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It’s never easy to change the status quo. For the most part, modern tablets are used for content consumption, not content creation. With traditional notebook and desktop PC sales declining year over year, Microsoft and its hardware partners have been trying to convince consumers that tablets are capable work machines, too. That you can have work and play on the same tablet.

The Lenovo ThinkPad 8 is an 8-inch tablet marketed as a business tablet for working professionals. It has an Intel Bay Trail processor, Intel HD graphics, and it runs Windows 8.1 Pro, which means users will get the complete Windows experience (“real” apps) and not the gimped Windows RT.

But can you really get the full Windows 8.1 Pro experience on a tablet with such a small screen? Read on for our full review.

Context

I’ve been testing tablets since the original iPad was released back in 2010. While I wouldn’t say a tablet is my go-to device, I do have a few — namely an iPad 3, Xperia Tablet S, and a Surface 2 — laying around the house for reading news through Feedly or Flipboard, watching some Netflix or Amazon Instant Video and other “light” tasks such as playing games, checking Facebook and Twitter, replying to emails and browsing the web.

While I own a Surface 2, I almost never use it to do any real work. That is, I just haven’t found any tablet that truly excels at replacing my MacBook Air (a beast of a machine that offers both portability and good-enough performance) for work-related purposes.

Specifications

  • Display: 8.3″ display (1920 x 1200 resolution) with 10 finger multitouch
  • Processor: 1.46GHz Intel Z3770 quad-core processor (Bay Trail)
  • Graphics: Intel HD Graphics (Gen 7)
  • RAM: 2GB LPDDR3 RAM
  • Internal storage: 64GB of SSD
  • Cameras: 8-megapixel rear camera (1080p) with autofocus and flash / 2-megapixel front camera (1080p)
  • Wireless connectivity: Wi-Fi, WiDi, Bluetooth 4.0
  • Ports: 1x Micro USB 3.0, 1x Micro HDMI 1.4a, 1x Micro SD slot
  • Battery: Up to 8 hours (20.5Whr)
  • Dimensions: 5.19″ x 8.83″ x 0.35″, 0.89 lbs
  • Operating system: Windows 8.1 Pro (32-bit)
  • Price: $399.99

Design (decent)

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When I think of the ThinkPad brand, I think of ThinkPad notebooks. They have a chunkiness to them that make them distinctively ThinkPads. I think of all black machines with a little red “pointing stick” nub joystick that sits just above the “B” key on the keyboard. While the ThinkPad 8 is certainly no ThinkPad notebook, it still carries some design cues that make it fit in with the ThinkPad image of being devices for businessmen and businesswomen.

The ThinkPad 8 is a handsome slate made from aluminum, measuring at 5.19″ x 8.83″ x 0.35″ and weighing only 0.89 pounds. It’s not the lightest or the thinnest, but it’s pretty compact for a device running Windows 8 Pro. I didn’t have problems holding it with one hand.

"THE THINKPAD 8 IS A HANDSOME SLATE"  

However, the worst part of the design has to be where the ThinkPad 8′s bezel edges meet the rest of the tablet’s frame. On two test units, the front screens weren’t perfectly flush with the tablet’s frame. The screen is only a hair deeper than the frame, but it’s noticeable when you rest your thumb on the bezel and rub up against the sharp edges. I’m not sure if this is a design flaw or it’s just the way the tablet was designed, but it makes the construction feel shoddy.

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On the left side you’ve got a microSD card slot and Micro HDMI.

On the front, just above the screen is a 2-megapixel front-facing camera, and below the screen is a lone Windows button. Nothing fancy. On the left side, you’ll find a hidden flap that opens to reveal a microSD card slot. Just below that is a Micro HDMI slot (for connecting the tablet to an external display or TV, of course).

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On the right right you have USB 3.0 port, volume rocker and power button.

Moving over to the right side, you’ll find a power on/off button, volume rocker and a USB 3.0 charging port. The buttons are a little too stiff in my opinion, requiring extra force to press them.

Flipping over to the backside, there’s an 8-megapixel rear camera with LED flash in the upper left corner. This is purely an aesthetic thing, but the red ring around the camera lens is a nice ThinkPad accent. In the upper right corner, there’s another ThinkPad logo, only Lenovo added another nice touch here: the dot in the letter “i” lights red when the tablet is on.

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At the very bottom of the back are a pair of stereo speakers. They’re not exactly loud, projecting sound away from the ThinkPad 8, instead of towards you. Their placement is also unfortunate since your hands will cover them up when holding the tablet.

