With Microsoft enabling portrait-oriented mini-tablets in.1, PC makers have responded with several decent consumer-oriented devices. But the ThinkPad 8 is the first Windows 8.1 mini-tablet aimed at business users. And as I evaluate it over the next few weeks, I'll try to determine whether it lives up to the vaunted build quality of other ThinkPad devices and justifies the additional expense.
My initial, off the cuff reaction is that, yes, it does. The ThinkPad 8 feels solid and substantial, and while I never felt that, say, the plasticness of the Dell Venue 8 Pro was a liability per se, holding these two devices side by side makes the differences obvious.
Indeed, comparing the specs of the two mini-tablets may be a fairly obvious place to start, since I like the Venue 8 Pro quite a bit.
OS. To date, all Windows mini-tablets have shipped with the 32-bit version of Windows 8 "Core," which now includes a free copy of Office 2013 Home & Student. The ThinkPad 8 does too. But you can optionally upgrade to the more enterprise-friendly Windows 8.1 Pro 32-bit (though you'll lose the bundled Office if you do) for $100, an option not available on the Dell.
Processor. Like the Dell, the ThinkPad 8 utilizes a 64-bit "Bay Trail" Atom microprocessor. But the ThinkPad's Z3770 is rated up to 2.39 GHz, compared to the 1.8 GHz offered by the Dell's Z3740D.
RAM. The base ThinkPad 8 ships with 2 GB of RAM, which is common in this device class. (The Dell does as well.)
Display. Where the Dell utilizes a very nice 1280 x 800 IPS display, the ThinkPad 8 delivers a Full HD+ (1920 x 1200, yes 16:10) smudge-resistant IPS display. Both offer 10-point touch screens. But the ThinkPad display is stunning. And as anyone who has used Retina-class display hardware can tell you, once you've experienced this kind of pixel density, it's hard to go back.
Storage. Where the Dell offers just 32 GB of onboard storage, the base ThinkPad 8 provides double that, or 64 GB. And while it's expensive at $140, you can upgrade to 128 GB if you wish, which I think is a first for a Windows mini-tablet.
Graphics. Both tablets ship with Intel HD graphics, which is just fine for this type of device.
Wireless. The ThinkPad 8 provides dual-band Wi-Fi 802.11abgn with Wi-Di and Bluetooth 4.0, pretty standard stuff.
Expansion. Instead of micro-USB, the ThinkPad 8 offers a strange USB 3.0 Micro-B port instead. I've only seen such a plug in two places: On external USB 3.0 hard drives and on Nokia's weird Lumia 2520 tablet. While you can still plug a micro-USB cable into this port for charging, you'll need an adapter to connect any normal USB device. It also offers microSD to add more storage and micro HDMI for video out.
Battery. Here, the Dell appears to take the advantage, most likely because of the demands of the ThinkPad 8's screen, but I'll test this to be sure: The ThinkPad 8 is rated at 7 hours of battery life, compared to up to 10 hours of life.
AC adapter. Where the Dell utilizes a standard micro-USB port for charging, the ThinkPad 8 uses that strange USB 3.0 Micro-B port instead. That said, if you have any micro-USB chargers laying around—and everyone does—they work too. So that's nice.
Size and weight. At .95 pounds, the ThinkPad 8 is a bit heavier than the .87 pound Dell Venue 8 Pro. But the quality of the materials is notable. More obviously, the ThinkPad is a bit taller than the Dell in portrait mode.
Price. The ThinkPad 8 starts at $399, which is about $100 more than the normal starting price in this category. Put simply, the ThinkPad 8 does cost more, but the quality of the construction, the higher resolution screen and the additional storage more than make up for that. On paper. Again, I'll need to actually use the device to be sure.
The review unit I received is a bit non-standard: It ships with Windows 8.1 Pro, not Windows 8.1, and so does not include Office. It also includes an excellent and high quality Smart Cover that Lenovo sells for just $35. If you do get a ThinkPad 8, you simply must get this cover. It's everything the Nokia Protective Cover for Lumia 1520 is not: It's well made, connects securely with magnets, powers on and off the device when it's opened and closed, and has an ingenious little "peek-a-boo" fold so you can use the camera. Fantastic.
This is one device I'm very happy to test. I'll let you know when I've found out more.