Lenovo Miix 2 Review

Lenovo Miix 2 Review

Another solid Windows mini-tablet contender

Given the legendary quality of Lenovo's hardware, it should come as no surprise that the Miix 2 is a solid Windows mini-tablet. But in trying to compare it in a meaningful way with its closest competitor, the Dell Venue 8 Pro, I'm coming up a bit short: The devices are basically identical at a high level and the differentiators, such as they are, will come down mostly to personal preferences.

I first detailed my day one experiences with this device in Lenovo Miix 2 First Impressions and Photos. And you should perhaps read my Dell Venue 8 Pro Review before proceeding as well, since much of this review will constitute a comparison to that device. (The older and feebler Windows 8-based Acer Iconia W3 is, of course, out of the running and has been replaced by a newer Windows 8.1-based W4 anyway.)

OK, so here are the basics.

Like the Dell Venue 8 Pro, the Lenovo Miix 2 is a representative Windows 8.1 mini-tablet. It is roughly the same size as, though a bit lighter than, the Dell. It features what appears to be an identical 8-inch IPS screen, which is of incredibly high quality and runs at a resolution of 1280 x 800 (or 800 x 1280, if you use it in the default portrait orientation).

Lenovo Miix 2 (left), Dell Venue 8 Pro (right)

Quick side-track.

Many reviews of this device will no doubt ding Lenovo for this low resolution, but that's a red herring, and a cheap way for a reviewer to pretend he's being fair. (It's what we call "fake hustle" in basketball.) What really matters is how the screen looks, and here the Miix 2, like the Dell (once you turn up the brightness) performs admirably. Text, graphics, and video all look wonderful on this screen.

Taking the absurdity to uncharted heights, some reviewers might also then point out that Apple's iPad mini with Retina display packs a whopping 2048 x 1536 of pixels in its own 8-inch screen. But that device is a luxury item beyond the means of us common folk: Where the Miix 2 starts at just $299 for a model with 32 GB of storage, a comparable iPad mini is $499, almost twice as expensive. You pay for that screen, and then some.

A fairer comparison, of course, would be with the Google Nexus 7 or Amazon Kindle Fire HDX. These devices are smaller than the Miix 2 (or Venue 8 Pro), and they're not expensive: They cost $269 and $284, respectively for 32 GB models. The trade-offs here are the relative sizes of the screen, and one's preferences regarding Windows vs. Android. But whatever issues with the Miix 2, or the Venue 8 Pro, screen quality and resolution will not be among them. Not in the real world.

Lenovo Miix 2 (left), Google Nexus 7  (right)

But, as noted, you could find issues with this device. As with the Dell, the Miix 2 features a single micro-USB port. On the plus side, it's used for charging, though you can't just use any old smart phone charger as these mini-tablets require a bigger and more powerful plug. But unlike the Dell, Lenovo does not include a USB adapter, so you can't use any normal USB devices—external hard drives, printers, whatever—out of the box. This somewhat obviates an inherent advantage of this thing being a PC. You also can't charge it and use a USB device simultaneously since there's only one port.

The Miix's silver body is smoother than that of the Dell, and I prefer the Venue 8 Pro's grippy back, which makes the device easier to hold. Like the Dell, the Miix 2 doesn't offer hardware-based video out (like an HDMI port), which I think is a mistake. (To be fair, Amazon dropped hardware video-out on its HDX line, too.)

And in full disclosure, I should note that I had infrequent but ongoing stability issues with my review device. I'm not sure if this is common to the Miix 2 or an unusual cirmcumstance, but unlike the Dell I found myself needing to manually shut it down and restart more than I'd like. (Which is, at all.) The screen would simply stop responding to finger taps from time to time, which was infuriating. I'll reset it after I post this review and see if that clears it up.

Beyond that troubling area, Lenovo got most everything else right. The performance is stellar, and while the 8-inch form factor isn't exactly ideal for desktop applications, you can at least run them if you have to, which will be a plus to virtually any PC user looking to keep to the Microsoft side of the fence as they move into the tablet world. There's a broadband cellular option for those that want that, though my review device didn't ship with this capability. (The micro-SIM port will sit next to the micro-SD port on compatible models.)

Many are no doubt wondering about battery life. With the Venue 8 Pro, I reported that Dell had artificially enhanced the battery life of that device by shipping it with the screen dimmed so egregiously it was almost unusable. Lenovo doesn't try such a trick, so the battery life of its Miix 2 is quite a bit less on paper, but just a bit less than the Dell's in the real world, when you adjust the brightness on the latter device to be usable.

As I noted in my Dell Venue 8 Pro review, some may wish to contort this device into some kind of ultra-mobile PC as, after all, it is a Windows device. After a lot of soul searching and real world use with these devices, however, that's a lackluster experience. But the Miix 2 is a wonderful companion device, and for triaging email, browsing the web, playing games, watching movies and TV shows, and doing other common tasks, the big screen is a delight, and better than doing so with any smart phone.

Of course, the advantage of a PC is that it's versatile, and if that's what you want to do, you can. Certainly, using the Miix 2 as a tiny-screened PC with a Bluetooth keyboard is more natural than doing so with an iPad mini or whatever Android device, and you do of course get a full copy of Microsoft Office with the device if you're a masochist.

So, I know what you're really wondering: Dell Venue 8 Pro or Lenovo Miix 2? And while I'd love to offer up a pat recommendation that would generally apply to all, it's a bit too close to call. Obviously, the reliability issues I've seen are unnerving, but then I've not heard a lot of complaints about this one way or the other. The Dell's battery life is a bit better. The Lenovo is a bit lighter. The Dell has a grippy back that I really like. Some may prefer the silver styling of the Lenovo.

In other words, it's a tie—at least from my perspective. Your personal leanings may have you favoring one over the other. But while it's a bit frustrating not to be able to make a blanket recommendation, at least we now have two great choices in Windows 8.1 mini-tablets. At least two. I'm hoping to look at the Toshiba Encore as well.

And who knows what CES will bring in January?

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