Look and feel
The first time we saw the ThinkPad Tablet, back in July, we were struck by its odd proportions. It wasn't just that this thing was on the plump side (after all, most slates with a full-sized USB port are). No, this tablet was simply... outsized
. At 10. 3 x 7.2 x 0.6 inches (260.4 x 181.7 x 14mm), it's both taller and wider than the Galaxy Tab 10.1
(it measures 10.1 x 6.9 x .34 inches). On paper, that gulf might seem trivial, but the unusual shape was the first thing we noticed. Check the comparison above if you don't believe us!
That, and its heft. At 1.58 pounds (715 grams), the ThinkPad Tablet feels
like the serious productivity slate it claims to be. Because of the extra width, we found ourselves making an effort not to type in portrait mode, since the weight distribution felt particularly imbalanced. Fortunately, even though we felt some stretch in our thumbs while typing in landscape mode, we were still able to do so with relative ease, and discovered that holding the tablet that way made way more sense ergonomically.
This tablet's heft is also offset, in part, by the fact that it's generally a well made device. And if you're the kind of person who already finds ThinkPads' red nubs and boxy chassis endearing, you might even call it handsome. The back side has a nice, soft finish -- one of many ways in which the ThinkPad Tablet borrows design elements from the laptops with the same name. The lid's also stamped with not one, but two logos -- metal Lenovo and ThinkPad insignias, placed catty-corner to each other. As an added flourish, the "i" in "ThinkPad" glows red when the tablet is powered on.
Yet another thing that makes this tablet visually striking: a row of four physical buttons, which line the bottom of the screen when you holding the tablet in portrait mode with the front-facing camera up top. These include one to lock the screen orientation, a browser launcher, a backward navigation key and your requisite home button. Alas, they're stiff -- very hard to press -- and we eventually gave up on our efforts to get used to them and simply stuck with the touchscreen. It's a shame, really, since that tactile experience could have been yet another way for Lenovo to hearken back to the experience of using a ThinkPad laptop.
Taking a tour around the device, you'll also find a plethora of ports sitting just below that row of physical buttons. These include a door covering an SD reader and a 3G SIM card slot, along with an exposed docking connector, micro-USB port, mini-HDMI socket (1080p capable) and a headphone jack. On the opposite end (the other short edge), you'll find a volume rocker, along with a slot for the optional pen (much more on that in a moment). Moving along to the long edges, you've got a lone USB 2.0 port on one side, hidden behind a neat little sliding door, with a power / lock button rounding out the opposite side.
Like the HTC Flyer
, the ThinkPad Tablet uses N-Trig's DuoSense digitizer to allow for both pen and touch input. Also like the Flyer, the pen is sold separately, though in this case it comes for a slightly (keyword: slightly
) less insulting price of $30. In a cute touch, Lenovo topped off the pen with a red cap -- a loving throwback to the signature pointing stick you'll find on any ThinkPad notebook. Inside the box, you'll also find two replaceable tips, so tiny you could easily toss them out with the packaging if you're not careful. It also includes a single AAAA battery, which you insert by screwing off the red top. Rounding out the lot, there's a thin string you can use to tether it to the tablet.
As far as pre-installed apps go, there's not much you can do with the pen beyond the native note-taking app, aptly named Notes Mobile. You can also mark up PDFs and download drawing and alternative note-taking apps in Android Market, but it's best if you know what to look for, since key words such as "notes" yield results that include apps designed for the general pool of Android tablets in general, and not just ones with N-Trig DuoSense displays. (Lenovo's own App Shop, which we'll discuss more in a bit, misses an opportunity to curate a selection of pen-optimized apps.)
When you launch Notes Mobile, the first thing you'll see are a selection of different notebooks. One of them is merely a tutorial, but you can, if you wish, add books as you please, designating a new one for each client you meet, or conference call you have to take.
The display responds smoothly to pen input, so you won't have to bear down as you're writing.
Keep in mind that it's not a pressure-sensitive pen, either, so gripping the pen tightly and applying lots of pressure isn't going to change your signature in the slightest.
In many ways, too, the software works intuitively. You can circle passages to either delete them or export them as text or an image. (Alas, you can't change the font or text color that way, though there are icons at the top of the screen that let you adjust these settings before you start writing new text.) You can erase words by scribbling through them, though you can also tap on an eraser icon at the top of the screen and just wipe that over the page. Helpfully, there are also undo and redo buttons up top, along with a new page button on the bottom.
The problem is, the handwriting recognition software just isn't precise enough. Even when we printed large, carefully written letters, the app misconstrued our words. We wrote "Go Home," it came back with "bottom." Two attempts at "Stop it" resulted in "Stop tt" and "Siip lt." To get the best results, we had to make a concerted effort to write legibly, either in printed letters or the kind of meticulous penmanship we honed back in elementary school -- which, you know, is totally how our writing looks as we're scrambling to keep up with speakers during meetings and lectures. Anyhow, hopefully this is something Lenovo can remedy through an update.
Display and sound
We'll elaborate on this more in a bit, but the ThinkPad Tablet's 10.1-inch (1280 x 800) IPS, Gorilla Glass display isn't the most responsive in the land. But in the meantime, how does it look? Indeed, we enjoyed comfortable viewing angles from the sides and also with the tablet placed on a tablet in front of us -- and this was with an overhead light shining above, mind you. Still, even with the brightness pumped to the max, we weren't able to make out much while squinting at the screen outside on a cloudy day (not an unlikely scenario, especially if you hold out for one of the 3G-enabled versions). By the by, when it comes to media playback, you can play files off of SD cards and USB drives.
As for that lone speaker, the sound quality is pleasant, though expect it to sound faint even with the volume cranked to its top setting.
We know, we know. Tablet cameras are almost always disappointing and it feels like every time we review a new model, we proclaim its set of lenses to be the worst we've ever seen. So forgive us if we sound like a broken record, but the ThinkPad Tablet's five megapixel rear-facing cam is particularly bad. It just can't seem to do anything right. Even when we an our subjects were still and we chose relatively easy lighting conditions, our shots almost never looked sharp. Throughout our gallery, you'll notice a softness in the image quality -- not just in low light, but in pics taken on a slightly cloudy day. In some cases, the background is sharper than our intended subjects in the foreground. As for two megapixel camera tucked on the front side, we thought our shots were respectable, considering the lens' low resolution, but thanks to clumsy ergonomics there's no reason to use the front camera instead of your smartphone for stills.