Want some more shortcuts with your shortcuts? Well, there's also a carousel of six favorites at the bottom of the screen (this would be the icon that looks like a talk bubble). Once you open the carousel, it'll pop up in the low right corner of the screen. These, too, are easy to customize -- just tap the settings icon to start dragging and dropping your favorite apps into the list. To be honest, we prefer this to Launch Zone, just because it's less obtrusive. It's only in the way when we're actively scrolling through favorites. When we're not, it's nothing more than an icon at the button of the screen. As it is, you'll be greeted by both when you turn on the tablet for the first time. It's a cluttered setup, to be sure, and we're less forgiving of it now that we're reviewing the ThinkPad Tablet -- a slate for bona fide techies. Anyone buying this knows his or her way around Honeycomb, and will likely find this kind of hand-holding patronizing, unnecessary. It doesn't work here, even though we can see why Lenovo decided to slap it on the K1, a tablet that's decidedly more consumery. In any case, if you're as annoyed as we are, you can just drag and drop the whole launcher into the trash bin and call it a day.
Moving along, Lenovo also included its SocialTouch app, which aggregates friends' Facebook and Twitter updates, along with your email and calendar appointments. It's a neat idea in theory, except that there's no way to jump from day to day, so it's essentially like reading your emails and meeting reminders in the form of a Twitter timeline. Expect the important stuff to get lost in the morass.
Like the K1 before it, the ThinkPad Tablet comes with a boatload of apps pre-installed -- a list that includes Absolute, AccuWeather, Amazon Kindle, Angry Birds HD, ArcSync (along with 2GB of free storage), Docs to Go, the IM client eBuddy, five card games, a 30-day trial of McAfee Security, Movie Studio, Netflix, ooVoo, Places, PokeTalk, PrinterShare and. Sound Recorder.
As a treat for the beleaguered IT guy, Lenovo also threw in Citrix Receiver, allowing users to access virtualized desktops and company-required apps. Meanwhile, Lenovo's own Mobility Manager app gives the IT department a fair amount of control, letting it remotely wipe the data, set up data encryption change the password and monitor failed log-in attempts. On top of all that, Lenovo included its own "USB File Copy" app for trading files among the internal flash storage, an external memory card or a PC or hard drive connected via USB. That file manager is welcome, and worked just fine to copy a movie from our SD card to the tablet's internal memory. Intuitively, it'll launch automatically when you insert a SB drive or SD card, or when you connect the keyboard folio case (more on that later), which saves you the trouble of digging through the app menu to open it.
In addition to the apps it bundled and the troves you'll find in Android Market, Lenovo's also pushing its own storefront, dubbed Lenovo App Shop. The selection hasn't gotten much beefier since we reviewed the K1 almost two months ago but more importantly, there's nothing here that you can't also find in Android Market. For low-tech users considering the K1, perhaps, that kind of curated experience could be a relief. But again, anyone considering pulling the trigger on a ThinkPad Tablet can navigate Android Market just fine, and probably know what they're looking for anyway. Still, IT managers can customize the store so that it only shows corporate-approved apps, so companies, at least, might appreciate a curated experience, even if end users don't.
Configuration options and accessories
For the purposes of this review, we checked out the $569 32GB model, though you can also opt for a 16GB version ($499) or a 64GB number ($699). Lenovo's also selling a $60 dock with USB 2.0, micro-USB, HDMI, headphone and line-out ports, along with that $30 pen we've been using to practice our cursive.
If you've been following along, though, you know the most intriguing add-on of them all is the $100 keyboard folio case. It is what it sounds like, folks, and it's awesome. What you have is a fold-out case with a built-in, USB-powered keyboard. What can we say? The keys are just delicious to type on, and really do evoke the experience of tying on a ThinkPad (a ThinkPad Edge with a chiclet keyboard, perhaps, but a ThinkPad just the same). There's also a red optical trackpad in the center designed to take the place of Lenovo's signature nub, and it, too, is a pleasure to use. That feature alone transformed the way we interacted with the tablet; particularly since it's so reliable and comfortable to use, it's worlds better than combining some third-party keyboard with a standalone mouse. It wasn't until we wanted to scroll down through webpages that the spell broke slightly, as we needed to take our finger off the trackpad and either use the down arrow key or reach up and touch the screen.
One last note before we stop gushing: as far as cases go, this one's notably well made. It has three incline settings, and we love how the tablet locks into each with a satisfying click
(ditto for the way you can fold the case's latch underneath itself so that it doesn't flop around in front of the screen). In a smart move, Lenovo left the ports exposed so that you can charge the tablet without removing it from the folio (the door covering the SD slot will be obscured, though). It's ironic, really, what's going on here: Lenovo managed to craft a nearly perfect accessory for a decidedly imperfect tablet. It just goes to show that Lenovo's at its best when it makes traditional computers -- or, at least, things that make for a computer-like experience. Whether you get the ThinkPad Tablet is a question you'll have to answer for yourself, but if you do, we highly recommend ponying up for the case -- it'll add value in a way the pen doesn't necessarily.