How the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet Works

Designed to evoke the style of Lenovo’s ThinkPad laptops, this tablet is all business.
Designed to evoke the style of Lenovo’s ThinkPad laptops, this tablet is all business.
Courtesy Lenovo

PC-makers the world over are getting massive revenue headaches as they watch their sales numbers spiral into red oblivion. There may be a cure for the PC hangover, though, in the form of a tablet, and not the medicinal kind. Tablet computers are blazing a path to technological glory, with some experts expecting sales of nearly 120 million units in 2012 alone [source: Gartner]. That's due, in part, to products such as the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet.

Although Apple's iPad has grabbed much of the tablet spotlight in recent years, plenty of other companies are vying to compete, often by tweaking their products for specific audiences. Lenovo is no different. The ThinkPad tablet is targeted specifically toward business and corporate users, which the China-based company says is a first in this product segment.

If you've ever used a tablet computer for anything more than casual Web browsing or typing, you know that their input systems often get tiresome and cumbersome. In addition, their small size and limited number of ports -- a weight-saving blessing -- actually becomes a hindrance in many more serious uses, such as data entry or data sharing.

With this in mind, Lenovo sought to entice tablet computer junkies who needed a tablet as a tool instead of a toy. And it looks the part. Instead of artful, smooth curves, this tablet has a sharper, more utilitarian appearance. Its internal design is different, too, and it's meant to be more durable and rugged than consumer-grade tablets. Software-wise, Google's Android 3.1 OS for tablets drives the guts of the ThinkPad tablet.

We'll show you how all of the parts come together into a slick, sturdy business machine. On the next page, check out the hardware that may make this product a solid choice for the corporate niche.

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet Specs

The ThinkPad was specifically created for business users. Its hardware reflects that mission.
The ThinkPad was specifically created for business users. Its hardware reflects that mission.
Courtesy Lenovo

Lenovo set out to create a beefy tablet capable of handling a full work day in varied situations. The company started with the NVIDIA Tegra 1GHz CPU and 1GB of RAM.

Internal flash memory storage capacity varies by model. If you go for the basic unit, you'll have 16GB, while the more expensive model has 64GB. Need even more room? Invest in a full-size Secure Digital memory card and you'll have a lot more space at a relatively low cost. The 3-in-1 card reader accepts SDHC and MMC cards, too.

Of course, this being a tablet, the screen is of utmost importance. This 10.1-inch (25.6-centimeter) display, which has a glossy sheen courtesy of Corning Gorilla Glass, touts a resolution of 1280 by 800 pixels. The screen is multi-touch capable and recognizes six-finger gestures, in addition to the optional, battery-powered pen. Lenovo claims that the screen looks good even at a severe viewing angle of 170 degrees.

There are two cameras at your disposal, including the 2-megapixel, front-facing, fixed-focus lens and a 5-megapixel version on the other side. The latter has autofocus and digital zoom capabilities.

The ThinkPad has four sizable buttons on the bottom side of its face for the purpose of quicker navigation. These buttons take you home, to your browser, back to the previous page and lock auto screen rotation. Each button has an onscreen twin, in case, you know, you'd rather use that one.

Unlike so many tablets, this one is equipped with a variety of ports. You'll be able to plug a large range of devices into either the full-size USB or micro-USB ports. There's also a microphone input jack, as well as the obligatory headphone jack. You can play 1080p HD video through the mini-HDMI port. WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity are standard with the ThinkPad. If you feel like paying for it, you can opt for 3G service, too.

Lenovo packed all of this hardware into a case that measures 10.25 inches (26 centimeters) high by 7.15 inches (18.1 centimeters) wide and 0.57 inches (1.4 centimeters) thick. And at just under 1.7 pounds (0.77 kilograms), it's a little heftier than some daintier tablets.

Now we'll show you how all this hardware powers the ThinkPad's capabilities.

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet Features

The digitized pen is pressure-sensitive so that you can use it for handwriting or even art applications.
The digitized pen is pressure-sensitive so that you can use it for handwriting or even art applications.
Courtesy Lenovo

Aside from its IT-inspired appearance, there's nothing that really screams "business" tablet -- until you start digging into the ThinkPad's features. Some of the preinstalled apps are a giveaway.

