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Computerized Investing > June 21, 2014

Lenovo Miix 2 8-inch Tablet

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by Wayne A. Thorp, CFA

$299.99 (32G); $349.99 (64G)

Windows 8 touch-screen tablet with 8-inch display.

Previously in this column, I’ve reviewed an iOS tablet and an Android tablet. A few years back I tried out a fledgling Windows tablet, but the design and functionality was so horrid I put it back in the box after about an hour and sent it back to the PR firm. The experience was so bad I have blocked out the name of the maker.

With the advent of Windows 8 and its touch-friendly interface, more and more Windows-based tablets are coming to market, so I thought it was time to try one again. This time, it was the Lenovo Miix 2 8-inch tablet. As I am a huge fan of my 10-inch iPad Air tablet and Galaxy Tab 10-inch, I was curious to see how I would like the smaller 8-inch design. I was pleasantly surprised by how useful even a smaller display is, as well as how much better the latest-generation Windows tablets are compared to their predecessors. However, even though Windows offers functionality iOS or Android can’t match and the Miix 2 has features I’d love to see on my iPad, this tablet still left me wanting more.

Out of the Box

The Miix 2 tablet measures 5.2 inches by 8.5 inches by 0.3 inches, making it 0.01 inches thicker than my iPad Air or the iPad mini. The 8-inch (diagonal) display sports IPS technology and has a 1280 by 800 resolution. IPS (in-plane switching) screen technology is all the rage right now with displays and stands. The primary competing display technology these days is TN-F (twisted nematic film), which made LCD technology a commercial reality by making it affordable to the masses. However, TN-F cannot replicate true 24-bit color (16.7 million colors) since it can only handle six bits per color. To get around this, TN-F simulates 16.7 million colors by blending adjacent pixels to make different color shades. The only problem with TN-F displays is that they have a viewing angle in the range of 160 degrees to 170 degrees. In-plane switching technology allows for an accurate display of 16.7 million colors, which helps with design or high-end video work, and offers wider horizontal and vertical viewing angles.

Weighing in at 0.77 pounds, the Miix 2 8-inch is only 0.04 pounds heavier than the iPad mini.

The black bezel of the Miix 2 8-inch is roughly 13/16ths of an inch on the top and bottom (held in default vertical orientation) and about 3/8ths of an inch on the sides. The tablet casing is silver plastic that is slightly texturized to help with gripping.

The Miix 2 sports the Intel Bay Trail Atom Processor, specially the quad-core Atom 23740 at 1.33GHz, with a burst frequency of 1.86GHz. It also has 2G of low-power DDR3/1066 dual memory and either 32G or 64G of solid-state storage.

On the right edge of the Miix 2 (holding it in the default portrait orientation) there is the power button, volume rocker button, microSD reader slot and microUSB input/charger port. At the top is a 2-megapixel front-facing camera and at the bottom is a touch-capacitive Windows home button. The home button is especially welcome to those who are used to using an iPad with its familiar home button. On the top edge of the tablet is a headphone jack.

On the back of the Miix 2 you will find the rear-facing 5-megapixel camera and “stereo” speakers, although they are positioned off-center.

The Miix 2 supports Bluetooth 4.0, which will be your primary means of connecting peripherals such as a keyboard. For wireless connectivity, the Miix 2 also has 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi.

Included with the Miix is a microUSB charging cable and AC adapter. It would be nice if Lenovo included a stylus, similar to that offered with the Microsoft Surface. Instead, it can be bundled with a flip cover that you can purchase separately for $29.

Setup

Getting the Miix 2 up and running was easy, especially since I am pretty used to Windows 8. One of its features that shouldn’t be discounted is that it runs a full version of Windows 8.1.

The Miix 2 boots up in roughly 13 seconds and immediately defaults to the Windows 8 home screen.

The home screen of Windows 8.1 is, in my opinion, a lot of useless clutter. I usually spend the first several minutes deleting most of these tiles the first time I use a Windows 8 touch-capable device. There are also a number of “Live Tiles” that are updated via your Wi-Fi connection. Information includes stock quotes, news, and weather.

Beyond running full-featured Windows programs, the Miix 2 can run Windows apps, with more 100,000 available from the Windows store. While there are not nearly as many Windows apps as there are iOS or Android apps, the number and quality are increasing rapidly. I discovered that a number of apps that I use on my iPad and Android tablets are also available as Windows apps.

If you are going to run traditional Windows programs, you can add a start icon to the Windows home screen as well as to the Windows desktop, which you can also access from a start tile on the home screen. This will take you to the desktop you have come to know if you are familiar with Windows 7.

If you ever get lost or need to get back to the home screen, the Windows home button at the button of the tablet is very useful. With one touch you are delivered back to the home screen.

Performance

As I mentioned earlier, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that the Miix 2 runs full Windows; it’s not some watered-down version that can’t handle full-blown programs. The tablet will run Windows programs that don’t require more than 2GB of memory to operate. So, for example, I was able to download and install AAII’s fundamental stock screening and research database program, Stock Investor Pro on the tablet. Within minutes, I was screening and analyzing stocks, all on an 8-inch tablet. While the performance isn’t on par with the typical Windows desktop or notebook system, the Atom processor was able to power through any task I threw at it.

