The VAR Guy 30-Second Review: Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet

Dave Courbanou

August 31, 2011

4 Min Read
The VAR Guy 30-Second Review: Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet

Lenovo’s ThinkPad Tablet press event Aug. 30, 2011, took place at The W Hotel in New York City, which was a perfect compliment to the Lenovo’s ThinkPad Tablet style. Sophisticated yet austere, Lenovo has made sure this isn’t just another Android tablet. But is it enough? Here’s what the channel should know about Lenovo’s latest tablet efforts …

True to the ThinkPad style, the ThinkPad Tablet is rectangular, black, with a rubberized matte back. It feels good in your hands and is relatively thin for a 10-inch tablet, (though not as thin as the 10-inch Galaxy Tab.) The ThinkPad Tablet has a plethora of ports, including micro SIM, SD card, regular USB, mini HDMI out and a nifty slot for the ThinkPad Tablet Stylus.

For Lenovo, the stylus is king. Lenovo demoed the stylus capabilities, which boil down to mainly annotation inside PDFs and handwriting recognition (although Autodesk was there demoing its sketching application, which was impressive). The stylus is not a capacitive stylus (it didn’t work on my iPhone) but rather an “active” stylus, which interacts with the screen directly. The ThinkPad Tablet comes pre-loaded with a note-taking application that — pretty quickly and accurately — turns scribble into text. Press the button on the stylus while pointing at your newly transcribed text, and you can auto-correct it if the program got it wrong. Sadly, PDF annotating doesn’t happen right out of the box, but the active stylus is compatible with any annotation program you can download. Lenovo has also built into the Android keyboard a special handwriting capability (T9 Write), which was developed in conjunction with Nuance Technology. It’s all integrated nicely and I can see stylus-savvy users really loving the precise writing capabilities. But aside from the applications that utilize it, the pen is really not much more than a plastic finger. There is no system-wide layer of handwriting recognition. If a stylus isn’t your thing, that’s fine, because it’s an extra $30 tacked on to the base price of $499 for a 16GB unit.

In my opinion, typing is way more important than pointing. Lenovo’s keyboard folio strives to provide that. The whole folio is a beefy unit, but an absolute pleasure to type on. I cannot stress this enough. The keys are tactile, responsive, and have just the right about of squishy chiclet style resistance, just like a ThinkPad. Added bonus is the ubiquitous ThinkPad red mouse pointer nub. It works across the entire Android OS, with a little blue glowing pointer that compliments the Android Honeycomb theme. The dual mouse buttons act predictably depending the application usage.

Problem is, when you bundle it all up and fold it together, the thing is really thick — 2 inches or 3 inches thick — and a tad on the heavier side. It also blocks and uses the only standard USB port on the device. There’s no really way around this, which his sad. The good news is that, when the tablet is out of the keyboard folio, the USB port is quite useful. Lenovo has included an app that lets you easily move data and files to and from the internal memory to an external memory device that may be attached to the device. That means the ThinkPad Tablet, which starts at 16GB internally, has a lot of space expansion, including the micro SD card slot and the USB slot. That’s a super important feature for business users pulling data off thumb drives or digital cameras.

The Tegra 2 CPU that powers the ThinkPad Tablet was speedy, pulling up apps and multitasking very quickly, but there were still some instances of odd stuttering and general lag. I think this is just something I’m going to have to learn to live with in the Android world. Bonus: the quality of the front and rear cameras were good, and (though not designed for low-light environments) much better than the iPad 2’s.

Lenovo is focusing hard on its core demographic, playing up the business user with the Lenovo App Shop. It’s exactly what it sounds like, and includes a comprehensive collection of pre-vetted applications, certified malware-free. Come October 2011, Lenovo plans to launch a similar offering, dubbing it the Enterprise App Shop, with deeper focus on productivity applications geared toward enterprise needs, including bulk-application purchasing.

The bottom line for me? The ThinkPad Tablet is one of two Android tablets on my list, second only to the Samsung Galaxy Tab. Amid a world of plastic shiny and sluggish junk tablets, Lenovo really stands out. You can feel the engineering behind the device and appreciate the solid build quality. No creaks or groans or cracks, The ThinkPad Tablet feels like one cohesive device, much like the iPad. Lenovo has endeavored to hit all the niche complaints business users want addressed, while quelling security issues IT admins have through encryption capabilities. This is a super-easy device to recommend, and I’m happy I can say that.

But while Lenovo may have started a small love affair with Android Honeycomb and me, I don’t believe it’ll be replacing my iPad anytime soon. However, for a business user on the fence about what to buy, I say go for Lenovo’s ThinkPad Tablet. Lenovo truly cares about the business user more than anything, and they company is listening to you.

The ThinkPad Tablet rates a 8.5/10.

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