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Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 review: An affordable Android tablet with functional flair

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The Good The Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 has a practical design that features a built-in kickstand. There is a rotatable camera that takes sharp photos and front-facing speakers that provide rich and clear audio. Battery life is long.

The Bad It's a bit heavy for its small size. Large games are slow to load.

The Bottom Line The Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 is the tablet to get if your needs are simple and your budget is low.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 6
  • Performance 7

The Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 is one of the most unique tablets you can buy under $200. Not only does its refreshing design exude a balance of innovation and functionality, it has two of the rarest features you can find on a tablet: powerful speakers and a sharp camera -- a camera that can also rotate 180 degrees.

Its design deviates from the traditional slim, rectangular tablet aesthetic, due to its cylindrical spine. The chunky aluminum clad edge is comfortable to hold in one hand, and it additionally houses a built-in kick-stand in the back for when you want to lay back, relax and catch up on "The Walking Dead."

An immersive pair of front-facing speakers on the 8-inch tablet further accentuates the portable viewing experience. Dolby Atmos technology and the preloaded Dolby app help make dialogue in TV shows and vocals in songs sound crisp and clear, while sound effects in games and movies dynamically travel between the speakers for an enthralling experience.

The only thing harder to find on a tablet than good speakers is a good camera. The Lenovo has one of those, too. It has a solitary 8-megapixel camera located on its spine and it rotates 180 degrees to double as a front and rear camera. This isn't just a fancy gimmick; the camera actually takes sharp, evenly exposed photos with accurate colors. I'm not saying it can beat the Apple iPhone 6S or Samsung Galaxy S6 in a shoot-out, but it definitely blows most other tablet cameras out of the water.

At its $170 starting price, the Yoga Tab 3 isn't all sunshine and rainbows. In order to offer the tablet at its wallet-friendly price, Lenovo had to skimp somewhere. This is why its software features fall on the dull side of things. You won't find a bevy of trial magazine subscriptions like you will on the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0 , or a content-rich operating system, like the Amazon Fire HD 8 tablet. Instead, you get a basic Android experience with no fancy bells and whistles. An operating system offering only the bare necessities is the tablet's biggest fault, but since it's such a solid piece of hardware, it's not immensely detrimental to its appeal.

The Lenovo Yoga Tab 3's crystal-clear speakers, sharp rotatable camera and uniquely useful design pack a practical punch that similarly priced tablets simply don't have. With its performance and screen quality in the wheelhouse of comparable models, the Yoga Tab 3's distinct features gives it the oomph it needs to stand out from the pack.

Design

If you've ever seen one of Lenovo's Android-based Yoga tablets, the Yoga Tab 3 will look familiar. If you haven't, it might look a little odd. Instead of your uniformly thin, simple rectangular-shaped slate, this tablet features a chunky rounded spine. Its aluminum construction feels velvety smooth and its extra girth makes it easy to grip in one hand, like holding a paperback book with its pages folded back.

Dimensions compared

Tested spec Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 Amazon Fire HD 8 Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0
Weight 1.04 pounds (471g) 0.68 pound (311g) 0.69 pound (313g)
Width (landscape) 8.3 inches (210mm) 8.4 inches (214mm) 8.2 inches (208mm)
Height 5.74 inches (146mm) 5 inches (128mm) 5.4 inches (137mm)
Depth 0.13 inch (3.3mm) 0.3 inch (7.7mm) 0.29 inch (7.4mm)
Side bezel width (landscape) 0.69 inch (18mm) 0.68 inch (17mm) 0.75 inch (19mm)

On the left end of the spine is the power button, with the Micro-USB port and volume rocker above it on the tablet's slim edge, and on the opposite is the headphone jack. The spine is also home to the front-facing speakers and a camera. The camera (you'll find more about it in the Performance section) can rotate 180 degrees, so it cleverly doubles as both a rear- and front-facing camera.

The tablet's back panel bears a finely textured matte finish, and it provides a nice grip when holding the tablet in landscape orientation. You'll also find that the aluminum that the cylindrical spine is made of extends to about a quarter of the tablet's back. There's an oval button at its center, and when pressed, the small aluminum panel pops out. It can then flip out to 90 degrees, for using as a kickstand, or to about 160 degrees, for hanging it, if that's more your style. Thanks to its sturdy construction, it feels solid when propped up or laid down.

