Info-tech

Scoping out enterprise tablets

KETAKI BHOJNAGARWALA | Updated on January 21, 2012 Published on January 15, 2012

Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet   -  Business Line

The tablet market is growing, fast. In a bid to stay ahead of the race, many manufacturers are targeting enterprise users with specialised tablets. But will it work?



It's been two years since the launch of the iPad, and the tablet market has grown phenomenally, with almost every major PC manufacturer making its entry into the tablet market. The wide range of functions tablets can perform also mean that they appeal to an even wider range of consumers. An iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab is an accessory you're likely to see in the hands of both a CEO and a student. But with a regular tablet, there's not much work-related content you can access apart from your email and documents. Manufacturers are now warming up to the game, and they realise the need for specialisation. Hence the recent spurt of enterprise-oriented tablets. Dell, Lenovo and Milagrow have already launched their ‘business' tablets, and both Motorola and Cisco have enterprise tablets in the works. So what can business users expect from an enterprise tablet? 

What's different?

While most tablets opt for a consumerist approach, enterprise tablets are much more focused on what they offer. The primary offering of such a tablet would be a good operating system, security, better hardware (read additional ports, a docking station, keyboard, etc) and enterprise-oriented apps. Of course this translates into compromises with thickness, weight and design, but overall users will be able to appreciate all the pros of a consumer tablet with the added business edge. Companies would also like to control the content their employees can access on the tablets, so there needs to be some monitoring controls in place. In order to find out exactly what benefits an enterprise tablet can offer,  eWorld decided to test the recently launched Lenovo ThinkPad tablet.

Testing

Lenovo, which acquired IBMs' ThinkPad division, launched their first tablets – the IdeaPad K1 and the ThinkPad tablet in October. While the K1 is a consumer tablet, the ThinkPad was targeted exclusively at business users.

The tablet is available in 32GB and 64GB versions, along with a 16GB Wi-Fi only version that will be available in the coming weeks. The 10-inch tablet runs  Android Honeycomb 3.1 and is powered by a NVIDIA Tegra 2 dual-core ARM processor. Apart from the onscreen Honeycomb controls, the tablet has a row of physical buttons at the bottom of the screen which include an orientation lock, browser launcher, return and home button. However they are a bit plasticky and the touchscreen controls were much easier to use.

A big addition to the tablet is the inclusion of a variety of ports – it features a full sized USB port, SD card slot, SIM card slot, mini HDMI port, mini USB port, 3.5mm headphone jack and a dock connector. The tablet also supports pen input, and is bundled along with a digital pen that can be used as a stylus, to sign documents or make notes. A Notes Mobile app is preloaded and lets you scribble down notes or convert handwriting to text. However pen input is rather sluggish and is not very accurate, unlike the HTC Flyer and Samsung Galaxy Note which were a breeze to use.

Software bundled with the tablet includes Documents To Go, which lets you create and view Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents. An added advantage is that you can sign documents with the digital pen. Other preloaded software includes Citrix which lets you control a desktop remotely and Lenovo's PrinterSharer software. A secure email client, Good For Enterprise is sold separately.

Safety is well taken care of with McAfee antivirus and SD card and tablet encryption.

Inside, the interface is identical to the IdeaPad K1, with the Lenovo launcher in the centre and the Lenovo App Store and Social Touch application included. The 1,280x800 IPS Gorilla Glass screen made for decent viewing angles but touch sensitivity was a bit sluggish when it came to responsiveness.

The winning feature of the tablet however was its hardware. The optional keyboard comes in a folio case, and the tablet fits into it perfectly via an USB connector. Users get the classic ThinkPad keyboard with a chiclet layout and the trademark red trackpoint in the centre. Once the keyboard is in place, the tablet seems much more complete. It's easy to navigate through the Android interface and makes tasks like writing reports or emails much easier.

Clearly the ThinkPad tablet has been created keeping in mind the preferences of ThinkPad loyalists, and they will find this a handy addition to their office essentials. 

The potential

So now that we've experienced an enterprise tablet, do we think it has good market potential? If they're cheap, then yes. As present, the cheapest ThinkPad tablet is Rs 29,500, and it's a Wi-Fi only model. Companies that give their employees work laptops are unlikely to supply them all with an enterprise tablet as well. For now, the market will be restricted to the IT industry and jet-setting management who need to be in constant touch with their workplace remotely.

An important aspect is that the Android operating system itself is mostly ‘consumer-oriented' and has its limitations. It will be interesting to see tablets launched on a Windows 8 platform, where users could hope for a more seamless integration with their other computing devices. Until then, enterprise laptops are still a niche segment, and most business users might find the appeal of an iPad more alluring than a ThinkPad, albeit with more restricted usability. 

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Published on January 15, 2012
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