Display (very good)

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The ThinkPad 8 has an 8.3-inch display. To my eye, the 1920 x 1200 Full HD resolution is quite sharp. Lenovo boasts its In-Plane Switching (IPS) display provides nearly 180-degree viewing angles and I can tell you it’s true. Viewing angles are great and colors are vibrant.

"KUDOS TO LENOVO FOR INCLUDING A HIGH-QUALITY DISPLAY ON THE THINKPAD 8"  

With 275 pixels per inch (ppi), the ThinkPad 8′s screen displays small text really well. This is especially useful when in Desktop mode. I never found myself needing to squint to make out text. The screen is so good that I was able to even view content comfortably in places where I was directly under reflective lights or out in the park under the sun. Kudos to Lenovo for including a high-quality display on the ThinkPad 8.

Performance (okay)

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Business professionals aren’t regular consumers. They require devices that are more demanding in order to “get work done.” On paper, the ThinkPad specs read more like a netbook/low-end laptop and less like what you’d expect from a tablet. (Minus the low amount of RAM, of course.) It has a 1.46GHz Intel Z3770 quad-core processor (Bay Trail), Intel HD Graphics, 2GB of RAM, and 64GB of internal storage. But we all know that specs only tell half the story. Real-world usage can paint a very different picture.

lenovo thinkpad 8 benchmark 1

PCMark 7, a system and productivity benchmark revealed the ThinkPad 8 scored 2,574 points. This is just slightly better than most other Intel-powered Windows 8 tablets in this class such as the Dell Venue 8 Pro and Toshiba Encore.

thinkpad8 3dmark

In addition to PCMark7, I also ran 3DMark11, a benchmark that tests the graphics/gaming performance of a device. As you can see, the ThinkPad 8 scored a 826 on Cloud Gate 1.1 (a test that tests graphics and physics on notebooks) and 9828 on Ice Storm 1.2 (a graphics test for smartphones and tablets) — hardly sufficient for any kind of modern gaming. While the Bay Trail processor can handle HD video streaming at 1080p just fine, it’s just not enough for real PC gaming. Then again, hardly any Intel HD graphics is if you want a playable framerate and decent resolution.

"GOOD-ENOUGH PERFORMANCE FOR RUNNING MICROSOFT OFFICE"  

The results from both benchmarks aren’t surprising. They’re in-line with what I’d expect from a “business” laptop: good-enough performance for running Microsoft Office, web browsers and any basic productivity apps, but weak graphics for doing anything intensive such as managing Photoshop workflows and video editing.

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In Metro mode (or Modern UI, if you prefer to be technically accurate), the ThinkPad 8 runs pretty smooth. Apps open and close pretty quickly. Even graphic-intensive racing games such as Asphalt 8: Airborne and Hydro Thunder Hurricane ran well. There was the occasional drop in framerate, but nothing that ruined the experience. So, as a casual tablet for content consumption (watching movies, listening to music, web browsing and light gaming), the ThinkPad 8 is pretty nice.

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Things take a turn for the worse when moving into Desktop mode. Here lies the problem with every tablet that runs Windows 8/8.1 Pro. While the Metro UI half of the tablet is designed specifically with finger touch input in mind, the Desktop half just isn’t.

I was able to tap apps pinned to the taskbar and files on the desktop easily because their icons are large enough. But it’s when I opened up the apps and tried to peck at the menu bar that I realized an 8-inch screen, the full Windows desktop experience and touch input with fingers don’t mix well at all. I don’t have fat fingers, but I still kept tapping the wrong thing.

This issue makes it really frustrating to try to edit documents (i.e., write a portion of this review), browse the web for research and manage several open windows at the same time, which consequently makes the ThinkPad 8 somewhat of a poor tablet for doing work. Was I able to multitask? Yes, but not without without gritting my teeth over a few things.

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Why didn’t Lenovo include stylus support? A stylus would have solved a lot of the small buttons/icons issue on the Desktop side of the ThinkPad 8.

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That said, connecting a wireless keyboard and mouse via Bluetooth makes all of those touchscreen issues disappear, but it also defeats the purpose of the ThinkPad 8 being a portable tablet. The point of a tablet is to do away with the need for a clunky keyboard and mouse and replace it with a svelte slate. For me, tablets need to stand on their own without accessories. If they can’t, then they’ve failed. Anyone who wants a keyboard and mouse is better served buying a laptop instead.

Touchscreen gripes aside, the ThinkPad 8 runs most commonly used apps fine. Some more intensive apps such as Photoshop run a little slower, but that’s to be expected. I typically had Chrome open, maybe VLC Player for videos, an email client, and a text editor open.

Memory management was also a bit problematic. With only 2GB of RAM, the ThinkPad 8 constantly hit its bottleneck when several apps were open. Two gigabytes of RAM might be sufficient for a casually using a tablet to watch movies and stream music, but it’s limiting when trying to multitask.