This was also the first time I spent any extended time using an 8-inch tablet. I found the form factor to be excellent for Web surfing or reading e-books. Luckily, my eyes are good enough to run programs such as Stock Investor Pro without too much trouble, but undoubtedly many would find the screen too small for prolonged use.

The display is bright and clear, albeit not as sharp as my iPad Air. However, for Web browsing and productivity functionality, the display is more than adequate. Even when viewing videos via Netflix and YouTube, the color and clarity was rather good.

Also, Lenovo gives you a free copy of MS Office Home & Student 2013 (a $40 value). So you can run Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote on the tablet. However, I will readily admit that in order to unlock the full productivity potential of this or any other tablet, a Bluetooth keyboard is vital.

The stereo speakers provided good sound quality while listening to video on the Miix 2. While the sound gets distorted at full volume, I have found this to be the case with all of the tablets I have ever used.

The Miix 2 does lack in I/O ports. The microUSB port doubles as the charging port, so you have no other ports if you need to charge the tablet. Adding in another (micro)USB and/or mini HDMI port would really expand the functionality of the Miix 2. As it is, you have to rely on Bluetooth to connect peripherals and on Wi-Fi to connect to the Internet (there is no hardwire Internet connection either).

However, the microSD card is a feature that I love. It’s nice being able to import documents, a feature I’ve loved on my Android tablets and one I wish the iPad offered.

Lastly, holding the Miix 2 for an extended period of time with one hand is not a problem at all, unlike my iPad Air and larger Android tablets. This makes it especially useful for prolonged reading. However, despite the Miix 2’s small form factor, I was equally impressed that it still had a solid feel to it.

BatteryLife

The Miix 2 is one of the few mobile devices with real-life battery capacity that exceeds the manufacturer claims. According to Lenovo, the battery life is up to seven hours, but I was able to log more than eight hours of Wi-Fi Web surfing between charges. While less than the 10-plus hours of battery life I get from my iPad Air, this is still quite good.

Price

Starting at $300 for the 32G version, the Miix 2 is a pretty good value, given that it can run full Windows 8.1 and comes with MS Office Home & Student 2013. However, the 32G model only gives you about 7G of free storage space with all the software that’s installed on it. So, for an extra $49, you can get 64G of storage space (and prices are much lower through various online outlets).

Since most of you will probably be using this tablet primarily as an e-reader, how does it stack up with other popular devices? Well the Kindle Fire HDS 8.9-inch tablet starts at $429 for 32GB, while the 32GB iPad mini with Retina display costs $499.

For a more direct comparison, the Miix 2 is price-competitive to Windows tablets of similar size. For example, the 32GB Dell Venue 8 Pro costs $249, the Toshiba Encore 8-inch 32GB tablet costs $329 and the Asus Vivo Tab Note 8-inch 32GB tablet costs $299 (however, I have not reviewed any of these Windows tablets, so cannot attest to their performance).

Overall

After my initial disappointment with earlier Windows 8 tablets, the Miix 2 8-inch Windows tablet has restored my faith. Whether this is the best Windows 8 tablet out there, I cannot say. But from what I have seen, I think it’s a good one. While Windows has been much maligned over the years, it is still my preferred operating system of choice, since that is the platform on which the vast majority of investment software titles run. I like my iPad Air and my Android tablets, but I still spend the majority of my day in front of a Windows screen.

Even if you aren’t a Windows fan, there is a lot to like about the Miix 2. It’s small and light and is perfect for reading e-books and surfing the Web. The pre-installed MS Office Home & Student 2013 boosts its productivity quotient, although you will want a Bluetooth keyboard to make tasks easier.

Lenovo could have done a couple of things to really boost the usefulness of the Miix 2, namely adding another (micro)USB port or a mini HDMI port to attach peripherals. But, undoubtedly, this would have added to the cost.

Since I already own a Microsoft Surface, I doubt I would buy the Miix 2 for my own personal use, just because I already have a small-form Windows device that has a keyboard via the optional case. Granted, the price points are drastically different. But if I were looking for a tablet running a full version of Windows 8.1, I can’t think of a reason why I wouldn’t consider the Miix 2 8-inch.

Pros

  • Good value given its features and functionality
  • Office Home & Student 2013 included
  • Clear, bright display
  • Good battery life
  • Capacitive Windows “home” button

Cons

  • Weak audio performance at high volume, which is typical for tablets
  • Lacking I/O ports compared to competing Windows tablets
  • 32G model has less than 7GB free storage space

Lenovo Miix 2 8-inch Tablet

$299.99 (32GB); $349.99 (64GB) (Currently $202.99 for 32GB model and $309.99 for 64GB model from Amazon.com)

Wayne A. Thorp, CFA is a vice president and senior financial analyst at AAII and editor of Computerized Investing. Follow him on Twitter at @WayneTAAII.


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