Friday, February 6, 2015

With 3 ways to Hold, It's Hard to Put Down the Yoga Tablet 2 from Lenovo (Review)



They have taken the enterprise laptop market by storm with the ThinkPad series after purchasing it from IBM in 2005. Now Lenovo is breaking into the mobile market with the Yoga tablet. They even purchased Motorola Mobility from Google in 2014 to advance their endeavor. Recently released in October 2014, Lenovo brings us multiple options with both size and operating systems, be it Android or Windows. Thanks to my friends at Lenovo, this past month, I've had the pleasure of using the Yoga Tablet 2, 10 inch Android model.

I had never used a Lenovo made Android device before, so I went into this review with an open mind and was ready for anything. I had a few expectations based on the fact that I have used so many other Android devices, but I couldn't wait to see how Lenovo has chosen to spin Android with their own tweaks, or design.

Yoga differentiates itself in the tablet market in a number of positive ways. No matter how you prefer to hold your tablet, or what purpose you choose use it for, Lenovo designed the Yoga Tablet 2 to fit all your needs.  From the start there are two sizes to choose from that run Android: 8 inch and 10 inch. And  they run a respectfully current version of it too, Android 4.4.2 Kit Kat. I'm glad to see that Lenovo continues to support this tablet. In fact, during my review something like that happened. Granted, the update was just minor bug fixes, no major jump in operating system version, but that's perfectly OK. Honestly, the latest and greatest isn't important if it doesn't run smoothly. Being that the very most current version of Android, Lollipop 5.0.2 is still fairly new and brings its own buggy baggage to the table, I'm sure Lenovo wants 5.0 to bake a little bit longer. I don't blame them for taking that approach. The version of Android out of the box has baked for a year now. It runs smooth, fluid, and little to no hiccups. 



In this review, I intend to walk you through my first impressions and then dive deeper into the hardware and software that makes it different from its competitors.

The Hardware
When I took the Yoga Tablet 2 out of its box, I was caught by surprise by the odd thickness of one side. It sports a round cylinder along one edge. Design wise, this cylinder has multiple functions. For instance, it houses a cylindrical shaped 9600 mAh battery. A battery of this shape and size allows for more juice and the tablet can have a thinner body. But that's not all it's good for. The rounded side also acts as a handle when viewing in a portrait position. Being that the battery is the heaviest part of the tablet, and now you are holding it directly in your hand, it counter balances the rest of the tablet so that it feels lighter in hand than it actually should.

You see, a flat battery spreads that weight across the whole tablet, making it feel perfectly balanced if held from any edge but also causing your hands muscles to literally feel that weight during use. Even though it's only 1.36 lbs, the Yoga tablet 2 "feels" like you're only holding a piece of cardboard due to this counter-balance effect.

My next observation was that this cylinder grip/battery housing also sports a rotating piece of flat metal which sat flush against the back of the device. Whatever could this be used for? At first I was a bit afraid to turn it thinking it may pop open the housing and some internals would fall out. But then I noticed a notch in the center of the metal then I knew it was meant to do something more. Giving it a twist, the flat metal rotated and then popped into a second position where you can lay the tablet flat on the table and one edge sits about 2 inches off the table at an incline. I can tell that this would be good for typing. When I picked it back up, rotated the entire tablet 180 degrees and sat it back now in a standing position. Now the metal acts as a kickstand, allowing me to watch movies in an up right landscape position.

With a built in kickstand and tilt to hold the tablet upright, this is starting to look very versatile and handy. But just like a good infomercial, that's not all. The metal stand rotates again into a third position. now it is a full 180 degrees away from the tablet and the notch or hole in the middle of the metal flap has become obvious as to its use, hanging. So I went to the kitchen, toting the Yoga tablet in hand and I went to my hardware drawer looking for a 3M hook. I used the double sided adhesive strip to hang the hook to my cabinet in the kitchen above the counter. Then I hung the tablet on the 3M hook. Perfect! The tablet is light, no worries about it falling. These 3M hooks are rated to hold a lot of weight anyway. No I tried to imagine myself cooking while watching TV or better yet...

