This review has been updated to reflect the launch of Netflix for Android 3.x devices.
Listen to the market analysts, and they'll tell you that tablets are the next device to sweep
the enterprise. In fact, a survey of stakeholders by Model Metrics found that 22% of businesses
had already deployed tablets, while the rest, 78%, plan to do so by 2013.
Despite the coming tablet wave, the enterprise has been a
difficult nut for tablet makers to crack. Just ask RIM, which is sitting on a huge pile of unsold
PlayBooks. And while Windows 7 tablets have found their niche inside certain vertical segments
like insurance and real estate, and Windows 8 will shake things up in 2012, the Apple iPad is still
the most popular tablet amongst the business sect.
Lenovo is hoping to change that and is expanding its respected ThinkPad brand to include an
Android Honeycomb tablet. The aptly named "ThinkPad Tablet" sports similar specs as a half
dozen other 10.1-inch Honeycomb tablets, but Lenovo differentiates its offering with N-trig
active pen support and full-sized ports. Will that be enough for the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet to
make it in the business world?
BUILD & DESIGN
Just like Toshiba with the Thrive before it, Lenovo eschewed the recent trend toward thin and
light tablets, and instead settled on 'relatively thick and sturdy' for the ThinkPad. At 1.66 pounds
and .57-inches thick, it's still mobile, but has a solid build and feels especially sturdy. Any
business device should be built to last, and the ThinkPad certainly leaves that impression.
In addition to the full-sized USB, HDMI and SD Card inputs, Lenovo added two features that
make the ThinkPad unique compared with similar Honeycomb tablets. First is the docking pen.
The ThinkPad Tablet is the only Honeycomb tablet to support pen input at launch (the HTC Flyer
and EVO View 4G both run Gingerbread), and it's one of, if not the, only mobile tablet to feature
a pen dock on the device.
Second, where most new tablets rely on one button or softkeys
for navigation, the Lenovo ThinkPad four large physical buttons on the display side of the device.
They are composed of the same glossy plastic that frames the display, and what they lack in
aesthetics (they resemble the buttons on first-generation or budget Android tablet), they make
up for in function. The home and back buttons simply duplicate the ever-present Honeycomb
softkeys, but I found the orientation lock and quick web launcher to be especially handy. Also,
there is something satisfying in pushing an actual button and hearing an audible click. It's
typically preferable to pecking away at softkeys, for my money.
The four buttons are on the bottom short side of the device (or right side, if held in landscape),
with icons implying the ThinkPad tablet is built for primarily portrait orientation. The front-facing
webcam is on the top right-hand corner, with the 10.1-inch glossy display and border filling up
the rest of the space.
The back panel is rubberized, which is good for general ruggedness and shrugs off fingerprints
well, but I wish Lenovo would have put a bit of texture to aid in gripping. In a very neat design
touch, the "i" in the ThinkPad logo doubles as the power indicator light. The mic input and rear-
facing webcam is on the same corner, opposite the front-facing camera.
Along the sides, Lenovo included some full-sized goodies, including a real USB 2.0 port next to
the speaker on the bottom long side. The power button sits on the top.
Along the short side, just under the buttons, are the 3.5mm audio jack, miniUSB input,
miniHDMI input, and a proprietary docking input, as well as a SIM card slot and full-sized SD
card input underneath a secure latch. The pen dock, pen tether latch, and volume rocker are on
the opposite side.
I praised the Thrive for its full-sized USB input, and I'll do the same with the Lenovo ThinkPad.
Its Honeycomb operating system supports USB hosting, meaning you can plug in any USB
keyboard, gamepad, or mouse, and it will work with the ThinkPad (you can't do that with an
iPad!). In fact, the Lenovo ThinkPad is the only brand-name non-Windows 7 tablet in recent
memory that supports pen, USB keyboard and touch.
I do wish Lenovo went deeper with the enterprise features and included a removable battery.
The Thrive has one, and I'm sure it's a big consideration for business buyers looking to
eventually extend the life of their mobile devices.
Display and SpeakersThe ThinkPad and every 10.1-inch Honeycomb tablet released prior to
the ThinkPad has a 1280 x 800 display. With the exception of the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1,
those displays have looked awful next to the Apple iPad 2 screen (9.7-inches, 1024 x 768).
While the Lenovo ThinkPad display still pales in comparison to the iPad screen, it's not nearly as
bad as the Thrive's or IdeaPad K1's. The ThinkPad display is not as bright as the iPad's, and the
imaging is not as crisp when zoomed out. Pinch and zoom in, and the ThinkPad looks a bit better
owing to its higher resolution, but there is a steady green-blue hue that is not as pleasant as the
iPad's warmer tones.
The ThinkPad speaker is also nothing special. In fact, it's lousy. First of all, it's horribly placed on
the back tapered edge, where it directs sound away from the user (a common design flaw on
most tablets). Second, it's just not loud enough at max volume. In fact, it's a struggle to make
out lyrics and movie dialogue, which makes it impossible to comment on the fidelity. My advice is
to stick with headphones, where the volume and fidelity are much better.
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet specs:
Android Honeycomb (3.1)
10.1-inch Gorilla Glass display, 1280 x 800
NVIDIA Dual Core Tegra 2, 1GHz
16GB, 32GB or 64GB internal storage
Front-facing 2-megapixel, rear-facing 5-megapixel webcams
802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, SIM slot for 3G
Full-sized USB 2.0, Full-sized SD card reader, miniHDMI, microUSB, dock connector, 3.5mm
10.3 x 7.2 x .57-inches
Ships with AC adapter, docking connector to USB male cable, pin pointer for microSD card
Price at Launch: Starts at $499.99 (16GB, w/o pen)