A NVIDIA dual-core Tegra 2 processor powers the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet, and it does a good job keeping things stable and smoothly running. In fact, I experienced fewer crashes and freeze ups with the ThinkPad than I have with most other Honeycomb tablets, which is impressive considering the heavy tweaks Lenovo has made to the Honeycomb OS. Flash performance was acceptable for the most part, but I encountered a few bugs with embedded video that resulted in some warped clips.
By far, the biggest complaint I have with the ThinkPad is the startup time. It typically takes between 70 and 75 seconds to startup from a cold start. Compare that with the 25 seconds it takes the Lenovo IdeaPad K1 to start, or the 30 it takes the Thrive.
It’s not all bad, however. The ThinkPad battery was mere seconds away from hitting the five-hour mark while streaming a movie with the screen set to max brightness and Wi-Fi on. While that doesn’t match the 5 hours and 54 minutes of the IdeaPad, it does beat the Thrive (4 hours and twenty-five minutes) and Galaxy Tab 10.1 (4 hours and 39 minutes).
The ThinkPad also bested the IdeaPad and Thrive in our benchmark testing, ultimately settling in the upper half of all recently-reviewed Android tablets in both overall and browser performance. The ThinkPad is the only tablet in recent memory to give off a mild but noticeable amount of heat while running the benchmarks.
Quadrant measures CPU, 3D, and memory performance. Higher numbers are better.
Operating System and Apps
The ThinkPad Tablet has the same Honeycomb tweaks as the IdeaPad K1 tablet, which includes the Lenovo Launch Zone for quick access to the web, email, music, movies and eBooks, as well as the ability to close out programs through the recent apps shortcut. The ability to close out apps through the shortcut is a superb addition, the Lenovo Launch Zone is a bit redundant given that users can very easily tweak Honeycomb and add shortcuts.
Also onboard is Lenovo Social Touch, which acts as a one-stop app and widget for email, Twitter, Facebook, and calendar, and is much more stable on the ThinkPad than it is on the IdeaPad, meaning it’s a lot more useful.
I chided Lenovo for including too much bloatware on the IdeaPad, and that charge stands with the ThinkPad as well. But for every PrinterShare or McAfee trial, there are some useful and fun apps, including the full version of Documents to Go and Angry Birds HD. Also on board is Netflix, as the ThinkPad is one of the only Honeycomb tablets that currently supports the movie streaming service. (Editor’s note: Netflix now supported for Android 3. x devices, read our full Netflix for Honeycomb review)
The ThinkPad also has a rudimentary file manager for copying files from USB thumb drives and SD cards onto internal storage. One trip into the unintuitive Android file system is enough to realize that Google engineers did not develop it with this sort of function in mind. While the file manager works as intended, there is a learning curve while figuring out what goes where.
For business users, the ThinkPad comes with 4GB of free cloud storage courtesy of ArcSync; there is a Mobility Manager for over-the-air device management, particularly on the security side; Citrix Receiver for secure remote desktop access; and Computrace Mobile by Absolute Software that also enables IT remote device control, including deep security options.
The ThinkPad tablet has complete access to the Android Market as well as the Lenovo App Shop (and IT managers can customize the App Shop for business users, as well as restrict which apps users install).
Last, but certainly not least, is MyScript Notes Mobile, the handwriting-to-text notes app, which works in tandem with the N-trig Duo Sense Pen.
The N-trig active pen ($30, sold seperately or bundled with select models) is the ThinkPad’s defining feature. It’s similar to those now bundled with the HTC Flyer and EVO View 4G and is powered by a AAA battery. It has one button, which could simulate a right click on a Windows tablet PC, but has no discernable use with Android.
The pen has a great balance and weight, and is a pleasure to use. The ThinkPad has a docking bay, unlike the HTC tablets, and can be used to navigate through the tablet. In fact, I found tapping and swiping with the pen preferable to using my fingertip, simply because it flows so smoothly across the glossy screen.
Where the pen really shines however, is in the Notes Mobile app. The app itself offers basic handwriting to text, broken up by user-created notebooks. Users have the option for freehand notes, which can be converted later, or text. Notes can then be exported as text to ArcSync cloud storage, Gmail, the ThinkPad messaging apps, PrinterShare, or sent over Bluetooth. Exporting as an image includes all those options, plus Picasa.
The handwriting recognition is very accurate, though the pen flows a bit too freely for my liking. Typically, I prefer a bit of friction, which better simulates pen on paper.
Notes Mobile is only available in portrait mode. Curiously, there is no way to pull up the Android keyboard for QWERTY text input, though you can import pictures from the camera or files. There are also an undo and redo options.
For those that want to take the pen function outside of Notes Mobile can do so via the Flex T9 keyboard, which works as both a Swype clone and with freehand letter and number conversion.
The keyboard works with both pen and fingertip, and it will convert handwriting to text one letter at a time. Users have to tap the numbers key before inputting those, and a space bar sits under the input box for sentence and word spaces.
In short, it’s clunky and broken. It failed to discern at least a third of my letters, and inputting one letter at a time is so slow and tedious, I’d rather peck at the virtual QWERTY.
In an effort to bolster the ThinkPad’s enterprise chops, Lenovo also offers a leather folio ($100, sold separately) that offers both a full QWERTY and protective case. As a keyboard, it’s superb, with large Chiclet-style keys and a row of useful device shortcuts in the place of function keys. The keys have a shallow stroke, but snap back nicely and emit and audible click. In the middle surrounding the G, H, and B keys is a virtual trackpad, which controls an onscreen cursor.
They keyboard docks in via the ThinkPad’s USB and it does not offer any additional inputs. Users still have access to the other inputs, as well as the pen, and the case remains sturdy when open and propping up the ThinkPad. It even folds over nicely to provides a sturdy grip for note taking.
Perhaps I’m spoiled by my iPad 2 smartcover, because I was disappointed that the ThinkPad did not automatically go to sleep when I closed the cover. Instead, users have to manually hit the power button, which is a minor inconvenience at worst.
The weight issue is a bit more than an inconvenience, however. Together with the tablet, the combo weighs 3 pounds and 5 ounces. By comparison, my Lenovo netbook weighs 2 pounds and 9 ounces. The ThinkPad and folio combo is really too heavy to for a mobile computer replacement. Taking notes while standing up and holding the combo gets extremely uncomfortable after a few minutes, which is unfortunate, because it’s ideal for planes or any stationary situation.