There are boatloads of 10.1in, Tegra 2-based Android tablets on the market, and often all that distinguishes them is their connectivity, the quality of their screen or their build quality. Of course, the Asus Eee Pad Transformer (which recently won our Product of the Year award) broke that mould, but this machine and the Android version of the Acer Iconia Tab W500 aside, there has been surprisingly little innovation.
However, Lenovo changes all that with its ThinkPad Tablet (not to be confused with the ThinkPad X220 Tablet). The £420 tablet itself offers far more than most of the competition already, from its rugged, soft-touch build and Gorilla glass-protected 1,280x800 IPS screen, to its full-size SD card slot (allowing you to cheaply expand its native storage of up to 64GB) and regular USB 2.0 port (letting you plug in memory sticks and peripherals).
There’s also an optional pressure-sensitive stylus, which can be used for OS-wide navigation, sketching, digital signatures and note-taking, making the tablet a truly multi-talented device with appeal for artists, designers and photographers as well as business types. In fact, the only mainstream stylus-equipped Android alternatives right now are the overpriced 7in HTC Flyer and the 5in Samsung Galaxy Note, which is arguably more of a phone than a tablet.
Of course essentials like HDMI out, Bluetooth and optional 3G are all present, and the ThinkPad Tablet charges over microUSB rather than using a proprietary connector (though you’ll still need a charging block that’s capable of providing a little more juice than your regular mobile charger, so using the included one is recommended). Lenovo’s professional tablet runs a slightly customised version of Android 3.1 (Honeycomb) on its Tegra 2 chipset backed by 1GB of RAM and with 16GB, 32GB or 64GB of permanent storage.
The icing on the cake is Lenovo’s keyboard folio case, which provides one of the best typing experiences available on a tablet, superior to that provided by the Asus Transformer Prime. Meanwhile, on the software side of things we have pre-installed productivity apps, note-taking/OCR and antivirus apps, remote monitoring and wiping apps, plus access to Lenovo’s dedicated and carefully vetted app store. Does it all combine into the most versatile and durable tablet available?
The first thing you might notice about the ThinkPad is just how bulky it is. Forget the super-slim lines of the iPad 2, Transformer Prime or Samsung’s Galaxy range, Lenovo’s business-oriented tablet is unashamedly ‘fat’ at 14mm. However, this does leave room for the tablet’s class-leading connectivity as well as a stylus slot.
When combined with pleasantly rounded edges, it also means the tablet lies very comfortably in the hand. This is further enhanced by the classic ThinkPad soft-touch finish on the sides and back. The almost rubberized finish doesn’t just feel great but also provides a secure grip and is quite rugged. It’s just a shame Lenovo has gone for fingerprint-loving glossy black on the front, though at least this matches the glass screen protection.
The only factor that makes it a little unpleasant to hold one-handed is its weight, which is considerable compared to rivals. The iPad 2, for example, weighs in at 603g, while the ThinkPad comes in at 757g (or 772g with stylus). So to sum up it’s chunky and not super-light or the most attractive, but built like a tank and very usable - classic ThinkPad, in other words.