For all of its ups and down, Microsoft’s Surface RT was a statement that Windows tablets could be as slim, light and sexy as the iPad, while the Surface Pro offered the full software support we’d expect from a Windows machine in a similar package.
Of course, with the Surface Pro being heavier and more expensive than its RT brother, and offering less battery life, the ideal tablet would be the full Windows 8 OS of the Pro with the light specs of the RT, wouldn’t it? That’s what Lenovo thought, with this thin, light, Intel-powered full Windows 8 tablet, the Lenovo IdeaPad Miix 10.
Like the Samsung Ativ Smart PC and the Acer Iconia W510, this is based on Intel’s new Atom processors, which offer performance and battery capabilities along the lines of what you’d expect from Apple’s iPad 4. It’s what enables the Lenovo Miix 10 to run Windows 8, but be only 9.9mm (0.4-inches) thick and weigh just 576g (1.27lbs). And like those two machines, it comes with a keyboard, so you can easily turn it into a thin and light laptop substitute.
Pulling the Lenovo Miix out of its box for the first time, the (lack of) size and weight is definitely the first thing you’ll notice. It’s nearly half the weight of the Surface Pro, and considerably lighter than the Surface RT, Samsung Ativ Smart PC or iPad 4.
The Lenovo Miix offers a 10.1-inch screen, which sits in a glossy all-black front. It’s a 16:9 screen, with a resolution of 1366 x 768, meaning that in landscape orientation it looks like most computer monitors, but in portrait orientation it looks severely tall. But then, the Lenovo branding and touch-sensitive Windows button along the wider edges make it clear that it’s designed for landscape use.
The back rounds off in shimmering silver plastic that is embarrassingly aesthetically similar to Apple’s tablet, save for the speaker strip and lack of rear camera (and removable stickers – seriously, tech companies, give this up), but it looks smart enough.
Along the edges of the device, you have a sleep/wake key, volume controls, a headphone jack, a microSD card slot, a charging plug and a micro HDMI port. There’s also a micro USB port, but it’s positioned on the bottom edge as part of where the Lenovo Miix connects to its keyboard case, meaning that it’s useless when the tablet is in its provided case.
In terms of build quality, this tablet-laptop hybrid feels distinctly average. It doesn’t creak or shift under your fingers, but there were a couple of poorly finished edges that felt sharp under our fingers. Still, we wouldn’t worry about treating it delicately – it seems hardy enough. That goes double when you use its keyboard case.
The case for the Lenovo Miix is very plastic and corporate, which is fine, because it feels solid and durable along with it. It houses the Miix’s keyboard, which is standard Lenovo fare in looks, if a little shallower.
The Lenovo Miix slots in a dock on the keyboard and is held in place with clips – to use it, you open it up and the tablet is held in place by a magnet. This means that the tablet draws power from the Lenovo Miix, rather than containing extra batteries to power the tablet, like the Acer Iconia W510 does.
The case is a fine utilitarian design, and we’ll look closer at the keyboard in the Performance section of this review, but we have a couple of gripes. First, we’re annoyed that there’s no power port in the keyboard, because it’d be great to use it as a kind of docking station, rather than always having the charging cable plugged directly into the tablet.
Our second gripe is that it doesn’t hold itself closed in any way – there’s no magnet or even a physical latch to stop it flapping open. It’s a folio design, so it would be better if it closed properly.
Perhaps more importantly (or less, depending on your intended use), there’s no trackpad. This means that you’ll be doing all of your interaction through the keyboard or touchscreen (though there is Bluetooth, if you wanted to connect a wireless mouse).
With a full price of £449.99 / US$479 (around AU$765) the Lenovo Miix 10 is well into iPad or Nexus 10 price territory, undercutting the likes of the Samsung Ativ Smart PC considerably. That said, the Surface RT price drop has made it available for under £300 online, so it’s got some competition.
