Lenovo Yoga Tablet Is Compelling, Versatile, Not Light Enough

By Michelle Maisto  |  Posted 2013-11-18

Lenovo Yoga Tablet Is Compelling, Versatile, Not Light Enough

Lenovo introduced both the Yoga Tablet and its newest product engineer, Ashton Kutcher, at a press event in Los Angeles Oct. 29. More than joining a category that includes Alicia Keys for BlackBerry and Shakira for T-Mobile, Kutcher's partnership with Lenovo was framed as an extension of his savvy as a tech venture capitalist—his firm A-Grade Investments has invested in Fab.com and ride-sharing site Getaround, among well over a dozen other online ventures.

Introducing the Yoga Tablet, which uniquely features a display attached to cylinder, for a silhouette like a spiral-bound notebook, Kutcher told the crowd: "I like to take risks. I like to do things that somebody in the world is going to go, 'What was he thinking?' And maybe if I succeed, somebody in the world will look and go, 'Why didn't I think of that?' But you'll never have anyone say, 'Why didn't I think of that?' if you don't do something that at first [makes people say], 'What was he thinking?'"

Kutcher continued, "For me, this is a risk. I'm risking because I like to compete, I like to win, I like to solve problems. And I think that there are problems out there that can be solved with these types of devices that haven't been solved yet."

While Kutcher may be taking a risk, Lenovo has, with the Yoga Tablet, arguably taken the next and necessary step in its efforts to break into the U.S. tablet market and become a more-recognizable brand in U.S. homes.

Over the last few years, Lenovo steadily pushed ahead and managed to grow its PC business, even as the rest of the PC industry was tanking. Today, it's the top-selling vendor in the world. And despite its top-of-the-mountain PC success, Lenovo sells more smartphones and tablets (the majority of them in China) than it does PCs.

Lenovo's smartphone success in its home market of China helped it pass LG Electronics during the third quarter of 2013 and make it the third-ranking smartphone maker in world, Gartner announced Nov. 14.

Lenovo has figured out how to sell PCs in a deeply downturned market, is selling Android smartphones in an Android-saturated market and now has set out to sell tablets to Americans. How to do it? There's no point trying to be a better iPad (Samsung's already doing that, plus reintroducing the stylus). Microsoft's Surface has the kickstand-and-keyboard angle covered. And Lenovo has already found success with its Yoga line of laptops.

Is the Yoga Tablet's form factor a risk? Not figuring out a new form factor seems more risky.

Which is all to say, it feels silly to talk about specs and smaller details of the Yoga Tablets without addressing the broad strokes. Apple users are going to, in very large part, buy iPads. Those who value thinness above all, and can afford it, should also buy the iPad Air. (Walter Mossberg, writing for the Wall Street Journal Oct. 29, called it the best tablet he's ever reviewed.)

Lenovo Yoga Tablet Is Compelling, Versatile, Not Light Enough

For those who prefer the Android platform (or can't afford the Air), Samsung makes tablets in just about every size, with and without the option of a stylus. The only thing Samsung's tablet portfolio doesn't include is a tablet that can do all the gymnastics that the Yoga Tablet can.

Which is to say, still more succinctly, if you're interested in a modestly priced Android tablet that can stand on its own without the addition of a separately priced cover; can tilt itself toward you on the desk, for easier use and viewing; and can offer a handle of sorts, making it easy to hold while reading and even enable one-handed use, then the Lenovo Yoga Tablet is an excellent choice.

It's available now in two sizes, an 8-inch model for $249 exclusively at Best Buy and a 10-inch version for $299 at Amazon, Best Buy, Lenovo.com and other retailers. A Bluetooth Keyboard Cover can be purchased for $69.

Yoga Bends to Accommodate Lifestyles

Here's the part where I come clean about something: I don't own a tablet. I feel I don't have any need for one. I work from home and am in front of a laptop all day. When I've reviewed other tablets, they've generally sat on the printer in my home office until I pressed myself to spend time with them. I just didn't have reasons to grab for them that my laptop, phone or TV didn't satisfy (I understand that other people do). The form factor of the Yoga Tablet changed that, though, mostly because the Stand Mode is so convenient.

I had a sick toddler home with me during my review period. I wouldn't trust her to hold a borrowed tablet, but I was comfortable standing it on the nightstand so she could lay in bed and watch a movie, setting it on the breakfast table so I could get work done while she ate, and even, dare I admit, setting it on the bathroom counter encouraging her to ... stay seated.

While cooking, I used the Yoga in tilt mode to consult a recipe, and then transitioned it to Stand when the counter got too crowded and I wanted to listen to a podcast (the two front-facing Dolby speakers are really nice—strong and clear).

I understand that these things can be accomplished with other tablets and a properly positioned cover, but I found it compelling that the Yoga Tablet could do it on its own.

Maybe I'm a curmudgeon. It drives me a little crazy that Apple works for a year to tirelessly shave off millimeters and create an exquisite, cutting-edge piece of technology that people will pay $850 for and then cover with essentially a 5-cent piece of rubber. (It was vindicating the day Chinese consumers laughed off the iPhone 5C cover as looking like a potato peeler.)

But covers also don't offer the book-like spine that the Yoga Tablet has in Hold mode. Lenovo sent me both its 10-inch and 8-inch models. The 10-incher gets heavy in the hand pretty quickly, but the 8-inch has a comfortable weight of 0.88 pounds, and when my hand got tired, I just flipped the tablet over and used the other hand.

There were several nights I found my husband reading a downloaded book in bed on the 8-inch tablet—a thing he's not only never done before but has given impassioned dinnertime speeches about having zero interest in.

One of my few complaints about the Yoga Tablets was their displays—I wish they were sharper.

The iPad Air's 9.7-inch display has a resolution of 2,048 by 1,536. The Yoga Tablet's 10.1-inch display is 1,280 by 800. The difference is like wearing smudged glasses. 

Another complaint is their weight. Lenovo needs to shave it down. The iPad Air weights 1 pound; the 10.1-inch Yoga Tablet weighs 1.33 pounds. The latter is a weight at which Hold mode becomes compelling for doing things such as showing a chart to a colleague or photos to relatives, but not reading at length.

Also—and this is may be more of a wish than a complaint—since one is always flipping the Yoga Tablet this way and that, it's easy to become disoriented about which side the power button and volume rockers are on. Some of that Lenovo red paint would come in handy, or some kind of indication from the top, saving the user from feeling around for them each time.  

I pulled the Yoga Tablets out of their boxes with some doubts—their "spirals," as I came to think of the cylinders alongside the screens, make the tablets seem instantly heavy, instead of wow-factor light. But it's a very good, practical and convincing form factor. Now, Lenovo just needs to perfect it.


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