ThinkPad Tablet 2... The Rest of the Story

I'm writing this because I found The Verge's review of this tablet to be rather limited in scope. It was well-written but substantively terrible. My goal is for this post to be the opposite--I don't have the time to write anything very interesting or to go into my detailed impressions, so this will be more of an information dump. I just want to provide a more complete picture of this tablet. Warning: this is long, and it's really only meant for those already considering buying this tablet.

My Use

I've had the tablet for about a month now. I'm a law student also working an internship, and I bought this tablet for use in my future practice. This is my primary device. I bought the $679 TPT2 with the slim case ($50) for $700, tax included, with the 10% educational discount. The case protects the tablet and folds into a stand, albeit a slightly awkward one (more later). I use the TPT2 with an HP BT keyboard, the one meant for the Touchpad. I very rarely use a mouse, but rather stick to my fingers and the stylus.

Battery Life

If you want a "video rundown" test then you can find it elsewhere. I've only run out of juice once so far, and I never ever worry about charging it. I stress that word because this thing charges over Micro USB 2.0. On the one hand, that's a bad thing because it charges pretty slowly for a PC. But of course on the other, I've got micro USB cables all around my house, at work, and in my backpack at all times. So I do charge it if I know I'm not going to be using it for an hour or more, and under that usage I've only run out of juice once. Another boon of it charging via Micro USB is that you can buy really cheap USB batteries for recharging on the go. You can of course use those to charge your cellphone as well (and can also charge your phone from your tablet).

One thing to note is that the display can get pretty dim when needed. In a 2-hour class once, I saw I was low so I put the brightness all the way down. It went from 17% to 10% in an hour and a half, while I was using several different programs including Chrome with 6-8 tabs open.

Form Factor and Input Devices

All the reviewers seem to think it's an abomination to hold a 16:9 tablet in portrait. I think they're idiots. I love using it in portrait, especially to read (great for PDFs), surf, and take handwritten notes. When I'm holding the tablet by itself, it's almost always in portrait, and it's incredibly easy to hold it with one hand for extended periods of time. Even more so when the case isn't on it. And it's not much worse with the slimcase on because the edges provide a better grip.

The tablet's (and keyboard's) thinness allow me to slip them both into a professional-looking leather folder I already had, and it's likely you've got something similar if you're a professional. It's incredibly freeing to not have to carry around a charger or mouse, and to be able to grab the tablet without the keyboard when I need to look something up or take down a note. It's also great for mini-presentations, by either simply showing them something or illustrating an idea by drawing a diagram with the pen.

I actually like the fact that the keyboard is separate because I use the tablet by itself 70-80% of the time. The pen is a god-send for taking notes when I'm interviewing someone or talking to a co-worker. There's something about using a keyboard when talking to someone that makes the interaction impersonal. The on-screen keyboard is actually pretty good itself, and surprisingly good when you consider that it's on a 10.1" devices. Those two (on-screen KB and pen) are perfect for use in the courtroom because both are silent and keyboards aren't allowed during formal proceedings. I would imagine this factor helps for business meetings as well.

I only use the keyboard during class and when drafting legal documents (though often I'm just editing a form and don't need it then) or doing heavy research. I like that the tablet+KB take up minimal desk space. I put the KB on my lap when I'm transcribing a statute or something, and can use the two on my lap when needed as well. There are 3 different ways to position the tablet on my lap, and if you're really interested then ask in the comments. Unfortunately, you can't adjust the viewing angle on the slimcase, so there are only 2 to choose from: ~30 degrees and ~80 degrees. The 80 is usually too close to upright, but that's a result of the position of the table, chair, possibly your legs, and the tablet (distance from you). Between all the factors it's always easy to adjust it to be comfortable, it's just annoying they make you do that. The 30 is great for your lap but I haven't used it in any other scenario yet.

It's easy enough to navigate around somewhere like 70% of the desktop environment with my fingers alone, so I do that a lot of the time. However, it's often faster to use the pen even if it's possible to use my fingers, so I've usually got the pen out when I'm using the TPT2 stationary. The OS reacts differently to pen input than finger input; dragging with the pen highlights text and dragging with a finger pans/scrolls. The pen also has gestures ("flicks") that you can set to different actions, like Undo, Delete, Copy, Paste, etc. So rather than choose one, I usually hold the pen in my hand and still navigate with my fingers (10 fingers > 1 pen tip), then quickly and easily adjust the pen to use it to select text, copy, paste, etc.. It's very efficient and wonderfully natural.

Performance

This CPU is worlds better than the old Atom chips, but the GPU is still worlds behind anything modern. You can go elsewhere for benchmarks, but here's what I've found worked and didn't work.

