Saying that Windows tablets have had trouble catching on is like saying Mount Everest is a bit of a challenge to climb – it’s a massive understatement. Windows’ switch to the more touch-friendly Metro interface hasn’t spurred a swell in consumer interest despite the fact Windows 8 is rapidly approaching its second birthday.
This is one of the most technically impressive Windows tablets we’ve ever reviewed.
Fans of ThinkPad might at first scratch their heads. A ThinkPad tablet? What does that mean? However, as with earlier slates slapped with this coveted branding, the answer is straightforward. The ThinkPad tablet is built to offer the same advantages of a ThinkPad laptop: lots of ports, rugged design, and many functional extras.
There’s another trait this tablet shares with its notebook ancestors: high pricing. The base model, which has an Atom quad-core, two gigabytes of RAM, and a 64GB hard drive, is $600. Add on the desktop dock shipped with our review unit and you’re looking at $630, and that doesn’t even include a keyboard (another $120). That’s a lot for any 10-inch device, nevermind a Windows tablet. Can Lenovo tablet justify the price?
Simple, but rugged
Picking up Lenovo’s sturdy little tablet is like slipping on a familiar pair of blue jeans. Fashionable? Maybe in the right company, but that’s not really the point. The ThinkPad 10 is meant to comfortably work, and work it does.
Let’s talk size. This is, of course, a 10-inch Windows tablet, yet its weight starts at just 598 grams and its profile is a bit less than 4/10ths of an inch thick. Such figures put it very close to the iPad Air, which weighs 478 grams and is 3/10ths of an inch thick. Though it can’t match Apple’s tablet or the thinnest Android options, like Sony’s Xperia Z2, the ThinkPad 10 is easily the smallest Windows tablet we’ve reviewed.
Yet, in spite of this, Lenovo has managed to cram in an exceptional array of connectivity that includes USB, Mini HDMI, a combo audio jack, and a MicroSD card slot. There’s also the usual tablet accompaniments, like a front-facing camera and microphone, along with some more exotic hardware such as a SIM card slot and a dock connector. These options are generally hidden beneath removable plastic flaps.
Want buttons? You’ll find them. Volume control is on the right hand flank (when the tablet is held in landscape orientation) while power lurks along the top right corner. There’s also a rotation lock button, a somewhat rare and much appreciated extra. All of these lay flat along the flanks of the system, which makes them difficult to find but also eliminates the risk of unwanted activation.
There is one major functional downside, though, and that’s the lack of any place to store the included digitizer pen. We understand the need to keep the device small, but the lack of built-in storage makes the pen easy to lose track of.
Almost the right shape
Unlike most Windows tablets, which offer a 16:9 aspect ratio, the ThinkPad 10 provides the a 16:10 format. This means the display has 1200 vertical pixels, instead of the typical 1080, which translates to a taller (in landscape) or wider (in portrait) screen. While we’d ideally like to see 4:3 or 3:2, the 16:10 ratio provides a reasonable amount of display real estate and keeps bulk down.
The ThinkPad 10’s display is glossy, which means reflections can be an issue.
The ThinkPad 10’s display is glossy, which means reflections can be an issue. This is somewhat countered by the backlight’s high maximum output of 383 lux. We also saw solid color accuracy, with most colors reporting a delta error below two. That’s on par with entry-level desktop monitors.
Numbers aside, we found little to love or hate about the screen. Compared to the best it does look flat, but images are generally realistic and reflections are a problem only in direct sunlight. Lenovo could do better, but it didn’t drop the ball.
The same can be said of the speakers. While tinny, they have limited distortion and provide a strong mid-range sound that makes video and audio files easy to follow. Though not the best for music, the speakers are loud enough to fill a conference room with sound and clear enough to make whatever is said understandable.
A digitizer pen is included with every ThinkPad 10, and it works beautifully. The pen creates a cursor on the screen when the tip is hovered about an inch above the touchscreen (or closer) and a button on the pen is used to activate the stylus in certain apps. We were disappointed because there was no included software to highlight the pen. At simple paint app would have been nice, at the very least.
While the pen is free, the other accessories will cost you. We received two with our review unit: the Quickshot Cover and the Tablet Dock. The cover, at $45, is a rip-off. It’s a simple offering that includes a fold that supposedly makes photography easier (you can fold it down to reveal the front-facing camera) and it functions as a stand. Though it serves its stated purpose, the Quickshot Cover feels like it should be priced closer to $20.
The Tablet Dock, which sets you back $130, is also arguably overpriced, but it at least feels sturdy. Attaching the tablet to the dock will charge it and also add three more USB 3.0 ports along with Ethernet and HDMI. Anyone intending to use the ThinkPad 10 as a full computer will absolutely need the dock.
Lenovo also sells the Ultrabook Keyboard for $120, the Touch Case for $120, and a protector case for $70. The first two add keyboards, while the latter merely protects from drops. We can’t comment on the quality of these extras, as we did not receive them, but they can make the ThinkPad 10 a very pricey device. Adding the dock and a keyboard brings the base model to an intimidating $850 – almost as much as a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 with a keyboard (but without a dock).
Atom’s latest victim
Our review unit arrived packing Intel’s Atom Z3795, a quad-core with a base clock of 1.6GHz and a Turbo Boost maximum of 2.4GHz. Though this sounds impressive on paper, it translated to merely acceptable SiSoft Sandra results.
