I recently scored a like new/mint ThinkPad X1 Tablet off Kijiji, and I think I have found the ultimate productivity tool for busy dads (it could work for moms too). It all started with curious mama Vee “borrowed” my iPad Pro 2020 12.9 to create sticks to sell on her Shopify store. As with any good husband, what’s yours is hers…, so this kickstarted my search for a new device to “replace” my beloved iPad Pro for work and personal use and everything else in between. I also see this as an opportunity to find a device that could potentially address some of the shortcomings of the iPad Pro.
Here are the absolute requirements for my new iPad Pro replacement:
- A screen that’s at least 12 (inches)
- A pen for note-taking, writing and marking
- A reasonable battery life
- A processor that can handle MS Office. Web surfing and Zoom calls with ease
Nice to haves:
- A proper keyboard for productivity on the go (I tried both the magic keyboard and the smart case keyboard on the iPad Pro and eventually sold it on eBay due to dissatisfaction)
- Ideally, the device should be rugged, as I plan to carry it everywhere (soccer games, swimming classes, playgrounds…etc.)
Like many dads I know who also have small kids, the budget for the new device is anything but abundant. I have set the budget at around $500 – $600 CAD. Based on the price and requirements, I have identified the following options:
- Samsung Tablets (Android for tablets)
- Entry-level Windows devices (Windows 10/11 S mode) aiming for schools
- Surface GO base model and Surface GO laptop base models
- Surface Pro devices from a few years ago
- Lenovo (Yoga, Tablets, X and T series laptops)
After further thinking, I ruled out Android and Chromebooks off my list. To be an actual productivity machine, I must have MS Office installed. Chromebooks (and iPads, too) only support the subscription-based Office 365, and most keyboard options are limited or offer no improvement over the iPad keyboard experience.
This brings me to Windows, as it checks most of the boxes I am looking for. Windows’ touch experience is not as fluid as iPads and Android, but it’s improving with every major update. Based on my budget of $500 – 600 and my preference for ThinkPads and Microsoft Surfaces, here are some of my top options in the used market:
Microsoft Surface Pro 6 with 8th gen Intel processors
I have always liked the Surfaced lineup since the very first one (Surface RT, anyone old enough to remember that thing?) The issue is that some people sell it with the keyboard and Pen, and many sell the Surface tablet itself without the keyboard and Pen. As a busy dad, ideally, I want to get the whole package at a time rather than go around assembling the whole setup.
Lenovo ThinkPad X12 Detachable
I don’t see this one often, but the idea of having a tablet with the legendary ThinkPad keyboard is something I cannot get off my mind. I hate the Apple Magic Keyboard, but, also, I’m not too fond of the MacBook Air Keyboard; ThinkPad keyboards have been my favourite since university. I saw previous listings on Kijiji for $500 – $700. Most, if NOT all, X12 Detachable comes with the Keyboard cover and the ThinkPad active pen because that’s how Lenovo sold them.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga (8th Gen i5/i7 processor)
I tried hard to like the Yoga/Flip form factor; I had 5-6 of these flip laptops, starting with the X41 tablet, X60 or X61 tablet, Asus Flip, and the last one was an IdeaPad Yoga. Unfortunately, the novelty just wears off a few weeks, and I either return them or resell them on eBay and eventually go back to my normal laptop. I am open to the idea of trying this again but being a busy dad. I can’t afford to resell it and source a replacement in the highly likely event that I don’t like it again. History tends to repeat itself, so I wrote off the Yoga series after a short consideration.
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet Gen 3 (8th Gen i5/i7 processor)
This model is similar to the X12 detachable, but it’s even less common and about 2 generations older than the X12 detachable. It’s got a gorgeous 3K screen; the price is from $400 – 700, depending on the configuration.
I found a listing on Kijiji when I was searching for a “ThinkPad Tablet” The selling is asking for $350, and the pictures show it only has 7 battery charge cycles. The seller has 4.5/5 star feedback, so I messaged him immediately to see if it’s still available.
The full spec is as follows:
Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Tablet Gen 3
- 512GB SSD
- 8GB RAM
- Keyboard cover
- ThinkPad Pro Pen
- Windows 10 Pro
- Mint Condition
The seller responded back and is willing to meet with me the next day, somewhere halfway between our locations. I was super excited, and I hadn’t been this excited about a gadget for a long, long time. I was doing a lot of research on this bad boy afterward, and it really checked most of the boxes for me based on spec. It looks like the biggest drawback is the relatively short battery life (3-5 hours). What I discovered is that there aren’t a ton of reviews on this tablet or Lenovo Windows tablet in general because they don’t sell a lot of these. The Gen 3 model is the last model released under the X1 lineup, and X12 detachable was its successor, but then that model was also discontinued. I met with the seller at Tim Horton’s, and bought the ThinkPad X1 Tablet Gen 3 @ the asking price of $350.
