8-on-8: Windows 8.1 on 8-inch Tablets (Lenovo Miix 2 followup)
It has been a month since I posted a review on Surface Geeks, and I apologize. There has been work and the first of a few holidays to get in the way. In that time however, I have tested additional tablets. The Nokia Lumia 2520 (great hardware, inconsistent software experience) and a few others. After a year of testing devices, I believe my thoughts from last month on the Lenovo Miix 2 were correct. It’s the tablet for me, and I believe the form factor might be a great one for many of you. I’d like to continue talking about using Windows 8.1 on an 8-inch device, starting with followup on the Lenovo Miix 2 8. You can find my original review here.
The Lenovo Miix 2 8 is currently still available for shipping on Amazon (http://amzn.to/1aNtV6d) starting at $299. However, the Dell Venue Pro 8 is getting all the attention. Microsoft has selected it to be part of their 12 Days of Deals (http://surfacegeeks.net/the-12-days-of-christmas-dell-venue-8-pro.html). Many already purchased it during Black Friday and Cyber Monday specials for as little as $229. I know quite a few coworkers that will be trying to pick one up this morning for a staggering low $99. Toshiba has since began shipping their heavier Encore 8 which starts at $329 but provides a higher build quality, longer battery life, and the desirable Micro HDMI port. Acer has told us to wait for 2014 for their new W4 which could possibly have the best screen of the bunch.
I selected and stayed with the Lenovo because it is the thinnest and lightest. The Flip Cover with Stylus combo has been ordered, and should mimic Apple’s Smart Cover nicely. I prefer it over Dell’s folio offering, mainly for being significantly lighter. Toshiba lists accessories in the Encore’s box, but they don’t seem to be shipping yet. Apple seems to be one of the few manufacturers who ship key accessories at the same time as their new hardware. At the end of the day, I don’t think it matters which 8-inch Windows 8.1 tablet you choose. They should all provide about the same user experience. However, I will say that weight could impact a device’s one handed use. Your millage may vary, depending on use case.
I started my Lenovo Miix 2 8 experience review by saying “It is all about the in-hand feel. And boy, does the Lenovo Miix 2 8 feel great!” A month later, I feel exactly the same. Others have complimented the build quality. Although, to be honest it is rather creaky sometimes. This is likely due to the thin and light nature of the device. After comparing the Miix 2 with the Venue Pro 8, I can say that at least from the units I have touched, the Lenovo screen is superior. Blacks are blacker, contrast is better overall, and colors appear significantly more vivid. The speakers are more hit and miss than I originally experienced, mainly depending on source volume. Xbox Music is loud, while YouTube via Hyper sounds are lower than desired. Either the capacitive Windows key works better after various Windows updates, or I am just more use to its behavior. It works, but it does require a double hit occasionally.
I wanted to love Windows RT, as I thought simplicity would rule for tablets. However, in my opinion and usage of the OS on four different devices, I can say that Windows is not optimized for ARM processors. At least not yet. The original Microsoft Surface and Samsung Ativ Tab seem to provide a more consistent experience than modern RT devices. However they are showing their age speed wise. The Surface 2 and Nokia Lumia 2520 are faster, but were inconsistent for me. Apps would behave oddly, and the OS seemed to have more bugs than x86 devices. The x86 based tablets, specifically the Miix 2 and Venue Pro 8 feel significantly faster than any RT device I have used. The OS in general appears more stable and far more consistent. Apps load quickly, resume well and function properly 99% of the time. I personally can’t say the same for Windows RT. The Bay Trail Atoms we are seeing at the end of 2013 and coming soon in 2014 are amazing mobile processors with a great balance of performance and battery stamina.
I am using more apps than ever within the Modern UI. Facebook, Hyper, InPic (Instagram client), Kindle, Lattermark (Pocket client), Songza, Tweetium (more to come on this one) and Vevo are the third party apps that have a home in my first Start menu grouping. They join Calendar, Desktop, IE, Mail, Music, People, Remote Desktop, SkyDrive and Weather. They all run well, and most importantly… consistently. The 8-inch form factor, specifically in landscape, makes them easy and fun to use. Windows 8.1 on a smaller tablet can also be productive. Cisco Anyconnect VPN allows me to use the Microsoft Remote Desktop client to access work machines. I worked from my bed one night, and supported a hardware database upgrade. It was perfect. Although Outlook is available (but not included with x86 devices like it is on RT), I prefer the Windows Mail app. It is great for use in landscape orientation.
Other apps work well on this form factor as well. The newly updated CBS and Watch ABC apps join Netflix and Flixster to round up my video needs. Quality is decent, and although not 1080p, quite easy on the eyes. Bing Maps Preview is a new addition to my device, and it looks great. I look forward to seeing more unique pas leveraging touch control like this one does. The selection of games on the platform is growing, with Asphault 8 and Star Wars Tiny Death Star bringing some enjoyment. Smaller titles like Hill Climb Racing are great for killing time as well. I’d like to see more apps and games, and for the Windows Store to grow as quickly as the Windows Phone Store has. But it is getting better. Although not for me, Flipboard and Mint have joined the party as well. Hopefully 2014 will be the year of Modern UI apps for Windows.
I think Dell will sell more Venue 8 Pro devices than they expected. Hopefully Lenovo does well too, along with the Toshiba and upcoming Acer offerings. It is great having options, most of all for keeping pricing low. Whether you buy a Dell or a Lenovo, or pay $99 or $299, it doesn’t stop these from being great values. You can have a full Windows PC experience in a pound or less. If you are like me, you’ll stick to using Modern UI apps. This is where I feel the 8-inch Windows devices truly shine. Your thumbs rule the screen in landscape, and your hands won’t tire too quickly in portrait mode. These devices are fun and productive. You can take them anywhere, as they even fit in some pockets and most purses. Always wanting more, I long for an LTE* version of any of these 8-inch Windows tablets. Then I can work and play anywhere. Give one of these devices a try. It’ll probably be the Dell, thanks to their aggressive pricing. But if you want the lightest Windows experience around, I still believe the Lenovo Miix 2 can’t be beat.
*I have been using my Lenovo Miix 2 8 with an AT&T Unite Pro LTE hotspot.