There’s no doubt that tablets are the hot tech product of 2011, but most seem to offer very little differentiation in screen size, specifications and software. Lenovo is at least attempting something new with its ThinkPad Tablet: it's aimed squarely at business users and comes with a digitiser pen for drawing.
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet: Hardware and design
While the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet is a bit bland so that it fits well with the business user, Lenovo also plans a range of more consumer-oriented IdeaPad tablets, also running Android 3.1 (Honeycomb). See Lenovo IdeaPad K1 review.
Lenovo describes the ThinkPad Tablet as having the "DNA of a commercial notebook" so it's no surprise that its thick design intends to mirror the company's ThinkPad range of business laptops.
Lenovo's commercial product group manager David Heyworth says the company tried to provide a balance of durability and portability when it came to designing the ThinkPad Tablet.
Weighing 715g, the ThinkPad Tablet is heavier than both the iPad 2, and Samsung's upcoming Galaxy Tab 10.1 but surprisingly lighter than Lenovo's own IdeaPad Tablet K1, which is marketed directly at consumers.
The key design elements of the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet include square, sharp edges, and physical shortcut keys below the display. The latter is a key feature according to Lenovo: it says that accidentally bumping the edge of the keys will not depress the buttons, avoiding accidental presses.
The physical buttons are large and easy to press, and we much prefer them over the software buttons on most other Android tablets.
The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet definitely feels a little heavy and chunky, but the weight isn't overwhelming. We particularly like the rubber-style finish on the sides and rear, which doesn't attract fingerprints.
The same can't be said for the front of the tablet, which is fairly glossy and does become a grubby mess after limited use. Lenovo says the use of a glossy screen is due to the fact the display is manufactured with gorilla glass, and this wouldn't have been possible with a matte finish.
The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet comes standard with a digitiser pen that sits in the top left corner of the device, much like a stylus.
Critically, the digitiser pen doesn't feel too different from an ordinary pen. It has a relatively fine tip, and is comfortable to grip. The pen allows users to take notes straight onto the screen. It supports handwritten text entry, document mark-up and drawing.
The ThinkPad Tablet includes a note-taking app that is compatible with the digitiser, but users can also annotate PDF documents, too. Lenovo cited the use of the digitiser pen in the education sector as once example of its appeal.
Perhaps the best feature of the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet is its optional keyboard portfolio carry case, which will sell as a separate accessory. Much like the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer, the portfolio case turns the ThinkPad Tablet into a notebook-style device. Unlike the Transformer, the accessory doesn't have its own battery, but it does double as a proper protective case, and has a surprisingly responsive optical trackpad.
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet: Software
The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet will ship out of the box with the latest version of Google's Android software, 'Honeycomb' 3.1, and will also be upgradeable to future versions.
However, Lenovo says Android is merely the "base" of the ThinkPad – Lenovo’s pre-loaded software that adds corporate and security features is billed as a major strength over competitors.
Firstly, the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet includes anti-theft software and the ability to disable the device if it's lost or stolen.
It's similar to the Computrace software that Lenovo uses in its ThinkPad notebooks. Once activated, the software can track, located and remotely disable or lock the device in the event of theft.
Other security features include an encrypted SD card slot, layered data encryption and the addition of Cisco VPN (virtual private network) to access corporate networks. The ThinkPad Tablet also comes with 2GB of free cloud storage.
During our demonstration Lenovo's David Heyworth used the example of out of the box customisation as a key differentiator that would attract corporate clients. He said Lenovo was able to customise the ThinkPad Tablet from the factory to suit individual business clients.
This included basic aspects like loading the tablet with a company logo as the wallpaper, and disabling or enabling certain apps depending on the clients needs. Lenovo also says it can partition the ThinkPad's hard drive for personal use if the tablet is deployed by an IT department. "We are really confident the ThinkPad will become the tablet of choice for business users," said Heyworth.
Lenovo is also pushing its own ecosystem, the Lenovo App Shop. The Lenovo App Shop is simply a range of tablet apps that have been tested by Lenovo itself, and will therefore work effectively on the ThinkPad Tablet.
Lenovo says this will ensure consumers the app work on the tablet, and cited the store as a way of combating the issue of cross-compatibility of Android apps on smartphones and tablets, as well as negating security issues around malware and viruses.
Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet: UK availability
The Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet comes in Wi-Fi only and Wi-Fi + 3G options in 16GB and 32GB sizes, though the 32GB model is only available with 3G. Pricing starts at £399 and will officially release in the UK in September.