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Lenovo Yoga Tablet review

Give me your stands, your cases, your awkward and precarious propping mechanisms

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Lenovo Yoga Tablet 1024px
Lenovo Yoga Tablet 1024px

A laptop hinge isn't something you’re supposed to think about: it opens so you can use your computer, closes when you’re done. The end. But Lenovo’s turned its swiveling parts into a genuine differentiator: the Yoga range of Windows 8 PCs is powerful, well-crafted, and eminently flexible, able to pull double duty as laptop and tablet. It’s one of the few hybrid devices I’ve seen that truly works.

Now the Chinese company is branching out, bringing hinge-induced flexibility to even more devices. It starts with the new Yoga Tablets, 8- and 10-inch Android slates that include built-in stands. At $249 for the smaller model and $299 for the larger, the Yoga Tablets are one part Nexus 7, one part Microsoft Surface 2 — and one part Ashton Kutcher.

Lenovo convinced me once that I should care about the hinges on my devices. I was ready to learn again, to find myself wondering why on Earth my iPad couldn’t stand up by itself. And then I found myself sitting down at my desk, propping up my Yoga Tablet, and trying to get down to work. Trying.

Hardware

Lenovo’s nothing if not willing to take chances in industrial design, and its confidence pays off — the Yoga Tablets are unique without being as alienating or bizarre as some of, say, Sony’s old tablet designs. Both models are just 0.12 inches thick along most of their bodies — they're incredibly thin — before curling into a large, cylindrical bottom handle. It looks for all the world like Apple's Wireless Keyboard, right down to the power button on the side. The silver metallic body is well-built, and utterly utilitarian in its design, with no flair other than its features. The 8-inch device is identical to the larger model, as if you took a scalpel and shaved off about a third; it weighs 0.88 pounds, and the larger 1.33, with most of the weight concentrated in the large, rolled-up magazine handle.

The circular bottom makes the Yoga Tablet hard to grip like you would a normal tablet — it’s top-heavy if you hold it on the sides, or just awkward placing the big corners in your palm. On the other hand, the big edge makes a comfortable grip; the Yoga Tablet is one of the most comfortable tablets to hold in one hand, because there’s something substantial to wrap your hand around. It lends itself so well to being used with a stylus — tablet in one hand, pen in the other — that it’s a shame there’s no real support built in.

The handle is the true center of the device, and its real purpose is twofold: it’s a place for Lenovo to pack a monster battery, and a place for the crazy-flexible hinge that the company’s Yoga devices have become so known for.

First, battery life is fantastic. Both models routinely lasted several days without a charge, and I found myself never even checking their batteries before throwing them in my bag. The Tablet 8 lasted 10 hours, 50 minutes on the Verge Battery Test, which is in range of the longest-lasting tablets on the market; at 8 hours, 55 minutes, the Tablet 10 scored near the top of its class as well. Like the iPad, they appear to use basically no battery when they’re not in active use either.

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Yoga hinge

The hinge sits flush with the back of the tablet, and rolls out as you twist the grip. (You can also pry it out with your fingernails, but it’s much easier to just grab the bottom of the tablet and turn.) It props the tablet up at a flexible angle perfect for watching movies, or another, smaller angle for typing on the screen. Both hold relatively steady at several angles, though when the hinge is anything but locked in its upright position the tablet tends to topple over with a hard tap on the screen. Since the upright angle is just slightly too vertical to sit on my desk, I was constantly tweaking to find the perfect, stable angle. Nevertheless, a built-in hinge is a fantastically useful addition to an Android tablet, and I rarely used the Yoga Tablets without propping them up in some way.

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You’re clearly meant to use it propped up, too, but Lenovo doesn’t quite set that up correctly. The glossy silver logo is oriented properly, but the front-facing camera is way off to the left — you’re either misaligned in the frame, or you appear to be looking off distractedly into the distance. The rear-facing lens, meanwhile, points directly into whatever table or desk you’ve placed the device on. To actually use it right, I'd be picking the Yoga Tablet up, then putting it down, then rotating it, and constantly re-adjusting the hinge. Microsoft’s Surface is designed to be used one particular way; the Yoga Tablets don’t seem to know what they’re for.

What Lenovo tried to do right, it did right. I’d welcome a hinge like this on any tablet, doing away with all the awkward stands and cases I’ve purchased just to be able look at my iPad or Nexus 7 while it sits on my desk. Offering days-long battery, too, is incredibly important and all too rare.

And that's where it ends. Beyond those two features, there’s absolutely nothing to like about the Yoga Tablets.

