Lenovo ThinkPad 2 Review

 
As of right now, you can have your tablet in two varieties: 1) a tablet that’s basically a big smartphone without the phone part, or 2) a tablet that’s a light PC.
 
I personally own 2 tablets right now; a Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and a Nexus 7. These two serve my needs just fine; they are basically blown-up smartphones with beefier specs than their smaller counterparts. I don’t expect to be able to do any real work on them (though OfficePro does pretty much everything I had wished for), and they are mostly travel companions of mine, a portable gaming device, and a social media machine.
 
I never really considered a tablet as an actual laptop replacement until Windows 8 came out. With Microsoft’s new operating system came a flood of tablets that ran Windows 8; either the full OS or a weakened RT version. Something always scared me about considering one of those tablets, however. I just didn’t believe a full version of Windows could properly function on a tablet’s modest specs.
 
Imagine my surprise when my month with the Lenovo ThinkPad 2 went about as smoothly as one could hope. The ThinkPad 2 boasts these specs:
 
– Atom Z2760 1.80GHz processor
– Windows 8 Professional 32 bit
– PowerVR SGX545 praphics
– 64GB hard drive
– 2 GB RAM
 
ThinkPad Tablet 2 Image 5
 
Pretty modest when compared to an actual computer, but not too shabby when compared to other tablets. As far as my time with this tablet from a work standpoint, using the ThinkPad 2 to work on articles was a breeze, much easier that using any of my Android tablets. For everyday use, however, the ThinkPad 2, and I suspect every Windows 8 tablet out there, struggles to find its identity. Yes, it has the full OS, which means that it also has a portable version of the full Windows desktop environment. Yes, Windows 8’s new Metro interface is fantastic to use with a touchscreen. But one thing ends up being a huge problem for this tablet: the apps.
 
It’s very simple; if Microsoft wants users to primarily use the Start Screen (Metro interface), then there simply needs to be more (and better) apps. In fact, this goes for people who are wanting to use a Microsoft mobile device at all. For instance, there is no official Facebook app. While the third party ones that are available are fine and they get the job done for the most part, they just can’t hold a candle to the Android or iOS FB app. I found myself just running Facebook from Internet Explorer (which works great), but doesn’t that kind of defeat the purpose of the convenience of a tablet?
 
Yes, call me lazy and spoiled, but if I’m using a tablet, I want to be able to tap an icon and be transported into the app I need immediately; not needing to open IE, find FB in my Favorites, then access it, or even worse, having to type the URL in. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it defeats the purpose of the tablet as a whole…which is all about convenience. The number and quality of apps within the appstore will make or break a tablet, and Windows 8 just doesn’t have a very good appstore at the moment. There are way too many apps that look like they were just made by some dude named Keith and slapped into the appstore front. That’s not as big as issue when you’re dealing with an appstore the size of iTunes or Google Play, but with as few apps as the Windows Store is offering, these “homemade” apps start to make up the bulk of the store. It makes the entire experience just seem…cheap.
 
That’s an unfortunate thing for me to say, since nothing about the ThinkPad 2 itself is cheap in any way. Let’s start with the build quality, which is very impressive. 10-inch tablets have started to become too bulky for me ever since I switched from a 10-inch Galaxy tab to my Nexus 7. It just seems like 10-inches is a bit unwieldy. But with the TP2, the overall experience was very comfortable. It weighs in at just under 1.5 lbs and has a nice, sturdy, attractive looking body. It’s rare that I actually enjoy holding something, but I did with the TP2.
 
The shape is also very unique, as the TP2 is asymmetrical. The right edge of the tablet (when holding it landscape) has rounded edges at the top and bottom; the left side has sharp edges. This threw me off at first, but it actually makes for a comfortable hold, assuming you like to hold the tab with your left hand. The reason for this is because the TP2’s stylus is housed in the left edge. While I didn’t end up using the stylus too often, it does offer some pretty nifty features, such as pressure sensitivity recognition and palm rejection tech, which allows you to rest your hand on the screen without the device registering the touch. Other than that though, the only times I used the stylus was when I was feeling particularly OCD about finger smudges.
 
