Lenovo has gone for an original design with the Yoga Tab series – focusing on battery and screen orientation, rather than a light-weight design with slim profile. The latest, the Yoga Tab 2, fixes a lot of the problems we had with the first attempt, but fails to address and even adds some more.
Our 10.1 inch slate is definitely an at-home model. This is not a tablet for taking to work every day or on a long travel adventure, but it’s a generally well-designed addition to your house.
It's also quite affordable. Price will vary depending on your region, but it's generally around 30% less than an a WiFi-only 16GB iPad Air 2. That puts it right in among the mid-range slates.
Like any piece of technology it has its issues. Unfortunately here they’re not exactly few and far between. Lenovo was so close to the mark with this one that it’s almost tempting to overlook any faults and chalk this one up as an 85 or 90 out of 100. Unfortunately, the Chinese company just isn’t quite there yet.
Almost everything about the Yoga Tab 2’s physical design is brilliant for an at-home tablet. It may look a little odd at first, but it’s easy to quickly fall in love with the tilted slant, the built-in stand with hook aperture, the off-centre weight distribution and the enormous battery.
First you need to look at what a home tablet is used for, compared to a more portable option. Browsing, messaging, video, music, cooking and reading tend to be the main uses. Things you don’t tend to need are a super lightweight design and a thin form-factor.
Standing up for itself
The built-in stand allows it to be oriented propped-up, standing or even hung on a hook in landscape mode. The first is useful for gaming, browsing and typing. Standing it up is fantastic for watching video. It makes it super-easy to carry it around from room to room as you clean or do various chores, or just simple to sit it on a desk or table.
Wall-hanging is a piece of inspired thinking. In the kitchen, bedroom, office or really anywhere, all you have to do is get yourself a removable hook, stick it to wall or cupboard and your tablet on there. It frees up a surprising amount of space. We found it mostly useful while cooking. Hanging it on a cupboard while you’re cooking a new recipe is the kind of functionality it’s going to be hard to go back from once we send it back to Lenovo.
There are, however, some problems with the Tab 2’s stand. The first is that it won’t stand up in portrait mode. This isn’t a particularly big problem, as there aren’t too many uses for it. However, lying it on a table in portrait mode is a more common complaint. Thanks to the battery bulge, even when the stand is folded away it still leans to the right or left.
The biggest issue is that the stand itself is quite sharp. It won’t cut your skin, but it’ll put some serious scratches on a nice wooden table. Fibre board stuff from Ikea is fine, but if you have a lacquered/stained wood surface, or even a glass one, be very careful when setting down and picking up this tablet. It’s so easy to take a chunk out of soft wood that you’re best avoiding using the stand on those surfaces all together.
Heavy, but not
The Yoga Tab 2 is a heavy tablet. At 600g it’s noticeably heftier than the iPad Air 2’s 437g. Yet, thanks to the off-centre distribution, it doesn’t tire your wrist out any more than the iPad.
By moving all of the weight to the wide, you can orient it so that the bulk of it is closer to your wrist. This means there’s less force being exerted on your joints and it makes for a surprisingly comfortable experience.
Holding it in landscape is a little different, but you’ll quickly adapt. In fact, there are a variety of different positions we found ourselves adopting regularly.
The go-to grip for reading, browsing and general portrait use. This puts all the weight closest to your wrist. If you need to switch hands, simply flip the tablet.
Great for professional work while you're up and about. It lets you hold it for lengthy periods without getting tired, but also allows for constant tapping and swiping thanks to the support given by the forearm.
You can't quite see it here, but folding the stand out, then clamping it back down over your fingers is actually a really good way of using the Yoga Tab 2 in landscape for long periods. It's not in any way painful, and taking some of the strain off of your grip seriously stretches out how long you can hold it up for.
This one's pretty straight forward, but be wary if you're using it on a nice, varnished wood table. Scratches may occur.
Similar to The Painter, The Cradle is great for long-term use if you're up and about. By keeping the weight at the bottom, your arm is doing the work instead of your wrist. It's a long-term position for video marathons, but lacks the manoeuvrability of The Clamp.
This last one is surprisingly useful on the train or bus. By flipping the stand out to a full 180 degrees, you prop it up just a bit higher, which can sometimes make all the difference.
It's also great if you're trying to squeeze in some last-minute YouTube before bed. An extra pillow + resting it on your chest puts it at the perfect lazy viewing angle.
