I recently bought myself a Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2 running Windows 8 because I want a tablet device that can really run Windows and PowerPoint when I need them, and I have found all the iPad Office solutions to be lacking in some fashion. When I saw the new Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet 2, it was love at first byte.

Like in all relationships, some of the new has worn off, and since it’s “Internet time”, it has only taken a couple of weeks as opposed to years to see my partner in a more realistic light.

So, here is my list of the good and the bad (architecturally, structurally) and bugly (things that can probably be fixed).

The Good – Excellent Hardware, Fluid and Attractive Interface

There are many good things to say about this combination:

  • It’s the lightest Windows device I have ever owned, and its general performance and usability is light years ahead of a horrible Netbook I bought for one of my sons about two years ago.
  • The hardware is excellent – Lenovo’s build quality is high and the feel is quite nice. I really like the feel of the tablet without a case compared to the iPad because it doesn’t feel like it’s going to slip out of my hand the second I turn my back. The IPS screen is bright, good viewing angle,  and colors are excellent. The 1366 x 768 resolution, which some gadget geeks complain about, seems fine – sharp, the same as the MacBook Air, better than the first two iPads and not as good as the 2000 x 1500 of the latest iPads (but I owned and iPad 3 and sold it due to the Office application issues). Performance for Office, email and casual online browsing is adequate, and video is smooth. It is obviously not a i5 Xeon, and occasionally it will hesitate when an application needs a lot of CPU cycles and/or heavy graphics, but overall more than adequate for what I want. Battery life seems to be in line with claims of 7 – 8 hours.
  • The new Windows 8 UI (often incorrectly referred to as Metro) is nice – it is fluid, the tiles take full advantage of the fact that Windows 8 is a true multitasking OS and can be “active”, actually constantly displaying content if you wish. I actually found that to be distracting and turned off the activity on most of the tiles, but “different strokes”, as they say. The gestures, while foreign to my iPad-trained fingers, are overall more functional those of IOS, IMHO. The minimalist look and feel is quite attractive, and I found the single flow of tiles to be very usable, along with the clever “charms” and “properties” menu.
  • IE10 is very good – Fast, easy to navigate, and apparently bulletproof.

The Bad – Split Brain Syndrome

My major issue is with Windows 8 and the way the new UI interface relates to the standard desktop. It really feels like two separate worlds, and the behavior reinforces that dichotomy. It took me a while to realize that “Apps” were different from applications, and there are differences in behavior between supposedly identical applications (admittedly not all of these differences are due to Microsoft – some are third-party applications). In the end I have discovered how to make things work the way I want them to, but the learning curve has been steep and often frustrating. I suppose that there is some form of Spider Man wisdom here – “With great power comes great complexity”, or something else profound, but I found it to be merely confusing.

There is also a subtle sense that all non-Microsoft products are second-class citizens (big surprise here). For example, it is possible to open and save files to and from DropBox and Google Drive as well as to Microsoft SkyDrive, but I haven’t yet found a way to make these appear in the top level places menu alongside SkyDrive.

The Bugly – It’s Got Bugs (and not all Microsoft’s)

Windows 8 is definitely a first release, and while it’s clear that Microsoft is not resting on its laurels (when I breathed life into my tablet it promptly went out and found a whole pile of updates, all successfully downloaded and installed), it can be frustrating at times. Applications do not all close reliably in the same fashion, so the Task Manager (much improved over Win 7) is now a permanent resident on both my desktop as well as a tile pinned to the new UI. ISV apps have plenty of bugs to go around as well – NetFlix causes hard crashes that require a reboot to clean up, DropBox generates messages from Windows that files cannot be recognized or have other nonexistent problems, and Kindle is just different enough to be annoying while remaining quite usable nonetheless. Ability to work with Blue tooth keyboards seems to be hit or miss. And so the story goes – new environment, new interfaces and developers must learn a bunch of new tricks. Depending on whether you are a half-full or half-empty glass sort of person, you can think of it either as having to suffer through other peoples OJT or as the opportunity to witness the birth of an entirely new computing paradigm, but it will be a fact of life for a while.

I bet you have never heard an analyst say “Gee, maybe we should wait until the first major update.”

My Conclusion

I think I’ll keep it. It does deliver on my top of the decision tree requirement – full Office application compatibility while on the road with a very lightweight device with good battery life. On that basis I recommend it to others with the same requirements to occasionally edit or produce Office documents, especially complex PowerPoint and Word documents. But enterprises may want to think before they leap before deploying this as a standard device for a population of less-skilled users. My impression is that it (Windows 8 on any tablet, not specifically Lenovo) will generate a spike in support calls and costs, and unless the users need to generate content, the iPad is still king of the hill for usability and ISV support.

As a final thought, since Microsoft has an almost comatible set of Office applications running on ARM-based Windows RT, I wonder how many gazillion dollars they could make by selling Office, particularly Word, PowerPoint and Excel, on Apple and Android devices? At somewhere between $19.99 and $39.99 per module or an annual subscription they could almost instantly dominate the tablet productivity segment, but I suspect it will take a duel to the death between the Windows product management and the applications group to make this decision. Too bad, it's a real potential goldmine.