The Writers Workbench
by Robert J. Elisberg

Take Another Tablet and Call Me In the Morning  

July, 2014  

Last month, we took a look at the less-common world of 10” Windows tablets, a fairly recent entry to the landscape that is far behind that of the more prominent iPad and Android devices, but which offers a range of productivity I find particularly impressive. I thought I’d stick with tablets for a bit of a follow-up, though from a slightly different perspective.

This month we have two very different tablets from Lenovo, which has been developing some interesting devices. I wanted to see if 8” Windows tablets were as valuable as their bigger brothers are, and also their intriguingly shaped Android product.

LENOVO YOGA TABLET (Android)

Lenovo’s Yoga tablet is an Android device that has some intriguing, indeed unique things about it, which is rare for a tablet these days. Most notably, it has an 18-hour battery life, which is remarkable. (To be clear, that number is under ideal conditions, but that’s true for any tablet’s specs.) And with a microUSB socket, this incredibly long-life battery can also (and impressively) be used to charge other devices, like your cell phone, so you don't necessarily have to carry an extra battery pack. Also, very noticeably unlike other tablets, the Yoga isn't completely flat – it has a sort of rounded "handle" on the side. This makes for a better, more comfortable grasp, and it also can fold down to a tilt stand position for typing, or as a full stand for watching movies.

(That said, I'm not 100% sold on the handle. It does make it easier to hold the tablet, though it adds some weight – in fairness, I believe that's where the batteries are installed that allow the long-life. But it also means its back won't lie down perfectly flat. It's not problematic, though, and some people might love the benefits of it. Most especially if it's what allows the 18 hours of battery life.)

The Yoga comes in both 8" and 10" models. The price retails at $249 for the smaller until, but what jumps out is its low $275 retail price for the 10” tablet.

The specs are good, not great. It has 1 MB RAM and 16 GB capacity, though with that aforementioned microSD port, you can add storage. I tested it with a 32GB card – it takes a short bit of time to access the material (photos, for instance, need some time to refresh), but it’s not terribly long, and if those aren’t the first thing you leap to after booting up, it shouldn’t be an issue at all. The Yoga doesn't have the highest resolution, nor is it the most powerful, but the display is very crisp, photos were sharp, text highly readable (though this isn’t Retina Display level) and if not fast, the unit is extremely responsive.

I like that the two speakers are on the front – and the volume control "up" button cleverly will be up even when you flip the tablet end for end. I wish there was a mute button somewhere – I didn’t expect a hardware one, but a software option would have been nice. And the sound was surprisingly respectable – a bit thin, of course, but quite crisp. And there's a slot for a SIM card. It uses a lower-end MTK processor, but as I said above, the unit seems responsive, and most importantly this MTK processor allows the price to be impressively low. The 8" model is just $249, and the 10" is only $299.

As for that processor, it ran YouTube clips smoothly, though there was occasionally a bit of issue with caching. I also checked out the “Watch ESPN” app, which lets you watch anything that’s on any of the ESPN channels live. After a few seconds getting the initially pixilated image clean, it ran quite well.

If you plan to do a lot of typing and work with the Yoga, a notable and very beneficial accessory (for the 10" tablet only) is a Bluetooth keyboard which doubles as a screen cover and retails for $70. It was very responsive, though typing feels a bit light. The keyboard might be a little small if you have big fingers, though I found it fairly reasonable to work with, albeit it’s cramped and requires a light touch. But it makes working on the tablet significantly easier than using the on-screen keyboard. There’s also a mouse touchpad which is extremely helpful. It has several good one-touch keys that take the place of many tablet commands – the only ones it can’t seem to duplicate smoothly are those that require swiping, though it does work for that. The keyboard doesn’t snap tightly closed when used as a tablet cover, but does close fine. There was only one thing about the keyboard that bothered me – to charge the device, you have to use a dedicated charging cord, since a standard micro-USB plug won’t fit. It’s not inherently a problem, just a poor design annoyance – if the keyboard loses power and you haven’t brought the cord along, you can’t simply borrow any other. Related to this, the cover of the charging port is difficult to open and flimsy. I’m concerned that repeated use could break it.

[Update: I just thought of another problem with having a proprietary charger cable: if you lose it. The reason I thought of that potential problem is…er, I lost my charger! I was doing major housecleaning, and I suspect I got too zealous. Unfortunately, Lenovo doesn’t sell spare chargers for the keyboard, so you’d have to buy a full keyboard unit again. Obviously, this isn’t an issue if, unlike me, you don’t lose your charger cable. So – don’t lose it. Always good advice with, well, pretty much anything.]

With the long battery life, you won’t have to charge the Yoga as regularly as other tablets, though when you do I had one quibble. When the device is off and charging, it doesn’t say when the battery done charging. Rather, it just shows the charging icon.

