Since Windows 8 a multi-headed beast, a hydra of mouse, keyboard and touch support, it's no wonder we see tablets trying to be more than simple slates. Lenovo's latest machine in this vein is the ThinkPad Tablet 2, a 10.1-inch tablet running the full Windows 8.
Having a real OS gives it a wide library of software to choose from, plus a keyboard dock with trackpoint mouse provides word processing power. There's also a SIM card slot, though plans for cellular service are U.S. only so far. All that plus a light form factor give it on-the-go appeal comparable to the Microsoft Surface Pro.
Give the ThinkPad Tablet 2 a sideways glance while it rests in its dock and you might just think it was a laptop. Actually use it and you'll be somewhat disappointed. Like the Acer Iconia W510, its Intel Atom processor offers Busch league performance in exchange for great battery life. It's also a tad precarious, since the tablet doesn't lock into the dock. Give it a tip and your expensive slate might go tumbling.
And it is expensive. The tablet alone is $729/£485, but to get the most out of it, you'll want the Bluetooth keyboard dock, which will cost you an additional $119/£80. Then, since the ThinkPad Tablet 2 can't go clamshell like a laptop, a case of some sort is a good idea. Lenovo sells a slick one for $39.99/£25. That means you're paying $848/£564 for the tablet and keyboard, $888/£590 if you spring for the case, too.
That's a stiff asking price for a dock and slate, a design that we're honestly not sold on as anything but a travel device. It's hard to stomach a full computing cost for what's really a secondary computing solution.
Still, we would say that the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 is the best take we've seen on this design. It's a functional jack of all trades that can keep you productive and entertained on the road, but its limitations will drive you nuts if you try to make it your only computing option. A fat bank account and good Bluetooth mouse are needed to make this ThinkPad part of your digital life.
At 10.1 x 6.9 inches, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 has a manageable form factor. Its matte black finish looks great and has a grippy, slightly rubberized quality that makes it a pleasure to hold. It feels a little wide for typing when using the on-screen keyboard, but it's an excellent size and shape for watching videos in landscape orientation, or reading in portrait. It weighs just a little over a pound, about 544 grams, so it won't weigh you down much.
A full-sized USB 2.0 port and a microSD slot make sharing media a synch. Both are hidden beneath rubber tabs to keep out dust and give the tablet a seamless appearance.There's also a mini-USB connection that's only for charging.
The volume rocker is on the upper right side, in easy thumbing range when watching videos in landscape mode. Below it there's a thoughtful touch; a button that toggles auto-rotate on and off, letting you easily lock the screen.
Next to the microSD port there's slot for a full-sized SIM card slot. Lenovo plans to market a version of ThinkPad Tablet 2 with LTE from AT&T in the United States. There's also a Wacom stylus tucked away on the top left. As always, a stylus is a highly situational accessory, and it stays nicely out of the way when not needed. There's also mini-HDMI on the bottom, and a proprietary port for docking with additional Lenovo accessories.
All in all it's a strong showing of ports, though the number of mini-ports is disappointing. Nobody likes carrying dongles.
As a tablet, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 is a attractive and well built, but it rather dependent on pricey accessories to become the complete package. This is a Windows 8 device with all the compatibility Microsoft's OS offers. You'll be wanting that keyboard dock to take advantage of that, which has the unfortunate effect of jacking up the asking price.
The dock is a surprisingly good keyboard though. The keys aren't so shallow or cramped as on the Acer Iconia W510. They offer a satisfying press, and having a full row of function keys makes it easy to adjust options like brightness and volume, features which are otherwise rather buried in Windows 8.
You will want a Bluetooth mouse though. We know that the ThinkPad trackpoint mouse has its fans, but we found it inadequate for anything but the most basic of pointing functions. It provides a very small surface area for piloting your pointer. Scooting the cursor from one side of the screen to the other takes upwards of three to four strokes. It's fine for the occasional trip to the desktop or a non-mobile site, but anything else feels like taking a walk an inch at a time.
Then there's the fact that the tablet doesn't lock into place on the dock. Instead it rests snugly in a slot, which opens with the pull of a latch on the underside of the keyboard. Pairing is absolutely flawless though. Just pull a switch above the escape key and the two are talking in less than a second.
The Bluetooth connection is masterfully executed, but then if you pick up the dock or use it on your lap, there's a good chance the tablet will fall forward. This takes really detracts from the otherwise premium feel of the ThinkPad Tablet 2.
The dock and tablet have a thin relationship. They're a good looking couple, but don't have much of a connection. A firm shake can separate them. For use at a desk, the dock holds the tablet at a less than perfect angle. Though the screen has excellent viewing angles, you'll need to slouch to meet it head on.
It's also a little harder to transport than such a light, compact device should be. When it's docked, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 really shouldn't be moved, lest you risk a fall. The two iems can't fold up clamshell style like a laptop, or clip together in any way. This makes them delicate to transport, so the carrying case accessory is pretty necessary. Tack another $40 onto the price.
At least the case Lenovo sells is handsome. It's faux-leather with a black and red finish that matches the signature ThinkPad keyboard. It has a light magnetic seal to keep it shut, with two slots for holding the tablet and the keyboard dock, but no room for the charger. There is a thin slit on the interior for holding business cards. All in all it's a nice case at a reasonable price, it's just unfortunate the separate tablet and dock design necessitates it.
Getting back to the screen, videos on YouTube, Hulu and Netflix all looked good, and the lightweight processor held up just fine under the strain of streaming video. The ThinkPad Tablet 2 is definitely a nice way to watch a film while traveling. The speakers are rather lightweight, nothing you'd want to use for anything except for viral videos of cats or people falling down.