The nice thing about the TP2 is all the external ports that it comes with. You get a microSD and SIM slot, headphone jack, a full sized USB 2.0 port, a docking port, and a mini-HDMI port. I have yet to use any mobile device that comes with this combination of all these different ports. It’s really nice to have all these options, especially the USB 2.0 port. Now, not only do I have 64GB of onboard hard drive space, I can potentially pop another microSD card in for more storage, and via the USB 2.0 port, I can pop in a flash drive for even more storage. Forget the fact that Windows 8 tablets are very cloud storage heavy; I want MOAR STORAGE. The TP2 delivers.
 
I never got a chance to try out the docking features or using a mini-HDMI to hook the TP2 to a TV or monitor, so I can’t really comment on that. What does work, however, is popping in my Logitech Unifying Receiver into the USB port and using the same wireless keyboard and mouse that I use with my desktop. That’s what’s nice about having a Windows 8 tablet; for the most part, you can use almost anything your Windows computer uses…within reason, of course.
 
From a performance standpoint, I could not have been more impressed with the TP2. I’m used to using Android tablets and phones where almost right off the bat, there’s a fair amount of lag. Usually it’s because I fill my homescreen with widgets and load up on apps, but being a small computer essentially, the TP2 had no issues with performance. Everything was silky smooth and the only time I ran into any issues was when I had 9 tabs open in Internet Explorer. Then the lag got pretty fierce, but honestly, I didn’t NEED to have 9 tabs open at one time.
 
The Windows Experience Index is apparently not available for this tablet, so I cannot give you a numerical indicator of how this machine ranks (at least according to Microsoft’s parameters). I suspect since we’re dealing with a bare minimum of RAM and a weak graphics processor, the score would not have been flattering. Again, put it side by side with a laptop or desktop, and the TP2 obviously cannot measure up.
 
ThinkPad Tablet 2 Image 9
 
The interesting thing is that I also run Win8 from my main desktop computer at home, and there I spend 99.999999999999999% of my time in the desktop. I only really go into Metro to check the weather or fire up Netflix. I’ve started using Metro less and less, especially since I ran into an issue with my firewall that does not allow me to update or download new apps from the Windows Store (huge, huge, HUGE pain the ass and something MS desperately needs to fix since I DO have a firewall…just not the MS one). However, with the TP2, everything was reversed. I spent the bulk of my time in Metro, and I rarely touched the desktop at all. Part of the this is due to the fact that the desktop environment is just difficult to navigate using your finger or even the stylus. It’s clearly meant to used with a mouse or touchpad. However, mostly it’s because the Live Tiles of Metro were tailor made for touch screens, and even though I have absolutely no issues using Metro with a mouse and keyboard, it’s hard to argue against the ease of using it with my fingers.
 
For the most part, I enjoy being able to use the tablet like I would any other Windows computer, but again, the issue of convenience comes up. Wouldn’t I just rather have everything launchable through apps from Metro? Is it really the best idea to ask users to mess around in the desktop? I mean, it’s nice that it’s there; it certainly is something nice and familiar, but again, I’m here for a tablet, not a laptop. In fact, speaking of laptops, my review unit came with an optional Bluetooth keyboard, but there were issues getting it to pair correctly. Even after contacting support, I still couldn’t get it to work. It doesn’t help that Win8’s “Devices” charm isn’t really all that functional, only displaying the devices that are connected, or allowing you to remove a device. There are no other options, like settings, for you to play around with.
 
Turns out I had to go into the desktop, go down to the Bluetooth icon in the taskbar, open the settings, make the tablet discoverable, then go back to the Devices charm to pair the devices. Hmph. Once everything was set up though, it was like I had a netbook. The keyboard is something I highly suggest if you are investing in the TP2. It comes with a trackpad, left and right mouse buttons, and one of the most responsive keyboards I have used in a while. If you need any further convincing that the TP2 is more laptop than tablet, then use it with the keyboard. It basically turns into a touch screen computer.
 
