Some hybrids are laptops that want to be tablets. Some are tablets that want to be laptops. None to date is especially apt at paying equal attention to both sides of the coin.
Lenovo tries different approach than most in the Miix 2, an oddly named $599 slate-style tablet with a feature-rich keyboard docking station. In the UK and Europe the tablet can only be had with a 64GB hard drive (it can be expanded up to 128GB in the US), and begins at £399.99 and €499, respectively. The tablet itself has a 10.1-inch screen, which is larger than most Windows 8 tablets we've seen, with 8-inch screens being the most common. The screen resolution is an unusually high 1,920x1,200, which can be either a blessing or a curse, depending on how well the apps you want to use scale in Windows 8. Personally, I'm never going to say no to extra resolution.
What makes the Miix 2 an especially interesting take on the hybrid concept is its included keyboard dock. Some hybrids, such as the Yoga line from Lenovo, keep their keyboards attached, folding them out of sight. Others, such as the Microsoft Surface Pro or Asus T100, have detachable keyboards which range from nearly-flat keyboard covers to full clamshell-style ones.
The Miix 2's keyboard feels primarily like a dock with additional USB ports and a slot for holding the screen up at a slightly reclined angle. The dock also includes a full keyboard and touchpad, although both are on the small side. Both magnets and a multi-pin connection keep the screen and dock attached, and the two sides can slot together to form what looks like a closed clamshell laptop shape for travel.
So far, so good. And for under $600, it's a nice package that allows you to enjoy some of the portable and entertainment features of tablets, while still having the ability to set it up as a mini-desktop. The problems come when you rely on the keyboard dock too much for productivity.
I found the keyboard layout just different enough from the norm to be annoying, and the hint of occasional lag with both the keyboard and touchpad is a common Windows tablet problem this system has not fixed. The pokey Intel Atom processor, on paper fine for Windows 8 use, felt sluggish at times -- especially with the larger screen and the increased expectations that come with it.
The Miix 2 still offers a nice set of features, including a big 128GB SSD for a budget price (only in the US), and Lenovo's typically excellent build quality (a 64GB SSD version is $499). But I found the tablet more satisfying to use than the keyboard combo, so if you anticipate needing to type all day, you might want to stick with a traditional laptop.
|Lenovo Miix 2||Asus VivoTab Note 8||Acer Iconia W4-820-2466|
|Price||$599 (£399.99, €499 for 64GB)||$329, £300||$349, £299|
|Display size/resolution||10-inch, 1,920x1,200 touchscreen||8.1-inch, 1,280x800 touchscreen||8.1-inch, 1,280x800 touchscreen|
|PC CPU||1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3740||1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3740||1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3740|
|PC Memory||2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 1066MHz||2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 1066MHz||2048MB DDR2 SDRAM 1066MHz|
|Graphics||32GB Intel HD Graphics||32GB Intel HD Graphics||32GB Intel HD Graphics|
|Storage||128GB SSD hard drive (available only in 64GB outside the US)||32GB SSD hard drive||64GB SSD hard drive|
|Networking||802.11 b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11 b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0||802.11 b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Operating system||Windows 8.1 (32-bit)||Windows 8.1 (32-bit)||Windows 8.1 (32-bit)|
Design and features
When closed, the matte gray Miix 2 looks much like any ultraportable clamshell laptop. But, what you're actually seeing is the 10-inch tablet screen held against the keyboard dock with a magnetic connection. The dock has a small lip that rises up at the back end, forming a perfectly sized pocket for the screen to slot into. That, plus the magnet, keeps the package securely fastened, and the two parts did not come apart, even when shaking it or tossing it form one hand to the other. Still, keep in mind, they're not actually latched together, so exercise some care when throwing the unit in your shoulder bag.
When set up in its docking station, the Miix 2 looks like a small all-in-one desktop. Taking the tablet screen and flipping around to face out from the non-keyboard side of the dock gives you a kiosk look, with the dock's speaker grille pointing toward you, for a decent multimedia setup.
One nice benefit from the magnetic connection is that switching between tablet and keyboard modes doesn't require you to fumble around with a latch or switch, which is a pain point of some other convertible hybrids.
The keyboard itself makes good use of its limited space, with keys as big as you'd find on any 13-inch laptop, plus Lenovo's clever key shape, which adds a curved edge to the bottom of each key, making for fewer missed keystrokes.
The typing experience itself was fine, although the keyboard has a lot of flex in the middle, even under light typing. More frustrating were tiny tweaks from the standard keyboard layout. It's understandable given the compact footprint, but it definitely takes some getting used to, and will continue to cause trouble if you switch from this to a full-size laptop or desktop keyboard regularly. For example, the Esc key has been shifted to the number key row (and there is no separate Function key row), the Backspace key is half-size, making long-form writing more difficult.
