Lenovo has built a number of Android tablets in the past, so it was logical to expect some kind of hardware update at this time of the year. Instead, we saw the introduction of a completely new line of product, with a new design language with a clear objective in mind: target the most common tablet use cases and extend the battery life for those by up to 2X while maintaining a competitive position. By doing this, Lenovo avoid a direct confrontation with the leading Android tablet: the Nexus 7 (2013) and carves its own space in which is aims to become nearly untouchable. This is not a bad strategy, but does it look as good in the real world as it does on paper? Let’s find out…
|Nexus 7 2013||Lenovo Tablet 10||Lenovo Tablet 8|
|Display||1920×1200 IPS||1280×800 IPS||1280×800 IPS|
|Size (mm)||114x200x8.65||261 x 180 x (3.0-8.1)||213 x 144 x (3.0-7.3)|
|Rear camera (MP)||5||5||5|
|Front camera (MP)||1.2||1.6||1.6|
|Processor||S4 Pro 1.5GHz||MediaTek 8125 1.2Ghz||MediaTek 8125 1.2Ghz|
|GPU||Adreno 320, 400MHz||PowerVR Series5XT||PowerVR Series5XT|
It is obvious that the industrial design of the Lenovo Yoga Tablet is completely responsible for Lenovo’s ability to use a large (and affordable) battery. The shape of the battery affects how internal chemical elements are stored and how interact with each other (surface of contact…). This needs to be balanced with specific shape requirements of the tablet design for which they will be used. A lot of batteries have a cylindrical shape and their use was very common in laptops (ultra-thin laptops have flat batteries), and other devices. Smartphones tends to have flat batteries, which are typically more expensive to produce.
The decision of using a cylindrical batteries was without a doubt motivated by the desire to reach the best possible price for the capacity, and it worked brilliantly. Now Lenovo just had to make the most of that “budge” on the side, and devised a plan to turn a weakness into a strength.
Taking a clue from Sony’s first Android tablet, Lenovo has built a good grip from that extra battery volume. Either sides of the cylinder were put to work: one became the Power button and the other, the audio 3.5mm connector. It’s very smart to have put the Power button there because tablet users often search for the power button and the symmetrical nature of tablets can make this a bit annoying at times. The Lenovo Yoga tablet solves this problem elegantly and conveniently. Both Lenovo tablets are very easy to hold with one hand, and this is a big deal for reading activities. That’s a typical peeve that iPad used to have. Apple has chosen to solve this by shedding some weight from the tablet, but that comes at a cost and still doesn’t provide a good grip. It does look thinner, however.
Secondly, the Yoga Tablet has an integrated swivel stand that can work in a slightly inclined position, or a stand-up landscape position. It allows the tablet to be used in three different orientations with some degree of freedom in between them. A slight incline is great for typing on a table while the vertical posture is more adequate for watching movies. This gives the user a large number of options, that makes the Lenovo Toga Tablet usable nearly everywhere (desk, plane, chest…).
Finally, the extra volume provided by the cylindrical section allows Lenovo to house speakers that are oriented directly towards the user when used in portrait mode. We say it often, but this is the best possible directional setup for speakers since no energy is “wasted” in bouncing the initial sound wave off a hard surface. This also makes the sound quality stable and predictable – more on that a bit later.
The stand is made of aluminum and is heavy enough to provide stability, but not to the point that it would become a handicap in terms of mobility. The rest of the body seems made of metal-looking plastic, and the back of the screen has a textured plastic cover. The build quality feels very solid and the stand in particular seem particularly tough and has a distinctive metal “cling” to it when you tap on it.
The design is quite ingenious and serves two important purposes: 1/ it allows for very high battery capacity 2/ it improves the comfort and user experience for people who care more about ergonomics than “pure looks”.
Lenovo seems to be using a regular (non-IPS) LCD display on these devices, and for the most part they look pretty good. I think that the company could have done a better job of selecting the default wallpapers since these don’t really show the display under its best light. A simple image from a rather colorful movie helps to get a better sense for how the screen would fare in a real-world situation.
The black levels are not super-impressive, especially on my 8-inch model, but I have to say that the view angles are quite respectable, and everything look globally OK. I would give it a “good +” rating since displays have become so competitive (LG still makes the best IPS displays), but I think that many people won’t pick up on the small weaknesses of the display. At the end of the day, it felt good to watch movies on both tablets.
The 1280×800 resolution works well for the 8” model, but the 10” one could have used a full 1080p resolution. A higher pixel density (in PPI) is more important for text and photos than it is for movies and games. With static images, it is easy for the human eye to see and appreciate small details and that is why very high PPI are awesome when looking at “nature photos” for example. In games and movies, the content motion makes it more difficult for the user to perceive tiny details, and the luminosity, contrast and color hues are more important in those situations.
If you are curious about the brightness of the display, I have measured the 8” model to a maximum of 498 LUX, and the 10” model climbs up to 564 LUX max brightness.
Both Lenovo Yoga Tablets run on Android 4.2.2, and Lenovo told me that they were “committed to bring updates as fast as possible”. Of course, it’s hard to tell how fast that will be, but it’s fair to say that a large portion of the population doesn’t really care “that much” about having 4.2.3 or 4.3 ASAP, and without a doubt, those who want to have fast OS updates will be tempted to get a Google or Apple tablet, which remain the best options for timely upgrades.
Lenovo is also using a custom user interface in a bid to make things easier for their customers. For instance, there is no “app screen” and everything that you install will end up directly on the home screens. This is arguably more natural for many people, especially if they don’t install a lot of apps. On the other hand, I think that Lenovo should have kept the Android icons and designs as close to “stock Android” as possible. This is largely a matter of taste, but while new icons may bring some marginal aesthetic value, they surely bring their share of confusion as well, especially if the user has another Android device as well.
