Lenovo ThinkPad 8 £299
5th Jun 2014 | 19:42
Meet the most powerful 8-inch Windows tablet
The range of 8-inch tablets featuring full-fat Windows 8.1 is growing everyday. While there have been a few great slates filling out this micro-slab space, it's also grown stale. As of late, most devices sport an uninspiring 1200 x 800 resolution screen and nearly the same internals.
Now, Lenovo hopes to get out of the rut with the ThinkPad 8, the first 8-inch Windows tablet with a 1920 x 1200 resolution touch panel and punchier Intel Atom processor to boot. The ThinkPad 8 has some promising specs on paper, but does this tablet truly usher in the next generation of small Windows 8.1 slates?
With its latest tablet, Lenovo aimed to deliver a device that looks and feels premium, and it shows. The ThinkPad 8 is backed with a machined aluminium shell, rather than the plasticky Dell Venue 8 Pro and faux-metal Acer Iconia W4. This solid piece of metal – which spans across the entire back – is quite reminiscent of the iPad Mini 2 with Retina display and iPad Air, down to the anodized finish. Though, the Lenovo received an extra coat of black paint.
A soft, rubbery material wraps the ThinkPad 8's slim edges and it helps to keep a grip on the device. Along the right edge is the power button, volume rocker, and USB 3.0 port, which connects to Lenovo's USB 3.0 dock. And don't worry about bringing the included cable everywhere: a micro USB cable also fits in the port for charging. The left side, meanwhile, holds a micro HDMI port plus an additional flap hiding a microSD slot underneath.
In another nod to the iPad, the tablet's left side side also houses hidden magnets for attaching the optional, $34.99 (about £20, AU$37) Quickshot Cover. The accessory does not mimic Apple's folding stand design. Rather, there is a small flap that, when flipped back, reveals the rear lens and automatically launches the Windows camera app.
Normally I don't shoot photos with a tablet, but the ThinkPad 8 is equipped with a rear camera that's a step up from the iPads of the world. The 8MP sensor at the heart of this shooter can resolve some high-resolution images. However, image noise easily enters the frame unless photos are taken in bright, fully lit conditions. Even in a bit of shade, stills are full of nasty bits of green and red digital noise.
More impressive than the lens itself is Windows 8.1's built-in image editor. Without having to dive into Photoshop or Skitch, I could level out an overblown exposure, warm up a dull image caught on a rainy day, and even do a few fun tricks like this toy box image above.
But before you go shooting your first photo, know that the camera app is prone to crash the entire device. The first few times I used the Quickshot Cover to turn on the camera, it sent the tablet into a panic that required a system reset. Other times, the tablet would simply display an unresponsive black screen, leaving me with no choice but turn it off completely. It was a frustrating experience, especially for missing those decisive, photographic moments.
That said, this is a known issue that can be somewhat remedied with a quick update downloaded through the baked-in Lenovo Solutions app. Even with the update in place, though, the camera is still quite buggy.
After updating, I triggered the camera only to have it loop back to a low-resolution version of the Windows Start Screen, with no way to access the desktop or any apps. A restart cycle later – plus fiddling around with the display resolution settings – and the tablet returned to normal. This is honestly the strangest issue I've ever experienced with any device before.
The Lenovo ThinkPad 8 is not only most powerful and well-equipped 8-inch Windows 8.1 tablet to come out, it's also the best looking. This is largely thanks to the slate's aluminum body, which makes for an attractive, sturdy and light device at just 0.89 pounds (about 0.4 kilograms). That said, the device is still a tad bit thicker (0.34 inches or 8.8 mm) and heavier than the super slim, 0.29-inch (7.5 mm) iPad Mini 2 with Retina display, which weighs just 0.73 pounds (0.33 kilograms).
Given the tablet is nearly as thin as Apple's smaller slate, the ThinkPad 8 is by far the slimmest device compared to its Windows rivals. By comparison, the 0.91-pound (0.41 kilogram) Acer Iconia W4 is a smidge heavier and noticeably thicker at 0.4 inches (11 mm). The Dell Venue 8 Pro, meanwhile, is much closer with a 0.35-inch (9 mm) thick frame that's actually lighter, weighing 0.87 pounds (0.39 kilograms).