The ThinkPad 10 bests the Dell Venue 11 Pro, which scored 11.57, and basically ties the Lenovo Yoga 2 11’s score of 12.84. All of these figures are annihilated by a standard notebook like the Acer Aspire E1, however, which scores 38.81 and is priced at $600.
These numbers were largely replicated in 7-Zip, though leads did shift to and fro. The ThinkPad’s score of 4,583 in this case comes well short of the Yoga 2 11’s score of 5,718 and also falls behind the Venue 11 Pro’s score of 5,749. This may indicate that the thin ThinkPad 10 experiences more thermal throttling than its peers.
Our entry-level review unit arrived with 64GB of storage, a generous allotment for basic Windows tablet. Optional upgrades can increase storage to 128GB. We had problems with the stability of our storage test, so we could not record a score, but real-world testing indicate the hard drive is not to blame. Apps open and install quickly and the tablet’s limits seem set by the processor rather than the hard drive.
3D performance is a traditional weak spot of Atom systems. We recorded a Cloud Gate benchmark result of 913 from the ThinkPad 10, which is well south of the Lenovo Yoga 2 11’s score of 1554. A mid-range notebook like the Acer Aspire E1 can quadruple the ThinkPad 10’s performance, delivering 4,084 in the same benchmark.
Poor graphics performance has real-world implications. Like other Atom tablets we’ve reviewed, the ThinkPad 10 can’t deliver a playable League of Legends experience at its native resolution. You’ll be restricted to 2D titles and a few very old 3D games with this tablet.
Long live the Lenovo
Normally we expect a Windows tablet to have a pint-sized battery, but the ThinkPad 10 bucks that trend. As a result it hit an incredibly impressive 7 hours and 50 minutes in our Peacekeeper battery benchmark.
No Windows tablet we’ve reviewed can match this figure. The Dell Venue Pro hits 6 hours and 16 minutes, the Acer Switch 10 manages 6 hours and 11 minutes, and the Lenovo Yoga 2 11 only lasts 5 hours and 18 minutes. The ThinkPad 10 even comes close to a few Android tablets, like the Sony Xperia Z2 Tablet.
Our wattmeter read consumption between 6 watts at idle and 13 watts at full load. This is about the same as the Acer Aspire Switch 10, which ranges from 6 and 14 watts, and less than the Yoga 2 11, which consumes between 10 and 15 watts.
Software gets in the way
One of the first prompts we encountered after booting the ThinkPad 10 was a warning from Norton Internet Security stating our subscription would soon run out. This is an annoyance most Android buyers don’t have to worry about, but it’s alive and well on the Windows platform. Norton prompted us for action at least once each day we used the tablet.
Norton prompted us for action at least once each day we used the tablet.
A video editor, photo editor and file sharing utility round out the bundle. The first two are unfortunate, as they seem to be custom tools built from Lenovo, and they’re not competitive even with freeware alternatives. The file sharing utility, Quickcast, is another story, as it allows easy sharing between computers over local networking. Devices can even connect via QR code. This could be extremely useful for homes and businesses that own multiple Lenovo computers and tablets. Then again, we suspect many users will stick with Dropbox or another familiar cloud service.
We doubt most buyers will purchase the ThinkPad 10 for its camera, but it does have an 8 megapixel rear-facing unit with a flash, something not every Windows tablet provides.
Picture quality can be best described as adequate. In a bright, sunlit environment it snaps shots anyone would be proud to put on Facebook, but in dim environments the sensor is quickly overwhelmed and introduces noise.
Users will also struggle with the Atom processor, which doesn’t seem up to the task of handling 8MP photos in real-time. There’s some delay in sending them to the camera roll and some photos seemed to mysteriously disappear in the process.
Video seems to completely befuddle the tablet, which lags disastrously despite the resulting poor image quality. If you want to shoot a video you’ll be better served by pulling out your smartphone.
Lenovo’s ThinkPad 10 is one of the most technically impressive Windows tablets we’ve ever handled. Though it doesn’t match the thin design and long battery life of an iPad or Android tablet, it comes close, and still offers a full Windows 8.1 experience with all the functionality that entails.
The price is the catch. At $600, the ThinkPad 10 is hundreds more than competitors like the Acer Switch 10 and Dell Venue Pro, both of which offer roughly comparable hardware. Our entry-level review unit, which includes a 64GB hard drive, ties the price of a 64GB iPad Air and is much more expensive than a similar Sony Xperia X2 or Samsung Galaxy Tab. Most readers will find these alternatives a better value due to lower price, better display, long battery life, or a combination of these traits.
Microsoft’s Surface Pro 3 is also a competitor. Though more expensive, it also offers a larger screen and more powerful hardware. Portability is what defines the Pro 3 from the ThinkPad 10; the latter is less capable, but smaller and easier to carry. Lenovo also includes a stylus by default, while Microsoft charges $50 for the privilege.
Still, for a certain user, the ThinkPad 10 makes sense. This is the most portable Windows 8.1 tablet we’ve reviewed, and it nearly ties the Surface Pro 3 in functionality. A useful digitizer pen is included and a host of accessories are available to expand its capabilities, though they come at a steep price. Lenovo’s tablet isn’t built for most of us, but it’s a strong contender for those few who need a portable Windows tablet.
- Thin and light
- Plenty of connectivity
- Digitizer pen included
- Many accessories
- Excellent battery life
- So-so screen quality
- Atom processor offers limited performance
- Disappointing rear-facing camera