All in all, the Lenovo Yoga is a very interesting entry into the Android tablet world, that offers several features that stand out as uncommon. It might not be for power users and has some small question marks, but with its low cost for a 10” tablet and an utterly stunning battery life, it’s a worthy unit to seriously consider.

LENOVO MIIX 2 8” (Windows)

The Lenovo Miix 2 is the company’s new line of Windows tablets, the first of which has an 8” display and runs on Windows 8.1 on an Intel quad core Atom processor. It’s small and light – in the iPad Mini range, for a sense of perspective – about 12 ounces.

The device is well-made with a solid feel, and it books up wonderfully fast. The display is crisp though outpaced by higher-end Retina Display-type units, having only 1280x800 resolution. Video ran smoothly, occasionally it was a little choppy, though I suspect that was my WiFi connection at the time, because it wasn’t usually an issue. You’ll likely use the headphone jack for audio, of course, but there are rear stereo speakers which I found respectable for such a unit, though the volume couldn’t pump up very high, so unless the room is quiet you might strain to hear. (This isn’t an issue if you use earphones. There was an odd, very slight half-second lag when plugging in earphones, but after that, the sound and volume was good.)

I quite liked the tablet, though I question its strength in this small, 8” configuration. While it’s usable for typing and has an impressively responsive onscreen keyboard, you’d only want to do so for notes. Also, with a device this small, there’s no way to have a full-sized USB port, which is one of the great selling points of Windows tablets, but full USS is pretty much limited to 10” and larger models. The Lenovo just has a standard microUSB slot.

All that said, a month after initially testing the device I was at CES and came across a new accessory Lenovo introduced – a keyboard/cover. It protects the tablet and provides a built-in keyboard. I only did some minor testing, but came away impressed. It’s likely too small for chubby fingers, and for others you probably wouldn’t want to do extensive typing with it, being small. But – and this is an important “but” – you could. I found typing with the keyboard reasonably comfortable, and I’m sure once I got more used to it, things would be even better. To be clear, it’s not as smooth to use as even a moderate-sized keyboard. But it was surprisingly usable, in a limiting way. Here’s a better way to put it. If you want a big, fast, easy keyboard, this is not it – but if you want a small tablet, know that this keyboard would allow you to do real work on it.

All 8-inch models (whatever the operating system) strike me as best for email, browsing the Internet and watching videos, not working. The great strength of Windows tablets is that they’re Windows – you can run Office and install any Windows programs, and you can do actual work, not just communication and entertainment. But while it’s certainly possible to use the huge range of Windows programs on this Lenovo 8”, it would be far easier on a 10” tablet. The 8” Lenovo (as with any 8”) loses a lot of advantages that Windows tablet have.

The specs are solid. It comes with 2 GB memory, and has a Li-Polymer battery rated to last for 7 hours. There is a 5MP back camera, and 2MP front. Some models include a SIM card slot, as well. Some good software is installed. Evernote, Skype, Lenovo Cloud storage, a trial version of Office Home and Student 2013, and more.

The price is a seriously good $299 for 32 GB Flash memory version. But given how much of that is used by the operating system, I think that’s pretty small for most serious needs. (You can expand things though with the aforementioned microUSB slot.) For me, the preferable 64 GB Flash memory model is $399.

I liked the Lenovo Miix 2 8”, and was impressed that the keyboard accessory allows real work to be done. But I think Windows tablets right now are best in the 10” size and up. It’s simply better for typing, and allows for having USB ports, and most will likely have a more power processor. But – if a small tablet is precisely what you want, and if it’s essential to have one that allows you to do some basic work while away from home, an 8” Windows tablet could be valuable, and the Lenovo is a very good entry into the field. But I’d look at the 64 GB model.

TWW Notes

  • In the world of small tablets, Google’s Nexus 8 is the highly anticipated upgrade of the company’s popular Nexus 7, introduced two years ago. But though some thought it would be announced at the recent Google I/O event, it will still have to be anticipated.
  • Samsung has announced that it will be releasing six 4K television sets, using the upcoming protocol for extremely high resolution. The sets will retail between $1,000 and almost $10,000. One thing to note: great as the resolution is, right now there is almost zero content that can play on the sets.
  • One of the difficulties with Android is copying text between windows on a tablet, especially if it’s multiple instances within a document. An app called Copy Bubble – basically a “pop-up” program – might help resolve the issue. I haven’t tested it yet, but it looks worth checking out if you do much work with documents on an Android tablet.

Note: The Writers Guild of America, West neither implicitly nor explicitly endorses opinions or attitudes expressed in this article.

Copyright 2014, Robert J. Elisberg. All rights reserved.

To read more from Robert J. Elisberg about this or many other matters both large and tidbit small, see Elisberg Industries.