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Review: Lenovo's New 8" Tablet Is Seriously Hot Yoga!

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The Kickstand The Kickstand
Dolby Digital Plus and MultiMode Functions Dolby Digital Plus and MultiMode Functions
The MicroSD slot (and, ahem 3G slot- sorry no US 3G) The MicroSD slot (and, ahem 3G slot- sorry no US 3G)
Front Facing Stereo Speakers Front Facing Stereo Speakers

There's a tech war going on and it isn't being fought in the affluent homes where there are two cars in the garage, picket fences and children who all have their own laptops and tablets. No, this tech war is being waged where the masses dwell. And that's where the latest shots fired from companies like Google, NVIDIA, Kindle and now Lenovo.


With a big PR push from, ironically, the guy who played Steve Jobs on the silver screen, Lenovo presented it's new 8" and 10" screens to the world. Ashton Kutcher stood in front of an audience of tech pundits, bloggers and tastemakers and espoused the virtues of innovation and I have to say that I'm not disappointed with Lenovo's efforts in that area! The real innovation with the new Yoga tablets is not necessarily the hardware, though that has its high points, but with the mix of bang and buck. For the family looking for a low cost, high quality tablet in a sea of off-brand junktastic Android tablets, this one should be in the top 3 you're considering this holiday season.


Yoga's Hardware: Salamba Sirsasana*

The first thing you notice when you take the Lenovo Yoga 8" tablet out of the box isn't how light it is. The similarly sized Nexus 7 weighs in at just over 10oz, the iPad Mini is 11.64oz and the Yoga, despite its svelte moniker, comes in at 14oz. That 1lb 2oz. is a very deceptive figure since you're actually going to be holding the tablet by the large cylinder which feels natural. It's like holding a rolled up magazine, or <gasp!> comic book. Don't worry, I never roll up #1's, first editions or gold foil cover editions, but I digress. Anywho, what's great about the Yoga is that you don't actually have to hold the tablet because they went all self-contained on consumers and built a kickstand into the cylinder. That's right, you get a kickstand on the device which makes watching movies with the device propped up a right out the box experience. No need for aftermarket accessories here. And when you prop up the Yoga, you may notice that it has front facing stereo speakers which sound impressive thanks to built-in Dolby Digital Plus- we'll go into that more in detail later.


Continuing your tour of the exterior of the device, you'll find the power/wake button on one side of the cylinder with the microUSB charge port above that on the edge of the device. On the other end of the cylinder you get your standard 3.5mm headphone jack and just above that on that side's edge, you have the volume rocker and microphone. Moving around to the rear of the Yoga, you'll see the 5MP camera on the back of the cylinder and when you open up the kickstand, you will find the microSD slot which supports up to 64GB of memory expansion. One of my disappointments with this device comes in what sits next to that microSD slot… a vestigial SIM slot. Yes, a shared relic from a related species whose DNA splintered to include a branch of Yogas with 3G support, but only outside the US. I know, #firstworldproblems but the competitors in this space all have cellular options though the market this device is aimed at is probably perfectly fine with wifi only. The screen is the next place we find ourselves on this little tour though not a lot to see here compared to other devices on the market. Literally. To keep costs down and battery life up, no doubt, Lenovo chose to go with a 1280x800 720p display which looked pretty darn good as I watched the free Shaun The Sheep short that the Play Movies store was offering that day. I don't think anyone will be disappointed watching media at 720p at this price point. Also, looking at the top of the display (while in portrait position) you'll see an ambient light sensor and a 1.6MP front facing camera.



Baby got backs!

The last stop on our tour is the back of the device, specifically the cylinder. Lenovo did something very smart with the cylinder and placed some high capacity batteries inside both the 8" and 10" devices. If you're going to make a device for the mid to low-range side of the market you have to differentiate and Lenovo has definitely done that. There is a 6,000mAh battery hidden in there and its ability power the Yoga is probably the most impressive aspect of the unit, besides the Dolby Digital Plus. Not only will it power the Yoga for very long stretches but Lenovo says you can recharge your other mobile devices from it. I'm going to cover that in another post because so many of us are now conditioned to carry around a spare recharger like those from Mophie and others, but if this works well, it's a great excuse to ditch that extra power supply on those days you're rolling light.


