Anybody can rattle off a bunch of hardware specs and benchmarks. Not many people start battery run-down tests for fun. I try to take a different approach when it comes to hardware reviews: what’s it like to use the darn thing? Will you run into issues doing the things you’d expect to do with a device? With that in mind, I’d like to welcome you to the second installment of the Techaeris Regular Guy Review. Please keep reading for the Regular Guy Review of the Lenovo Miix 2 8 Windows Tablet.
I’ve panned the look of Windows 8 from the beginning. The live-tile experience seemed OK for phones, and maybe tablets but I wasn’t sure that the experience would transition particularly well to PC’s. Keep in mind, I said all of these things having never even touched a Windows 8 tablet or PC, and having only barely played with a Windows Phone a few years ago. The look just really didn’t speak to me. When I was given an opportunity to review the Lenovo Miix 2 8 Windows Tablet, I was excited to see if my preconceived notions about Windows 8 were accurate. I’m happy to say that they weren’t – mostly.
Hardware and Design
Out of the box the Lenovo Miix 2 8 is very thin and light – measured at .33” thin and .77 lbs. You’ll be looking at an 8 inch 1280×800 IPS multitouch display. The screen is bright and vibrant, and very easy to look at. The bezels are a good size – big enough to hold onto the smaller tablet while keeping your hand out of the viewing area, but not so big as to be distracting or to take away from the overall aesthetic of the device.
The front of the device also includes a 2MP front facing camera, and a Windows button. The back is a lightly contoured metal with a 5MP rear camera as well as a speaker grill along the top of the device. Most of the buttons and ports are located on the right side of the device (in portrait mode) and include a power button, volume rocker, Micro SD port, and Micro USB slot. A headphone jack is on the top-right corner of the device.
Overall the Miix is a nice piece of hardware. It’s thin and light but still feels very solid. It’s comfortable to hold, and the materials do not feel cheap. Simply holding the device won’t do much for you though, at some point you’ll need to turn it on.
OS and Software
The Miix is running Windows 8.1, which made for an interesting initial boot-up. I’ve already laid out my gut feelings on Windows 8, though, thankfully, Windows 8.1 reduces or eliminates some of my initial worries. The Metro UI is still present, though it does make some sense on a touchscreen device. You can also boot directly to the desktop and bypass Metro if you so choose. The OS is snappy and responsive on the Miix hardware, and I noticed only the slightest amount of lag in my time with this tablet. It transitions from landscape to portrait mode quickly, apps boot fast, etc. I didn’t throw anything particularly challenging at the hardware, but all of the apps and games I played worked without issue.
It’s a Windows machine, so plenty of my time was spent on Windows updates. I really only had one issue during an update where the Miix screen stopped responding and I had to do a hard reset. Otherwise the operation of Windows was smooth.
Re-opening previously used apps was easy, simply swipe from the left side of the screen and the apps will re-appear in the order you used them. This has some downsides when playing a game like Reaper, where the left side of the screen is used for movement. I got dumped out of the game more than a few times while playing. Swipe down from the top of the screen to either snap the active window to one side of the screen, or keep swiping down to close it. Most of my small discoveries in the OS will probably be old hat for Windows 8.1 veterans, but it was pretty easy to pick up and use even without instruction. I’m still not sure how Windows 8.1 will really work on a PC, but it does work pretty nicely on the tablet form factor.
One complaint I had is that in desktop mode the icons – particularly in the system tray to the right – are very small. Some of the OS in general just felt a bit cramped on the 8 inch screen. Touch response is honestly good, but there are a few instances where a stylus might be beneficial. I also have large hands, so your mileage may vary. To touch (ha) on the touch response again, it really is quite good. The screen shows a small visual cue for each touch, which can help if you’re having an issue tapping what you are trying to tap. Otherwise it’s subtle enough that it doesn’t get in the way.
My only other minor issue with the OS was the keyboard. Or more specifically, some OS actions relating to the keyboard. The keyboard itself was respectable, similar to the stock Android keyboard though without a swipe sort of text entry. There just seemed to be sporadic issues throughout the OS. When tapping the search button in the Windows store the keyboard comes up, but doesn’t automatically select the search box, for example. When filling out forms in IE or Chrome, the keyboard can cover up the text boxes and won’t scroll to show the next data entry point, making it difficult to confirm whether or not you’ve correctly entered the appropriate text. I was able to work around the form issue, and got in the habit of tapping the search button then immediately tapping in the search box, but I believe both issues could probably be fixed.
My main gripes with the hardware are the cameras. I’m personally of the opinion that tablets should not be used to take pictures, and the Miix certainly does help reinforce that belief. The rear facing camera isn’t that great unless lighting is perfect. Most of the pictures I took ended up looking grainy and washed out. There is a small flash on the front-facing camera, which was a nice surprise, but I wouldn’t expect any of the shots from either camera to win any awards. The rear facing camera will work in a pinch, but you almost certainly have a better camera on the phone in your pocket.
