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The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 is probably the best Windows 8 tablet you will find. It’s just that Windows 8 tablets just aren’t a very good idea to begin with. Sure, a tablet that runs full-blown Windows sounds great, on paper. In reality, though, Windows 8 tablets come with too many compromises to feel anything close to great.
They are portable! But battery life is weak. They run full-on Windows! But you need a keyboard in order for this to work, which makes for a bulkier, heavier package compared to a nice ultrabook. High-res screens! With text so small in the regular Windows Desktop that you can hardly read it, and menus so small you can’t hit them with your finger.
It’s no good sticking with the mobile apps, either. There’s a good reason why Microsoft lost $900 million on the Surface RT (it isn’t very good).
All that said, let’s try to assess the ThinkPad Tablet 2 on its merits.
What I liked about the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2
When I first pulled the ThinkPad Tablet 2 out of the box, I was astonished. Could it really be this thin and still run Windows 8 at full speed? Yep, it can. The Tablet 2 feels no larger than an iPad (although a lot more, er, elongated), but it is powerful enough to run full-blown Windows, not just iOS. Pretty amazing.
Plus, that screen is gorgeous, and the pixel density is impressive (this is not always a good thing, but it’s impressive technically). Truly, the ThinkPad Tablet 2 is an impressive piece of hardware.
It also has what is probably the best purpose-built tablet keyboard I have ever used. It is, unfortunately, badly compromised in one important way, which I’ll talk about below. Still, it is really excellent for typing on.
As impressive as the ThinkPad Tablet 2 is, though, it’s not a very good device.
What I didn’t like about the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2
If you spend 10 minutes in Windows 8’s Desktop mode on a tablet, you will understand why the ability to use full-blown Windows on a tablet is not a good thing. The Desktop is near-impossible to operate in with your fingers. I couldn’t even successfully drag an icon from the desktop to the Recycle Bin. It’s useful only in emergencies — and you know what, remote access to your PC back in your office is just as useful, doesn’t require another Office license, and means you can use a better tablet.
Of course, since it’s Windows 8, you have to uninstall those unnecessary apps from two places. You uninstall regular software from the Control Panel (which you can find by searching for it in an Explorer window on the Desktop, or by pressing Win+X while the keyboard is attached). You uninstall apps from the Start screen. It’s easy enough with the keyboard attached (just right-click), but without the keyboard, you’ll probably need a tutorial, like I did.
Windows 8’s plentiful shortcomings aren’t Lenovo’s fault, but they turn a pretty amazing piece of hardware into a kind of lame experience, overall.
Oh, and don’t worry, Lenovo did not miss a chance to load the ThinkPad Tablet with crapware. It’s all here: Norton, Lenovo’s unnecessary and superfluous app store that it calls “Companion,” a music service nobody has heard of, and a perfectly-good file sync service that you probably don’t use (SugarSync).
The hardware keyboard may be great for typing, but you won’t be able to see the screen. That’s because you can only put the tablet into the keyboard slot at one angle, and it is the wrong angle. In order to look straight at the screen, you would need to be typing at about shoulder-height. So much for a tablet that can double as a laptop.
Plus, when you add they keyboard to the package, you might as well be carrying around two Lenovo ThinkPad X1s.
The included pen/stylus is a cool concept, designed to provide a bridge between a mouse and your finger. Unfortunately, it isn’t very accurate. Especially near the screen edges, the tip of the pen and the cursor on the screen are a few millimeters apart. You can still hit what you want to, as long as you pay attention to the cursor, not the tip of the pointer. Although that sort of defeats the purpose. At least you can right-click. That’s pretty helpful. Also, I couldn’t figure out how to use Lenovo’s annotation software that lets you use the pen to write on the screen.
All in all, I had to force myself to play with the ThinkPad Tablet 2, which says a lot about is. I’m usually fired up to play with nearly any geeky hardware, but the ThinkPad Tablet 2 is so compromised that using it feels like a chore.
Who should buy the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2
Even with all the downsides, there are people who are willing to live with the compromises inherent in a Windows 8 tablet in order to get a small, thin, light device without a keyboard. I can see it being useful for trial lawyers, for example, who might want or need to run more-sophisticated presentation software than you can get on an iPad. Just make sure there’s a charging cord at counsel table. And a regular laptop for backup.
Skip the keyboard, though, and get a separate keyboard and stand, so that you can use the ThinkPad Tablet 2 in something resembling an ergonomic position.
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2
Reviewed by Sam Glover on .
Summary: The ThinkPad Tablet 2 is an excellent Windows tablet. The problem is that Windows tablets aren’t a very good idea in the first place, and the ThinkPad Tablet 2 is no exception. It is a study in compromises, and using it often feels like a chore.
Score: 3 (out of 5)