Thanks to a new wave of 8-inch Windows 8.1 tablets, Microsoft's flagship OS is becoming more portable than ever. Lenovo's Miix 2 is one of the latest slates to put Windows 8.1 in your (jacket) pocket, touting a powerful Bay Trail processor and a bright 1280 x 800 display. But can it compete with similarly sized Windows slates, such as the Dell Venue 8 Pro?
The first thing we noticed about the Lenovo Miix 2 is how much sleeker it is when compared with competing 8-inch Windows 8 tablets. At 12.2 ounces and 0.3 inches thick, this slate is lighter and thinner than both the 13.6-ounce Venue 8 Pro (13.6 ounces, 0.35 inches) and the Toshiba Encore (15.7 ounces, 0.43 inches).
The Lenovo Miix 2 sports a black bezel encased by silver panels. When held vertically, the device's 2-MP front camera sits at the top next to a Lenovo logo, while a touch-capacitive Windows home button rests at the bottom. On the Dell Venue 8 Pro, this button rests on the top edge, which is awkward.
The slate's right edge hosts a power button, volume switch, microSD reader and microUSB input, with a headphone jack on the top edge. The Miix's silver plastic back panel has a faint texture for grip, though it's not as comfy as the Dell Venue 8 Pro's soft-touch rear.
The device's 5-MP rear lens and small stereo speakers sit at the top of the back panel, though things get a bit messy when you head further down. The slightly raised Lenovo logo near the center of the back panel felt rough on our fingers when holding the tablet, and the combination of Windows, Intel and Lenovo stickers at the bottom make the rear look somewhat cluttered.
Like the Iconia W3 and Venue 8 Pro, the Miix 2 sports an 8-inch, 1280 x 800 display. The multicolored Live Tile interface looked crisp on the Miix 2's screen, as did the text of websites like Laptopmag.com and ESPN.com.
When watching the 1080p trailer for "RoboCop" on the Miix 2, we could clearly see the light reflecting off of RoboCop's sleek black face mask. The clip's intense gunfights were colorful and clear on the Lenovo slate, and remained vivid as we watched from different angles. The video looked nearly identical when watching side-by-side with the Venue 8 Pro, with the Miix 2 version being a bit brighter and the Venue 8 Pro version having slightly richer colors.
In terms of brightness, the Miix 2's 534-lux display outshone its 8-inch competitors by a long shot. The slate's brightness rating more than doubled the 222-lux Iconia W3-810, and significantly outperformed the 377-lux Dell Venue 8 Pro and the 361-lux category average.
The Miix 2's tiny stereo speakers are clear, but far from room-filling. It was easy to hear the snappy snares and synths of Childish Gambino's "3005," but the song was low on bass and sounded canned at full volume. When listening to My Chemical Romance's "Helena," it was somewhat hard to pick out the distorted guitars.
The Lenovo tablet netted a 72-decibel rating on the LAPTOP Audio Test, which consists of measuring a tone at full volume from 13 inches away. The Venue 8 Pro was significantly louder at 88 decibels, and the Miix 2 ranks under the 80-decibel tablet average.
The Miix 2 runs Windows 8.1, which is the first major update to Microsoft's touch-optimized OS. The 8.1 lock screen displays the time, date, battery life and Wi-Fi connection at the bottom left, and can be swiped up to unlock the device.
The slate's home screen sports the familiar grid of Windows 8 tiles, including icons for Internet Explorer, Skydrive and Calendar, as well as Live Tiles that provide real-time updates on sports, news and weather. The Windows 8.1 update brings along new Bing apps for cooking and exercise, as well as the option to make each tile one of four different sizes.
Also new to Windows 8.1 is an improved Snap View mode, which allows users to split the screen between two apps at ratios of 50/50, 60/40 and 70/30. We used the feature to view the Bing Sports and Bing Health and Fitness apps at the same time, and still had plenty of screen space to read articles from each respective app.
The Miix 2's app selection runs the standard Windows 8.1 gamut, providing access to programs like Skype, Internet Explorer and Xbox Music. Many Windows 8.1 devices pack the trial version of Office, though Miix 2 owners get a free copy of Office Home & Student 2013, which normally goes for $139.
The slate is light on Lenovo-exclusive offerings save for a set of preloaded user guides and the Lenovo App Shop, the latter of which seems better suited for a full desktop computer. Lenovo's app marketplace has a few dozen offerings, including e-books, productivity tools like Evernote and popular games such as "Subway Surfers" and "Fruit Ninja." However, the App Shop's clunky interface was difficult to navigate, and we received a error message after installing and trying to play the free "Roller Coaster" game.