Here is the Lenovo ThinkPad 8 configuration given to TechRadar:
- CPU: 2.4Ghz Intel Atom Z3770 (quad-core, (2MB cache, up to 2.39GHz with Turbo Boost)
- Graphics: Intel HD Graphics
- RAM: 2GB LPDDR3
- Screen: 8.3 inch, 1920 x 1200, 10 finger multi-touch, IPS screen
- Storage: 64GB
- Ports: micro USB 3.0, micro HDMI, microSDXC, headphone/mic jack
- Connectivity: 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
- Cameras: 8MP rear (1080p HD video), 2MP front (1080p HD video)
- Weight: 0.89 pounds
- Size: 5.19 x 8.87 x 0.34 inches (W x D x H)
The Lenovo ThinkPad 8's most notable feature is its full HD display. Running at a stunning 1920 x 1200 resolution, it's a fair step up from every 8-inch Windows 8.1 tablet before it. Thus far, the Venue 8 Pro and Iconia W4 both offer similar 1200 x 800 displays.
Similarly, the ThinkPad 8 has been equipped with a quad-core 2.4Ghz Intel Atom Z3770 that's faster than all its rivals, which have all been powered with the same 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3740 chip. All this extra power comes at an added price, however.
The ThinkPad 8 only comes in this configuration with 64GB of eMMC storage for $399 (about £238, AU$429). A similarly specced Iconia W4 will run you a little less at $349 (about £208, AU$375). Meanwhile, spend $299 (about £178, AU$322), and buyers could pick up the top Venue 8 Pro – in a hot red shell to boot.
There's no denying the ThinkPad 8 is pricey. But because of its punchier internals and far sharper screen, it's clear that Lenovo's business tablet is more of a luxury item.
In my experience slapping on a high-resolution screen onto a mobile chip powered device is a risky maneuver. Case-and-point with the Dell XPS 11, an insufficient processor can leave a machine woefully underpowered to handle both the display and full Windows operating system. Luckily that was not the completely the case with Lenovo's new tablet but its performance still leaves something to be desired.
- 3DMark: Ice Storm: 10,002; Cloud Gate: 1,031
- PCMark 8 Home: 1,130
- PCMark 8 Battery Life: 4 hours, 21 minutes
In our benchmark tests, the ThinkPad lagged behind the Iconia W4 and Venue 8 Pro with a lower Ice Storm score, in which the two machines ranked 13,905 and 14,007 points, respectively. However, the ThinkPad's faster processor made up for this deficiency in the more demanding Cloud Gate test, edging out the Dell, which could not run the test at all. Meanwhile, the Acer still managed to beat still beat the ThinkPad with 1,188 points.
Like the other tablets of its class, the ThinkPad 8 was not able to complete the Fire Strike test, which could be due to anything from an incompatible driver to the chip being pushed to its limits. The test is normally used to test real-time rendering with detail and complexity far beyond normal graphics of games today. Seeing as this is a business tablet, I would have been amazed if the ThinkPad 8 managed to finish the test.
Unfortunately, we could not gauge the CPU or GPU performance of the ThinkPad 8 in Cinebench, because the tablet has a 32-bit operating system. The latest version of the test only supports 64-bit Windows 8.1. While it's easy enough to find 32-bit versions of most business applications, it's a surprise that Lenovo chose this version of Windows 8.1, given the Intel Atom Z3770 is built on a 64-bit architecture.
While the Lenovo failed to pass the synthetic benchmarks with flying colors, in regular use the ThinkPad 8 handled multitasking desktop applications with a mix of Metro apps like a champ. Even with 25 Chrome tabs open, Spotify running, and Lightroom editing images all at the same time, the ThinkPad 8 never choked.
1080p? Try 1200p
A 1920 x 1200 resolution screen does not just look good on paper: it's a sight to behold. With such a pixel-dense screen, the ThinkPad 8 makes content look just as crisp as the current Nexus 7, which features the same pixel count. What's more, the color is balanced, without any extra saturation or hints of blue tint from the backlight. The display also boasts nearly 170-degree viewing angles all-around, which helps when sharing it to watch movies.
