I recently got myself a Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet. As with most gadgets, there’s a hate/love relationship and this post is my list of pros and cons. But first – the background to why I got this device is that I wanted to
a) be able to more efficiently read RSS streams, and
b) be able to read, write and reply to e-mail.
My previous phone, a Nokia N900 fully help me achieve the e-mail tasks. It was really great in all ways related to communication (Skype, Jabber/GTalk etc). However, the browsing and blog/RSS reading experience was not really up to the level I found acceptable. It basically was too slow: I lost interest and jumping from RSS to a browser was way too slow.
This summer I got my first Android based phone, a Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc. It works good in almost every way. (The address book is terribly slow – I have just under 800 contacts and somehow that is a problem performance wise. The N900 handled this much better, and a physical keyboard also speeds up filtering and helps UX aspect.) However, reading RSS and web pages on this device I found to be too slow, again. So, while I got a device with a much greater list of available apps (which I rarely have any use for), a much worse calendar and sub-par ability to write and reply quickly to e-mail – it essentially didn’t meet my expectations. The N900 fixed task b, the Arc fails on both tasks a and b.
I will not compare this ThinkPad Tablet with an Ipad – I knew upfront that the user experience would be flawed in comparison. I’ve been using both versions 1 and 2 of the Ipad, and they simply don’t cut it. Although the major issues with version 1 (multitasking and switching between apps) has been fixed, as soon as I want to contribute/create content the Ipad runs up short. The on screen keyboard is OK if you want to type less than 140 characters, but I typically actually type when I work (I’m productive – I produce code and add value to conversations, as opposed to merely consume).
So, this is a four weeks review of the latest geadget of mine.
Meets both functional expectations, a and b (YAY!)
It works great for reading RSS (GReader Pro works almost flawlessly – only bug/feature enhancement would be to mark a an entry as read when moving away from it, not just by having opened it) and switching to a browser is acceptably slow (the switch is instant, loading the page is primarly limited to the 3G connection – the Dolphin for Pad app does a great work).
Works really well and makes great use of this screen. No lag at all, speedy and help me get work done. (However, I expected to be able to make phone calls, not sure why this is not enabled.)
Works really great on this screen
Battery is perfectly OK
I’ve only been using it for a couple of weeks by now, but it lasts a full day playing Spotify music (from local storage mostly) for 3-4 hours. Pulls/receives (push) ~50 e-mail. Pulls RSS feeds every 4th hour. It still has more than enough juice to feed my RSS reading and e-mail replying urge on the tram on my way home.
Hardware button to turn auto orientation on and off. It’s light enough to carry around. Keyboard is wonderful to type on. I don’t use the pointing device and would actually prefer to have it removed or at least disabled (note about Ctrl key below).
Format, Screen, Performance
Well, in most regards this is really a great tool – I enjoy using it more than I’m annoyed by the issues it brings (see below). It’s almost like the thin computer with detachable keyboard I guess I’m really after.
DOES NOT CHARGE BATTERY WITH NON-BRANDED CHARGER
This is insane. I feel the industry left that problem years ago. Here it comes back as an uninvited ghost. This is really ridiculous. I already have a small array of micro-USB chargers at my desk and at home. WHY OH WHY do I have to buy TWO chargers for this tablet (on for home, on backup at work – and ideally yet another one for travelling/on the move). Seriously, this is ridiculous. (However, since the battery is OK, this becomes less of an issue than one can expect. As the battery’s performance degrades, I guess this’ll become more alarming.)
Screen lock is not responsive enough
It actually is something I struggle with more than half of the times I unlock the screen. See next:
Folding tablet with keyboard doesn’t prevent waking up
Yep, If I fold it up to carry with my I have to make sure I use a really untight grip, or the “mouse” buttons at the bottom of the keyboard gets pressed, sends an event, and wakes up the screen. My only workaround is to manually lock the screen before I fold it up. But that also forces me to use the screen lock which I really don’t want to – it’s in the way of me getting work done. This is the most annoying thing about this gizmo currently.
