How we evaluate tablets
When we do a tablet evaluation, we first make certain the tablet meets the minimum specifications for the Speed school. Then we install and run required student software. We run a “SolidWorks Benchmark” as well. SolidWorks is a Computer Aided Design program that offers automatic benchmarking of computer systems. Based on the benchmark scores we can tell a little about how fast the computer calculates and draws objects on the screen.
We look at tablet durability and usability. In particular we examine how the screen is attached to the keyboard because this can be a weak spot for tablets. We try to find information about other factors, such as ordering and servicing issues if any.
Generally speaking, the evaluation units sent to us are business models rather than the consumer models sometimes sold in stores. Vendor links on the main tablet page will be available in mid-April and will point to the preferred business models where available.
We do not compare price when evaluating tablets so a unit that receives kudos from us for one feature or another might be more or less expensive than another unit. We also do not check expected delivery times. When you order your tablet be sure it will be delivered before the beginning of the Fall semester.
Evaluation Model: Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga with Pen
Specifications: Intel i7 2.1 GHZ processor, 8 GB RAM, 250 GB Solid State Drive, Wacom pen
The Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga comes highly recommended. The staff preferred the ThinkPad Yoga over some other tablets, mostly because of the sturdiness of the construction and innovative physical design.
The unit is solidly built with two strong hinges connecting the screen to the keyboard. When used as a laptop, the unit sits solidly on its base without the top-heaviness associated with some previous models. The 12.5 inch screen adjusts for any desired viewing angle. In fact, the screen doesn’t detach from the keyboard. Instead, in an interesting design, the keyboard rotates 360 degrees under the screen to form the bottom of the tablet. The keys themselves retract into the body of the unit. The tablet can also can be set up so the keyboard serves as a stand for easy viewing of movies or for showing presentations. Of course, this means the keyboard is always attached to the unit, which makes it a little heavier when used solely in tablet mode.
The particular Lenovo Yoga model we evaluated contained the faster i7 processor rather than a less expensive i5. It also had the recommended 8 GB of memory rather than 4, so we expected it to perform well when running intensive tasks, and it did. It is also available in an i5 version with 4 GB of memory.
The Solidworks benchmark scores were very high as expected with the i7 processor and 8 GB of internal memory (RAM). As with most ultrabooks, the memory is not user upgradable so you are stuck with what you purchase to begin with.
Note: The Yoga comes in several versions. The “ThinkPad” designation indicates a business class model rather than a consumer mode. Some versions of the unit do not have pens, which are required for Speed. Buyers should take care to purchase ThinkPad versions of the Yoga with Pen.
Evaluation Model: Fujitsu LIFEBOOK
T902 Specifications: Intel i7, 8GB RAM, variety of drive sizes and types available, Wacom pen
The Fujitsu T902 comes highly recommended. The staff liked the sturdiness of the design and the 13.3 inch screen, which is larger than some tablets. The unit performed exceptionally well on the benchmark tests as expected with an i7 processor and 8 GB of RAM.
The Fujitsu screen connects to the keyboard base with a swivel arrangement. The screen twists and then lays down on the keyboard to form a tablet. The connection between the screen and base appears strong enough.
There are no real criticisms of this unit except that it took some time to be shipped. If you choose the Fujitsu T902 be sure and ask about shipping time and repair time in the event you have to use the warranty or damage protection.
T734 Specifications: Intel i5, 4 GB RAM, variety of drive sizes and types available, Wacom Pen
The T734 comes with a slight smaller 12.5 inch screen than the T902. The evaluation unit had an i5 processor and 4 GB of RAM but still performed very well on the benchmark. Other processors are available for the unit. The unit is solidly built with the same swivel connection between the screen and the keyboard.
Evaluation Model: Toshiba Portege (Z10T-A-10)
Specifications: Intel i5, 4 GB RAM, 128 GB Solid State Drive, Wacom pen
The recommended model may not be available for order right now. The Toshiba Portege comes with a keyboard dock. In other words, the tablet screen portion is removable from the keyboard so the device can be used as a pure tablet or in laptop mode. As with many tablets using a removable screen design, the connector between the screen and keyboard allows some wobble. Some evaluators were concerned about the durability of the connection, but you are unlikely to find anything better with a removable screen.
The Portege also comes with a 128 GB solid state drive, which doesn’t technically meet Speed’s specification for disk size. Disk size doesn’t affect performance, however, and so the disk size in and of itself should not stop anyone from purchasing the device. Just be aware of the data storage limitations.
A criticism of the evaluation model, the Z10T-A-10, involved the range of screen adjustment when the tablet is docked to the keyboard. The screen only adjusts to 105 degrees, which is uncomfortable for viewing. In the newer model, the Z20T-A-10/11 Toshiba has corrected the deficiency and the screen adjusts to 120 degrees, which is more comfortable. The evaluation model, which contained an i5 processor and 4 GB of RAM, still managed a respectable Solidworks benchmark score. The unit is also available with an i7 processor and 8 GB of RAM. Memory upgrades are not available so you are stuck with what you purchase initially.
Note: Avoid purchasing the older Z10T-A-10 or Z10T-A-11 models. Screens on newer Z20T-A-10 or Z20T-A-11 models rotate further for a more comfortable viewing angle and newer versions of the processors use less power. These may not be available yet.
Evaluation Model: Microsoft Surface Pro 2
Specifications: Intel i5, 4 GB RAM, Windows 8.1 Pro, 128 GB Solid State Drive, WACOM Pen
The Surface comes in three flavors, the Surface, the Surface 2 and the Surface Pro 2. The Microsoft Surface Pro 2 running Windows 8.1 Pro meets minimum specifications for use at Speed, but is not recommended as the student’s primary computer. It is a great unit to use as a companion machine for another laptop or desktop. Be sure the Surface you purchase runs Windows Pro 8.1. Speed software will not function with Windows RT.
The Surface Pro 2 is small and light. It works well as a tablet to take quick notes, or to set up on a desk for small projects. It is difficult to type in laptop mode unless a hard flat surface is available because of the cantilevered stand that holds the screen up. Although the unit is fast enough to run required software and generated acceptable benchmarks, it also generated a large amount of heat. The small screen size is also an impediment to running multiple concurrent applications and to drawing large technical diagrams.
There is no internal pen slot on the Surface, so lost pens could be an issue. One reason may be that supplied pen is larger than some tablet pens and a little more comfortable to use. In addition, some have reported lengthy wait times when ordering the Surface 2. Be sure and check repair options.
Note: Avoid purchasing the Surface with Windows RT. Avoid purchasing any Surface model other than the Pro 2 because the processor does not meet the minimum standard and the other models do not have an active pen.