As far as Lenovo-specific applications go, there are a few but I can’t imagine too many people using them on a regular basis. You have Lenovo Companion, which is basically a “How To” app that shows you a variety of features, Lenovo Settings, which is a “quick settings” type of deal where you can access common settings (Power, Location, Camera, Audio, etc), and Lenovo QuickSnip, a screenshot capture and editing app that ended up being the only Lenovo app I used with any regularity. It’s pretty cool to be able to take screenshots just by clicking the button on the stylus, but honestly…how often are we taking screenshots?
 
The great thing about this running a full Win8 is the fact that programs like Steam and Origin can operate as they were intended, using their full versions as well. I don’t mind using the Steam app on my phone, but in this case, it’s nice to have the full-powered programs as opposed to the using a pared down app. I attempted to download some games from my Steam account, but they were a no go. It never hurts to try, right?
 
In addition to the Lenovo specific apps, you also get the mainstays of Win8; apps like People, Weather, News, Sports, Netflix, Kindle, etc. Where on a computer using these apps might seem redundant (you’re stuck using these apps in Metro, yet spend more time in the desktop; why not just go to each of these websites directly?), here on the TP2, where you spend most of your time in Metro, it actually makes plenty of sense. I love Win8 on my desktop; on the TP2, however, it takes on a whole life of its own. It’s WAY better here. I will never sway from my review of Win8; I think with a mouse and keyboard, it works just fine. I use it every day. Metro is easy to navigate with a mouse wheel, and everything is just a click or hover away. But on the TP2, having spent more time in Metro than in the desktop, tapping and swiping is the way to go.
 
There’s a part of me that’s really sad about having to return the ThinkPad 2 to Lenovo. It was really nice having a small computer with the convenience and portability of a tablet to carry around. When I first got it I was using it in place of my Nexus 7, and for a short while, it was my primary daily use tablet. But the issues with the app selection and desktop functions being somewhat hard to use made me reconsider. Honestly, it’s mostly the app selection. Windows just doesn’t have a strong enough selection of apps to make this a Metro-only experience, and if I’m lying in bed using my tablet, I need for everything to be Metro-based. It’s the easiest and quickest way to navigate Win8 on this device. Soon, I just ended up going back to my Nexus 7 again, and only used the TP2 when I was specifically playing around with features for the review, or certain mornings when I am feeding my daughter breakfast and I set the TP2 up with the keyboard to check my e-mails and Facebook.
 
ThinkPad Tablet 2 Image 6
 
If I didn’t already have a laptop and other tablets, I think the ThinkPad 2 would be a great device. You get the best of both worlds with it. But owning both a tablet and laptop (as I suspect many people do) makes this a much harder choice. It’s neither a laptop or a tablet. It’s a mobile device with an identity crisis. At $749 it’s also really pricey. The price is entering ultrabook territory; yet it cannot claim to have the power and features of a true laptop. As a tablet, you’re dealing with an insane price. We’re talking a similar price as a 128GB iPad (or a 32GB one with LTE), and I have to be honest, even though I always thought Apple’s prices were borderline obscene, at least the iPad knows what it’s trying to be. Even at laptop prices, it’s hard to justify $749 for what you’re getting. I bought my parents a laptop that can play Diablo 3 and it cost me around $300.
 
I suppose if you’re a business minded individual that doesn’t care about the types of apps that are available and need something to just type up some documents and make some spreadsheets AND don’t currently own a computer or a tablet, then I can see the ThinkPad 2 being a good buy. It’s a powerful tablet with nearly all the features of a laptop that you could want, and while it doesn’t end up being either of the two things it straddles, it is still an incredibly impressive piece of tech. I suppose it’s a bit like buying a supercar; it’s not something you need, certainly not for the type of money that it asks for, but it’s nice to have if you can afford it.