The default Lenovo UI looks pretty standard at first. It’s a grid icon layout with widgets and a drop-down notification bar. Quick Settings are accessed by swiping up from the bottom (just like Apple’s Control Center), but that’s easy enough to get used to.
The most gaping and obvious change is the lack of an app drawer. Any app you install, or that is pre-installed, must be kept on a home screen. This could be Lenovo’s way of trying to simplify things, but it ends up making the UI look like a bad copy of iOS. It’s a pointless change that removes an important aspect of Android. The app drawer is an important factor in keeping your home screens clear of clutter and there’s no reason to remove it.
Luckily, there’s an answer. Downloading the Google launcher replaces the UI with one made by Google itself, complete with an app drawer. It’s even a little faster than Lenovo’s one, so you end up tidying up your system and improving its flow in one move. It’s a shame that it’s necessary, but it’s such an easy solution that the lack of app drawer ends up being not too much of an issue, so long as you’re familiar enough with Android to know about custom launchers.
As far as raw power goes it’s not a weak device, but it’s not a powerhouse. It will play something like Plants vs Zombies 2 fairly well, but if there’s too much going on at once it will occasionally lag. It’s also prone to heat up, which forces it to automatically dull the screen brightness right at the moment where the action gets intense. This isn’t too commonly a problem, but it’s a big drawback when it does happen.
Sound, on the other hand, is fantastic. The two front-facing speakers are only eclipsed by the BoomSound speakers on HTC devices. They're loud enough that you can easily hear them in the next room, or even if you sit it on the bathroom counter while you shower. All tablets need speakers like this, especially ones designed for use around the house.
Video is neither here nor there. If you can get it to work, the stand combined with full 1080p resolution is a great experience. If you can get it to work.
The problem is it’s a little finicky. Some .avi files will play while others won’t. Others still will play audio, but no video. Of course, you can always stream your files directly from the internet or from another device, but that’s a whole different kettle of fish.
Being a WiFi-only tablet, there’s not much that the Yoga Tab 2 has to do to get a passing grade. It is compatible with WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n, but not ac. This isn’t too much of an issue, especially considering its price, but it’s the end of 2014 and we’d like to see ac becoming a little more standard.
Unfortunately, the standards that it does support are handled poorly. It’s plagued by constant WiFi drop-outs and periods of inexplicably slow connection speeds. This isn’t just when connecting to the internet. Even when syncing with other devices on the same network the Yoga Tab 2 is as fickle as a spoiled child. It will either work or it won’t. There’s nothing you can do about it.
This is a massive mark against it. One of the main reasons I personally loved this tablet was how easy it was to cart about the house while doing chores. You could chuck on a movie and carry it from room to room. Unfortunately, that movie had to be on the hard drive (and we’ve already pointed out some problems there), otherwise I found myself disabling and re-enabling WiFi about as often as I actually got to stream video.
One lovely little addition that Lenovo did get right is the WiFi quick-action button. Instead of simply saying "WiFi", it gives you the first 5 characters of the WiFi network you are connected to. This can be very useful for folk with multiple networks, and doesn't make things more difficult for the majority of people that don't.
Here our stout hero regains some of its pride. There is simply no tablet that can compete with the Yoga Tab 2 in terms of battery life. Lenovo estimates 18 hours of use – almost double most other tabs. That sounds about right.
One of the pluses about the bulge down the side is that it houses a colossal 9600mAh battery. Compare that to the 7900mAh of a Samsung Galaxy Tab S and you get the point. Battery life is seriously serious on this tablet. You can just about watch video all weekend and barely have to worry about charging.
CPU-intense games, like the above-mentioned Plants vs Zombies 2, are notorious battery hogs and that’s still no different here, but day-to-day functionality is refreshingly free of the need for power outlets.
The Lenovo Yoga Tab 2 is so close to being a fantastic, must-buy tablet for the home. Everything about its physical design, minus the sharpness of the stand and some portrait-use issues, is brilliant. We love the weight distribution and are complete converts to wall-hanging screens.
Unfortunately, the lack of app drawer, problems with video and unpredictable WiFi connectivity keep pulling it back down. If these weren’t a factor, the Yoga Tab 2 wouldn’t just be one of the best home tablets in its price bracket; it’d be one of the best on the market.
As it is it’s still a good option, just don’t go thinking you’ll be watching too much video on it and definitely remember to download that Google launcher if you want to keep your home screens free of clutter.