I have long since replaced my desktop computer with a laptop. But my laptop, a Lenovo ThinkPad T520, was designed for a lap bigger than mine. I would like to lighten my load and embrace more portable computing. Is it time to replace my laptop with a tablet computer?
I reviewed the ThinkPad 8 in April. I predicted it would make inroads into law firms but I did not mention it as a laptop replacement. The omission was by design. I did not even pose the question that a tablet can replace my T520. Then Lenovo called the question by shipping me a ThinkPad 10 with docking station and an external keyboard.
The 7-by-10-inch ThinkPad 10 is a tad larger than the ThinkPad 8, which is almost the size of a 6-by-9-inch steno notebook. The 10-inch tablet weighs 1.3 pounds with a 64-gigabyte drive installed. It looks and feels like an ultra-laptop chopped in half—without the keyboard.
Two more inches of display are like two more degrees of heat in a cold winter—you take notice. When the tablet’s on-screen keyboard rises for input on the 10.1-inch (diagonal) display, plenty of screen real-estate remains to review your input in the context of a document, form or Web page.
The ThinkPad 10’s display is made of Gorilla Glass with anti-reflective coating and light-emitting diode (LED) backlight technology. It supports a native 1920 x 1200 resolution and works with an ambient light sensor on the tablet to automatically adjust brightness depending on the tablet’s operating environment. I did not have to adjust the brightness once during my operation at work and home and on trains and planes. The display has in-plane switching technology that quickly adjusted the screen to the laptop’s position in landscape or portrait mode.
The tablet runs Windows 8.1 Pro (32-bit or 64-bit) on a dual Intel Atom CPU Z3795 (64-bit). I am not a fan of running a 32-bit operating system on a 64-bit chip, but you may have an application that is not supported in a 64-bit architecture. The tablet can use two or four gigabytes RAM and supports a stylus pen and ten touch points. It has a built-in Bluetooth radio and an 802.11agn Wireless SDIO Adapter. Models other than the Wi-Fi-only support a Sierra EM7345 LTE cellular modem.
The ThinkPad 10’s two-megapixel, front-facing camera can take pictures, create video and make video calls. It has two built-in microphones to capture sound for video and calls. My USB headset or external microphone worked well and the combo-audio connector supported my ear buds, but I liked the ability to use the tablet to make Skype calls without peripheral devices. Note that the combo-audio jack does not support a conventional microphone.
The back of the unit has an 8-megapixel auto-focus camera with flash, a configurable exposure setting and optional timer to capture single shots, panoramic views and video. I had no trouble taking photographs of documents and copies of title pages to books and other materials with the camera. Two speakers, a smart card slot (some models) and a fingerprint reader (some models) are also on the back of the tablet.
Without more, the tablet has a built-in USB 2 port, a micro-SIM card slot to support a wireless wide-area network connection (not functional on Wi-Fi only models); a micro-SD card slot for data access or storage; and a micro-HDMI interconnect to interface digital audio and video for high-definition television (HDTV) or a high-end monitor.
The tablet has a dedicated Windows Start screen button so you can always find your home screen. Below that, along the edge of the table, are interconnects for the ThinkPad 10 Ultrabook Keyboard, ThinkPad 10 Touch Case, or the ThinkPad Tablet Dock. I found the dock and keyboard instrumental in using the tablet as a laptop replacement.
The tablet connects to the ThinkPad Tablet Dock ($130) in landscape mode. The side of the dock has a combo-audio connector and an always-on USB 3 connector to charge mobile devices when the tablet is off or in sleep or hibernation mode. The back of the dock supports a gigabit Ethernet connection, an HDMI port and two USB 3 ports. I used the dock at work, where I connected it to a USB keyboard and mouse and an extended Lenovo ThinkVision monitor via HDMI. See Figure 1.
Like the docking station, the table connects to the ThinkPad Ultrabook Keyboard (Web price $120) in landscape mode. If you need to edit a document in portrait mode with an external keyboard, use a USB keyboard that doesn’t require the dock and a flexible stand such as the Nimblstand, which supports either portrait or landscape and a slot for a USB keyboard.
The Ultabook Keyboard is a six-row QWERTY keyboard with a mouse positioning track-pad and two-buttons. The tablet is inserted into a slot or tablet holder on the back of the keyboard. Besides the usual keys to adjust brightness and speakers and mute the microphone, there are keys to open the charm settings, search charms, view all open apps, view all apps, and navigate to the top and bottom of an open window be it a Web page, Word document or PDF file. I used the external keyboard at home so I could easily create and edit documents.
I used Lenovo’s System Update software to install new device drivers and a BIOS update. I engaged the download and selected to defer the installation of software until I reached a stop point in my work.
Lenovo Solution Center software monitors system health and security. I checked hardware and updated software and engaged a hardware scan to check all system components. The Broadcom Wi-Fi adapter issued a warning for its local connection test, but the software provided no detail. The Wi-Fi device, although enabled, was not connected to an access point.
Lenovo’s preinstalled software varies by geographic locations. I found Lenovo’s SHAREit very useful to easily share large files between my Windows PCs and Android smartphone—Apple’s iPhone is also supported. Other Lenovo software tools include a photo and video editor by CL.
To use the ThinkPad 10 as a laptop replacement, I needed Window’s Remote Desktop Connection and support for the Cisco AnyConnect Secure Mobility Client. Remote Desktop is included with Windows 8.1 and Cisco’s VPN software installed and ran without a support call to the help desk.
You can password protect the ThinkPad 10 on boot, on screen-lock, or when the tablet returns from Windows sleep or hibernation mode. A supervisor password can prevent an unauthorized change in the ThinkPad Tablet Setup program, where the primary security features are found.
To get to the tablet’s setup program, simultaneously press the power button and the volume-up button. If the tablet is on, swipe in from the right edge of the tablet and tap Settings > Change PC settings. In the navigation panel that displays, tap Update and Recovery > Recovery. In the Advanced startup section, tap restart now. The tablet restarts and a menu is displayed. Tap Troubleshoot -> Advanced Options > UEFI Firmware Settings > Restart.
The ThinkPad setup program Provides access to several submenus: Main, Config, Security, Startup and Restart Menu. I selected security where I set a supervisor’s password and enabled Secure Boot, which helps prevent malicious software applications and unauthorized operating systems from loading during system startup. I also restricted boot devices to internal storage devices and disabled Bluetooth and support for Near Field Communication. Note that the tablet supports a Computrace Module for anti-theft.
Office 365 is included with select ThinkPad 10 models. If not preinstalled, you can install it as if the tablet was any Windows PC you ever owned. The Web price starts at $829.