Field Test Results:
Initial experience: This tablet has been meeting my expectation. Unfortunately, the Pen that came with it didn’t work. I thought it was a battery problem or the nib, but none of it fixed the issue of it intermittently disconnecting when I write or draw. I was disappointed because it works almost as well as my Apple Pencil 2 when it works. I ordered the Bamboo Ink pen from Amazon, but the writing experience was a downgrade from the Lenovo pen. I was able to find the same Lenovo ThinkPad Pen Pro (also called Active Pen 2) from Amazon for $53 ish dollars. So, all in all, the true cost for this ThinkPad X1 is around $410 dollars. Still a good price.
Keyboard: The keyboard is truly amazing; it has 0 flex when you lay it out flat on a table. The typing experience is even more amazing than my L14 Gen 2 when typing in this position, and there’s some flex when you type using the tilt position or on your lap due to its thin form factor. I believe the key travel is around 1.5mm, which is the norm these days.
Screen: The 3K display is simply a joy to look at, and I don’t feel I missed anything in terms of screen quality coming from an iPad Pro 12.9. I think the resolution makes sense for a tablet as you might look at the screen closer than you’d compared to a traditional laptop. Or if you are using this tablet for picture editing. The brightness is great @ 400 nits; it means you can work outside in bright sunlight. Entry-level laptops usually have lower brightness (200 nits), which makes it very difficult to see outdoors in the sun.
The Pen: I really have high expectations of the Pen as someone coming from the Apple Pencil 2. For context, I primarily use the Pen for note-taking and journaling, so your expectations might be different for something like drawing. The Lenovo Active Pen feels great, and it has very lower latency. Overall I don’t feel “downgraded” coming from an Apple Pencil 2 user. It uses 1 AAAA battery, and the battery life should last for months. The pen holder is pretty good because it holds the Pen more securely compared to using magnets like the Apple Pencil 2.
Fingerprint reader: I really appreciate Lenovo putting the fingerprint reader on the tablet. As someone with small kids, I tend to wear my mask a lot, and therefore the face unlock option for authentication is a pain. Overall the fingerprint reader is fairly reliable; it works 80% of the time.
Battery life: The battery life is around 4 – 5 hours, give or take, on this tablet; that’s 1/3 of what I am getting from my 12.9 iPad Pro or MacBook Air. I can push it to 7 – 8 hours with battery-saver mode, but the battery can be less than 3 hrs if you push the screen brightness to the max. It’s acceptable to me; maybe I still remember the days of laptops averaging 2 hrs of runtime in the early 2000s. One solution to this problem is to get an external USB power bank, but make sure it supports 45W.
The Pen: Lenovo offers a ton of pens on their website, and it’s hard to know which Pen works for which laptop. This could be a very negative experience for someone who’s used to the simplicity of iPad pencils. Someone like Curiousmama will have a negative experience trying to find a replacement pen for this laptop.
The keyboard: The keyboard is truly amazing, except Lenovo has a different design for each of its tablets. This means you might have trouble sourcing a new replacement keyboard in the event your keyboard fails. Unlike the Surface lineup, their keyboards are cross-compatible with different generations of surface pro tablets; this could be a liability down the road when I could use this thing as a tablet only if the keyboard fails. I mean, you could get a replacement if you really want, but they go for $300 USD on eBay or directly from Lenovo. That’s almost the same price I paid for this entire tablet. To be honest, I will probably just carry a Bluetooth keyboard with me if the keyboard case somehow fails. The TrackPoint is also not as responsive as my experience with other ThinkPads; I suspect this is related to the limitation of its thin profile.
So far, I think I scored big time with this ThinkPad X1 Tablet Gen 3. The flexibility of this bad boy really fits the hectic schedule and lifestyle of parents with small children. I was able to do real work thanks to its amazing keyboard and screen real estate in my car, sofa, bed and desk. The ThinkPad built quality gives me the confidence to just throw this thing in my duffle bag, bike backpack, and the trunk, without too much worry about breaking it. Honestly, I think this is a super productivity tool for busy dads. It checked most of the boxes for me based on my scenarios.