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The 10 has a 10.1-inch screen, and the 8’s is, well, 8 inches. They have the same 1280 x 800 resolution, which is low-end for the 8 and downright unacceptable for the 10 — both screens are just bad. They wash out colors, display jagged edges and pixelated text everywhere you look, and flicker as you do things as simple as swipe between home screens. Neither is pleasant to watch a video on, or a comfortable reading experience. (The 8, at least, shows white as white, and not the off-yellow color you’ll see on the 10.) Some sacrifice is necessary to sell these devices at these prices, but a good tablet needs a good screen; there’s nothing good about the Yoga Tablet’s displays.

It’s a shame, too. The Yoga Tablets have good, stereo, front-facing speakers, and with great displays could have found life as a bedside TV, or at the very least as a high-end digital photo frame. But as it is they’re not even fit to show you grainy photos or old standard-def Twilight Zone reruns.

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Performance

The two devices share other specs as well, mostly to similar effect. The quad-core MediaTek MT8125/8389 processor charged with powering the Yoga Tablet is clearly not up to the task: from intensive games like Asphalt 8: Airborne, which is absolutely unplayable, all the way down to utterly pedestrian activities like pulling down the notification windowshade, nothing about the Yoga Tablet ever feels fast or smooth. With a built-in hinge, the Yoga Tablet seems destined to be either a media machine or a productivity-friendly tablet — other problems aside, it's too slow to do anything well at all.

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Software

Android 4.2.2 feels slow and buggy as a result, though I’m confident Lenovo’s skin ought to share the blame. It takes Android decidedly in an iOS-like direction, with a single home screen followed by a list of all the apps you have installed. To create more, you’ll have to wade through and then close a very confusing menu just to be able to move the screens around. Lenovo also redesigned the core app icons, making nearly every one an ugly, cartoonish colorful rectangle; the redesigned settings menus belong on a Toys"R"Us rack as well. The big, thick fonts look blurry on the low-res displays, and in a perfectly representative example of Lenovo apparently not caring about this device, the "Yoga Tablet" app icon attempts to launch a demo video that didn’t actually exist on either of my review units.

The eponymous video is just one of a bizarre series of apps Lenovo bundles onto the Yoga Tablets. There’s Navigate 6, which just appears to be an inferior version of Google Maps or Waze with an interface stuck in 2002. There’s an app called Feature Guide that teaches you to use Android with a series of crude hand-drawn diagrams and instructions like "To open the Camera, go to Camera." There’s a power management app, which is handy, along with Norton’s mobile security app and the standard set of Google apps. The free Kingston Office is the only nod toward productivity among the preinstalled apps; once again, Lenovo seems to have no idea what you’re supposed to do with the Yoga Tablets. It sells a Bluetooth keyboard cover for the device, but offers little in the way of things to do with it.

Lenovo got the hinge right, and everything else wrong

A tablet with a hinge is a good idea. It’s even a good idea the particular way Lenovo’s designed it. And I'm thrilled to see someone taking chances, doing things differently, re-imagining what a tablet looks like. But a terrible tablet with a hinge is still a terrible tablet, and no matter which Yoga Tablet you buy you’re getting a terrible tablet. Bad screen, bad performance, bad software — bad tablet.

Lenovo calls the Yoga Tablet “revolutionary multimode Android tablets.” But for all the things they do, they don’t do anything well. At every turn, Lenovo’s made Android worse, while simultaneously hamstringing it with huge performance problems. And while many of the compromises are certainly made in the name of price, Google and Amazon have proven that you can build a well-made tablet with great performance and a great display for $229. Lenovo doesn’t get to make excuses about price anymore – no one does.

Sure, it’s easy to hold in one hand, and yes, I like having my tablet propped up on my desk. But I also like doing things with my tablet. And it’s in the doing things that everything about the Yoga Tablet falls apart, and sends me running back to pretty much any other tablet on the market.

Lenovo got the hinge right, and everything else wrong

A tablet with a hinge is a good idea. It’s even a good idea the particular way Lenovo’s designed it. And I'm thrilled to see someone taking chances, doing things differently, re-imagining what a tablet looks like. But a terrible tablet with a hinge is still a terrible tablet, and no matter which Yoga Tablet you buy you’re getting a terrible tablet. Bad screen, bad performance, bad software — bad tablet.

Lenovo calls the Yoga Tablet “revolutionary multimode Android tablets.” But for all the things they do, they don’t do anything well. At every turn, Lenovo’s made Android worse, while simultaneously hamstringing it with huge performance problems. And while many of the compromises are certainly made in the name of price, Google and Amazon have proven that you can build a well-made tablet with great performance and a great display for $229. Lenovo doesn’t get to make excuses about price anymore – no one does.

Sure, it’s easy to hold in one hand, and yes, I like having my tablet propped up on my desk. But I also like doing things with my tablet. And it’s in the doing things that everything about the Yoga Tablet falls apart, and sends me running back to pretty much any other tablet on the market.

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