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Review: Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2

Before we talk about the ThinkPad Tablet 2, Lenovo’s new Windows 8 hybrid, we need to talk about the original ThinkPad Tablet, the one that came out in the fall of 2011 to mixed reviews. It was an okay device, when push came to shove, with useful features like a full-size USB port, 1080p output and pen support — a rarity on Android tablets. But the tablet itself was bulky, performance was sluggish, battery life was mediocre and there weren’t even that many Android apps designed to be used with a pen. It was a concept that didn’t totally work —  at least not with that OS — and indeed, Lenovo has long since discontinued it.

Fast-forward to the present, and the ThinkPad Tablet’s been resurrected in the form of a 10.1-inch Windows 8 device, one that starts at $579 and can be used with an optional keyboard dock. It’s a much lighter product, at 1.3 pounds (down from 1.58), and although it uses a heavier-duty Atom processor, battery life is said to top out at about 10 hours. (The original lasted eight in our usual test.) Like the OG version, it allows for pen input on select models, but of course, Windows comes ready-made with a larger selection of apps where a pen might actually be useful. So is the second time a charm? In a word, yes.

Look and feel

The ThinkPad Tablet 2 doesn’t have all that much in common with the original — the first ran Android and this one’s powered by Windows 8; one was a bit of an odd duck and the other is our favorite thing since sliced bread. If nothing else, though, they both look exactly the way you’d expect a ThinkPad slate to look. Which is to say, this new ThinkPad Tablet 2 has a rubbery, soft-touch finish, similar to the coating used on Lenovo’s various business laptops. Even the ThinkPad logo with the glowing “i” has been replicated here. If you order a tablet with a dual digitizer, the included pen has a red cap, modeled after the ol’ TrackPoint. The optional Bluetooth keyboard dock is also styled like a typical ThinkPad keyboard, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves — we’ll discuss the typing experience in excruciating detail later on.

First, though, the tablet. It’s remarkably comfortable to hold. We’re not sure if it’s the soft-touch finish, the rounded edges or some combination thereof, but the ergonomics here are nearly perfect. The left landscape edge is extra curvy, because it makes room for the slot where the pen is stowed. That means, dear reader, that you get a little more space for your left thumb, and you get to rest that finger on rubber instead of glass, to boot. The device feels lightweight, too, at 1.3 pounds and 0.39 inches thick (that’s lighter than the current iPad and about as thin, for those keeping score). Meanwhile, the tablet’s soft edges make this easier to hold than either of the boxy Surface tablets, though we’ll admit neither is a direct match for the ThinkPad Tablet 2 — at least not in terms of performance.

If we’re going to continue our tour of the device, we may as well pick up where we left off: near the pen slot. The pen’s got a notch attached up top, with a series of grooves allowing you to lift the pen out of its hole using your fingernail. We’re happy to report the damn thing stays put, but wresting it out of its slot can take a bit of practice. A little farther down on that same side is the full-size USB 2.0 port, covered by a pull-out door. Unfortunately, while that’s normally a nice feature to have, the 2.5-watt socket here doesn’t work with either USB hard drives or external optical drives, even when the tablet is plugged in. In theory, though, that’s a problem you could solve by using the USB port on the optional docking station.

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