Sometimes the keyboard and small clickpad-style touchpad responded well, but I occasionally ran into a hint of lag, something that seems to be common with hybrids featuring separate keyboards. Apps designed for the Windows 8 tile interface fared best overall.
The 10.1-inch display, with a very high native resolution of 1,920x1,200, is one of the things that really sets this system apart. That resolution number, and the slightly different dimensions of the screen, tell us this is a 16:10 aspect ratio display, rather than the more common 16:9 aspect ratio. The latter is found in nearly every laptop today, as well as HD television and monitor screens.
The extra screen real estate is handy for working with larger photos or big Excel docs, although you'll have to squint to see clearly in the traditional desktop view, or in non-optimized apps such as Photoshop. Viewing angles are excellent, as one should expect from a tablet, but the very glossy screen picks up a lot of glare, and the thick black bezel around the perimeter make the screen feel smaller than it is.
At 10.1-inches, the Miix 2 isn't really large enough to be your all-day, every day computer -- for that the cut-off is really a 13-inch laptop. But, for a long afternoon in a conference room or cross-country flight, it will work. An 11-inch version of the Miix 2 has also been announced, and it will include full Core i-series Intel CPUs, and presumably cost more.
Lenovo Miix 2 connections
|Audio||Stereo speakers with added subwoofer on dock, headphone/microphone combo jack|
|Data||Micro-USB 2.0 (tablet), 2 USB 2.0 (dock), microSD card reader|
|Networking||802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth|
Connections, performance, and battery
Tablets, and hybrids that lean more toward the tablet side, typically suffer from a lack of ports and connections. The Miix 2 is no exception, offering only micro and mini versions of popular ports on the tablet itself. That means you'll have to travel with a pocketful of adapters and cables to make full use of the Miix 2. Fortunately, the keyboard dock includes a pair of full-size USB ports, which is handy, even if they're of the slower USB 2.0 variety.
Like most current Windows 8 tablets, the Miix 2 uses an Intel Atom processor. This low-power chip is designed to balance application performance with long battery life, while also running cool enough to work in small, sometimes fanless, systems. But in practical terms, even current Atom chips can feel pokey, depending on the task at hand. In systems with larger screens especially, the disconnect is more obvious, as you naturally expect those to act more like full-size laptops.
On the positive side, the Windows 8 tile interface, as well as most Windows 8 optimized apps, run very smoothly, even with an Atom chip. In hands-on use, the Miix 2 felt speedy most of the time, but also occasionally lags, which mirrors our experiences with other Atom-powered tablets and hybrids.
In our CNET Labs benchmark tests, the Miix 2 performed comparably to, or slower than, several other recent Windows 8 tablets, each of which has a similar Intel Atom chip (although not always the exact same model) and 2GB of RAM, but none with a screen as high-res as the Miix 2. In real-world terms, the performance differences were minor, and you're unlikely to notice much practical difference -- with the exception that one may be more forgiving of slowdown on smaller screens.
Battery life in the Miix 2 also matched or fell slightly behind other recent Windows 8 tablets, running for 7 hours and 22 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. Acer's new Iconia W4 ran more than 1 hour longer, but other Windows 8 tablets from Asus and Dell were better by only 10 to 20 minutes. Some hybrids include secondary batteries in their keyboard docks, but that's not the case here.
Lenovo's Miix 2 stands out from the Windows tablet crowd by offering a larger-than-usual screen, higher resolution, and a unique keyboard dock. It also costs more, at $599, which is closer to what you'd pay for a decent budget laptop, although the big 128GB SSD is no doubt responsible for some of the cost.
If the keyboard was easier to use and the CPU a little more powerful, the Miix 2 could be a handy portable productivity machine, but as it is, this will be relegated to being your backup device at best.
Find out more about how we test laptops.
Lenovo MIIx 2
Windows 8.1 (32-bit); 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3740; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 128GB SSD hard drive
Asus VivoTab Note 8
Windows 8.1 (32-bit); 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3740; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 32GB SSD hard drive
Dell Venue 8 Pro
Windows 8.1 (32-bit); 1.3GHz Intel Atom 3740D; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 800MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 32GB Sasmung SSD
Lenovo ThinkPad 8
Windows 8.1 Pro (32-bit); 1.46GHz Intel Atom Z3770; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 800MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 64GB Sasmung SSD
Acer Iconia W4-2466
Windows 8.1 (32-bit); 1.33GHz Intel Atom Z3740; 2GB DDR3 SDRAM 1066MHz; 32MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics; 64GB SSD hard drive
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