The main problem here is that the keyboard surpasses the screen lock completely. Simply press any button twice (first wake up, next to pass the screen lock) and you’re there.
Undocking from keyboard folio
This is very doable but requires two hands, some technique and a firm hand. It’s really not convenient and I rarely succeed to undock it in under 30 seconds. Not a big issue though – I don’t have the need to unplug this very often at all.
Ctrl key doesn’t work like as expected
Ctrl+arrow keys doesn’t move a word, and thus Ctrl+Shift+arrow doesn’t select a word. I expected this to work like on any OS cramped out after 1990’s (this was “standard” on my first computer ever, an Atari STE boosted with 1024 MB RAM). This is limiting but I can live with it. (I bet you hitting Ctrl+4 in CKEditor won’t work either – changing the paragraph to a H4 headline, like in the wordpress blog editor. Actually, writing short blog entries would work but a longer one, like this one, is painfully slow.)
There’s constant buzz and “static” noise when using the wire for sound. Terrible. Workaround – use bluetooth for sound (or HDMI, not for headset though). With a lot of activity going on (not sure if it’s wifi, internal/external storage or 3G) it gets worse. It’s like the background noise of a cellphone call. Terribly annoying.
Headphone/microphone jack layout is non-standard
I have many wired headsets with a microphone. None of them works in this socket – one channel is “zeroed” out – I guess microphone and either ground or one of left/right is swapped in some way. Terribly annoying. On my Sony Ericsson Arc phone, and the N900, I could plug in either a connector with three or four fields (left, right, ground, microphone).
The accompanying headset does work but is a really sheep one. And, why ship a headset with microphone when dialing is disabled? Makes little sense to me (Skype, basic note taking/recording, voice commands – sure).
Automatic adjustment of screen brightness is not good
It jumps up and down and takes really long to adjust when moving from a light room to a dark one. I control this manually and I’ve not really seen any device handle this very good. Best in class in my opinion is Apple’s Macbook Air.
Spotify and other newly launched processes suddenly dies
When the Spotify GUI is open, at random it is reaped (I think) to clear up RAM. This kills playback and I have to restart the app. Reaping processes/apps unfortunately happens way too often. Dolphin for Pad dies 1 time out of ten launches, approximately.
3G connectivity is much worse than on Sony Ericsson Arc
It works OK, is fully acceptable, but it’s also quite easy to see that it performs much worse (data transfer wise) than compared to my Sony Ericsson Arc. Not sure if the keyboard folio is part of explanation to this.
Browsers hidden from task list
In the list of tasks that is running none of Firefox, Dolphin and the android vanilla browser. Unless it was started from the Home screen – if it’s started from an Intent from inside any other application (such as e-mail, gmail, RSS) it’s not visible in the task list. Very strange but I also think this is an Android Honeycomb 3.1 feature/bug and has nothing to do this tablet specifically.
The firmware upgrade broke keyboard support
Had to do a firmware reset (after the upgrade) to get the Swedish keyboard layout back. This means re-install everything, re-enter all passwords (WHY can’t twitter, facebook, linkedIn etc allow each other’s OAuth?) in apps and each browser (WHY can’t the Android OS provide an authentication mechanism, like Mozilla’s suggestion), re-arrange the home screen (remove all the Lenovo-fluff). Business device level of “tested” – how could this slip through, really?
Bugs or misbehaviors
Yes, there are tons of minor bugs I don’t care to much about, but will list them anyway.
- The Market app for Honeycomb is excellent and terrible. It makes good use of landscape mode, but that’s the only mode it runs in!
- You can’t review apps from the Market app – you have to open a browser, find the app (there’s no “open in browser button”) and do it that out-of-app way.
