Lenovo Miix 2 $499
4th Apr 2014 | 13:47
Is this the Windows 8.1 tablet we've all been waiting for?
There's a long-term trend in technology for each generation of new tech to be bigger and more feature-packed than the last. But tablet PCs such as the Lenovo Miix 2 8 resolutely buck that trend. In some ways spurred on by the success of the iPad mini, manufacturers are looking to make smaller devices than previous generations, with 8-inch screens appearing to be the sweet spot.
In many ways this makes a lot of sense. Larger screens such as those found on the Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2 or the Sony Xperia Tablet Z are excellent for watching films and playing games on, but tablets with smaller screens – and therefore smaller overall body size and weight – have proven to be much more comfortable to hold, easier to carry and generally more convenient for day-to-day tasks.
Small gets sizable
Apple isn't the only company to find success with the smaller tablet form factor either. The Google Nexus 7 has proven to be a wonderful small-sized tablet, while both Amazon's Kindle Fire HDX 7 and LG's G Pad 8.3 are testament to the fact that small screen tablets can be highly desirable devices.
However, in all of these 7- and 8-inch success stories there is one glaring omission: Windows. Apple iOS and the open source Android mobile operating system are both well represented, but tablets runningWindows 8.1 or the more mobile-friendly Windows RT haven't enjoyed such a good hit rate.
That's where the Lenovo Miix 2 8 comes in.
That's not to say that 8-inch Windows 8 devices don't exist – recently we had our hands on the Acer Iconia W4 and the Toshiba Encore, to name just two. The Acer Iconia W4 is certainly a solid tablet, but it didn't really wow us, and it has yet to capture the imagination of potential users – a fate shared by many small form Windows 8 tablets.
The stage is set, then, for the Lenovo Miix 2 8 to really prove Windows 8.1's worth as a mobile, touch-friendly and versatile operating system for small screens. A lot might seem to be riding on the Lenovo Miix 2 8's success, but the rewards are high if this little tablet succeeds.
Quite possibly the most important feature of the Lenovo Miix 2 8 is its 8-inch screen. By opting for a smaller display, Lenovo has managed to keep down the size and weight of the Lenovo Miix 2 8, which in turn makes it light and small enough to comfortably carry around with you. At just 7.87 millimetres thick, and weighing just under 1lb, it's one of the nicer tablets to hold – especially in one hand.
It's diminutive size and weight doesn't mean that it feels cheap, however, and combined with an attractive design, gives the Lenovo Miix 2 8 a premium feel, even though this is a relatively inexpensive device. The screen itself takes up most of the body, and happily shaves off some of the surrounding bezel – avoiding the larger bezel of the Toshiba Encore, which made that tablet feel both more cumbersome and of lower quality.
The screen itself is long and wide, which makes it ideal for watching movies. The IPS panel used in the screen gives it good vibrancy and a wide viewing angle, and although the 1280x800 resolution is no match for the new iPad mini's Retina display, it still looks pretty good on such a small screen. The integrated five-finger multi-touch technology makes using Windows 8.1 and its apps easy, and it's fast at registering any touch gestures you perform on it.
The full 32-bit version of Windows 8.1 comes pre-installed on the Lenovo Miix 2 8, rather than Windows RT, which Microsoft designed for mobile devices with less powerful specifications. This means that as well as being able to download Windows 8.1-specific apps from Microsoft's Windows Store, you're also able to run normal Windows applications as you would on a standard desktop PC.
This means the Lenovo Miix 2 8 has the potential to be a much more versatile and flexible tablet than both a Windows RT-sporting one and any tablet that runs iOS or Android. It does come with some trade-offs, however. Windows 8 apps (along with iOS and Android ones) are designed to be easy to use with touchscreen devices with small screens – and can run quickly and smoothly even on the most modest of hardware.
In contrast, full Windows programs aren't so designed. This means they can be infuriatingly fiddly to use on a touchscreen. Small menus and tiny buttons that have been designed for mouse and keyboard can be especially awkward when jabbed with a finger or stylus, for example.