Windows’ camera software does have a nice trick though – Photo Loop. The camera app will take several pictures in a row, and allow you to choose the best of them to save. It’s nice to have the option to pick a slightly better version of the same photo when it’s available, but I still wouldn’t rely on the Miix as a camera.
The front-facing camera works well enough for video chat, where lower resolution is usually better. The small flash helps quite a lot here. I was able to use Skype without issue, and the Hangout plugin installs just as it would on a Windows PC. Skype suffers from its normal issues – stuttering video, inconsistent connection, etc. though that’s no fault of the Miix.
Lenovo lists the tablet battery life at “More than 7 hours” which is fairly accurate during regular use. I think I averaged about 8 – 9 of use hours on a charge, though that’s a rough estimate. I was completely amazed at how long the battery lasts in standby though. The Miix tablet arrived at Techaeris HQ, where Alex took some of the excellent pictures you see throughout this review. When he opened the box, the Miix was on. He hadn’t booted it up. It must have been on when it was shipped, in-transit, etc. Alex also didn’t turn the tablet off after he’d taken the pictures. Through a series of busy weekend events, I didn’t get my hands on the Miix for almost a week. When I turned it on, the battery was still at around 60% and I got a good three or four hours of use before charging.
The success or failure of nearly any tablet is tied at least in part to the apps and games available for that tablet. The Miix comes with a wide variety of Microsoft apps pre-installed such as Mail, Calendar, Maps, Xbox Music, Xbox Video, OneDrive, etc. Their look and presentation are similar, giving a good cohesion to the base set of apps. I’m pretty deeply ingrained into Google’s ecosystem, but I think that Microsoft’s offerings would be more than acceptable for someone without the same allegiance to Google. The Mail app can connect to several popular e-mail services, including Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, and of course Exchange. The News app allows you to add RSS feeds or websites to poll for news. The live tiles for news, weather, etc. update themselves and display current info as long as you’re connected to Wifi.
I was excited to see the Bing Food & Drink, and Bing Health & Fitness apps. Food & Drink is mostly a curated recipe list, configured in the typical app design. It looks nice and is easy to view/search. Heath & Fitness actually has a diet tracker and exercise tracker built in. There are also workout lists, diet examples, and health/wellness information. It’s really nice to see this built into the base software. Android has 3rd party apps available with similar functionality, but having it baked into the OS gives a more consistent experience.
The Windows store is still in its early phases. There are a lot of apps, though not the greatest selection quite yet. We saw the same with the early days of the Android Market, and even iOS so it’s possible for the Windows store to grow and evolve. The good news is that they already have a good base. The store is well organized and has lots of categories making it easy to search. As long as they maintain developer support they’ve got room to grow. More good news: since this is a Windows tablet, some software can simply be installed from the web. I was able to install and use Chrome, Paint.net, and several other programs without any issue.
I was looking forward to seeing how the Miix, and Windows 8 specifically, work with Xbox 360 and Xbox One. There are Smartglass apps available and they’re honestly about the same as their Android counterparts. I’d read about the ability to play some Xbox games on Windows 8. I was hoping to test Halo: Spartan Assault (the XBox One free Games with Gold game for June) since it’s available for both Xbox and Windows 8, but it seems that one version will not play on the other. Probably just wishful thinking on my part.
Games in general on the Miix perform well though. I downloaded a few free demos – including Reaper, as I mentioned earlier. I’ve played Reaper before on OUYA, but the touchscreen is definitely still a conducive experience for this game. I’ve mentioned the nice bright screen on the Miix already, but it does really shine when given the opportunity. Games are bright and vibrant, touch screen response is still fast and accurate. You won’t be playing Crysis on the Miix, but the games that are compatible with the system work well.
I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect when I received the Lenovo Miix 2 8 Windows Tablet, but I’m happy to report that my time with this device was quite positive. The 8 inch form factor and light weight make the Miix very comfortable to hold. The screen is bright, easy to read, and measures touch responses accurately. The only real downside of this tablet would be the cameras, but I’d probably say the same about any tablet camera that I use. That being said, I don’t think that photography – other than maybe video chatting – is really in any tablets’ wheelhouse. The Miix 2 8 tablet is perfect for reading, web browsing, some light typing, and other general media-related activities. It’s small enough to fit just about anywhere, light enough that it’s comfortable to hold and carry for long periods of time, and the screen displays whatever you throw at it very well. From my time with the Lenovo Miix 2 8, I am comfortable recommending this tablet for anyone looking for a small, inexpensive Windows tablet. I’d give the Miix 4 out of 5 stars.