- I have bought some 10 apps to use on my phone. I’m not interested in having Talking Tom Cat on the tablet however, so I’ve chosen not to install that app. This unfortunately means that NO new apps will install just by clicking the Install button. Instead it queues up and sits in “My apps” list/view and waits for manually selecting it in that view and press Install again. It does charge my credit card right away though …
- Can’t make phone calls. It simply lacks this feature. Not important but I kind of expected this to work since I’ve seen Galaxy Tab 7″ users use their pads (tablets) as a complete phone replacement. I really could do without my phone if the tablet had call support. SMS works perfectly.
- Since phone calls aren’t supported there’s really no reason that the tablet announces a bluetooth SCO profile (phone headset – this is high priority, two way audio with lower latency and lower fidelity compared to A2DP which is high fidelity one way audio intended for video/music).
- A2DP – or at least the play/pause, next and previous-buttons on my mostly brilliant Sony Ericsson MW600 bluetooth headset doesn’t work with the tablet. It’s otherwise working great and so far I’ve had no stability or sound quality issues at all. The folio keyboard has buttons media buttons that work really well so this is not a big issue for me. It’s just that I was surprised this doesn’t work.
- Screen flashes before going to sleep. (Before it goes to sleep, the screen is dimmed on all android devices, but on this device it starts by going to full brightness and then down to something very low before coming to a short pause, then being turned off.)
- TestApp – there’s an uninstallable app called TestApp that has all rights available, eats about 70 MB of RAM. Gives no clue to what it actuall does.
- Home screen has one Android vanilla widget for gmail, one Android vanilla widget for my wendt.se IMAP account, one Android vanilla widget showing upcoming events from my (10) Google calendars, one GTasks widget showing one Google Task list, ~20 app icon/shortcuts, 3 contacts. This consumes > 100 MB of RAM. With all visible
- The Lenovo ThinkPad logos on the leather keyboard folio is located on the wrong side. Not that it bothers me, but it’s a clue of how much effort they really spent on this product.
- There should be two speakers, and none of them should be placed where you put your lap (make sure they’re on opposite sides of the device so you always something out of it, and NOT covered by the keyboard folio dock …)
- A couple of times, the e-mail app got stuck in some data transfer/synchronization mode and I’ve had to actually reboot the device to get out of that state. Has happened more than twice.
- Twice the device has rebooted spontaneously at the exact same location (at the Domkyrkan bus stop) when reading RSS on my way home. Connectivity issue lurking and a switch of GSM cells happens at this location?
This device certainly meets my initial functional requirements – I’m now on top of the constant stream of RSS feeds I want to keep up with and I’ve been writing e-mails much faster than ever before! So to that end, I’m very happy with this Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet. It also meets most secondary functions as well (spotify, calendar, …). However, there are some – or rather LOTS of – glitches that I didn’t expect to see in this rather expensive device. In total, it cost me about 600 € including the nice-looking leather keyboard folio and I really didn’t expect the “screen is activated from keyboard click when the ‘lid’ is closed” issue. If the following issues were fixed, in order, I’d be perfectly happy:
- stop activating screen/wake up when it’s folded/lid is closed
- stop killing Spotify, Dolphin and reboot
- charge from any micro USB charger (doesn’t have to be full speed, but just take whatever you get and use it in whatever way you can)
Unimportant misc notes
- I did consider getting a Transformer – but there’s no 3G on that and I don’t want to fiddle with wifi hotspot on my phone because that EATS battery and I don’t want to depend on two devices to read RSS
- The backside coating/material on the ThinkPad Tablet is much nicer compared to the Ipads’ aluminumish slippery alternative
- There might be some case+keyboard pack that would’ve worked well with the Ipad. I searched but didn’t find one. Nor did the ones I looked at for the Galaxy Tab really look like something I’d like to work with on the tram. Lenovo’s folio keyboard is a regular USB device (keyboard+pointer) and so does not contain a battery that needs charging/replacing after some time.