Lenovo Yoga Tablet review: long battery life in an otherwise disappointing device

Lenovo's Yoga Ultrabook is often name-dropped as one of the best Windows 8 convertibles out there. It's no surprise, then, that the company would want to get more mileage out of its Yoga brand. Curiously, Lenovo's chosen to expand the lineup with an Android slate: the simply named Lenovo Yoga Tablet. Like the original Yoga and the new Yoga 2 Pro, the tablet works in several positions -- in this case, thanks to a built-in kickstand. It's rated for a staggering 18 hours of battery life, as well. Oh: and newly minted Lenovo spokesman Ashton Kutcher is shilling the device, so there's that.

While Lenovo's Yoga Ultrabooks are flagship products with the price tags to match, the Yoga Tablet is surprisingly affordable: $249 for the 8-inch model, and $299 for the 10-incher. So, curious how the Yoga's acrobatic capabilities translate into a standalone slate? Read on for the full report.

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Lenovo Yoga Tablet review

Hardware

It's clear right away that this is no normal tablet. The built-in kickstand and 9,000mAh battery (that's 6,000mAh on the 8-inch version) create a bulge on the back that prevents the device from lying flat. On a flat surface, it sits at a slight angle, with the bottom of the device raised higher than the far end. Typing downhill would be a bit of a nightmare, so you'll want to rotate the device so you're working upward instead of downward. (It really bugged me that this means the Lenovo logo is always upside-down, but in the grand scheme of things it's forgivable.)

The Yoga Tablet 8 and 10 are both relatively light, at 0.88 pound and 1.33 pounds, respectively; they're definitely comfortable enough to hold for extended periods of time, and the cylindrical bottom makes for a comfortable grip. Though the Yoga Tablet's mega battery necessitates a bulky bottom end, the rest of the slate is quite thin -- try 0.12 inch (3mm) thick. In fact, Lenovo wisely opted not to stick the power button on one of the super-slim sides; instead it took advantage of the battery's wider frame and put the key on the bottom-left side. It's an unintuitive location, sure, but at least it's easy to find by feel. The volume rocker, on the other hand, is slim enough to fit on the right edge of the slate, as is the micro-USB power connection, which sits on the left side.

Other immediate impressions: The aluminum and chrome-painted design looks polished, and it feels sturdy. While the tablet doesn't closely resemble the Yoga Ultrabooks, its clean, solid build provides some continuity. The backside sports a delicate, laser-etched pattern -- the same one found on the Vibe X smartphone and the S5000 tablet Lenovo announced at IFA. Naturally, the kickstand is also on the rear side. To release it, you can wedge your fingernail into a small groove. But I'll save you the trouble of breaking a few nails and let you in on this little secret: You can also extend the kickstand by gripping the cylinder from the bottom and pulling it toward you. Much easier, though it's not a readily apparent option.

Once you've wrangled the kickstand out of its collapsed position, you can use the tablet propped up in stand mode. This is especially useful for watching movies on the slate or for following a recipe in the kitchen. That said, kickstand mode would be even better if the Yoga Tablet's screen were actually good enough to watch movies on. (Head to the next section for our full rant.) You can also extend the display back from this upright position, but don't bother: Move it more than a few degrees and it will fall backward. This design quirk seems like something Lenovo could have -- and should have -- fixed.

Display

It's "how to spot a budget tablet" 101: Both the Yoga Tablet 8 and 10 sport 1,280 x 800 resolutions, with a density of 188.7 and 149.5 pixels per inch, respectively. While this may be passable on the smaller model's 8-inch display, images and text look downright blurry on the 10-incher. On both tablets, colors appear washed out as well. The touchscreen sports a glossy finish, but thanks to IPS technology for improved viewing angles, it's not reflective to the point of inhibiting your ability to view things on-screen. Ultimately, visuals should just be crisper here. It's easy to overstate the importance of 1080p (and higher) resolutions, but the Yoga Tablet's screen is simply below-average. For that reason alone, at least, you might want to opt for the 8-inch version, where images at least look passably crisp, but still not great.

Camera

The Yoga Tablet sports a 5-megapixel camera on the rear, and a 1.6MP shooter on the front. Image quality is ho-hum, as you should expect from most tablets, but the bigger issue is the front camera's placement off to the left side of the display when you're holding the tablet in landscape mode. If you take a selfie or set up for a video call, you'll have to make a concentrated effort to not seem like you're staring off into the distance. It's not natural to look to the left, and it's especially annoying when you're trying to view something or someone on-screen while also peering into the camera. The rear camera, meanwhile, is no better located; it sits on the bottom-right corner of the slate's backside, so unless you raise the tablet several inches higher than usual, your framing will be very off. No one's buying a tablet for the cameras, but if you're going to include them, they should at least be usable, right? The placements here make them more of an annoyance than they're worth.

Performance and battery life

Lenovo Yoga Tablet LG G Pad 8.3 Galaxy Note 8.0 Nexus 7 (2013)
Quadrant 4,560 10,504 6,830 6,133
Vellamo 1,528 2,218 1,766 1,597
AnTuTu 13,388 21,277 17,687 19,755
SunSpider 1.0 (ms) 1,408 1,226 1,281 602
CF-Bench 13,122 22,926 15,128 15,366
SunSpider: lower scores are better

With a 1.2GHz quad-core MT8215/8389 processor supplemented by 1GB of RAM, the Yoga Tablet isn't outfitted to compete with the big boys. Devices with Snapdragon silicon, such as the LG G Pad 8.3 and its 600 chip, leave Lenovo's slate in the dust. In fact, the Yoga Tablet falls far toward the bottom of the pile when it comes to benchmark scores. In everyday use, too, the tablet proves to be rather slow. It's just not up to the task of playing intense racing games and the like -- and it's no speed demon at loading web pages quickly, either -- even on a stellar connection.

