MY MAIN USES: I needed a light-weighing tablet to supplement my M.B.A. Graduate program with note-taking, PDF annotating, and full Microsoft Office capabilities. Secondary to this was a need for portability during business and personal travel. All of this meant the need for a long-lasting battery.
WEIGHT: One of the main reasons why I chose the TPT2 versus other Win 8 Atom tablets is the weight. At 1.3lb, the TPT2 is the LIGHTEST Win 8 Atom Tablet. The Dell Latitude 10 is 1.5lb, the larger Samsung ATIV SmartPC 500T (with 11.6″ screen) is 1.65lb. After playing with competing tablets, the slight weight difference IS noticeable. More so, the iPad 2 is 1.33lb and the new iPad is 1.44lb. This is more of a philosophical issue, but I find that the iPad’s 4:3 (magazine-like) aspect ratio is much easier to hold than the TPT2’s 16:3 widescreen (movie-like) aspect ratio. It has to do with weight distribution since the TPT2 is a physically “longer” tablet, making it harder to hold with one-hand.
CHASSIS: The TPT2 has a rubbery surface covering every inch of the exterior, with the exception of the screen. The rubbery backing allows for you to easily grip the tablet no matter who you’re holding it. If you’ve ever used an IBM or Lenovo Thinkpad notebook, you’ll immediately feel right at home. This tactile-feel is important compared to the Samsung 500T, which has a plastic shell that can be slippery to hold.
PORTS: The TPT2 comes with a full-size USB 2.0 port, a Micro-USB port, a connector for the dock, an audio out jack, and a silo for holding the stylus pen.
BATTERY: Although not scientific, I observed at least 8 hours of continuous life throughout various uses (note-taking, old-school gaming, Pandora, etc.) with screen brightness around 35%-50%. However, I did notice a slight battery drain overnight (approximately 10% to 15%) if you choose not to plug in the tablet despite having “Sleep Mode” appropriately set. This drain is normal for most devices, but an area where the iPad trumps competition; I can leave my old iPad 2 unplugged and the battery will only have drained by 1% to 2%.
SCREEN: The 10.1″ touchscreen with a 1366×768 resolution is simply beautiful. Many folks have expressed concern about the low resolution (especially in an age where “Retina-quality” is ubiquitously marketed). In practice, I have to strain to see pixels. In day-to-day use, I don’t notice pixels.
If you want numbers, the TPT2 features the best pixel density as measured by pixels per inch (155 ppi, to be exact). In comparison, I DID notice pixilation with using the Samsung ATIV 500T; despite the same resolution, it has a larger 11.6″ screen which reduces pixel density (132 ppi). The iPad 2 also only has a 132 ppi. Only the Dell Latitude 10 has the same pixel density as the TPT2.
The TPT2 has an In-Plane Switching (“IPS”) screen. In lay terms, it means that changing viewing angles (e.g. when you shift your head) doesn’t impact color rendition. Also, color vibrancy itself is beautiful and Windows 8’s bold interface emphasizes that notion. Competitors all use IPS (or like technologies): Dell Latitude 10 uses IPS, the iPads all use IPS, and Samsung uses its “PLS” technology in the 500T.
It’s important to note that Windows 8 has some scaling issues, in general. Tablets with higher resolutions (e.g. MS’s own Surface Pro with 1920×1080) doesn’t properly scale text, icons or buttons in certain applications. Things are sometimes too small, making it very hard to use your finger to press the “File” menu in a program, for example. Lucky for the TPT2, the lower resolution mostly negates this issue. Similarly, I have no issues with finger/touch calibration (which is not the same as pen calibration).
This is subjective but I personally have no issue with the glossy anti-glare coating. I sometimes see reflections, but only if I am sitting directly in sunlight (or a very bright lightsource). Regardless, it’s no different than the gloss seen on the iPad’s or other glossy devices sitting around the house. Even in daytime use, I have no problem seeing the screen as long as I increase screen brightness to about 50%.
DIGITIZING: There are two types of digitizers: “Passive” and “Active.” Passive is equated to less accuracy (since it doesn’t have the hardware to detect pen pressure) and lacks an ability to reject your palm when you lay it on the screen. In short, it simply relies on the same touch interface that is used for your finger input. An Active Digitizer is much more accurate; it can detect changing levels in pressure, the stylus tip is accurate down to the pixel level, and it can immediately reject your palm. “Wacom” has been the king in this arena for years and is the preferred technology for many artists and professionals who digitally scribe for a living.
The TPT2 has a “Wacom” digitizer, as does the Samsung ATIV 500T and Dell Latitude 10. All of the iPad’s are Passive. To be fair, there are a few hardware add-on’s and software Apps that mitigate this weakness in the iPad, but many folks say the workarounds sound better on paper than in actual practice. Also, not all Windows 8 Atom tablets have a Wacom digitizer; they may not have one and/or have an inferior digitizer (called “N-Trig”) that is less accurate than Wacom.
For whatever reason, the stylus pen calibration is *sometimes* slightly off on the TPT2 but not in competitor tablets. When defining “slightly off,” we’re talking just a few millimeters off – enough to be noticeable but not enough to handicap non-critical work. The issue is also *sometimes* exacerbated when one holds the pen at an angle. Worse yet, it gets worse around the screen edges. I have tried re-calibrating using Windows 8’s built-in tool with no success. Many folks online have even said that the manual calibration process makes accuracy even worse than default.
The online communities aren’t sure if this is a hardware-level or software-level problem, but we’re all hoping a future driver update will fix the issue. All of that said, I am not doing any “critical” work (like sketching art), so the slight inaccuracy doesn’t bother me too much. It’s more of an annoyance, but it may drive you bonkers. Writing was very natural and I had no problem adapting from paper to screen. The pen itself has an inch-wide button that is equal to the “right-click” on a mouse. It also has a white plastic tip that is reminiscent to the tip of a standard BIC pen.