At times the ThinkPad 8 got a little warm, particularly when I had more than a dozen tabs open in Chrome, but otherwise, the tablet was able to keep up. If you find the ThinkPad 8 running too hot, you can always switch on the “Cool Mode” found in the Lenovo settings app. Cool Mode prevents your tablet from getting too hot when running heavy tasks, but it also drops processing power by 20 percent.

Battery (average)

Lenovo says the ThinkPad 8 has an 8 hour battery life to “support an entire business day’s worth of video streaming, document sharing and web browsing.” In my testing, I only ever managed to get 6 hours and 47 minutes at the most per full charge when juggling multiple workflows that included lots of web browsing, watching a few YouTube videos, editing documents and some light gaming. On most days, however, the ThinkPad 8 lasted just a little over 6 hours hours when multitasking; well below the advertised battery life.

Looping a movie non-stop will give you battery life that’s closer to the 7-hour mark, but then again, watching videos on continuous isn’t what I or most people would consider “a business day’s” worth of work.

Camera (acceptable)

The ThinkPad 8 is equipped with two cameras: a 2-megapixel front-facing camera capable of 1080p HD video recording and an 8-megapixel rear camera with an LED flash that’s also capable of 1080p HD video recording.

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Pictures are pretty good for a tablet. As is the case with many tablet cameras, taking pictures outdoors with lots of sunlight isn’t a problem. However, taking pics in dimly-lit places will produce noticeable image noise when viewed at full resolution. In other words, don’t throw out your actual digital camera just yet.

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Here’s a sample photo in a low-lit restaurant taken with the 8-megapixel rear camera.

When you open the camera app, there are three main icons on the right side: video recording, still photo and panorama. In video recording mode, sliding up from the bottom of the screen reveals only a single option: exposure adjustment. In still photo mode, you get two more options in addition to exposure adjustment: a timer (3-second) and flash on/off. Finally, in Panorama mode, you get no adjustments.

A few more “advanced” settings such as white balance, HDR, or even filters would have been welcome. As it stands, the ThinkPad 8′s camera is just good-enough.

Quickshot Cover (could be better)

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Lenovo also kindly sent along its $34.99 Quickshot Cover. It works very much like the iPad and iPad mini’s Smart Cover in that it attaches to the ThinkPad 8 via its magnetic hinge. It’s a sleek cover, and when you fold over its top corner to expose the camera, it automatically opens up the camera app (you can also turn it off if you don’t want that). That’s a cool tough.

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The cover’s microfiber lining does a good job blocking out dust and dirt, but sadly, it’s tragically flawed in two ways. First, the magnetic hinge is really weak, which means the tablet itself can easily slip off and take a fatal drop to its doom. Second, when the cover is folded back, it muffles the rear-positioned speakers.

Conclusion (average)

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ThinkPad 8 compared to Surface 2

Building a tablet that tries to meld the best of two lifestyles — play and business — is no easy task, not even for Microsoft. After testing out the Lenovo ThinkPad 8, it remains clear to me that smaller tablets just can’t run the full version of Windows 8.1 Pro adequately. There’s too much compromise.

While the ThinkPad 8 has a brilliant display, trying to use Windows 8.1 Pro on an 8.3-inch display is a nightmare in Desktop mode without attaching an external keyboard and mouse (two more additional costs). It’s next to impossible to tap on the tiny elements and there’s some noticeable lag at times.

"IT DOES RUN A FULL-WINDOWS 8.1 OS"  

But the ThinkPad 8′s biggest weakness is perhaps its battery life. Lenovo says the battery lasts up to 8 hours (under Mobilemark?). During a week of medium to heavy usage, I only averaged around 6-6.5 hours, which is just not very good for a tablet. Compared to the 10-11 hours iPads and many Android-powered tablets get, it’s definitely disappointing – but it does run a full-Windows 8.1 OS, and that’s its main competitive advantage relative to those other tablets.

The ThinkPad 8 is a fine tablet for viewing HD movies, playing some light games and browsing the web; it’s just not a good tablet for doing all of those things in addition to juggling work. It could be an interesting play for Enterprise software or situations when you absolutely need some legacy software. If you want a beastly tablet PC that runs Windows 8.1 Pro like a champ, you’ll be better off spending a little more and getting a Surface Pro 2. The larger 10.1-inch screen allows Windows 8.1 Pro to really work with fingers and it supports a stylus.

Overall product rating: 7/10

Filed in Featured >Reviews >Tablets. Read more about Lenovo, , Tablet Reviews, and windows 8.1.

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