Even as phablets become more popular, midsize tablets such as the Lenovo Tab 2 A8 can still make a case for your attention. With its bright 8-inch display, epic battery and very affordable price of $130, the Tab 2 is a compelling option for shoppers. While it thankfully runs an almost-stock version of Android 5.0 Lollipop, the performance of this MediaTek-powered slate leaves a thing or two to be desired.
Editors' Note: An earlier version of this review mistakenly stated that the Tab 2 A8 uses an Intel Atom processor. It's powered by a quad-core MediaTek CPU.
With a striking metallic-blue polycarbonate shell, the Tab 2 looks sleek. The back tapers in on the sides, which causes the 5-megapixel camera lens on back of the tablet to protrude, but not awkwardly so. Lenovo's logo is also on the back of the case: small, silver and refined.
The SIM and MicroSD ports are hidden underneath a flap on the right side of the shell. That covering can be tricky to remove, since you loosen it from the edge and then detach it from the opposite side.
On the top of the Tab 2, you'll find the headphone jack and MicroUSB port. The tablet has dual speakers, located at the top and bottom of the display. There is a 2-MP camera above the screen, with Lenovo's logo again appearing in silver beneath the screen.
The volume rocker and power switches are on right side of the Tab 2, placed subtly, without any callouts for functions.
Measuring 8.27 x 4.9 x 0.4 inches and weighing 11.2 ounces, the Tab 2 is thicker but lighter than the Acer Iconia Tab 8 (8.5 x 5.1 x 0.33 inches, 12.6 ounces), and it weighs about the same as the Amazon Fire HD 7 (7.5 x 5.0 x 0.4 inches, 11.9 ounces).
Despite the tablet's low price, Lenovo gave the Tab 2 an impressive 8-inch HD (1280 x 800) IPS display. The 720p music videos for Rihanna's color-saturated "BBHMM" and Kendrick Lamar's black-and-white "Alright" both looked excellent. Not only did the Tab 2 show a wide range of grays in the graffiti and waterfronts of Kendrick's Compton, but the greens of the grass and reds of Rihanna's hair were also vibrant. Small details, like broken granite and the bags under Mads Mikkelsen's eyes, were clear and crisp.
We measured the brightness of the Tab 2's screen at 368 nits, which is higher than the category average (348) and the Iconia Tab 8 (290). Only the Fire HD 7 (433 nits) shines brighter.
MORE: Best Tablets
Also great at reproducing color, the Tab 2 was able to display 91.6 percent of the sRGB gamut. That's well above the category average (90.9 percent), the Iconia Tab 8 (78.8 percent) and the Fire HD 7 (82 percent).
On Kool & the Gang's "Summer Madness," the Tab 2's speakers did an excellent job with the range of sounds. The highs of the synths and horns came through crisply, and the lows were sturdy and spacious.
Since the Movie setting is enabled by default, you should open the pre-installed Dolby Atmos audio software when you start using the Tab 2. When I switched to the Music preset, the soundscape of Jamie xx's "Gosh" opened up, and Miguel's "Coffee" sounded much clearer.
Responding to user feedback, Lenovo made a point of keeping the Tab 2's experience as close to stock-Android as possible. The A8 version of the Tab 2 runs Lollipop 5.0 out of the box (the Tab 2 A10 comes with Android 4.4 KitKat, and is due to receive 5.0 in mid-to-late July).
The Back and Recent buttons are similar to stock Android as well, but the Home button is in the shape of a house, as opposed to the circle seen in Google's version of Lollipop.
Powered by a 1.3-GHz quad-core MediaTekMT8161processor and 2GB of RAM, the Tab 2 is good for surfing the Web, listening to music or watching videos. Unfortunately, this budget tablet showed its limitations when I attempted to multitask. Listening to a song on Spotify while I browsed the Web, the music would often flake out, and I eventually gave up on having something to listen to while I read. Since dual-window mode is not available on the Tab 2, I tried to have a YouTube video playing in the background while I browsed the Web, but that also crashed while I was reading an article. Even when switching between apps, it took a few seconds to load an app after tapping on it in the Recent view.
In the Geekbench 3 synthetic benchmark test, the Tab 2 earned a low 1,781, putting it below the category average (2,481) and the more expensive $174 Iconia Tab 8 (2,260). However, the $159 Fire HD 7 (1,503) had a poorer score.
This tablet didn't fare well in our 3DMark gaming benchmark test either, scoring 4,959. That's far lower than the category average of 17,839. The Iconia Tab 8 (16,729) and the Fire HD 7 (10,381) both scored much higher.
It took Lenovo's tablet 9 minutes and 33 seconds to transcode an HD video to 480p resolution in the VidTrim app. That's almost 3 minutes longer than the category average (6:40), and behind the times of the Iconia Tab 8 (5:27) and Fire HD 7 (5:18).
The 5-MP rear camera shot very nice photos off of my fire escape, managing to capture architectural details, pedestrians and automobiles with relative clarity. The 2-MP, front-facing lens wasn't as strong, producing selfies with washed-out color balance.
Lenovo's Camera app comes with a setting you may find offensive, in the Face Beauty Mode, which is also found in many Android phones and tablets with front-facing cameras. It took a blur tool to my face without any apologies, going further than fashion magazine retouchers might dare.
As a part of Lenovo's effort to make this as close to stock-Android as possible, there's minimal app bloat on the Tab 2. You'll find only Browser, Contacts, Calendar and Email, in addition to Lenovo's SYNCit HD cloud backup app and the company's SHAREit file-transfer app.
The Tab 2 may not be the fastest tablet, but if you leave the house with this device fully charged, you won't need to worry about finding an outlet. The device lasted an impressive 11 hours and 32 minutes on the Laptop Mag battery test, which measures continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness. That's almost three hours longer than the category average (8:49), more than three hours longer than the Fire HD 7 (8:25) and over four hours longer than the Iconia Tab 8 (6:53).
Lenovo offers a few useful accessories for the Tab 2, including a folio case for $20 and a 16GB USB and Micro USB flash drive, also for $20. There's also a 5000mAh external battery available for $30, which is even larger than the 4290mAh battery inside of the Tab 2.
With its amazing battery life and bright, colorful screen, Lenovo's Tab 2 A8 does its best to counter the adage of "you get what you pay for." It's not as fast as other budget 8-inch tablets, but it lasts much longer on a charge. This may not be a device for gaming or multitasking, but if you're looking for a tablet for Web surfing, listening to music or watching video -- just not all at once -- the $130 Tab 2 is a fine choice.