has been supplied to me as a loan from a supplier for evaluation within a corporate environment, not a review unit directly from Lenovo. Although I requested all the extras, the unit I’ve been loaned is the base model: no stylus/digitiser, no docking station, no Bluetooth keyboard.
The first thing that hits you about the Tablet 2 is its weight, or more correctly, the lack of it. If handed the unit in a powered-off state you would be mistaken for thinking it was a dummy display unit. Using an iPad, Surface RT and Iconia W501 (on which I’ve been running Windows 8 since the Developer Preview in late 2011) on an almost daily basis, I can tell you that the Tablet 2 is lighter and sits in the hand much better. At only 570g (as supplied), it’s 106g lighter than the Surface RT, and 82g lighter than an iPad (4th gen, Wi-Fi only). You might not think that such a seemingly insignificant weight difference (about as much a pair of scissors) is noticeable, that is until you’re holding it. The lightness of the unit, is disarming at first, but coupled with rounded tapered edges and the balanced weight distribution, this is easily one of the nicest tablets to use one-handed (hold with one hand, tap with the other). It’s marginally thicker than both the Surface RT and iPad at 9.8mm (vs 9.3 and 9.4 respectively), but thanks to the tapering it feels much thinner (especially compared to the Surface).
Being a Lenovo, and being branded a ThinkPad, you naturally expect the build quality of the Tablet 2 to be excellent… and it is, for the most part. Externally the unit is encased black soft-touch plastic shell (like all ThinkPads) with a Gorilla Glass screen. What did surprise me was the amount of flex in the unit (when deliberately flexed, corner-to-corner). It makes me a tad cautious as to how durable the unit might be in the long run. That said, this is branded as a ThinkPad, and Lenovo do have a reputation to maintain. Despite its lightness, the unit doesn’t feel flimsy, and you shouldn’t experience any flex in daily use.
One of the most amazing things about the Tablet 2 is that, unlike the Surface RT which runs Windows RT on an Nvidia Tegra CPU, it’s running full-blown Windows 8 on an Intel Atom CPU. So you’re not limited to the new “Modern” Windows Store apps, you can also run legacy applications on the Windows desktop just like you have been for the last 10 years. In my opinion this is a clear advantage in the corporate environment. With the Tablet 2 docked and a nice 21” monitor, standard keyboard and mouse, and you’ll be at home with all your standard desktop productivity applications. Then boom, off to a meeting, just grab the Tablet 2 off the dock and go. The only compromise is that this is an Atom based system, so it’s not a workhorse, but for executive use (light Word and Excel use) it would really fit the bill. I haven’t done any timed tests, but the system is fairly snappy and the full x86 versions of the Office 2013 apps launch much quicker than their RT siblings on the Surface.
I’m still not convinced that we’ll be buying a whole fleet of Tablet 2s, as I suspect the still-to-be-released ThinkPad Helix will fit our needs better. But at roughly half the price of the Helix I suspect they’ll definitely be a place for a dozen, give-or-take.
When I originally wrote this post I had only been using the Tablet 2 as a stand-alone device. But one of the reasons I wanted to evaluate it was to see how well it would work within a corporate networked environment. After heading into the office and joining it to our domain, the weakness of the Atom CPU begins to show. I’m not sure if it just the overhead of processing our Active Directory GPOs, or the additional software that we push out (or more likely, a combination), but some of the snappiness of the unit evaporates away very quickly. Maybe when the next generation of “Bay Trail” Atom CPU is released things will be different, but for now it disappoints me to say that maybe the Tablet 2 isn’t ready to join domain based environments.
Helix is coming…
Also, I now have a ThinkPad Helix on loan for evaluation and will be blogging about my first impressions of it in the coming days. Stay tuned.