The newly released Lenovo ThinkPad tablet flips the "consumerization of IT" paradigm by adding business-class features such as management software, full-size peripheral connectors-including a full-size USB 2.0 port-and an optional digitizer pen to a tablet that has a 10.1-inch display and runs the Android "Honeycomb" operating system.
IT managers who are in a position to recommend a tablet device instead of just accepting whatever walks in the door would do well to consider the ThinkPad tablet. Besides additional hardware and software, Lenovo also enables shops to set up a private application store so that employees can get approved software. I tested the ThinkPad tablet at eWEEK Labs and found the device a worthy competitor in terms of performance and capability when compared with the widely used Apple iPad 2. (See the related slide show.)
The ThinkPad tablet has slightly larger outside dimensions and is marginally heavier than an iPad 2. The rated battery life is about 90 minutes shorter than the premier Apple device. Even so, I had no trouble using the ThinkPad tablet all day on a WiFi connection without needing to look for a power outlet.
Although not tested, the ThinkPad tablet can also be used with an integrated stand/keyboard/cover.
The ThinkPad tablet debuted Aug. 23 and comes with 16, 32 or 64GB RAM. The configurations are priced at $499, $569 and $699, respectively, for the WiFi-only version at the Lenovo online store. Pending radio approval, a broadband mobile edition of the ThinkPad tablet appears imminent but was not available at the time of this review.
A Pen in the Hand
One of the most obvious differences between the ThinkPad tablet and most current tablet designs is the digitizer pen. Although the optional pen tether ruins the sight lines of the ThinkPad tablet, I was easily able to work with the tablet without getting caught in the tether line. The digitizer pen makes jobs such as sketching or precisely marking an area on the screen easy, compared with using a finger to perform these tasks. The included Notes Mobile application aptly recognized my hen scratching and almost immediately turned it into readable text. I don't like the clattery noise made when the stylus is used on the Gorilla glass display, but the noise will only be noticeable in quiet meetings and is no louder than keyboard typing.
In addition to the digitizer pen, the ThinkPad tablet has a number of connection ports that should please business users: a full-size USB 2.0, micro USB, mini High-Definition Multimedia Interface and a three-in-one SD media card reader. Using the USB file copy utility worked as expected to enable me to move files on and off the ThinkPad tablet.
Overall, the fit and finish of the ThinkPad tablet carries on the business-class durability found in ThinkPad laptops. The Gorilla glass display resisted scratching during regular use. The four physical keys on the lower edge of the ThinkPad tablet have a counterintuitive upward press action, but are otherwise unremarkable. The covers for the external ports were easy to open and had a positive feel when latched shut. The single speaker resulted in an only mediocre listening experience. A headphone jack provided very good sound output.
The ThinkPad tablet is equipped with an Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core, 1GHz ARM processor. Device wake was instantaneous and applications and screen swipes were snappy. I encountered one instance when using the Notes Mobile application when the simulated page-turn was draggy, but I was not able to consistently reproduce this effect.
What's Good for Business?
The Lenovo ThinkPad tablet kind of comes with a number of business-first applications already installed, although the applications verge on being "bloat-ware." Most of the included "free" software is actually trial versions. For example, the PrinterShare application is limited to printing 20 pages before the user needs to buy the application. I was able to set up and use PrinterShare in under five minutes although IT managers will need to locate printer drivers for users to successfully use the application. Similarly, the included Docs To Go application, which enables users to view and edit Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, is a trial version.
Other applications are full-featured, but will only benefit organizations that are already using particular enterprise applications or back-end systems. For example, Lenovo has long had a relationship with LANDesk, the endpoint management tool maker. Although not tested, the ThinkPad tablet can be managed through the ThinkManagement Console and the Lenovo Mobility Manager add-ins for the LANDesk Management Suite version 9. The LANDesk integration enables IT managers to push applications and security policies through the LANDesk system