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A different profile.

Josh Miller/CNET

I really like the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3's comfortable and convenient design. I found myself using the tablet in portrait orientation more that other tablets, because I preferred holding it by its chunky spine, but I mostly utilized the kickstand, unless playing a game that required both thumbs on the screen. It's extremely convenient when watching video -- I was free to lie back and relax.

Sure, you can buy a case that doubles as a stand, but the built-in functionality of the Yoga Tab 3's design is a thoughtful addition that eliminates that extra step. Even though it's a bit heavier than its comparable tablets, its smart design and solid feel outshine the competition.

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The built-in stand is useful for longterm use.

Josh Miller/CNET

Features

In contrast to its excitingly innovative design, the Lenovo Tab Yoga 3's software features are less exciting. It runs a mostly pure version of Android 5.1.1 and comes with some preloaded software. In addition to the full suite of Google apps, like Gmail, Maps, YouTube and Drive, Lenovo packs the Yoga Tab 3 with SyncIt HD, ShareIt and McAfee Security.

SyncIt is a user-friendly app for backing up your contacts and data to a microSD card, or for restoring data from an microSD card. ShareIt lets you share documents between Android, iOS and Windows devices, without the need of Wi-Fi. Instead, it activates the device's hotspot (if available) for a direct connection to the other device. Though it works fine to send a few files, in the time it took for my phone to find the tablet, I could've sent the same files via e-mail at least twice. Also, since it doesn't work with Macs, it wasn't very useful for me.

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A simple operating system for a simple tablet.

Josh Miller/CNET

The Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 provides everything you need for a pleasant Android experience. It doesn't offer anything extra (like exclusive free apps or a modified operating system overlay) to make using the tablet special. If you need a tablet for basic use, this isn't a bad thing. In fact, you're getting exactly what you're paying for.

Hardware

The Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 houses a 1.3GHz quad-core Qualcomm APQ8009 processor, Adreno 304 GPU, 16GB of internal storage and 1GB of RAM. It houses a microSD card slot that can accept cards with capacities of up to 128GB. It also offers Bluetooth 4.0 and 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi.

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Small but weighty design.

Josh Miller/CNET

Performance

The Lenovo Yoga Tab 3's performance is typical for a tablet with its specifications. It performs fine for casual tasks, yet slows down when dealing with apps that need more horsepower to run smoothly.

While checking email, surfing the Web and streaming video, the tablet performed without a hitch. It became sluggish if downloading apps or updates; Web pages took longer to load, apps didn't launch as quickly and sometimes tap response was delayed. However, slowing down when downloading is typical of most tablets.

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The chunky rounded spine makes it easy to use in one hand.

Josh Miller/CNET

Performance is smooth as butter when playing simple mobile games like Angry Birds 2 and Candy Crush -- and using the kick-stand helped make it a more relaxed experience than your typical tablet. Bigger games, like N.O.V.A. 3 and Dead Trigger 2 took longer to launch, though game play was fairly smooth, unless something was downloading. If so, frame rates would occasionally drop. In 3DMark benchmark testing, it doesn't hold a candle to the Amazon Fire HD 8, yet it performed similarly to its simpler cousin, the Lenovo Tab 2 A8, and the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0.

3DMark (Ice Storm Unlimited)

Amazon Fire HD 8
10,161
Lenovo Tab 2 A8
4,942
Lenovo Yoga Tab 3
4,582
Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0
4,391

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

GRAPHICS SCORE

Amazon Fire HD 8
10,734
Lenovo Tab 2 A8
4,340
Lenovo Yoga Tab 3
4,134
Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0
3,834

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

PHYSICS SCORE

Lenovo Tab 2 A8
9,598
Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0
8,931
Amazon Fire HD 8
8,563
Lenovo Yoga Tab 3
7,381

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance

The Yoga Tab 3 features a 1,280x800-pixel resolution screen, just like the Tab 2 A8 and Fire HD 8. In comparison to the Samsung and Amazon tablets, the Lenovo displayed more accurate colors. The Amazon tablet suffers from an overwhelming green presence on the screen, and the range of colors on the Samsung look a bit oversaturated. The differences are very notable in side-by-side comparisons, but when looked at separately, it's a hard detail to notice.