Lenovo inspired me, believe it or not. I found a cooking YouTube video and started making dinner. I don't have a TV in the kitchen anyway, so using the tablet in this way allowed me to cook, cut, chop, pause and play my way through preparing dinner that night. I can't say a tablet has ever made me want to cook. But the Yoga Tablet 2 did.


Before I jumped into the tablets software, I wanted to become more familiar with its hardware. It's covered in an all silver casing. Metal trim with a plastic textured back with the Lenovo logo sitting dead center. If holding the tablet in landscape mode with the cylinder at the bottom, the left hand side has a micro usb charging port and a long single button for volume up and down . The power button is circular at the end of the cylinder. The right side is pretty bare except for headphone plug in the opposite end of the cylinder. The bottom has the rotating metal flap and the top has nothing at all. Rotate the metal flap away from the tablet once and hiding underneath is a micro SD card slot which supports up to an extra 64GB of external storage. 

Moving to the front, along the edge of the cylinder, you will find front facing dual Dolby Surround sound speakers, one on either end, with baked in Wolfson Master Hifi software. Not a huge connoisseur of speaker software so I just took it for a test drive. The sound was very clear. Deep bass and high treble, without spiking at all. Movies, music, or games, no matter what sound I threw at it, it was balanced and never over powered. Of course, the volume control did allow me to blast it, which is good, in a way. Meaning I wasn't left wishing there was more volume when turned all the way up. And because they are on the front, I don't have to use my hands to try to project the sound to the front.


The front is covered completely by a beautiful 10.1 inch IPS LCD display. It's 1920x1200 resolution so, it's just as good as 1080p with a few extra lines, 20 of them to be exact. Being that it is an LCD, it has a backlight which means the colors will be bright and vibrant, but at the same time, the darker colors, such as black, don't get to be a true black, but more of a gray. LCD backlights are always on no matter which color wants to shine through, so imagine covering a flashlight with a black t-shirt. It's not completely black and you still see some light coming through. Also, the edges allow some light to bleed out, but it's very minimal and only noticeable when the picture is black. Like watching a movie with letterbox edges. 

Unlike the dual front facing speakers, the internals pack a delicate punch. It sports an Intel Atom Quad Core processor and its clocked to 1.33 GHz, not to get too technical so let's give a comparison. Competitor quad core processors such as Qualcomm typically clock around 2.0 - 2.5 GHz. Not to say that much power is always warranted, but at least you can now realize the possibilities from other manufactures. Mostly known for its desktop processing power and not so much for its mobile processing, Intel is also trying to make its way into the mobile market. Finding Lenovo as a partner, should assist greatly. Paired with 2GB of RAM, it gracefully prances between apps and animations. It's not blazing fast, many aren't though, but it never once stuttered when I was jumping from app to app. Loading applications didn't keep me waiting and surfing through the internet was a pleasant experience as well. I'd say the quad core Intel and the RAM marriage is adequate for this device.

In addition, there is 16GB of storage space. If you're a gamer or just have lots of apps in general, the SD card storage will definitely come in handy. Use the settings to move all the apps you can to the SD card along with any movies, music or pictures, but always remember, not all apps have that permission.


Compared to the 7,340 battery in the iPad Air 2 or the 6,700 battery in the Nexus 9, the Yoga Tablet 2 battery is massive at 9,600 mAh and never has you longing for a wall socket. The battery lasts so long, that my tests hardly ever found it drained to anything less than 30%. After 2 days and countless hours of use, I finally managed to kill it once.

Of course, there are other typical internals included such as wifi a/b/g/n, bluetooth 4.0 low energy and GPS. But it does not, however, support near field communication (NFC). Lest we forget about the cameras. It does come with two, one on the front and one on the back. The one on the front is 1.6 MP and barely good enough for video calling. Taking selfies with it on a screen so large is pretty much abysmal. The rear camera is a slightly better story though. It is 8MP and captures some nice shots adequate for social media sharing. Settings and toggles inside the camera app will help. There aren't too many to overwhelm a user either.