At $250 for this 8" version, the hardware is awesome but what really makes the hardware shine is a small software enhancement. When you think about what you're going to be doing with the Yoga 8, email, surfing, status updates and watching or listening to content probably come to mind but it's the latter of those tasks which really stands out, thanks to the inclusion of the mobile focused, sound enhancing, Dolby Digital Plus. If you head to Dolby's website, it will tell you that among the features of Digital Plus are: surround virtualization, volume maximization, dialogue enhancement and audio regulation. I can wholeheartedly tell you that it does make a difference! I loaded up Transformers: Dark of the Moon and fast forwarded to one of the best action sequences in the movie and I have to tell you that I was blown away. Though you can't crank those little speakers to room thumping levels, the sound you get out of them is more than loud enough for the distance you'll be sitting from an 8" screen. That though isn't the most compelling characteristic. The sound virtualization is impeccable. "What does that mean in English," you say? Movie studios spend tens of thousands of dollars on audio engineers and sound design to create an immersive soundscape that will, hopefully, help you feel "lost" in the experience. Movie going at its best should have you feeling as if you are a part of the film, which is what James Cameron was attempting to do with Avatar and the new 3D process he developed. Make no mistake, how they put together the dialogue and sound effects was as much a part of that process as the 3D cameras and software they invented. Part of what sound designers spend their time doing is laboring over things like (getting back to Transformers) making sure that if Optimus Prime is on the right side of the screen and fires his gun, it will sound to you like that shot came from the right. If a huge firefight is going on around you they want it to feel like you hear things going off all around you. You get the picture. Dolby Digital Plus endeavors to bring an experience as close to that as possible on your mobile devices and I can say that they accomplished that mission in its implementation on the Yoga 8. Watching and listening to Transformers on this device did, in fact, feel immersive. Obviously, not so much the watching part but the sound virtualization is what really contributes to the immersion which is an important note with streaming services and apps like HBO GO!a seeing such growth. Though I haven't had occasion to test it out, Dolby Digital Plus also touts that when playing content from your mobile device through your home audio/video equipment, you'll have multichannel pass-through which means you'll be able to utilize your home surround sound speakers.


Lenovo has taken the time to add some other software customizations that are pretty cool. The Yoga is billed as a "multi-mode" tablet, which is their marketing speak for "you can hold it different ways and look, we've included software customizations you can access depending on how you're holding the tablet which will launch default features specific to how you may be using the tablet when you're using it in that position." Fortunately for them, they're much better at writing tag lines for their own product than I am but from the  drop-down menu you can choose: Tilt Mode, Hold Mode and Stand Mode. Each comes with a quick menu called the Smart Bar that you can access by swiping in from the right in Stand Mode and from the left side of the screen in Hold Mode. The Smart Bar features frequently accessed apps, books music and movies. The Yoga also comes stock with a Navigation app, a great power management app and Norton Mobile Security all running atop Android 4.2 Jelly Bean.


Now, so far I know all of that sounds great and you may be thinking to yourself, "shut up and take my money," but the Yoga 8 does hit some sour notes that you should be aware of before buying. If you're a hardcore techie, you may find other tablets on the market that are better spec'd for gaming, like Google's Nexus 7 (2013). The processor inside the Yoga is last-gen instead of latest generation even though it's a 1.2ghz Quad-core affair. This gave me cause for concern when I first made the tablet my daily driver. It was fine and zippy enough, but that MediaTek processor showed its shortcomings with some laggy moments here and there. I even had some freezes when during an app update, I would try to do something else on the device and it just became unresponsive until the updating app was finished installing. Another issue I ran into was a lack of touch screen sensitivity. There were a few instances where I'd tap something on-screen and get no response, though this being a first gen product for Lenovo I figured I'd be a little forgiving and see if a software update/maintenance release would resolve any issues I was seeing. About two weeks into my time, Lenovo did in fact release an update which increased the touch sensitivity and the device doesn't feel laggy like it did at first. When compared to some new devices though, you will have some lag because Lenovo chose to equip the device with only 1GB of RAM (paired with that MediaTek processor). My last complaint here is that they chose to do away with the Android app drawer, leaving you with home screens full of app icons unless you organize things into folders. If I wanted rows and rows of apps and app folders on my homescreens I could go with an iPad Mini guys (though, not as budget friendly). All told, these complaints didn't feel at all like they outweighed the positive chords the Yoga 8 struck with me.


In the end, if you're looking for an 8" tablet to add to your family of tablets or as an additional tablet in your home and your primary use is going to be media consumption, or maybe you were looking for something for your tweens or teens then you should consider the Yoga 8 one of your top choices. I played Plants v. Zombies2 on it and the game ran like a charm, movies sound incredible on the device and look just as good. Do I think there are better all-around devices in this price point? Yes, but the Yoga has most of them beat when it comes to media consumption and if that's what you're mainly going to be doing you'll need to take a long, hard look as you compare your options!

Tshaka Armstrong Tech Ninja Tshaka Armstong writes about the latest technology and helping FOX 11 Viewers understand how to be safer, smarter users of the internet and their "gadgets. He's also one of our social media guys, helping guide the station's online efforts and social media outreach.
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