Fortunately, Lenovo does not seem to have made a lot of deep Android modifications, so the amount of work required to sync up with the latest updates from Google should be more than manageable.
The Yoga Tablets seem to have been built for video-chat, and not for photography. To be fair, at this price level, there is simply no “great” camera in any tablets. There are differences that can be easily seen when comparing the Nexus 7 and the Lenovo Tablets. In general, the Yoga 10 and the Nexus 7 are neck to neck in a bright setting (1500 LUX), with the Yoga 10 taking a slight lead because its color balance is slightly better.
In low-light (25 LUX), the Nexus 7 takes the lead, but none of them are really good in a dark setting (all the images look very noisy in full size). It’s really about which one is the “less bad”. Unfortunately, the Nexus 8 is one notch below the Yoga 10 and the Nexus 7 in both situations. While I think that these cameras are good enough for the occasional video-chat, be warned that if you care about tablet photography, you may want to check at other, more expensive options from Samsung or Apple.
Those tablets can play music and video without any problem. I tested my usual 1080p MP4 files, and they all played flawlessly. These tablets won’t play a 4K video files, but since it’s not very useful today, I would hardly call that a problem. They are both very good at video playback, and in the end, it’s the quality of the display and sound that determines what the “entertainment” capabilities are. They both get our green light for that.
Gaming is a different matter however. Unfortunately, the speed of the graphics processor isn’t great, so high-end games will somewhat slow, although still playable. Casual games that demand less resources should work just fine (like 2D games). Given that games are the single most resource-intensive type of apps, I would recommend buying a faster system if you are “into gaming”. This is probably where competing against the Nexus 7 would be very tricky since it is even cheaper.
To give you an idea of what to expect, I have tried running a few games: Minecraft Pocket Edition runs fine, at least with the initial world. Riptide GP runs at 17-20FPS (I’m eyeballing here) and at the limit of what I can tolerate. Surprisingly, Real Racing 3 wasn’t too bad and also ran around 17-20FPS, thanks to the 720p resolution which is 1M pixels, versus 2M pixels for 1080p. As you can see, games technically work, but on a faster tablet, you could top 60FPS on most those games.
The speakers produce a quality sound, and the tablet comes preloaded with software from Dolby that increases the quality and allows users to use preset for their current activity: movies, music, voice, etc…
Both Lenovo Yoga Tablets use a MediaTek MT8125 SoC that has quad-core (1.2GHz) which is most likely manufactured with a 28nm process. The CPU cores use the ARM A7 design, which is slower clock for clock than the ARM A9 which is very popular. Recent processors are using A15 or custom A9 cores, which are even faster than ARM’s own A9 design. To give you an idea, this chip is about as fast as Samsung’s Exynos 4212 and just a bit slower than NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 chip.
As the gaming section may have hinted, the Lenovo Yoga Tablets aren’t exactly race horses by today’s standard. They perform identically in all the tests, so the 10” model doesn’t seem to benefit from a preferential treatment due to potentially lower thermal constraints. Whether we run CPU or graphics benchmarks, the result is similar: in terms of raw performance, these two Yoga tablets will have a hard time competing with a product like Nexus 7, which the obvious competitor. The graphs below are self-explanatory:
As for how the tablet “feels”, I think that the performance is decent. It reminds me a bit of the last-gen Android tablets, and while I can’t say that things are super-fast, the user interface is fairly responsive. The only thing that may try your patience at time is the storage performance. For example, installing a game like Real Racing 3 which unloads and unpacks about 800MB of data was noticeably longer than on the latest Android tablet we have reviewed. To me, this was the most noticeable difference during a casual utilization.
Battery Life (amazing)
The battery life is where the Lenovo Yoga tablets really shine. With about 14 hours of streaming movie playback (both the 8” and 10” perform this way), that is nearly 2X what the Nexus 7 can deliver under the same circumstances. Playing back movies that were saved on the tablet should be even better. If you want to keep busy for the 15hrs San Francisco – Hong Kong flight, this is the tablet you want.
As I said earlier, this is truly where Lenovo makes its stand. While a portion of the user population cares about gaming performance, everyone cares about battery life. This is not a bad angle to take when entering a very crowded market. Lenovo indicates that the charging time for the 10” model is around 6.5hrs, while the 8” one should take 5.5hours.
Conclusion (very good, if you seek battery life)
I was genuinely surprised (in a good way) by the Lenovo Yoga Tablet design and overall philosophy, and at the same time, I’m pleased to see that instead of trying to go head-to-head against Nexus 7 Lenovo carved a space for its Android tablet. To make a long story short, Lenovo brings the ultimate tablet battery life, at the expense of performance.
This is a great move, because I don’t think that it is possible to beat the Google Nexus 7 performance/price and make money at the same time. Google uses Nexus 7 to promote the Android tablet usage (and undermine Apple’s market at the same time) without trying to make money, but Lenovo has to build a sustainable, and profitable, business if it wants to maintain its #1 computer maker position going forward. Focusing on battery life is a great strategy: the last tablet with juice left, wins.
To wrap this up, I would say that the Lenovo Yoga Tablets is a very good choice if you don’t care about gaming and are willing to accept average performance. For a casual use, it will fulfill most people’s needs without any particular performance problems. Thanks to the integrated kickstand, the degree of convenience is quite high and of course, the battery life is vastly superior to anything in this price range. The Lenovo Yoga Tablet and the Nexus 7 are two very different beasts, so choose wisely.