Two tablets have recently come to market, both trying to chew into the massive advantage that the iPad has already established. Both products are coming at the market as tablets with the full PC experience and they are coming at it from different directions.
The first is the Microsoft Surface Pro tablet and it is actually an Ultrabook that looks like a tablet with all of the advantages and related disadvantages for this segment.
The second is Lenovo’s second attempt at an iPad killer, its ThinkPad Tablet 2.
These two products go after the professional market from very different angles. I’ve had a chance to carry both at length and here are my thoughts.
Surface Pro is what you’d get if you took the Intel Ultrabook spec and turned it into a tablet. It is light for a laptop and heavy for a tablet. At about 4 hours of battery life, it falls toward the low end of the Ultrabook battery range, and at just under $1,000, it falls in the middle of the Ultrabook price range.
Having carried the Surface RT product for some time prior to receiving the Surface Pro, the combination of extra weight and lower battery life initially turned me against this product. But If I was doing anything that was processor-intensive or required that I use a legacy applications, the Surface Pro performed admirably, whereas that Surface RT would have struggled or not performed at all.
This highlights the user of this product as someone who would typically want and use a notebook computer, but occasionally wants the advantage of a tablet and doesn’t plan to use that tablet as a reader (Surface Pro is just too heavy to hold for book reading times).
Like Surface RT, this product has trouble with shallow airplane tables; the kickstand can be easily pushed off the back of the table if you attempt to put the entire keyboard on the table. The result is a quick trip to the floor and while both Pro and RT are sturdy enough to take the drop, it is embarrassing and makes it hard to type at speed while flying. However, I’ve found if you use the membrane keyboard and bend it back under the kickstand and then bring a Bluetooth keyboard to type on, the solution is far more usable and there are some far better Bluetooth keyboards around than Microsoft currently offers.
This actually makes the device more usable as a laptop as well because you can more freely move the keyboard around to where it is comfortable and treat the tablet like you would a monitor (putting it on a stand or on books to raise it higher).
The ThinkPad Tablet 2 is what you’d get if you held to the iPad’s weight and cost and then tried to make it as powerful as possible. The result is a product with about one third the performance of the Surface Pro, but with a price, battery life and weight in like with a similarly configured iPad. This means the product is fine for word processing, light to medium spreadsheets and, if you close everything else, it can even do Photoshop, but it isn’t going to be great for games, editing video or anything that requires current levels of laptop performance.
It is a very light product and the optional keyboard uses Bluetooth. When the tablet is slotted into the keyboard, it forms a much more solid result than Surface Pro, but the sharper angle of the screen makes the result better on a table than your lap. It has room to spare on an airplane table with neither a kickstand nor a deep keyboard to cause problems.
On the other hand, the parts don’t nest and that means that you may want to get the optional carrier that puts both products into a portfolio when you are traveling to keep them together, to protect the screen and add to the convenience of the solution. Be aware, unlike Surface Pro, which uses a touchpad, the Tablet 2 uses a TrackPoint mouse, which works well and takes up less space, but is also less common these days.
The ThinkPad Tablet 2 has a usage mode nearly the reverse of the Surface Pro product as a result. It is best for someone who primarily wants a tablet and occasionally wants to use it as a notebook. It can be used as a reader and is weighted in line with other 10-inch products. And the ability to use it all day off power is one of its most compelling tablet features. There is a 3G/4G option for this product but it significantly increases the price of the offering to bring it more in line with Surface Pro and that is a stiff increase.
The two products are really targeted at very different user types. Surface Pro is for the user who needs the performance of a laptop and is willing to sacrifice weight and battery life to get it. Tablet 2 is for someone who wants a true tablet experience and is willing to sacrifice performance to get it. Both products make sacrifices to meet the needs of their target market.
Some additional differences are that Surface Pro has the better display but that sometimes makes the text smaller and harder to read. Also, Surface Pro clearly has an additional connector where the keyboard is, which promises additional accessories that could increase its utility later in the year. In the end though, both products are interesting and innovative in their own right; figuring out what kind of user you are will lead you to the best choice.