Most tablet makers using Google Inc.'s Android operating system seem bound and determined to go head-to-head with Apple for the consumer slate market. Lenovo is taking a different tack with the 10.1-inch ThinkPad Tablet, which is available to purchase by individual consumers but heavily geared for enterprises.
Fans of the Chinese company's products will likely appreciate the tablet's sturdy, businesslike look and feel. Its matte-black back is clean, smooth and somewhat grippy. It features a lovely 1280-by-800-pixel LCD screen with in-plane switching (IPS) for terrific viewing angles and Corning's famously tough Gorilla Glass, which should provide good protection from scuffs and bangs. The display isn't quite as bright as some competitors' screens, but proved fine for indoor viewing, even in rooms with harsh overhead lights.
Keys to access home, back, web and screen lock line the edge of the display. An impressive complement of ports and slots – USB 2.0, micro USB, mini HDMI, docking, headphones, SD and SIM – makes it easy to insert, plug in and connect pretty much anything you like without resorting to inconvenient adapter dongles. A digitizer pen for taking handwritten notes via Vision Objects' excellent MyScript Notes Mobile app (it interpreted my chicken scratch almost flawlessly) can be safely stored in a hole under the bezel, though you'll need to buy the stylus separately for $30.
This broad range of physical features confers some undeniably useful advantages, especially in a work environment, but it also makes the slate a bit chubby. Measuring 10.3 millimetres thick and weighing a minimum of 715 grams, you'll feel its presence in your purse or briefcase. For the people to whom the ThinkPad is meant to appeal – IT departments more interested in function than form –its largish size is a worthwhile tradeoff for practical benefits.
And they'll approve of it for other reasons, too. In a conversation with Lenovo Canada's Stefan Bockhop I was told that his company's engineers had done some extensive "under the hood" tinkering to add the sort of security and control features that IT departments want.
For example, corporate types can easily manage the apps users can and can't access, and even go so far as to create a custom app store for their business. Plus, they can set up geofencing, restrict removal of data from the device and employ kill switches to ensure the security of sensitive digital information.
It's also apparently quite easy to create custom ROMs, making the task of distributing and redistributing devices among employees a simpler and quicker procedure than it would be with off-the-shelf Android tablets from other manufacturers.
Basically, enterprise customers get the same sort of abilities and support that they would were they to roll out a fleet of new Lenovo ThinkPad laptops.
Do these enterprise-level features detract from the experience of average consumers buying and using a ThinkPad Tablet for personal use? Not really.
The slate operates like a standard Honeycomb device, though Lenovo did add a simple overlay that places a customizable quick-launcher in the centre of the screen to offer speedy access to email, videos, books, music, the web, or any other frequently accessed content you might want a shortcut to.
Spring for Lenovo's optional Keyboard Folio and it becomes a decent productivity machine, too. This $100 peripheral comes with Lenovo's traditional red trackpoint nub, which offers mouse-like precision, and – unlike some other keyboard add-ons I've tried – suffers no noticeable input lag. With a full version of the Microsoft Office-compatible Docs To Go app pre-installed, Lenovo's Tablet/keyboard combo lets you begin working with documents and budgets right out of the box.
That said, if all you want to do with your slate is surf the web, check your email, read books, and play games – the primary activities most tablet users are interested in – Lenovo's device is a hard sell. There's a glut of cheaper, lighter and sleeker options that may make more sense.
The ThinkPad Tablet is a robust machine with more utility than we've come to expect from devices in this category, but it's clearly oriented for the enterprise and business-oriented consumers.
Wi-Fi ThinkPad Tablets with between 16- and 64-gigabytes of storage sell for $499.00 to $669.00 on Lenovo's online store. Support for 3G mobile broadband is optional on all models.