Fortunately, there's Microsoft's own Windows app store. Here, you'll find popular programs like Adobe Photoshop Express, Facebook, Twitter and Netflix, as well as games like "Pac-Man Championship Edition" and "Halo: Spartan Assault." The Windows store's 100,000-plus offerings are a fraction of the iPad's 475,000, but the offerings are improving both on the entertainment and productivity fronts.
Packing the power of Bay Trail T, the Miix 2 is powered by a 1.3-GHz Intel Atom Z3740 processor along with 2GB of RAM. The Venue 8 Pro runs a Bay Trail 1.8-GHz Intel Atom Z3740D, while the Iconia W3-810 contains an older 1.8-GHz Intel Z2780 Atom processor.
The Miix 2 performed basic tablet functions without a hitch, taking 1.44 seconds to launch the Camera app, and just 0.72 seconds to return to the Start screen from Camera. However, it took a sluggish 2.1 seconds (on average) to shift from portrait to landscape mode.
With 32GB of eMMC storage, the Miix 2 booted Windows 8.1 in 12 seconds. This is faster than the Iconia W3-810 (14 seconds), the ASUS Transformer Book T100 (17 seconds) and the 16-second tablet average, but just a bit slower than the Venue 8 Pro's 10-second startup time.
The Miix 2 netted a 2,384 on the PCMark 7 performance test, scoring higher than the Iconia W3-810 (1,415) and the Venue 8 Pro (2,263). This showing is slightly below the 10-inch Transformer Book T100's score of 2,338.
To test the Miix 2's power as a PC, we ran our OpenOffice spreadsheet test, which matches 20,000 names to their addresses. The Miix 2 completed the task in 20 minutes and 22 seconds, which is almost 10 minutes faster than the Iconia W3-810 (30:17) but a few minutes slower than the 15:56 category average. The Venue 8 Pro was only a few seconds slower than the Miix 2 at 20:36. A productivity powerhouse this is not.
On the plus side, Lenovo's tablet scored 9,739 on the 3DMark Ice Storm Extreme benchmark, surpassing the Venue 8 Pro (8,830) and Transformer Book T100 (9,710). This showing also shatters the 5,509 category average.
MORE: Top Tablet Gifts
The Miix 2 has a respectable 2-MP front-facing lens for video chats and taking quick pictures. We had no issues making out the black and gray stripes on our shirt, but we noticed some pixelation in our skin tone when we looked closely.
The slate's rear 5-MP rear camera did an impressive job capturing a snowy day in the Flatiron District. We could see individual snowflakes falling over a bright red McDonalds awning. The 1080p video we shot in the same area was equally clear, as we could make out various store logos around us while watching each pellet of snow hit the ground.
Microsoft keeps it simple with the Windows 8.1 Camera app, providing a timer and adjustable exposure. When browsing the Camera Roll, you can rotate, crop, adjust light and color, and add a vignette to your shot.
You'll have no issues using the Miix 2 for most of the workday on a single charge, as the Lenovo tablet lasted a strong 8 hours and 26 seconds on the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing over Wi-Fi). The slate outperformed the Venue 8 Pro (8:18) and category average of 7:37, but fell about a half-hour short of the older Iconia W3-810's 8:54 endurance.
Configurations and Accessories
The Miix 2 starts at $299 with a 1.33-GHz Intel Atom Z3740 processor, 2GB of RAM and a 32GB eMMC hard drive. The $339 model doubles the storage to 64GB, with the same CPU and RAM as the $299 version.
Lenovo sells an optional $29 Folio Case and Stylus set, which comes with a blue, black or pink magnetic flip cover that doubles as a stand, as well as a stylus for getting work done on the go.
Dell's $299 Venue 8 Pro is configured similarly, with a 1.8-GHz Intel Atom Z3740D processor, 2GB of RAM and a 32GB SSD. Upgrading to 64GB of storage costs an extra $49. Dell's folio case and styli are sold for $39 and $29 respectively, making Lenovo's combo pack a much better accessory deal.
The $299 Lenovo Miix 2 is the best entry yet in the still-young market of smaller Windows 8 tablets. The slate's Bay Trail processor and strong battery provides plenty of pep and endurance for work and play. Plus, its bright, lucid screen outshines the competition.
While not as portable, the ASUS Transformer Book T100 has a larger 10-inch display, and comes with a keyboard dock for just $50 more.
The $299 Dell Venue 8 Pro offers similar power with a somewhat more comfy design, but it's also heavier and thicker, and its awkward Start button placement is a real turn-off. Overall, the Miix 2 is a compelling option for those who want to use Windows 8.1 anywhere they go.