Chrome works as well on this machine as it did on my AMD E-350 laptop or my Athlon Neo X2. That's a lower end laptop and desktop from a few years ago, but ones running standard voltage 64-bit OS processors. It lags when loading flash- and image-heavy sites, but so does my family computer, a Core i3 desktop. The TPT2 obviously lags more (a lot more), but it's a fairy tale to think that any sub-$1,000 system doesn't lag when loading e.g. The Verge. The Outlook WebApp loads almost instantly, GMail takes a few seconds, Blackboard takes a few seconds, google searches occasionally take a second or two, and The Verge homepage takes nearly 15 seconds to load and be scrollable. Scrolling is the same story, with most sites being rather smooth while image heavy sites are accompanied by stuttering.

Microsoft Word can take a while to load if it's a particularly large file (hundreds of pages), but that could also have something to do with the OfficeTabs addon I use. Otherwise it might take 5 seconds max, and it's instant for small files (though I often just have it open all day). I've only used Excel for basic record-keeping and formulas, so I don't know how it performs when intensive calculations are at play. Powerpoint works fine until you're dealing with large images, but of course that's one of the primary reasons to use ppt. Adobe loads almost instantly, and scrolling is smooth unless you're scrolling really fast into text you haven't been to on that time of opening the pdf.

It runs almost all of the Metro apps I've downloaded (~30 in all), and the ones it doesn't run well seem like it's more an issue with the apps (i.e. simple apps taking forever to load or lagging terribly all of the sudden when not much is happening in the app or on the system). There have been one or two games that simply lagged because the Atom couldn't keep up.

As far as multitasking goes, this tablet can't run too many tasks at once (chrome tabs will need to reload if you've got more than a few other programs open or more than 10 or 20 tabs), but switching between programs is lightning fast. The flick-switch (from left of screen) is just as fast when you have 20 apps running as when you have 2, and alt-tab is the same. Just don't expect to burn a CD

Not sure where to put this, but you should know that the full-sized USB port doesn't put out enough power to operate an older external HDD or a CD drive. Apparently some of the newer HDDs don't need as much power, but the one I have does. The remedy for this is to plug the other cable (if it's got a Y split cable) into a power source, another possible use for the cheap USB battery packs mentioned above.

Connectivity

This tablet has Bluetooth 4.0, wifi, and is available with mobile data (AT&T I believe). From the Lenovo forums, apparently a lot of people have had issues with wifi performance. It might only operate over one of the two bands (2.4 or 5 GHz). I have a slow connection and dual-band router so I haven't experienced any issues. The BT drivers haven't given me any issues, unlike what I've experienced with some Dell and HP PCs.

Ecosystem

The place where The Verge screwed up the most. Buying this tablet, you can't expect to run Skyrim or Photoshop (at least not with large images) because that's not what this tablet is for. But it can run 90% of Windows programs, and 99% of Metro apps. This means I can root or restore my phone with my tablet. I can play the old cracks of Starcraft and Heroes of Might and Magic (which works especially well on this tablet). I can use random tools like Connectify (turn PC into a wifi hotspot) and Easytether (android tethering app) and Synergy (share mouse/keyboard with multiple computers) and everything else that's out there. I can use a real desktop browser (and pick whichever I want). The list of possibilities this opens up goes on and on. Is everything designed for a tablet? Hell no, but this isn't just a tablet. Add your keyboard and stylus or mouse and you've got all you need to control any x86 app. This is a benefit that simply can't be overstated, and in any review system where iOS gets anywhere above a 6 I think this should get a 10. And then of course you've got Metro apps, which almost all play without a hitch, and which will rise in number as time goes on. Some are good and some are even great on this kind of system.

Cameras and Sound

The quality of the cameras (8 MP and 2 MPs/720) is what you'd expect out of any android tablet or low-end webcam. Unfortunately, I can't comment on the software because my unit won't take pictures or video. I'm sending it in as soon as I can convince myself to go without this machine for a while. I'm also sending it in to get one of the speakers fixed. Before it went out, the speakers sounded great, and better than anything I've from a phone, laptop, or tablet I've ever owned (Macbook Late 2006, HP dm1, Archos 80 G9, HTC Evo, Sprint Epic 4g Touch, Galaxy Nexus). Still not great, just surprisingly good for a tablet, and more than enough to watch Netflix in bed with my wife.

Anyway, I hope that gives a more complete picture of the ThinkPad Tablet 2. It's definitely a device with compromises, but every device has them (or else the compromise is price) and this one has all the right ones for me. If there's anything you might want to know, just ask.