Over the last few years, Lenovo has experimented with a number of designs for tablets, laptops and hybrids. No other company has launched so many different models which twist, flip, bend or detach in different ways. The approach seems to have paid off, though, because Lenovo has decided to extend its ideas to other parts of its portfolio.
The Yoga Tablet is an 8-inch Android device which honestly doesn’t require any of the acrobatic design we first saw in the Yoga ultrabooks. Android tablets generally don’t come with keyboards, so there isn’t anything to detach or hide away. The mechanism in question here is a kickstand that swivels around a thick cylindrical base, and allows the Yoga Tablet 8 to stand up, recline, or lie slightly raised.
There’s another reason for the cylinder’s existence: a massive 6,000mAh battery that would never have fit into such a slim body otherwise. Lenovo has made the main body of the Yoga Tablet just a few millimetres thin, but the barrel makes its base over 2cm thick which is unbelievable for devices these days. Being an 8-inch tablet, the Yoga is small enough to fit in most bags anyway, but this hump could prove to be a nuisance sometimes.
Look and feel
Other than the distinctive cylinder, the first thing you’ll notice is the Yoga Tablet is its premium finish. The classic combination of black glass and machined aluminium works very well, and the device looks great no matter which way you hold it. The screen bezel is a bit thick on the sides, but Lenovo has gone with on-screen buttons rather than capacitive ones, so there’s no visual distraction around the screen.
The stand, which folds flush with the Yoga Tablet’s back when not in use, is particularly well engineered. You can prop up this tablet at a wide range of angles. When sitting on a desk, the device looks almost like a miniature all-in-one PC, or maybe a digital photo frame. We enjoyed using it as a secondary display for things like a Twitter feed, off to the side of our primary workspaces. You can flip it over so that it lies nearly flat, with the stand propping it up like a wedge, but you can’t make it stand upright.
Looking at the Yoga Tablet as it sits on its stand, you’ll notice that all the buttons and features are clustered around the thicker base, while there isn’t much to see as the body tapers off. On the left, the barrel end is taken up by a rather large round power button, with a Micro-USB port above it. On the right, there’s a 3.5mm headset jack right in the centre of the barrel, with the volume rocker and microphone above it.
The front camera is towards the centre of the right side, which means it’s top-centre when you hold the Yoga Tablet in portrait mode. If you plan to use video chat apps, you’ll definitely want to do this rather than let it stand on a desk. This is also how you’d hold the device when reading a book or magazine, but even though there’s a thick spine, it doesn’t really feel like you’re holding a book. In fact, the asymmetrical balance of weight is very evident.
Around the back, you’ll see that even the rear camera has been placed in the barrel, which makes it slightly awkward to use. You’ll have to make sure your hands aren’t covering it, or hold the tablet upside down when taking photos.
With the stand unfolded, you’ll see a whole lot of regulatory text breaking up the textured silver finish of the rear panel along with a large logo promoting Dolby Digital Plus sound enhancement. The SIM card and microSD slots are also found here. The black dummy spacer in the microSD card slot makes it seem as though a card will stick out when it’s inserted, but it’s actually longer than actual microSD cards, which fit perfectly flush with the edge when popped in. The same goes for the Micro-SIM card slot. In order to remove either card, you’ll have to wedge a fingernail in and push gently, or use the aforementioned plastic dummy to poke them with.
Considering how integral the stand is to the Yoga Tablet’s design, we would have liked to see a little more elegance to the area revealed when it’s unfolded.
Features and specifications
At the heart of the Yoga Tablet 8 is a quad-core MediaTek MT8389 processor running at 1.2GHz. Given Lenovo’s premium aspirations with this product, we were expecting something a little beefier. We’ll let our hardware benchmarks determine if this proves to be a chink in the Yoga Tablet’s shiny armour.
The processor is supported by 1GB of DDR2 RAM, and runs Android 4.4.2. There’s 16GB of built-in storage, but you can add up to 64GB thanks to the aforementioned microSD card slot. Connectivity is taken care of with Wi-Fi b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.0.
Voice calling is supported, which seems odd considering the Yoga Tablet’s unwieldy shape. Still, it’s nice to have a SIM card slot for 3G cellular data on the go, and those who want to ignore the voice and SMS features altogether are free to do so.
The 8-inch screen is comfortable enough at a resolution of 1280×800, although this is nowhere near the sharpness of the 2013 Nexus 7, for example. Viewing angles are surprisingly good, and you can see things pretty clearly even at angles approaching 180 degrees. The 16:10 aspect ratio is a much appreciated improvement over 16:9, especially with on-screen buttons that eat up a bit of vertical screen space.
Lenovo’s Android skin is mainly cosmetic. The lock screen is similar to stock Android, but once you unlock the device, you’ll find that the usual home and menu screens have been merged into one continuous scrolling list. By default, you’ll see a screen of widgets, with two screens of app icons to the right. There’s a row of six icons that stays permanently docked to the bottom no matter which way you scroll. You can add more home screens for widgets, but these appear after the app icons.