My only two complaints are: lack of eraser and pen size. Erasing anything is annoying (as the user is forced to click the “Eraser” button in a menu). Also, the pen itself is small (but this is a forgiving issue as a larger pen wouldn’t fit inside the thin tablet’s silo). Speaking of, I have never been worried about the pen falling out – it is very securely held within the silo.
PRODUCTIVITY – ONENOTE: An important distinction to point out is that there are two versions of OneNote. There is a free one in the Microsoft Store, which is limited to basic note-taking and lacks many of the powerful features in the “real” OneNote 2013 that comes with Microsoft Office suite of products. A good comparison is “Wordpad” vs. Microsoft Word. Despite the calibration issues, I love using the TPT2 with Microsoft OneNote 2013. Beyond basic note-taking, I can convert PDFs (e.g. Harvard Business Case Studies) into a OneNote-compatible format that allows me to highlight text and write notes. This has led to a drastic reduction in the number of printed documents.
PRODUCTIVITY – MS OFFICE: I am typing this review on Microsoft Word 2013 – it works FLAWLESSLY. For my M.B.A. classes, I was asked to install Excel add-ins (specifically, the “Data Analysis Plus” plug-in for Statistics purposes). This and other Excel add-ins are not compatible with Google Docs, Open Office, and other copycat software. Also, much of the business/enterprise world uses Microsoft as its backbone. You CAN run the full version of Outlook on here, you CAN use Access databases (as long as you’re not trying to compile database code), and you CAN use Macro’s prevalent in Excel. Again, these are other handicaps when you use third-party software or try to use Office-compatible apps on Android or iOS.
PRODUCTIVITY – PHOTOSHOP: Although I am a semi-professional (high amateur) photographer, I do not want to “waste” a product key on installing Photoshop or Lightroom on this device. I have other computing devices that can easily process my RAW files without breaking a sweat. Other folks have mentioned being able to lightly use Photoshop on the TPT2 with no issues, but the lack of RAM (only 2gb) hinders any excruciating Photoshop work.
GAMES: Don’t expect to play any modern PC games on the TPT2. A good rule of thumb is that anything prior to 2003 should work on the TPT2, assuming you can somehow make it work in Windows 8 to begin with. Steam is a bit slow, as expected. Even the original Half-Life chugs along when you have Settings on High. However, the TPT2 is a good excuse for loading up old-school games from the 90’s. There are stores that sell downloadable versions of old-school games. The caveat is that some games require a connected mouse and keyboard since it obviously doesn’t have a touchscreen interface. That said, I was able to play Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri with mouse and keyboard. Others folks have mentioned playing other titles like SimCity 3000 and Baldur’s Gate.
MOVIES: Netflix performance is fine on this tablet – as long as you download the Netflix app from the Microsoft Store. Browser-based Netflix (e.g. using Netflix through Internet Explorer) is poor but that’s because it uses the CPU-hungry Silverlight plug-in, and performance is an issue even on more powerful devices. Although I don’t personally toy with this and is not my area of expertise, I feel the need to point out that other folks have reported *some* success in ripping movies (at DVD-level quality), importing and playing them back on the TPT2. It seems to be a hit-or-miss that is attributable to the lack of GPU graphical processing power.
WEB BROWSING: General web browsing is great, as long as you use the included Microsoft Internet Explorer 10. Other popular browsers, such as Google’s Chrome, run pretty poorly on the TPT2. This is due to coding that hasn’t been fully optimized for low-powered Windows 8 devices. Chrome doesn’t even support pinch-to-zoom (as of this writing), a critical necessity for touchscreen devices. I was frustrated at first, but Internet Explorer is actually not a bad alternative.
CAMERA: I used the TPT2’s camera ONCE to take a picture of my cat, so my sample activity is limited. The act of photography via a tablet is quite awkward, and again, I already have semi-professional equipment for high-end photographs. For anyone who is curious though, the TPT2’s picture quality seems average, at best. Professional pundits have come to that same conclusion.
SOFTWARE: This is more of a general Windows 8 issue, but is worth mentioning. One would think that having access to decades of x86 software is useful, but a las, it is not. I really miss “Flipboard” (the popular magazine-style reader available on iOS and Android) and the Windows 8 equivalent “News Bento” doesn’t feel quite as polished. Even Microsoft’s own “Mail” app seems half-baked.
Other notable apps are missing; there is no Pandora app, no dedicated Gmail app, no Personal Assistant app (e.g. Apple Siri or Google Now), etc. Third-party alternatives are buggy, at best. You can obviously access these services through a browser, but the web interface lacks a sense of polish (especially in a touch environment). App selection will hopefully change in time, but does handicap the TPT2 if you’re used to operating in an Android or iOS environment.
CONCLUSION: If I were NOT enrolled in a Graduate program (where digitizing capabilities and portable access to Microsoft Office were unnecessary), then I see no need for an Atom-based Windows 8 tablet. Price notwithstanding, other Android and Apple tablets are more than sufficient for content consumption, and in some cases, do a better job at those basic tasks due to their superior and polished App ecosystems.
However, the more I use the Thinkpad Tablet 2 (and come to peace with its limitations), the more I come to love it. My old Vista-based laptop may have more computing might than the TPT2, but the TPT2 wins in portability, productivity and longevity – key needs in my life right now.
If you’re in the market for an Atom-tablet, and know for sure that you can live with its limitations, then by all means pull the trigger on the TPT2. It is the best Atom-tablet available in the market today. Just be ready to use that return policy, if necessary.