So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
Lenovo ThinkPad 10 Windows 8.1 business tablet
This thing comes with a digitiser pen and has a decent range of options that can make it usable as a regular PC
- Full HD screen
- Built-in USB 2.0 and micro HDMI
- Digitiser pen offers good handwriting capability
- Docking option
- Screen reflections can be annoying
- 64GB of storage space gets eaten away quickly
This is a good all-round tablet for business users who want a mobile Windows 8.1 device that also has a docking option. Performance is more than decent with the latest Intel Atom CPU, and there are useful built-in ports for expansion. It's one of the better slim-and-light Windows 8.1 tablets we've seen to date.
Price$ 849.00 (AUD)
Since the release of Intel's Atom Bay Trail platform, lightweight Windows-based tablets have received a much-needed boost in speed and endurance. We noticed that first in mostly consumer offerings, such as the ASUS T100 and Toshiba Encore. Lenovo has also used Bay Trail to good effect in its ThinkPad 10 tablet, which is predominantly a business-oriented device that has many highlights.
For situations where a lightweight Windows-based device is needed, the ThinkPad 10 makes for an interesting proposition. It's a 10.1in slate with a weight of 571g, and it's built rather well. Aluminium is featured on its back panel and Gorilla Glass at the front. The test unit we are looking at here houses a basic configuration comprised of an Intel Atom Z3795 chip, 2GB of low-power RAM, and a 64GB solid state drive (SSD).
This configuration runs a real version of Windows 8.1, which means you can run real applications on it without a hassle, applications that you might already be used to running for your business -- but within reason, of course. You can't just run anything that requires plenty of CPU power. If you have a need for 64-bit computing, then you can opt for the version that comes with 4GB of RAM, and the 64-bit version of Windows 8.1 pre-installed.
Ease of use and performance
It's a tablet that feels good to use for everyday tasks, in particular Web browsing, being social, streaming video from YouTube, looking at photos, and if you have the right gear, it can even be a nifty little device on which to do some serious typing. It felt swift as we browsed the Web and flicked through different Windows Modern UI-based apps, and this is a big change from previous generation Intel Atom Windows 8 tablets, which felt sluggish and weren't any good for multitasking.
To give you some comparative data, the ThinkPad 10 recorded 1min 30sec in our Blender 3D rendering test, which is a little quicker than the time recorded by the ASUS Transformer Book T100, and the Toshiba Encore, both of which took about 20sec longer to complete the same task. The Atom in the ThinkPad 10 is a little quicker than the Atom in those devices, offering a standard clock speed of 1.59Ghz as opposed to 1.33GHz, so the result in this benchmark was expected. In 3DMark's Ice Storm test, the result was slower than expected, with the ThinkPad 10 recording 11805; we expected at least 15000.
Storage performance isn't overly quick, though, with CrystalDiskMark recording a sequential read rate of 86.68 megabytes per second (MBps) and a write rate of 30.52MBps, which is similar to the Toshiba tablet, but noticeably slower than the ASUS tablet. The 64GB capacity of this drive is tiny in the overall scheme of things. Windows 8.1 hogs a great portion of it, leaving you with just over 20GB worth of space to use as you like.
Luckily, the tablet has a microSD card slot concealed on its right side, so this can be used to bolster its internal storage should you require more space to take files with you. Furthermore, there is a full-sized USB 2.0 port concealed on the left side so that you can easily access data off a USB stick or portable hard drive. Lenovo told us it didn't install a USB 3.0 port because it wanted to keep the thickness of the product to a minimum. We're mentioning the fact the ports are concealed because the flaps that cover them could end up being annoying if you use those ports on a regular basis.
Other stuff you'll find around the edges of the tablet includes a micro-HDMI port, an audio port, the power port for the charger, and a SIM slot for making use of the integrated 4G mobile broadband module -- but that's an optional module. A digitser pen comes with the tablet, but there's no onboard residence for it on the tablet. There's a power button at the top, right next to the screen rotation lock, and there is a volume rocker on the right side, right under the audio port. It's a small rocker, though, and feels quite awkward to use.
There is a Trusted Platform Module and an option for a SmartCard if you need extra security. Networking is by way of a dual-band 802.11n Broadcom adapter. You also get Bluetooth 4.0, and NFC is available on the 4G-enabled tablets.
