Of course tablets don’t need to be just for play. Aside from its stylus, which we’ll cover in a moment, the ThinkPad’s Folio keyboard and case combo is a great productivity accessory. It also makes Lenovo’s tablet one of the few alternatives to Asus’ Transformer range to come with an optional first-party keyboard attachment.
Like the tablet itself, the first thing we noticed about the Keyboard Folio case was that it’s rather chunky and a tad heavy (with the Stylus also on board it brings the tablet’s weight to a laptop-beating 1.54kg!). Of course, you’re not just getting a keyboard, but also a protective case; something that’s worth remembering when comparing to the likes of the Transformer. The case is made from thick, quality leather, and does a great job protecting the tablet. Only the magnetic clasp isn’t as secure as we might have liked, in that it can come undone when sliding the case into a tight-fitting compartment.
Opening the folio case up, you slide the tablet into guide rails at the base (making sure the protective door covering the USB port is open) and secure it with a flexible plastic clasp up top. Once it’s secured there is no chance of it falling out even if you were to drop it. You can rest the tablet’s base on any of the three magnetic grooves above the keyboard, giving you different inclines. Thanks to the flexibility of this system you shouldn’t have any trouble getting the ideal screen angle and fitting the tablet plus folio case on even the most cramped plane or train table.
Conversely, this system isn’t the most secure on your lap, and you have to make sure the rear corners of the folio rest securely on your knees if you don’t want it to come apart. Lap usage also brings out the keyboard’s one disadvantage: there’s a surprising amount of flex when it’s not used on a flat surface. And that’s a shame, as this and the lack of palm rests (if you’re the kind of typist bothered by that) are the only niggles in what is otherwise an amazing typing experience. Let’s just put it this way: in every other regard, this is as good as tablet keyboards get.
If you’ve read our recent review of the Lenovo ThinkPad X121e you’ll know just how enamoured we were of that laptop’s keyboard, and amazingly the Folio’s one is almost as accomplished. Layout is superb, with most commonly-used keys full-size – including right-shift. Only peripheral keys and Enter have slimmed to fit, but they’re all still perfectly usable and we didn’t make any errors when tapping out lengthy documents – unlike initial experiences with Asus’ Transformer and Transformer Prime.
A full set of dedicated Android shortcut keys is provided along with media controls and Page Up/Down. The matt, solid keys are well-spaced and lightly curved to ideally accommodate your fingers. Flex aside, feedback is great with plenty of travel and a nicely defined click.
You also get what at first glance looks like a traditional ThinkPad TrackPoint (a rubberized mini-joystick touchpad alternative), but the little red nubbin nestled in the keyboard here is actually an optical trackpad. This isn’t as nice to use as a standard TrackPoint but does come in handy on occasion, and we’d rather have it than not.