And while the tablet isn't a gaming machine by any stretch, it had no qualms with playing Hearthstone with the graphical settings set to low. The ThinkPad 8 also does an exceptional job with Steam's In-Home Streaming. With a wireless controller, I was able to race a gorgeous, lag-free lap of Grid 2 on my couch rather than in front of my gaming PC.
A need for odds and ends
Between its sharp screen and beefy CPU, the ThinkPad 8 is aimed at the office worker who wants to carry one machine to work and clip it into a dock at their desk. Supposedly, the Lenovo tablet is powerful enough to power an external display, or two, but TechRadar did not receive a USB 3.0 dock to test its capabilities. As for using the tablet as a standalone productivity machine, that's not quite in the cards.
Like the Microsoft Surface Pro 3, Lenovo's latest tablet needs a keyboard to fully function as a workhorse. The built-in touch keyboard is functional, but annoyingly, it fills up half of the screen in landscape and a decent portion in portrait mode.
Worse yet, the touchscreen can also be frustrating to use because of its high resolution. While the 1200p screen makes media and text look crisp, it also turns menu buttons and even taskbar icons into tiny targets that take multiple taps to trigger. Ideally, I would have liked an option to increase the size of the icons and text but Windows 8.1 only comes with an option to scale everything to a smaller size.
Bummer of a battery
The one area where ThinkPad 8 is weakest by far is battery life. Where the Iconia W4 managed to last 8 hours and 30 minutes and the Venue 8 Pro for 8 hours and 17 minutes, the Lenovo hung on for a measly 4 hours and 21 minutes on the PCMark 8 battery test.
Even on a lighter endurance run, the ThinkPad 8 only lasted for 5 hours and 18 minutes of use with everyday applications, watching a movie on Netflix, and a quick round of gaming.
The ThinkPad 8 comes with plenty of bundled software, but most of it is replaceable. Quickcast and Reach are Lenovo device-specific file transfer clients that could be traded up to more open systems, like Dropbox or Box. The same goes with Rara Music, when nearly everyone already uses Spotify or another streaming service.
The most useful piece of Lenovo's software package is Hightail, a respun version of YouSendIt with 5GB of free cloud storage for Lenovo device owners. Hightail also has a few extra perks, like digital signatures and automatic backups. Otherwise, uninstall the Companion app once you get acclimated to the device, and keep Lenovo Support for access to service and the warranty information.
The Lenovo ThinkPad 8 is the most powerful Windows 8.1 tablet to come out in 8-inch space. With its metal shell, 1920 x 1200 display, and strong CPU, it's the also the most attractive 8-inch Windows slate out there. But at the same time, it touts the shortest battery life and the biggest price tag, the latter of which sending the machine into luxury status.
The higher-resolution screen is by far the biggest selling point that makes the ThinkPad 8 stand above the rest of the competition. It's not just more pixel dense. The display simply looks gorgeous with vibrant color and plenty of contrast to show off those deep blacks.
Plus, the high-powered, 2.4Ghz Intel Atom Z3770 processor finally lets a tablet in this class multitask with ease. Where the Dell Venue 8 Pro and Acer Iconia W4 crunched under the weight of multiple apps or even one intensive desktop program, the ThinkPad 8 stands tall.
But all that extra power isn't without its cost. The ThinkPad 8 is also by far the most power-hungry 8-inch Windows tablet. It still has enough charge power through a daily commute, but be prepared to plug in or carry an external battery for anything longer than a domestic flight.
I was also completely disheartened by the buggy camera. It's one thing to have a camera that produces subpar images, it's another ordeal for it to crash the device. The ThinkPad 8 also just feels like its missing a lot of functionality to succeed as work machine. While fine for reading documents, it's a hassle to edit them with just a virtual keyboard – this is especially true of spreadsheets.
The Lenovo ThinkPad 8 is a big step up for the 8-inch class of Windows 8.1 tablets. It's the first with a higher-resolution screen and a faster chip capable of running several desktop applications at once without lag.
But, like a baby, it's bound to stumble at first. If only there were less damning bugs than a camera that crashes the entire device. (That said, this could be fixed completely through a patch.)
Sure, the ThinkPad 8 is pricier than most tablets in its class. But if you're a Windows fan, this high-end tablet is well worth the extra cash.