Lenovo included full (that is, not stripped-down trial) versions of Citrix Receiver (a remote desktop access app) and Documents to Go (which lets you view Microsoft Office files), along with Computrace Mobile, which could help you track down a lost or stolen tablet.

The ThinkPad's accessories are also more business-minded than most tablets'. For another $100, you'll get a keyboard folio that doubles as a stand for the tablet. The keyboard connects to the full-size USB port, and it's equipped with the usual red ThinkPad optical TrackPoint. The well-reviewed keyboard will likely be an indispensable tool (and thus, unavoidable expense) for any serious business user.

For $40 extra, Lenovo will throw in a battery-powered stylus. Not a little pokey stick like the ones you saw shipping with old-school smartphones, this one is supposed to feel like a full-sized pen, one that you'll use for significant data input and composition. Each time you see the standard Android keyboard appear on the screen, you'll have multiple input options. You can prod the onscreen display, scribble with a finger or, perhaps best of all, write using the stylus.

Integrated software immediately recognizes your handwriting (in nearly 30 languages, no less) and offers visual feedback to show you that it understands what you're composing. One major caveat, though: If your writing looks less like neat, crisp cursive and more like messy chicken scratch, your results with this feature may be less than satisfactory.

All of these capabilities are abstract concepts unless you have concrete power. To that end, Lenovo armed its ThinkPad tablet with a 2-cell, lithium-polymer rechargeable battery. The company rates this power pack at nearly 9 hours of life, although you can expect less work time if you crank up the screen's brightness and constantly employ networking devices.

The IT Tablet

Lenovo's ThinkPad tablet offers various features and services that take business users' unique concerns into consideration.
Lenovo's ThinkPad tablet offers various features and services that take business users' unique concerns into consideration.
Courtesy Lenovo

It takes more than just a couple of hardware tweaks to turn a consumer product into a corporate tool. Lenovo's ThinkPad tablet design addresses this fact.

According to Kevin Beck, WW competitive analyst at Lenovo, two concepts drove the tablet's design. Whereas consumer-type tablets are made primarily to consume and display content, the ThinkPad is made to create and edit content. That's why the keyboard and digitizer pen are necessary accessories.

The second major design concern addressed security challenges of IT managers. The ThinkPad uses active directory schemes similar to what you'd find on Windows-based PCs. That means, for example, that you can simply type in a password to authenticate your identity instead of swiping or entering a passcode like you would on a typical Android device.

Android's continuing evolution also means that the ThinkPad tablet can encrypt all local media the same way. In the past, Android would let you encrypt internal memory, but you had to install a third-party app in order to encrypt any add-on media, such as an SD card. With Lenovo's system, you can encrypt all data in the same manner, which drastically reduces workflow headaches for IT pros.

Unlike consumer tablets, which ship with identical, pre-installed software, corporate clients can order their ThinkPad tablets to spec. That is, they request certain pre-installed apps that work best within their organization's scheme, and Lenovo customizes that shipment of tablets just for that company. Furthermore, Lenovo built a support ecosystem just to service corporate ThinkPad clients, so when issues arise, they'll have the help they need to get back to work.

And work is really what this product is all about. With so many fun models on the market, it's easy to see why the tablet business is booming. The next step, at least in Lenovo's eyes, is to see whether tablets can actually get serious and help run a business. The well-armed ThinkPad tablet may certainly convince a lot of IT and corporate types that it can.

Author's Note

These days, tablets are anything but toys. They have powerful processors that allow for heavy-duty multitasking, substantial flash memory and, of course, gorgeous screens that make games and movies more fun during downtime. Or during lunch. Or while you're sitting at your desk pretending to work.

Whether the high-end specs result in more productivity remains to be seen. Input complications still tend to limit hardcore users -- onscreen keyboards are too slow and add-on keyboards often too tiny for large hands. Still, with better keyboards and more input options, tablets like the ThinkPad could very well become standard tools for power users, instead of those who love tablets primarily for play time.

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Sources

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