The Keyboard, Final Thoughts
Alongside our ThinkPad 2 review unit, Lenovo shipped an optional bluetooth keyboard stand, a companion device specifically tailored to the ThinkPad 2 which retails for about $120. Please note that the keyboard is simply a keyboard and stand -- nothing more. However, Lenovo does offer a full-on dock accessory complete with port replicator for about $100 which we did not test.
When it comes to typing on portable tablet keyboards, the bar has been set pretty low save Microsoft's TypeCover keyboard (I haven't used the TouchCover, though) for Surface. However, the EBK-209A seems like one of the most solid options out there in this niche; in fact, it even bests many laptop keyboards I've used (and I've used many).
Its chiclet style keys are surprisingly firm and responsive, particularly so given the device's shallow depth and its membrane-based inner workings. The keyboard is close in size to those found on most laptops, although the backspace and return keys have been horizontally miniaturized. Even so, their position remains roughly equivalent to a standard keyboard. The relatively satisfying key response is doubly surprising considering how quietly it operates -- an important feature for mobile devices in public spaces. I think most users will find the keyboard easy to adjust to.
Also located on the keyboard is a seemingly familiar pointer nub -- an alternative to trackpads found on most ThinkPad laptops. Unlike traditional nubs though, this one doesn't actually work like a joystick. Rather, it's equipped with a touch sensor which translates your finger swipes to cursor movements.
Admittedly, I found this pointing device clumsy and perhaps even confusing -- a touchable joystick? I routinely preferred my finger -- even the stylus -- when appropriate. I also found that I really wanted to tap-to-click the nub, much like one might tap on a touchpad. If Lenovo added a tap-to-click feature here, the pointer stick would get a weak 3 out of 5 stars here, instead of an unemphatic 2.
Lenovo describes the keyboard accessory (EBK-209A) as a “stand”. While that may be technically true, it certainly fares better as a keyboard than it does a stand. Essentially, one edge of the ThinkPad 2 nestles into a shallow channel located near the rear of the keyboard. Meanwhile, the brunt of the tablet rests precariously against a less-than-sturdy plastic kickstand. It doesn't lock or snap into place -- it just kind of sits there.
Now, it should be said the system works well enough on a solid, level surface (i.e. desk) but I found the lack of any tilt adjustment headache-inducing. Although the included literature doesn't indicate suggested usage, I do believe the EBK-209A is designed for desk use only. Its no-slip rubber feet and stabilizing rear heel are ideal features for solid surfaces.
For use anywhere else though (e.g. lap), I found the experience harrowing. The tablet weighs significantly more than the keyboard, making it top heavy and prone to fall backwards. Even though you may know better, it just feels scary -- like its going to fall the moment you lift your hands. Ironically, tilting it forward to compensate would only prompt it to fall on you rather than away from you.
Basically, if you were hoping the ThinkPad 2's keyboard would let it act like a convertible, you'll want to check out Lenovo's Yoga lineup instead.
Pairing was as simple as Bluetooth pairing can get and the battery life was plentiful. The keyboard survived two four-hour news writing sessions and week-long trip out of town before needing a charge.
Like it or not, Windows 8 on a tablet is a liberating experience, particularly if you've ever felt boxed in by Android or iOS. Even if you haven't, Windows 8 tablets are kind of the Swiss Army knife of mobile computing -- they essentially run anything your Windows PC can; this provides an incredible amount of on-the-go flexibility that apps can't always deliver. At $580 on Amazon right now, it's certainly not a bad value for a Windows 8 Pro device either.
Lenovo's ThinkPad 2 may have been designed with business users in mind, but professionals and consumers alike will be able to appreciate the good stuff it offers, namely the excellent keyboard (although the stand could use some work), great battery life, sleek yet sturdy design and a solid Windows 8 experience. Additionally, the stylus and its unique ThinkPad-esque look and feel sets it apart from the competition.
There is no shortage of input options here: a Bluetooth keyboard, pointer nub, touchscreen and stylus. While fingertips rule as a primary mode of input, having a stylus can be very useful for handwriting recognition and the type of precision work sometimes demanded by Windows 8's desktop environment. The keyboard is top notch.
The ThinkPad 2's performance and specs are so-so, but plenty adequate for most typical tablet uses. With passively-cooled Haswell chips and AMD's Temash on the way though, its Clover Trail innards are destined to become outclassed in the coming months.
Pros: Top notch keyboard (optional add-on), great battery life, plenty of input options, sleek yet sturdy design and a solid Windows 8 experience. Relatively good value.
Cons: Clover Trail processor already feels dated. Paired with the keyboard 'stand' the ThinkPad Tablet 2 isn't suited for use in anything other than solid surfaces (i.e. not your lap).