Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet Comes A-Courtin' Business Folk

The lid is off the Lenovo ThinkPad, touted as the first tablet for enterprise-level business. I just spent some time sizing it up, and you know what? It's kind of exactly what the suits are looking for.

Using It

This tablet doesn't try to be particularly sleek or sly; it's just a big, businessy rectangle. I'm fine with that, but it may lose some consumers in the looks department. The thing feels solid. It's not particularly light or thin, but it feels like it could probably survive a drop (and the 10.1 inch Gorilla Glass display doesn't hurt on that front). Its case packs in a full keyboard with an optical red pointer that'll look familiar to any ThinkPad user. It comes pre-loaded with a ton of software from Lenovo and their partners which give it enterprise-class security. Throw in the now-standard front-facing 2MP camera and a rear-facing 5PM camera, video chat software, and oh yeah, an included stylus, with a handful of software to make it app-friendly, and you've got yourself a pretty well-loaded machine.

The Good

PORTS! I love ports. Especially full-sized ports. The ThinkPad Tablet has a full-sized USB port and a full-sized SD card slot, which makes it great for photographers. It also has a SIM card slot so you can get your 3G on (in addition to Wi-Fi, naturally) and a mini-HDMI port. The keyboard/case was really, surprisingly good, given how iPad cases so often disappoint. ThinkPad laptops generally have the best keyboards out there, and this skinny-sized version follows suit. It's thin, but there's ample space between the keys, and they have a nice sturdy click to 'em. I was typing like a mo-fo with very little adjusting (though at first I kept hitting the right-click button instead of the spacebar).

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The enhanced security can't be dismissed; that's something that's really slowed up Android's adoption in the business world, and the case for enterprise tablets has been a tough one to begin with. The ThinkPad offers higher levels of encryption than competitors have, and a lot of control for your IT manager.

Lenovo also brings their own app store which has a nice UI, and features apps they've vetted themselves and declared ThinkPad compatible and free of malware. Smart, and that vetting process makes it not feel like just another bloatware bazaar. One of my favorite enhancements is that in Honeycomb's app-switcher, Lenovo has added a way to close your open apps with just one click. Why isn't this built into Android? It's a welcome change, though I do wonder if closing apps in this way could cause the same kind of crashy-problems we see with task-killers that already exist for Android.

The Bad

Despite the ThinkPad tablet's Nvidia dual-core processor, it seems to lag a lot (maybe all that pre-loaded software is bloatish after all?). Flipping from landscape to portait would often take a while, which was annoying. I really wanted to like the stylus, but it didn't work particularly in the demo unit I was playing with. While the handwriting recognition software generally worked all right, when I was scribbling fast it didn't work so well. Going back and editing was extremely problematic, and sometimes it would just stop accepting input. It's got a few bugs to be worked out, for sure.

The plus-sized Toshiba Thrive tablet is its closest relative, as it also packs in a bunch of ports, and that makes them both chubbier than a lot of the competition. The full-sized USB port could have been so good, but they kinda screwed it up: the tablet connects to the keyboard case is through the sole USB port, meaning that you can't use a thumb drive or anything else when you're using the keyboard. It seems to me that when it's in laptop mode is exactly when you'd want USB the most. Ooops. Also, the ThinkPad tablet has hardware buttons for home/back/search/etc. While normally I am categorically pro-button, it seems weird in this tablet's case. A) You don't really need them for Honeycomb, and B) they are extremely stiff and don't work very well.

Final Thoughts

There are some really good ideas at work here, and this thing has a lot of potential. For business users, it's very likely the best tablet solution out there. It's available now, but it seems like there are some software gremlins that still need to be worked out. Hopefully they can resolve those in an over-the-air update in the near future. We'll update a little later with video.