Hands on: The Lenovo Yoga Tablet 8 & 10
Lenovo have come out guns-blazing this year to take on the competition with the release of their new line of Android tablets. These budget friendly wedges come with a surprising twist which Lenovo are hoping will redefine how we use tablets going into 2014.
Meet the Lenovo Yoga Tablet:
Out of the box
The Lenovo Yoga Tablet is an Android JellyBean Apple Trackpad-looking device boasting a large, cylindrical, 18 hour* battery with a modest price tag. It has a unique shape that allows it to be more comfortable in the hand and practical on the table. The battery compartment holds a stand which can be pushed out into various angles to allow for a simple, comfortable viewing experience without the need to prop it up or use a case.
These tablets are firmly aimed at the lower-end of the market, which will become more obvious as the review progresses. Both tablets come with a cable, charging block and a couple of booklets. No earphones or other niceties here, folks.
The Yoga tablet is available in two sizes: 8" and 10.1". Aside from the screen size, they have the same specifications. For this review I primarily used the 8" variant though I've had hands-on time with both.
Right out of the box the device feels a little flimsy, "plasticy" and not overly well built. The aluminium parts of the frame feel and look great but unfortunately the device has been let down by a cheap plastic cover on the back and, at least on the 8" variant, poorly fitted components; the stand is both stiff to turn and has an awful lot of play around the hinge on the one side. This isn't so much of an issue on the 10" variant from what I could see.
On the front both the 8" and 10.1" versions use the same IPS panel in their respective sizes with a resolution of 1280 x 800. That resolution is just about passable on the 8" variant, but the 10" panel lacks clarity and definition. Neither panels offer anything breath-taking, but they do the job. Under the screen sits the stereo speakers which offer a fairly decent sound, though turning it up too high lessens the sound quality quite a bit, something that hasn't been an issue on other devices I've tested. Above the screen is a 1.3mp front-facing camera.
On the left side of the device you'll find the power button. I found Lenovo's implementation to be both interesting and frustrating at the same time, I like that they've gone a little old-school with the use of a spring-loaded round, recessed power button - the type you'd find on a desktop computer - but unfortunately in practise actually pushing the button could be a lot smoother and on a few occasions got stuck, requiring further presses to release it.
Above the power button is the micro USB port and on the right side of the device you'll find the volume rocker and a standard 3.5mm headphone jack.
On the rear of the device the SIM and microSD card slots are hidden under the stand. The Lenovo supports up to 32GB of external storage in addition to the 16GB of internal storage. Considering the price of the tablet, I'm both surprised and pleased to see they're offering a decent amount of storage and the ability to expand. That isn't something you'd find on a similarly priced Nexus and is one of my constant complaints around Nexus devices. Finally, sat oddly on the corner of the device is the rear 5MP camera which produces mediocre images at best.
What's on the inside? Under the hood as already mentioned is 16GB of internal storage. Beyond that you're looking at a device with 1GB of RAM and a MediaTek 1.2GHz Quad-core processor, neither of which jumped off the page at me. In fact while they can probably get by selling the tablet with just a gig of RAM, I'm disappointed to see the use of a MediaTek processor. MediaTek chips are hardly renowned for their speed and popularity, usually instead found in cheap, Chinese Android media players and micro PCs.
With that covered, I'm going to just briefly cover the form-factor. After all, this is in fact the single greatest selling point of the Yoga tablet line isn't it? Here's the tablet side-on:
As you can see above, the tablet is a wedge-shape, gradually fattening as your eyes gaze from left to right. It's a nice looking tablet, especially from a distance, but just how practical is this design?
Lenovo are pitching the Yoga as a device perfect to hold with one hand. If you've picked up a conventional tablet recently I'm sure you can understand where Lenovo are coming from with this concept. In using the device you could initially feel like they "get it". Picking up and using the device for extended periods of time is absolutely no issue, it's fantastic to have something you can really hold on to.
Of course, that's providing you only wish to use it in portrait orientation and with one hand. Pretty much every other position simply doesn't feel quite right. The weight is distributed unevenly and holding onto the sides of the device whilst it sits in landscape orientation doesn't feel great at all, though it isn't unusable.
Then there's the stand! Lenovo suggest two methods of using it once you've twisted the stand out:
In testing both of these methods, I've found "tilt" to be a lot more useful. The angle on "stand" is too harsh and makes it less than ideal to work with. Thankfully although Lenovo don't mention it, I found it was possible to push the screen back a little which made it a lot easier to use, but too far and it'll fall over.
I'd hoped while unboxing that I'd be greeted by a nice, vanilla version of Android but that is definitely not the case here, the Yoga Tablets ship with a fairly heavily skinned version of Android 4.2.
Worse still is the fact that it hasn't been skinned very well at all. The interface is full of glitches (above) and there's an overwhelming feeling of "iPad clone" throughout the shipped launcher. Lets break it down..
Lenovo's shipped launcher is a failed attempt to copy and improve upon the iOS homescreen. There is no app drawer so if you want to access your applications you need to swipe left through page after page of applications on the homescreen.
All of the stock applications have different, strange icons that are far too cartoonish and colourful to be taken seriously and for some reason there's a perpetual menu icon on the right of the system navigation bar.
Generally navigating through the various apps and settings screens on the tablet is OK, though if you're in a rush you'll notice it stutter. Similarly, using heavier apps or playing games results in the same stuttering and lagging that is all-too common with underpowered devices. Unfortunately given Lenovo's choice of MediaTek as the powerhouse for the tablet, I'm not surprised.
Aside from the odd stuttering though, the tablet works very well for typical browsing and light to medium intensity usage. Would I buy it to play games? No. I'd leave that and other intensive tasks to something like the 2013 Nexus 7.
Coupled with a bluetooth keyboard the tablet made a pretty good device for taking notes. Again, the angle was a little off but I was able to get around that. It is unfortunate however that Microsoft doesn't yet support the Yoga and meant I couldn't use my active Office 365 subscription on the device through any other means than the browser.
The Yoga deserves it's own section for battery life. I can moan about performance, poor spec and odd weight distribution all day long but I absolutely cannot knock the Yoga's battery life. It takes quite some time to fully charge the tablet from empty, but from a full charge I found I could unplug on Friday evening and plug it back in on Monday morning with charge to spare.
Over the course of one weekend the tablet endured around 4 hours of video playback during a road trip to see family, several hours of on-and-off web-browsing over both 3G and WIFI, a little gaming and plenty of app usage (related: check out my top Android apps of 2013) including Google Music.
The device topped out at around 9 hours of screen-on time, roughly 3 times more than my phone which often undergoes similar torture and falls just short of a full day before needing to be put on charge. The Yoga battery is consistently exceptional.
It's unavoidable, the negatives seem to far outweigh the positives in this review. It's really worth reiterating that this is a budget device with budget specs and certainly isn't designed to compete with the titans of the industry.
While it's a great attempt at thinking outside of the box, the Yoga unfortunately feels rushed and unfinished. In an ideal world I'd have liked to see this device built with a little more scrutiny around build quality and a slightly better spec.
It'll certainly do the job, and for those needing a (starting from) £199 tablet optimised for single-handed usage and a battery that lasts forever it might just be the perfect device, but it's not for me.
Do you have a Lenovo Yoga Tablet? Are you considering one? Sound off in the comments or join the conversation on Google+.