As mentioned earlier in the review, the tablet has front-facing speakers. They feature Dolby Atmos technology, as well as a preloaded Dolby app for optimizing the how music, movies and games sound. Atmos technology aims to replicate the way sound travels in real life, whether you're using headphones or speakers, and it works well. Dialogue in movies and vocals in music sound crisp and can be heard clearly over any background noise or instrumentation. Most audio sounds well balanced, and even at maximum volumes, highs maintain integrity instead of sounding tinny or screechy -- like how most other tablets perform.

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The tablet can lay down for an easy typing experience.

Josh Miller/CNET

The rotatable camera on the Yoga Tab 3 is not only one of its most interesting features, it also one of its best. The 8-megapixel camera can rotate 180 degrees, so it acts as both rear- and front-facing camera. When adjusting the camera, you hear a little click as it locks into position. From front to back, I counted 20 angles the camera can be set to take photos from. The small dial is easy to turn and sturdily remains in whatever position it's set.

For selfies, dog photos, landscapes, and everything else, photos come out evenly exposed, with sharp focus and accurate colors. It also does well taking macro photos. As long as there's enough light, or a steady hand, photos of up-close objects turn out crisp with visible detail. This is naturally what you expect from a camera, but tablet cameras are notoriously crappy, so the decent quality of the Yoga Tab 3 is as impressive as its rotating abilities.

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Taking photos of up-close objects are sharp with a steady hand.

Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Lenovo claims that the battery life lasts around 20 hours, and while our CNET Lab test results fall short of that, they're still impressively long. After testing the tablet by looping a local 720p video in Airplane Mode at medium brightness, the Yoga Tab 3 averaged 13.8 hours of battery life. That makes it one of the longest-lasting tablets available. Pair that with the kickstand and you have a tablet that can truly endure hours of binge-watching a whole season of Game of Thrones.

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This unedited image is well-exposed and displays accurate colors.

Xiomara Blanco/CNET

Conclusion

The Yoga Tab 3's innovative qualities are purposeful and focused around functionality, not fashion. This is a refreshingly different approach than the multitude of manufacturers scrambling toward the temporary title of World's Thinnest Tablet. Its refined design makes the tablet a treat for the low price of $170, especially considering it stacks up to its competition in almost every other category.

The $150 Amazon Fire HD 8 and the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 are similar in that they're both great for heavy video-watchers. If you're an Amazon Prime member, the Fire HD 8 is packed to the brim with useful features, like access to stream and download free TV shows, movies and music. You also get a ton of free games and apps to download, but the Amazon Appstore is meticulously curated and doesn't offer as wide of a variety as the Google Play store. Additionally, though the Fire HD 8's screen is brighter and its speakers are louder, the Yoga Tab 3's screen produces more accurate colors and its audio quality sounds more dynamic.

Other options are the Lenovo Tab 2 A8 and the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 8.0. The Tab 2 A8 is like a simpler version of the Yoga Tab 3. Starting at $130, it has a traditional rectangular tablet design, houses a comparable screen and, though not as powerful, its speakers still sound better than those on most tablets. The Galaxy Tab A 8.0 has a slim and lightweight design that makes it a nice portable option, and it can be found online right now for as low as $170. Performance-wise, both tablets are on par with the Fire HD 8 and Yoga Tab 3. If you're trying to spend less than $200 on a tablet, your best choice may just come down to aesthetic preference.

Unlike high-end tablets, the Lenovo Yoga Tab 3 isn't remarkably thin or light, and it doesn't offer any cutting-edge specs. However, for everyday casual use, like surfing the Web and lurking social networks, it'll get the job done. If you're also into watching a lot of video or big on taking photos, you won't find another tablet -- for such an affordable price -- that offers a design especially made to comfortably accommodate those two activities.

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