To combat this somewhat, the Lenovo Miix 2 8 has an optional case that doubles as a keyboard – which would certainly make working on the bundled Microsoft Office software much easier. Unfortunately we were not supplied with the case, so we couldn't fully test out how much (or how little) it improves productivity.
Cinebench: 1 CPU 971
A tablet that runs Windows 8.1 rather than RT needs to be more powerful in order to run the OS acceptably. The good news is that the Lenovo Miix 2 8 comes with some decent hardware considering its small size. The processor powering it all is the reasonably recent Intel Atom Z3740, running four cores at 1.33GHz.
The quad-core setup gives it plenty of oomph for multitasking, though coming with only 2GB of RAM it's a bit disappointing, especially as many of the Lenovo Miix 2 8's competitors are supplied with a much healthier 4GB.
Windows 8.1 and the various apps we tested performed perfectly fine, but having just an extra 2GB of RAM would have given the Lenovo Miix 2 8 a decent power boost and made it future-proof for the next couple of years.
Despite that proviso, the Lenovo Miix 2 8 ran Windows 8.1 perfectly well. Swiping through the Start menu and browsing Windows 8.1 apps was nice and smooth, though some apps took slightly longer to load than on more powerful tablets.
Still, we encountered no problems in the day-to-day use of Windows 8.1 on the Lenovo Miix 2 8. Performance from the small tablet was solid and dependable. However, running through a number of tasks at once (installing an application while downloading a file in another, for example) started to slow things down quite dramatically and the Lenovo Miix 2 8 struggled to keep up.
Having said that, as long as you keep your expectations in check and don't attempt to pile on too many operations at once, you should be happy with the Lenovo Miix 2 8's performance, especially at this price. Just bear in mind that Windows 8.1 games and a few casual titles are fine to play, but the integrated graphics chipset of the Lenovo Miix 2 8 isn't up to playing most triple A games.
The version we reviewed came with 32GB SSD storage. The solid-state drive made booting up and using Windows very fast, but with the full version of Windows 8.1 installed we were left with just under 10GB of usable space. There's a slightly more expensive 64GB version of the tablet available, which is probably worth getting if you want to store lots of movies, music and photos on the tablet.
The good news is that unlike Apple iPads, you can increase the storage capacity of the Lenovo Miix 2 8 with SD memory cards. This is a cheaper alternative to the 64GB product, but SD cards aren't quite as fast as built-in SSDs, so you may not want to run too many programs off them.
Choosing Windows 8.1 over Windows RT has had an effect on battery life, with the Lenovo Miix 2 8 only managing just over 3 hours of medium use, which is far less than the iPad mini or Google Nexus 7. Both of these benefit from their lighter, optimised operating systems.
The Lenovo Miix 2 8 isn't going to blow away bigger and more powerful Windows 8 tablets, such as Microsoft's own Microsoft Surface Pro 2, but it wasn't designed to. Its goal is to provide a slick and convenient way to browse the internet, watch a few movies and work on documents every now and again, and all for a good price.
We're pleased to say that it accomplishes this very well. For almost half the price of an iPad mini you get a dependable tablet that you can carry around anywhere.
The compact size and light weight of the Lenovo Miix 2 8 is a real positive. Lenovo's designers often churn out rather workmanlike devices, but they have done really well here to make the Lenovo Miix 2 8 an extremely attractive device. It's not terribly powerful, but it starts quickly and runs most apps reasonably well.
It might be powerful enough to run most lightweight Windows 8.1 apps, but when you start using full Windows applications – especially more than one – things begin to slow down. It's only really good for running apps, which makes us wonder why Lenovo bothered installing Windows 8.1 rather than the more suitable Windows RT, especially considering the impact on battery life.
For a small tablet that's easy to hold and carry around, the Lenovo Miix 2 8 doesn't get much wrong. It's certainly one of the nicer 8-inch Windows 8.1 tablet's we've tried.
For simple tasks and running full-screen apps, the Lenovo Miix 2 8 performs well. But you'll need to keep your expectations in check, as the Miix 2 8 struggles under more intensive workloads.
If you're happy with a tablet that you can quickly whip out to read the news and check your emails, then this is a great choice with a respectable price tag. But if you want a more versatile tablet that can also run normal Windows programs then we advise you to look elsewhere.