Battery life wasn't as long as the nine hours we observed on the ASUS Transformer Book T100, which is another 10in tablet, but the Lenovo has more pixels to drive thanks to the Full HD screen. In our rundown test, in which we loop a video file with the screen brightness set to maximum and the Wi-Fi enabled, the Lenovo almost reached seven hours (6hr 56min). You can get more from it with a lower brightness and if you don't perform tasks that need too much CPU time. The battery isn't swappable; it has a rating of 33 Watt hours.
A couple of cameras are present, one at the front and one at the back, the front being 2 megapixels and the rear being 8 megapixels with a flash, and Lenovo wants you to use that camera. The optional Quickshot Cover, which can be used to stand the tablet on its own, also has a little flap in the corner that can expose the rear camera (which is also located in the corner) so that you can take a shot without dangling the cover or holding it to the side.
If you plan on using the tablet for taking handwritten notes, the supplied digitser pen will come in handy. We found writing actions to be smooth and responsive throughout our tests, and can envision the tablet being used quite well for note-taking, and even sketching. Or, you could just use the pen for navigating the Full HD screen, which can be be quite small when you are using apps on the Desktop. The fine tip of the pen will give you better control over tapping icons and selecting menu items. You could also make the text and icons bigger in Windows Display properties.
The 'ecosystem' for the ThinkPad 10 is a rich one. Along with the Quickshot Cover (which costs $55), it encompasses accessories for tactile typing, for docking, and for protecting the tablet in harsh environments. It's the offering of these extra bits that Lenovo says makes this tablet a versatile product for any business that needs a highly portable Windows-based device.
For docking, there is a $149 ThinkPad 10 Tablet Dock accessory that features three USB 3.0 ports, a full-sized HDMI port, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and a power connector. The docking interface is located at the bottom of the tablet and while you can dock it easily with one hand, you will need two hands to get it off again. The neat thing about this dock is that you can place the tablet on it whenever you want to charge it. It's much better than plugging the charger directly into the tablet from a neatness perspective.
For typing, there is the ThinkPad 10 Ultrabook Keyboard accessory (which costs $139). This keyboard is somewhat weird: the tablet sort of just sits in it without any security, but as long as it's sitting at the correct angle, it won't disconnect from the base if you lift it. There is a physical contact between the keyboard base and the tablet, so it doesn't rely on Bluetooth. However, the screen can't be tilted to any other angle besides the one it has been designed for. Reflections from office lights or sunlight coming in through a window will have the potential to drive you nuts, especially since only a slight tilt upwards would rid the screen of these reflections. This keyboard has a slot in the side for the digitiser pen.
The keys are full sized and they have the typical great travel and responsiveness that ThinkPad keyboards are known for. However, the small 10in form factor of the tablet means that the keyboard is cramped. Think about what it used to be like typing on a netbook, and that's almost what it's like typing on this thing. We say 'almost' because it's actually better than typing on a netbook, but you still have to get used to the width. Until we did, we ended up making all sorts of typos, mostly due to not hitting some keys with enough force.
If you want to use the tablet on workshop floor or while outdoors, you can get yourself the ThinkPad 10 Protector, which is essentially a plastic case with a screen protector and a rubber bumper lining the edges that's designed to protect from accidental bumps and drops. Set aside about 20 minutes to install this case; 10 minutes trying to figure it out before giving up and referring to the instruction sheet, and then a further 10 minutes taking off the rubber bumper, separating the plastic, inserting the tablet, and then re-assembling the case.
The pen works well through the screen protector, and you have access to all the ports and buttons, but the USB port in particular is too fiddly to use with the bumper around it. There is a flap that allows the tablet to still be docked while housed in the Protector. With the Protector installed, the weight is bumped up to 1.1kg. We didn't have a price for this accessory at the time of writing.
If processing your work at Intel Core speeds is not a necessity for your business needs, then this Intel Atom-based tablet is well worth your consideration. We like the overall combination of the light weight, built-in ports, the supplied digitiser pen, and the Full HD screen. It's a highly usable product for basic tasks, and the accessories on offer can turn it into something more than just a typical slate. We just wish more storage space was standard, and that the screen wasn't so reflective.
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