If one takes a narrow view of the tablet market, the largest PC makers have fared especially poorly as a group. At the launch of the iPad, HP, Dell, Acer and Lenovo had little experience with the Android ecosystem, which itself was not optimized for tablets. And Windows, their go-to operating system, was still not available in a version that would show off bold, finger-friendly tiles and yield long battery life in a slim form factor. Even now as these companies have experimented with all kinds of hinges and accessories on Windows, their Android efforts can be hard to differentiate as with HP's Slate 7 and Dell's recent 7- and 8-inch slates.
Into this spiritless landscape, Lenovo has dropped the Yoga Tablet, available in 8- and 10-inch sizes. Unlike its namesake Windows laptop, which reveals no obvious signs of its differentiation at first glance, the Yoga Tablet has a silver, cylindrical side that is reminiscent of extended laptop batteries. Indeed, it contains the battery here as well as making for a grip that is at first unfamiliar, but which allows the rest of the tablet to be very thin.
The Yoga Tablet's name makes "Yoga" a rare sub-brand that spans Windows and Android devices. To preserve the versatility behind the name, Lenovo had to get creative in its marketing of the Yoga Tablet, which includes among its three usage scenarios "hold mode" (the tablet-equivalent default of "laptop mode"), "tilt mode" (lying flat at a slight angle well-suited for typing) and "stand mode." The latter requires extending out the device's kickstand, in similar fashion to Microsoft's Surface.
Speaking of the Surface and its now-famous kickstand, the Yoga Tablet's stand allows more granularity in its tilting range, but tilting it too far back will cause the device to fall. On the other hand, the Surface's kickstand can be used vertically in a pinch while the Yoga Tablet's works only in landscape mode.
Lenovo has also released a Bluetooth keyboard cover for the 10-inch Yoga Tablet. Still, unlike the Surface, Lumia 2520, Dell Venue 11 Pro and other large Windows tablets, there seems to be less effort focused on how to recreate the laptop and more on low pricing to stay competitive with other Android tablets. As with the original Sony Tablet S' wedge design, there's something to be said for a bit of bulk at one end to help hold a large-screened device in one hand. In all, the Yoga Tablet's kickstand-enhanced cylinder helps what is otherwise a competitively priced tablet with mediocre specifications stand out, particularly in the 8-inch segment, and represents a rare, welcome and useful experimentation with the Android tablet form factor.
Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research, a research and advisory firm focusing on consumer technology adoption. He shares commentary at Techspressive and on Twitter at@rossrubin.