Let's face it. I don't know too many people who actually take good pictures with a tablet. Also, manufactures don't push tablet cameras like they do phone cameras. While phones are typically pushing 16MP to 21MP these days, your lucky to find a tablet with a camera larger than 10MP. So I think 8MP on the Yoga Tablet 2 is very adequate. Here are a few shots. In the order of full zoom, half zoom, no zoom. Then a few more extra shots in full light because there isn't a flash paired with either camera.



The Software
Ok, now it's time to turn the page and talk about software. My very first impression is that it is a very good replica of Apple's iOS operating system on an Android tablet. Lenovo's custom tweaks on the Android operating system to turn it into an Apple mirage is almost a hypocritical step in the wrong direction for Android. However, they aren't the only manufacture to accomplish this. Huawei and Xiaomi do the same. With that decision though, one major Android UI feature is lost: No app drawer. But not gone forever.

All the apps are cluttered along the homescreens with no rhyme or reason and you are mandated to sort them out in folders if you ever want any control. Finding the app you are looking for can be too long of an adventure and sometimes leads you to believe you haven't installed it yet.. There isn't a "sort" option. Building folders was the only way to fix the randomness of app icon placement. Fortunately there is still the possibility of widgets, something Apple hasn't quite gotten right just yet. Maybe they don't want to.


The quick access to setting toggles are no longer at the top, instead Lenovo built in the replica of Apples 7.0 quick setting toggles along the bottom. Which doesn't 100% remove the capability to access Google Now, but it does make it very difficult to access. Typically you open Google Now by swiping up from the home button at the bottom of the screen. Like iOS, swiping up from the bottom of the Yoga tablet 2 opens quick toggles, 99% of the time you get those instead.

I am very glad that Android will allow you to download any number of replacement launchers from the Google Play Store, which will remove the Apple-esque experience. I did that after 5 days of use. I had to give it a go, but the limitations and no app drawer really got to me. 

There are also several Lenovo apps pre-installed. Of course all of them are meant to aid you in being more productive with the tablet, but none of them took advantage of the hardware or mechanics in any way. They were just apps that they built in a way to get you to absorb their ecosystem. By pre-installing them, Lenovo wants to try and force them into your productive life. Unfortunately, all of them have more suitable competitors available for download, and chances are your already invested in another. For example, there is a cloud based storage app giving you room to store and share files from tablet to computer and back again. Just the same as Box or Dropbox. To use this service I'd have to move all my files from one cloud to the other. Instead, I'll just install Dropbox which I've been using for years. There was no extra incentive Lenovo's service brought and held over the head of Dropbox. 

Lenovo didn't touch the built in Android settings menu too much. It was very easy and second nature to find everything I was looking for when working with the OS directly, such as storage or battery. They did however tweak the main color from black to white and made the icons brighter. Very easy to handle custom changes such as that. 

Availability
The Yoga Tablet 2 is available from multiple online retailers and a few brick and mortar stores. The best prices however are direct from Lenovo. The 10 inch version is normally $299 but on sale for $249. And the 8 inch version is $249 on sale for $229. The only color option is silver and the only memory capacity choice is 16GB.


Final Thoughts
I thoroughly enjoyed holding and using this tablet. The balance and weight made it easy to use despite its larger screen which would normally weigh it down. The screen was very nice to look at, if there were no black borders. I don't typically watch movies on the tablet, I cast them to the TV, so the letterbox movies would not personally effect my decision if I were considering the Yoga Tablet 2 as my next purchase. Gaming was a fun experience as well because of the large HD screen and vibrant LCD colors. The replication of Apple design language in the user experience on the main screen was a disappointment. I did give it a fair shot, but I eventually installed Nova Launcher so I could sort apps and clean up the homescreen. My desktop homescreen doesn't even have icons or links all over it like this tablet did.

I would honestly recommend this tablet to a friend or family member, with minimum conditions. Aside Lenovo software experience and user experience (which are unformidable), the other two drawbacks were limited storage space and camera quality. Yet, even then this is an great tablet for a child. I even debated on getting the 8 inch version for my 6 year old son to replace his aging Motorola Xoom.

Based on my recommendation, does the Yoga Tablet 2 sound like its sufficient for your next tablet device? Sound off in the comments below. And as always, ask the questions I may have left out the answers to above.

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