Review by Andrew Kameka on Wednesday December 04, 2013.
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Software and Apps
Though the Yoga Tablet 8 runs Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, it has a unique appearance. The bulk of Lenovo's sales for mobile devices have come mainly in Asia, which may explain why the Lenovo user interface is so different from what's typically seen on Android. The app drawer has been chucked aside in favor of a home screen with several panels showing all of the available apps and widgets in one place. An app drawer makes accessing apps much easier, but holding down on the screen offers a shortcut to swipe from one panel to the next.
The notification drawer has the same format as other Android tablets in that dragging down on the left side shows alerts from apps while dragging the right goes to quick toggles. The Yoga supports themes and has graphical choices that are similar to the old iOS/MIUI appearance. As a result, Lenovo's apps and UI customizations look as though they were designed for children.
Lenovo makes some head-scratching decisions with its app choices. In addition to File Browser, which isn't very good, it comes preloaded with ES File Explorer, which is preferable. Why have two file management apps? It also includes the old Android browser app without any customizations or add-ons like other manufacturers. Google Maps? Sure, it's there, but so is Navigate 6. Are Android anti-virus apps are a placebo? Yes, but here's Norton Mobile Security anyway! There's minimal preloaded bloatware and the full Google Mobile suite of apps is available for download, so the problems can be mitigated, but the Yoga Tablet has a strange way of doing things. It never feels like the software is met to anticipate needs or improve the experience; it's there because Lenovo wanted to do something slightly different.
A 5-megapixel camera is located on the back of the cylinder, and a 1.6-megapixel camera is on the top bezel. Tablet cameras in general tend to underperform and the Yoga Tablet 8 fails to buck the trend. The rear camera takes dark and grainy photos. Complicating matters further is its placement near the left edge of the device, which leads to unintentionally blocking the lens and awkwardly positioning fingers around the metal tube to get things right. Flipping to the thin side of the phone then leads to people looking awkwardly at the camera. The front camera at least works as advertised and does a decent enough job. The camera becomes more useful because of the kickstand.
Data & Communication
Lenovo plans to release a 3G version of the Yoga Tablet outside of the US, so the Wi-Fi model is the only one available stateside. The data card slot is next to the internal microSD slot, but it has been sealed shut in this version. Users will instead rely on 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi. Connections were strong in my apartment, but not so much when moving through a relative's large house. The tablet also supports Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, and microUSB OTG.
Praise for the Lenovo Yoga Tablet 8 is rare, but it is undeniably well-earned when it comes to battery life. The 6,000 mAh battery in the Yoga Tablet 8 made it possible for me to go several days without having to recharge the battery. I watched an entire season of Eastbound & Down, read several chapters of Soccernomics, and wasted time on YouTube, and listened to several of my favorite podcasts. At the end of the day, I still had more than 30 percent battery remaining. I have never used a tablet that lasts as long as the Yoga, which routinely made it through an entire day of extreme use. This may prove to be the saving grace for the tablet; anyone who places battery life at the top of the priority list will have to at least entertain the Yoga because it earns high marks when it comes to staying power.
The Yoga Tablet 8 is the best tablet prototype I've seen in a long time. Of course, it's not supposed to be a prototype; it's supposed to be a fully-formed product that a major manufacturer is selling throughout the world. The problem is that the device doesn't feel like one ready for mass consumption. The Yoga Tablet is instead the first step towards a great product that took a wrong turn and never found its way back.
Lenovo's integrated kickstand is an innovative design case and the battery is phenomenal, but corners were cut in too many important areas. With better software, a more dense display, and a new processor, this could have been one of the best tablets on the market. At a starting price of $249, I can't imagine why anyone would buy this over a Nexus 7 unless he or she is obsessed with a long-lasting battery and the flexible use cases offered by the kickstand. Otherwise, the Yoga Tablet 8 isn't much of a standout.
Andrew is based in Miami, Florida.