The Lenovo Miix 10 is a tablet that runs full Windows 8 (not Windows RT), yet is less than a centimetre thick. This is thanks to Intel’s latest Atom chips, known as Clover Trail, which are designed to offer the kind of battery life you expect from tablets, combined with the power to run normal Windows programs.
Specifically, the Lenovo Miix uses the Intel Atom Z2760 processor, which is a 1.8GHz dual-core chip, though it does feature Hyper-Threading, so can act as four virtual cores.
Now, when you consider that some recent laptops that use Intel’s shiny new Haswell chips, such as the MacBook Air, run at a much lower clock speed than this while being dual-core, you might think that this is a fairly powerful machine.
However, the chips used here are much simpler than full laptop processors, such as those used in the Surface Pro. This is the exact same CPU used in the Samsung Ativ Smart PC and Acer Iconia W510, meaning that it’s roughly equivalent in processor power to the A6X chips used by Apple in the iPad 4.
Similarly, the graphics capabilities of this machine are not in line with Intel’s integrated graphics in its more powerful chips. The Atom Z2760 offers effectively lower-end smartphone graphics in the form of the PowerVR SGX545. In terms of raw power, it’s a less capable GPU than the one in the iPad mini.
This is all backed up with 2GB of RAM, which is very favourable compared to other tablets – only other Windows tablets and the likes of the Nexus 10 match it – but it’s still only half what we’d consider to be the minimum we’d expect in a laptop.
We’ll go over what all these specs produce in practice in the Performance section, but basically expectations need to be managed here: as a Windows machine, this simply isn’t equipped to be much of an entertainment centre, or a machine for intensive apps.
For storage, it’s equipped with a 64GB SSD, which enables it to wake quickly, but isn’t very large for containing Windows 8 as well as your files – there’s less than 30GB of actual free storage. This is typical for this kind of machine, and the Lenovo Miix does at least come with a microSD card slot, so you can add some extra storage yourself.
The 10-inch multi-touch screen is an IPS panel, so should work excellently at just about any angle, with a resolution of 1366 x 768. This again is normal for this kind of machine, but it lacks sorely behind the high-res displays in the iPad 4, Google Nexus 7 or Nexus 10.
As far as battery life goes, it’s quoted for 10 hours of use. These figures are usually based on turning the brightness down and other power-saving measures, of course, but it’s the sort of time we’re looking for from a tablet.
Cinebench 11: 0.53
3D Mark: Ice: 3487
Battery Eater 05: 229 minutes
You can’t say we didn’t warn you that the Lenovo Miix 10 wasn’t powerful. The benchmark results give us some numbers on that, since a mid-range chip would give us over 2.0 in the Cinebench tests, compared to just 0.53 here, while the graphics are comically low-scoring.
There’s only one 3D Mark benchmark out of a possible three because it couldn’t handle the other two, and for that one benchmark, it scored only a tenth of what Intel’s integrated graphics in its Core i chips delivers.
But, as we said, that was to be expected. This is not a highly specced machine. The important thing is how this affects real-world use.
For a start, any games other than the most basic fare from the Windows Store are out. Other than that, though, we didn’t have a problem with the graphics. Unlike the Samsung Ativ Smart PC, all windows moved around smoothly, the Windows 8 interface responded quickly, and scrolling and zooming through web pages was fine.
Where there were responsiveness problems, the processor seemed to be the culprit, and really is what holds this machine back in terms of performance overall. While the Samsung Ativ Smart PC frequently froze and crashed programs, things were much better here, with programs often hanging initially when switched to, but coming to life reliably after a few seconds.
Similarly, things like the sound effects on alerts might arrive slightly later than the dialogue window, but these can all be lived with – inconveniences rather than major concerns.
But the slowness is also reliable. Unzipping a folder takes minutes where it should take seconds, for example. Any kind of pure data crunching is just going to frustrate you. It also means that processor-intensive web content such as Flash media will slow things down massively.
