Lenovo’s decision to ditch Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) for Windows 8 Pro makes the ThinkPad 2 a completely different beast to the original ThinkPad tablet.
Microsoft's OS gives the tablet a number of great enterprise features from Trusted Platform Module and the Computrace Mobile software for managing devices and data to multi-user log-ins.
The specs are pretty good too. There’s a 10.1-inch 1366 x 768 resolution display, a dual-core 1.8GHz Clover Trail Z2760 processor, 64GB of memory, dual-facing cameras (8-megapixel camera with LED flash on the rear, 2MP camera on the front) and ports for full-sized USB 2.0 and HDMI.
Optional extras include a pen stylus, a digitizer screen and a keyboard dock.
The tablet starts from $649.
First impressions: This is a premium tablet
They say you can judge a good book by its cover, a meaning you could well apply to the ThinkPad 2.
On pulling the tablet away from the packaging, you quickly realize that it is stylish, sleek and light device at just 568g. There’s a slick matte black rear with a Windows 8 Pro sticker and logos for Lenovo and the ThinkPad brand.
Flip the tablet over and you'll see slim matte black bezels that sit flush around the 10.1-inch display, as well as a concealed flap for an SD card and full-sized SIM card at the bottom of the device. At the top left there is the Lenovo TrackPoint button with the hidden stylus and on the other side there are buttons for power, volume and for locking screen rotation.
The dock connector and USB port sit at the bottom of the Windows 8 tablet, while the dual speakers are at the bottom left and right.
Some surprisingly good pre-loaded apps
Microsoft has made it clear that its hardware partners are not to experiment with the Windows 8 home screen but it has afforded a little flexibility in the apps that come pre-loaded on each device.
Lenovo has taken advantage of this to package the ThinkPad 2 with some excellent business apps. In addition to the usual Microsoft apps – People, Calendar, Maps, SkyDrive and Office– there is Evernote, Skitch, Symantec Security, Kindle and Skype.
Lenovo even adds its own collection of apps: Lenovo Companion, Lenovo Support, QuickSnip, Lenovo Mobile Access and its own-brand version of SugarSync, the cloud storage app.
Some of these were more useful than others. QuickSnip is handy for cropping screenshots (especially when using the stylus, although it could only save to Skitch and SkyDrive and not to email) and QuickLaunch is a free desktop tool for replacing the missing start bar – something which could become obsolete if the Start button does return on Windows 8.1.
Lenovo Picks served up a nice selection of productivity apps, but Lenovo Companion and Lenovo Mobile Access are less useful. The former is essentially an information page while the latter acts as a promotional tool for Lenovo accessories, YouTube videos and company blogs.
Windows 8 gives the ThinkPad 2 the edge
Having used Windows 8 extensively since the turn of the year on desktop, phone (I have the Nokia Lumia 820 Windows 8 Phone) and tablet, I have to say the OS has grown on me.
Sure, Microsoft is attempting to lock users into using Bing, Internet Explorer, Office and SkyDrive but it is faster and easier to navigate than the original ThinkPad tablet.
The Honeycomb slate had a wonderful UI and its hardware specs weren't bad, but it was a not so good for jumping quickly between apps, downloading apps or perusing news, something which I do a lot.
That’s where Windows 8 is a whole lot better as, combined with the reasonable Atom CPU, the tablet punched through most tasks pretty quickly.
The search and share charm bar, coupled with the Windows 8 Snap feature for running apps simultaneously, make multi-tasking a breeze and allow for quick access to Windows Store.
For news, Bing News worked just fine and ended up as my personalized news aggregator. Content was laid out well with enough white space and pictures and you could dive into headlines by geography or sector (entertainment, business, sports, politics, sci/tech, health). You could even add your own news terms or sources.
And although Microsoft allows browser choice on the operating system, Internet Explorer is an excellent default browser with simple and easily accessible buttons for inserting a URL, refreshing the page, private browsing and pinning websites to the home page.
Great stylus, balanced audio but average battery life
Here’s a quick round-up of other things of note when I reviewed the ThinkPad 2:
- The IPS display is fairly bright and offers some good viewing angles.
- The virtual keyboard offers a well-spaced layout and is fast to type with.
- The red-tipped stylus is extremely precise, lightweight and has a useful button at the edge for right-click support. The stylus slots perfectly into the top left of the device.
- Battery life is a concern. Lenovo quotes battery life at 10 hours but I found it closer to eight hours.
- Lenovo’s decision to position the dual speakers some distance away from each other pays off. The audio quality is generally excellent, with a slight reverb only coming in at very high volume.
Conclusion: One of the best Windows 8 tablets
After a week with the ThinkPad 2, I believe that it is one of the finest business-ready Windows 8 tablets on the market. It has some excellent apps and enterprise features while Windows 8 is easy to use and built for speed.
The addition of the stylus and full-sized USB port also comes in handy and makes the ThinkPad 2 a pretty versatile tablet.