You can tap and hold on a blank part of the screen, or pinch to “zoom out”, and you’ll be taken to a gallery where you can manage screens and jump between them quickly. You can create up to 18 such screens, which seems a bit excessive.
Lenovo has also given most of the icons a colourful square look. There are also a few preferences, such as different animations for page transitions, auto arrange icons, and basic gestures. Beyond that, there are only minor tweaks to UI elements such as menus and system icons.
One little entry in the quick settings pulldown menu is called Sound and Visual, which apparently lets you choose a screen colour profile and sound profile designed to suit the Yoga Tablet in each of its three possible positions – standing upright, lying on its spine, and held in a hand.
There are quite a few bundled Lenovo apps, including a file browser, power manager, Wi-Fi hotspot manager, and a feature guide. The feature guide is written and illustrated in a friendly way, and is helpful for anyone unfamiliar with basic Android apps and conventions. The battery manager offers a huge number of power-saving options as well as detailed graphs and charts telling you how long the device will take to charge, how long it will last on its current charge, and which components are consuming the most power.
Text instructions and labels in both, the Wi-Fi hotspot and the battery manager apps, appear to have been translated into English from another language, and you’ll find awkward gems such as “Time switch machine – close device when in sleep, help to save power” scattered around.
A Dolby app offers graphic equalisation settings such as Voice, Music and Movie, plus two custom ones.
There are also a few third-party apps, namely Accuweather and Navigate 6. Skype and Norton Mobile Security also appear to be preinstalled, but tapping their icons takes you to the Google Play store where you can download them. Apart from those, there is of course the usual complement of Google-branded apps, as well as Google Now.
Performance and Camera
We had no major complaints with the performance of the Yoga Tablet. It didn’t do particularly well in the benchmarks, but it didn’t feel sluggish in day-to-day use either. It lagged far behind the Dell Venue 8 and Xolo Play Tegra Note, two other similar-sized tablets we’ve tested recently.
We saw scores of only 4,848 in Quadrant and 13,603 in Quadrant and AnTuTu respectively, which were roughly only half as much as the scores we achieved with the Dell Venue 8, and about a third of what the Tegra Note managed.
But by far the weakest numbers came in our graphics tests. The Yoga Tablet managed only a measly 4.9fps in GFXbench – for the purpose of comparison, the Venue scored thrice as much and the Tegra Note walloped it with a score six times higher. The story was much the same in 3DMark.
We were happy enough with the viewing angles of the screen, and we noted that the Yoga Tablet managed to play a variety of 720p test videos in various formats, though with a slight lag in the beginning and when seeking. Despite the claims of Dolby-enhanced sound and the potential for housing large speakers in the cylindrical base, we found the sound to be quite tinny and compressed.
We didn’t feel any lag in the tablet’s interface, but it feel as though apps were taking longer to load than we’re used to. Given its premium look and feel, we were expecting a lot better performance, but ultimately this tablet is not suited to heavy gaming or video playback, which is a shame.
Battery life was pretty good, but not as fantastic as we were expecting after seeing the 6,000mAh capacity rating on the spec sheet. The Yoga Tablet lasted for 8 hours, 14 minutes in our video loop test, and managed to stay alive for a number of days on standby, with the charge level dipping only a few percentage points. We should note, though, that the device seemed to take forever to charge.
The camera on the Yoga Tablet was also somewhat disappointing. We noted massive compression and loss of detail in daylight photos. Colours were faded and had no pop. The same was true for video, and we also noticed jagged lines and artefacts on objects in motion, whether in the foreground or at a distance. The front camera should be okay for occasional use, but we wouldn’t want to rely on it for anything more important than a Skype conversation with friends.
The Lenovo Yoga Tablet 8 is totally original in terms of looks, and if that’s what matters most to you, you won’t have any problem with it. If you like the idea of a tablet that can stand upright on a desk on its own, there’s really nothing else like it. It’s good for most ordinary tasks, some light gaming, reading, and all your Web surfing needs.
It’s also pretty cheap if you consider the fact that it supports microSD cards and 3G data (plus voice calling and SMS, if you need those things in a tablet). The 2013 Nexus 7 might have a more conventional body, better screen and faster processor, but the 16GB model isn’t available with cellular data, and storage is not expandable. The Tegra Note is also much faster (though its screen isn’t much better), but lacks 3G connectivity.
Thus, while we were disappointed by the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 8’s performance and features, we can’t just write it off for prioritising style over substance. It isn’t too expensive for what it is, and there are plenty of folk who’d be happy to buy a tablet with cellular data at this price, even if it isn’t the fastest around. The good battery life and metal body are bonuses.
If looks are more important to you than gaming performance, you should probably give this tablet a chance. Just don’t expect too much of it, and you’ll be happy.
- 3G cellular data
- Expandable storage
- Unique look
- Decent battery life
- Low performance, especially graphics
- Disappointing camera
Ratings (Out of 5)
- Design: 4.5
- Display: 3
- Camera: 3
- Performance: 3
- Software: 3.5
- Battery Life: 4
- Value for Money: 3.5
- Overall: 3.5
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