Lenovo rates the Yoga Tablet for up to 18 hours of use, and in our more intensive video rundown test, the Tablet 8 lasted a very strong 10 hours and eight minutes. The 10-inch version turned in a similarly impressive nine-hour, 44-minute runtime. Both of these scores are the result of playing a looped video on the devices, with WiFi on and screen brightness set to 50 percent. With more moderate use, you could easily go more than a day without reaching for a charger. Needless to say, the Yoga Tablet offers very good endurance, and that's one of the best aspects of this product.

Tablet Battery Life
Lenovo Yoga Tablet 10:08 (8-inch)/9:44 (10-inch)
Microsoft Surface 2 14:22
Apple iPad mini 12:43 (WiFi)
Apple iPad (late 2012) 11:08 (WiFi)
Apple iPad 2 10:26
ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime 10:17
Apple iPad (2012) 9:52 (HSPA) / 9:37 (LTE)
Nexus 7 (2012) 9:49
Microsoft Surface for Windows RT 9:36
Apple iPad 9:33
ASUS Transformer Prime Infinity TF700 9:25
Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 10.1 8:56
Sony Xperia Tablet Z 8:40
Hisense Sero 7 Pro 8:28
Galaxy Tab 2 7.0 7:38
HP Slate 7 7:36
Nexus 10 7:26
LG G Pad 8.3 7:19
Samsung Galaxy Note 8.0 7:18
Nexus 7 (2013) 7:15
RIM BlackBerry PlayBook 7:01

Software

"Wait, this is Android, right?" That was my thought process upon powering up the Yoga Tablet. Yes, the reassuring Play Store app and the rest of its Google counterparts are here, but Lenovo's taken a heavy hand in adjusting the presentation of Jelly Bean here. For one, there's no app tray, so you'll have to swipe left and right to view installed programs. The apps themselves, meanwhile, look oversized and gaudy. These include AccuWeather, Kingsoft Office and a shortcut to download and install Norton Mobile Security.

There are a few Lenovo utilities on board as well: Feature Guide is a manual for tablet newbies, with a walkthrough of Android and the Yoga Tablet's specific features. There's also a Yoga Tablet app which -- whoops -- consists of a demo video that couldn't be found on either of the devices I tested. Finally, there's a Power Management tool for getting the most out of the device's already-long battery life, with usage info and settings for sleep and backlight.

Configuration options and the competition

You won't have to parse many configurations of the Yoga Tablet; your options are simply the $249 8-inch model or the $299 10-incher with 16GB of built-in storage, or those same two models with 32 gigs for $269 and $309, respectively. Aside from screen size, specs are identical on both devices. You can add a Bluetooth keyboard cover (for the 10-inch version only) for an additional $70.

On the surface, Lenovo's convertible tablet seems like a good deal; you get a well-built, versatile design for less than $300. Compare specs with other slates on the market, though, and the Yoga Tablet doesn't look like such a steal. The 7-inch Kindle Fire HDX, for $229 and up, offers a far superior 1,920 x 1,200 display and more than 10 hours of battery life, for instance. If seven inches is a bit on the small side for you, check out the 8.9-inch version, though it will set you back at least $379, depending on your tolerance for Special Offers.

South of the 10-inch mark, LG's 8.3-inch G Pad is also a strong option, with a beautiful display and an attractive design. If you'd prefer a 10-inch tablet, you'll find that the Yoga is one of the cheaper options -- the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1, for instance, costs $550. Of course, there is the $399 Nexus 10, but a new version of that Google tablet is allegedly right around the corner, so you might suffer buyer's remorse if you choose not to wait it out.

If the Yoga Tablet made your shopping list, chances are you're here for the unique, multi-mode design. No competitor is currently selling anything quite like Lenovo's latest tab, though Microsoft's Surface 2 does include a kickstand. That device is significantly pricier, though, and it runs Windows RT 8.1 rather than Android. Sorry, there's just really nowhere to point you if you want something like the Yoga Tablet minus the flaws -- though we're betting you'll be happier with a more powerful device with a superior screen than one that's capable of some nifty acrobatics.

Wrap-up

Lenovo's Yoga Tablet has potential, but ultimately the device feels unfinished. It's a slate with good hardware, complete with a clever kickstand design, that rides on the esteemed Yoga name. Lenovo relied way too heavily on that branding, though; unlike the Ultrabooks with their largely high-caliber specs, the tablet sports an unacceptably mediocre display, packs a sluggish processor and delivers a bizarrely skinned version of Android 4.2. Almost everything about the Yoga Tablet experience feels cheap and shoddy. A relatively budget-friendly price and spectacular battery life lessen the damage somewhat, but ultimately that's not enough to recommend this machine.

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Lenovo

Lenovo Yoga Tablet

Pros

  • Sturdy, lightweight design
  • Offers good functionality for the price
  • Great battery life

Cons

  • Poor display
  • Sluggish performance
  • Heavily skinned version of Android
Summary

The Yoga Tablet sports an innovative kickstand design and offers great battery life, but those pluses don't make up for poor performance and a mediocre display.

Engadget Mobile Podcast 196 - 11.21.13