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Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet A Good Business Bet: Review

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With device management, a stylus and bundled apps, Lenovo’s Android tablet is a busihness iPad alternative

The newly released Lenovo ThinkPad tablet flips the “consumerisation of IT” paradigm by adding business-class features such as management software, full-size peripheral connectors — including a full-size USB 2.0 port — and an optional digitiser pen to a tablet that has a 10.1-inch display and runs the Android “Honeycomb” operating system.

IT managers who are in a position to recommend a tablet device instead of just accepting whatever walks in the door would do well to consider the ThinkPad tablet. Besides additional hardware and software, Lenovo also enables firms to set up a private application store so that employees can get approved software. I tested the ThinkPad tablet at eWEEK Labs and found the device a worthy competitor in terms of performance and capability when compared with the widely used Apple iPad 2.

Working all day on Wi-Fi

The ThinkPad tablet has slightly larger outside dimensions and is marginally heavier than an iPad 2. The rated battery life is about 90 minutes shorter than the premier Apple device. Even so, I had no trouble using the ThinkPad tablet all day on a Wi-Fi connection without needing to look for a power outlet.

Although not tested, the ThinkPad tablet can also be used with an integrated stand/keyboard/cover.

The ThinkPad tablet appeared on 23 August and comes with 16, 32 or 64GB RAM. The configurations are on sale in the UK from Lenovo at £499.99, £570.00,  and £659.99 respectively for versions which include 3G. A Wi-Fi only version with 16GB is available for £419.99.

Doing the dollar-to-pound conversion, it looks US customers get a better price as usual, paying $499, $569 and $699, for Wi-Fi-only tablets with 16, 32 or 64GB. However, they don’t have the option of a version with 3G, as Lenovo doesn’t have radio approval at the time of writing.

A pen in the hand

One of the most obvious differences between the ThinkPad tablet and most current tablet designs is the digitiser pen. Although the optional pen tether ruins the sight lines of the ThinkPad tablet, I was easily able to work with the tablet without getting caught in the tether line. The digitizer pen makes jobs such as sketching or precisely marking an area on the screen easy, compared with using a finger to perform these tasks. The included Notes Mobile application aptly recognized my hen scratching and almost immediately turned it into readable text. I don’t like the clattery noise made when the stylus is used on the Gorilla glass display, but the noise will only be noticeable in quiet meetings and is no louder than keyboard typing.

In addition to the digitiser pen, the ThinkPad tablet has a number of connection ports that should please business users: a full-size USB 2.0, micro USB, mini High-Definition Multimedia Interface and a three-in-one SD media card reader. Using the USB file copy utility worked as expected to enable me to move files on and off the ThinkPad tablet.

Overall, the fit and finish of the ThinkPad tablet carries on the business-class durability found in ThinkPad laptops. The Gorilla glass display resisted scratching during regular use. The four physical keys on the lower edge of the ThinkPad tablet have a counterintuitive upward press action, but are otherwise unremarkable. The covers for the external ports were easy to open and had a positive feel when latched shut. The single speaker resulted in an only mediocre listening experience. A headphone jack provided very good sound output.

The ThinkPad tablet is equipped with an Nvidia Tegra 2 dual-core, 1GHz ARM processor. Device wake was instantaneous and applications and screen swipes were snappy. I encountered one instance when using the Notes Mobile application when the simulated page-turn was draggy, but I was not able to consistently reproduce this effect.

Business features

The Lenovo ThinkPad tablet kind of comes with a number of business-first applications already installed, although the applications verge on being “bloat-ware.” Most of the included “free” software is actually made up of trial versions. For example, the PrinterShare application is limited to printing 20 pages before the user needs to buy the application. I was able to set up and use PrinterShare in under five minutes although IT managers will need to locate printer drivers for users to successfully use the application. Similarly, the included Docs To Go application, which enables users to view and edit Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, is a trial version.

The inclusion of Citrix Receiver should allow businesses that use XenApp and XenDesktop to deliver something like the users’ usual desktop on the tablet, should they wish to (including access to Windows shown here).

Some applications are full-featured, but will only benefit organisations that are already using particular enterprise applications or back-end systems. For example, Lenovo has long had a relationship with LANDesk, the endpoint management tool maker. Although not tested, the ThinkPad tablet can be managed through the ThinkManagement Console and the Lenovo Mobility Manager add-ins for the LANDesk Management Suite version 9. The LANDesk integration enables IT managers to push applications and security policies through the LANDesk system.

Edited by Peter Judge