If you don’t really need it for that kind of thing, it’s fast enough, though. It comes on from sleep pretty much instantaneously, and we wrote this review in Google Docs on it (it comes with a tile for Office, but it just takes you to an Office 365 trial) without any significant problems. We did experience one crash, but it was sorted after a restart. As a simple document productivity machine, there’s no problem.
Well, there may be a bit of a problem. The lack of a trackpad in the keyboard case means that some fiddlier productivity apps will be a pain. Text selection is basically non-existent, for example, and though the touchscreen is actually nice and accurate, selecting fiddly buttons is no fun at all.
That said, the keyboard itself is excellent. It’s a superbly comfortable size, and feels well made. It’s very shallow, which reduces the feedback it offers compared to something just a little deeper, but the resistiveness of the keys is perfect. We found ourselves typing a suspicious number of double letters, and double spaces especially, when using the keyboard, but the simple fact is that we could use it for hours on end and be totally comfortable.
It’s also good that the keyboard gives prominence to quick keys such as volume and Charms when they share a key with a Function – in a tablet, we find the former more useful than the latter.
However, it’s a shame that the keyboard case is rather inflexible. There’s only one position to stand the tablet in, and it’s very upright. On a desk, that’s not so bad, but on a train or any where else where space is limited, you really can’t see the screen very well at all. The viewing angles are good, and the screen is nice and clear, it’s just that the angle becomes acute enough to be awkward.
Speaking of the screen, it’s great. It’s not super high-res, no, but it’s an IPS panel, so it’s bright, clear and only darkens slightly when you’re at an awkward sideways viewing angle.
The speakers are fairly loud and clear, though the way they fire away from you isn’t totally ideal. They’re not high quality, but are easily good enough for hearing people talk clearly in videos.
Of course, battery life is one of the key advantages of tablets these days, so we were hoping the Lenovo Miix would match up to the best out there. Or at least to the best Windows tablets out there. Sadly, that’s not quite the case.
It managed 3 hours and 49 minutes in our intensive battery tests, which would be very good for a laptop, but is well behind what the Samsung Ativ Smart PC and small Windows 8 tablets achieved.
While you could certainly get much more life than that out of it with careful power management, it’s still going to struggle to last you all day. However, it held its charge reasonably well when on standby (the Samsung drained alarmingly when sleeping), so it’s a fairly reliable companion for a working weekend, provided you can charge it when needed.
The jury is still out on super thin and light Windows 8 tablet-laptop hybrids, despite the efforts of the Lenovo Miix 10.
Certainly, there will come a time when they’re perfectly powerful enough for most computer use, but right now the Intel Atom chips inside this, the Samsung Ativ Smart PC and the Acer Iconia W510 are just struggling a bit too much to make them ideal replacements for your laptop.
It’s a balance with the interface too, of course. The Lenovo Miix might be slow, but it runs fairly reliably. But with no integrated trackpad, will it run your software usably?
The Lenovo Miix is smart, light, reasonably well-made and comes with an excellent keyboard to help you to use it like a laptop. The potential is here for it to be a great mobile work machine, provided you don’t need to run anything too intensive.
The screen is really nice, too, and though it may not have a powerful processor, the speed with which it comes on from sleep is exactly what you’d want from a tablet.
The lack of power really will be a deal-breaker for some people, as will the absence of a built-in mouse pointing device. If you really need a Windows 8 tablet, odds are it’s going to be for a specific software reason, and if that software leans heavily on the CPU or has fiddly fields and buttons, this may not be the package for you.
The battery life was also a little on the disappointing side, and the lack of always-accessible USB ports is just silly.
The Lenovo Miix is more than capable of serving the needs of some people, but it’s a definite niche. If the question is should the average person get this instead of an Ultrabook (even a low-end one that comes in at a similar price point), then the answer is no. The Asus VivoBook S200 is almost certainly a better bet.
But if there’s something here you specifically want – the lightness and flexibility of just taking the tablet side while running Windows apps, or the corporate-friendliness of Windows – then this is one of the better machines of its kind.
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