Smash together a huge high resolution screen, beefy hardware, a massive battery, and a tiny video projector to boot and you’ve got Lenovo’s Tablet 2 Pro. Does the amalgam of hardware and features consumers desire actually deliver? Read on as we put this unique looking Android tablet through the paces.
What Is the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro?
The Yoga Tablet 2 Pro ($499) is Lenovo’s most recent offering in the tablet market and is packed with quite an array of features in a distinctive shape. Part tablet, part media center, part projector, and with an emphasis on adding some fun into a work-oriented machine the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro is a sort of tablet/laptop hybrid with an Intel Atom quad-core brain and an Android heart—a custom Lenovo fork of Android 4.4. The unit sports 32GB onboard storage and up to 64GB expansion via MicroSD.
Compared to the traditional slender tablet shape with minimal adornment the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro is both wider and more curvaceous, if you will, thanks to the inclusion a pico projector, large hinge stand, and the handgrip-like cylinder these extras are packed into. Let’s take a look at the form factor up close before touring the key features.
Exploring the Form Factor
One of the most distinct things about the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro is readily apparent at first glance. The body of the tablet has a long cylinder running the length of the base/left-hand side. This cylinder houses a large 9,600 mAh non-removable battery, the power button on one end, and the lens of the pico projector on the other. Aside from the bulk of the cylinder portion , the tablet is slender with a slightly tapered body.
The center of the cylinder also houses a large hinge mechanism that serves as the tablet’s stand both when vertically oriented like a monitor and horizontally oriented in projector mode.
The front of the tablet is fairly standard looking—screen framed by black border, front-facing camera in black border, silver trim—but includes visible speaker grills along the front face of the aforementioned cylinder.
The back of the unit houses an additional speaker grill, a small release button for the stand, and a rear-facing camera. Behind the stand is a small access panel for the SD card expansion slot.
Overall the tablet is solidly constructed. The metal casing feels well built, the stand is very sturdy and has a nice resistance to it (there are no echos of the flimsy plastic kickstands featured on some cheap tablets and smartphones), and the cylinder functions fairly well as a hand grip. Although it’s weighty at 2.1lbs (more than twice the weight of an iPad Air) it isn’t unwieldy unless attempting to one-hand-hold it for extended periods of time without resting part of the the tablet against something.
Touring the Key Features and Hardware
While form factor is important, what really distinguishes Android tablets from each other are the key features and hardware. Let’s take a look, arranged roughly by how consumers assessing different tablets would approach the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro, at those features.
Built-in Pico Projection
The thing that distinguishes the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro from other tablets in its class is most definitely the built-in pico projector. While the tiny projector might not be the most coveted feature among tablets, it’s certainly what got our attention when it came time to review the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro, and we’re certain that consumers looking down a long list of tablets will definitely take note of it too. Whether or not the inclusion is gimmicky is one thing, but in a sea of often indistinguishable tablets “This one has a projector!” is enough to stand out.
Let’s get this out of the way immediately: the pico projector is really cool. Let’s also get this out of the way: cool doesn’t always mean perfectly implemented or super useful. Trying to fit a robust projector into a cylinder smaller than your average thumb is tricky and the pico projector in the tablet is in no way ready for the big time.
The biggest flaw with the projector wasn’t the image quality or the brightness. Yes, the projection is significantly lower resolution than the tablet’s primary display (the projection is a mere 854×480 pixels), but it’s more than serviceable for anything short of watching Blu-ray rips with perfect resolution. Further, the projector was more than bright enough considering it’s the size of an LED flashlight. Nobody will mistake it for a 4,000 lumen lecture hall projector by any means but in a darkened room the image was nice and bright.
The above photo was taken in semi-darkened home theater. Despite the presence of enough ambient light to read by the pico projector kicked out enough light to adequately illuminate the projection screen with no problem.
The projector’s real flaw is the manual focus slider. Directly beneath the lens is a small slider that adjusts the focus of the projector lens. The slider has a very short travel, is very stiff, and it proved almost fruitless to attempt placing the slider in the exact position necessary for a razor sharp projection image. In the entire review process the thing we fiddled with the most (and were the most frustrated by) was this simple slider.
While the focus issue didn’t matter as much when viewing YouTube videos or the like, when viewing anything with fine text (like a projected web page or a slide with small text) the focus issues were immediately noticeable. In the photo of the projection image above, for example, despite doing our best to adjust the focus that slight-fuzzy lettering was the best we could pull off.
As such, if you’re interested in the pico projector for the it’s-so-fun factor of beaming YouTube clips on to the wall or other tasks that are more recreational and less mission critical, you’ll probably be pretty happy. If you’re looking for a dependable tool for throwing up slides during a business meeting the fiddle-factor that comes with trying to manipulate the manual focus is a deal breaker.
All of that said, we really loved playing with a tablet sporting a projector if for no other reason than it has a very high “The future is now!” factor. We really hope the lukewarm reception the pico projector seems to be getting across the board doesn’t deter Lenovo (and other manufacturers for that matter) from pursuing pico projection. We for one think it would really awesome if the phones and tablets of the future came with combination LED flashlight/projectors.
The projection image might be a bit soft and low resolution, but the actual screen on the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro is bright and crisp. The main display is an IPS 2560×1440 pixel panel that’s quite sharp. It’s not the highest resolution tablet screen around but after a certain point such matters are indistinguishable without testing tools on hand.
It’s difficult to photograph and represent screen quality, but we were quite pleased with the screen; it truly is nice to have a giant IPS screen on your lap when you’re playing a vibrantly colored game or watching movies.
Our only complaint about the screen has nothing to do with the hardware itself and everything to do with a bit of Lenovo software engineering. The tablet comes with a software feature called “Lenovo Smart Switch.” In theory, the feature sounds great: it automatically adjusts the brightness of the screen and the color temperature based on the ambient light in order to create an optimum viewing experience. In practice, we found it would often give the display a yellowish/orange tinge.
Apparently we’re not alone in noticing the issue because there’s even a support document identifying the problem and showing how to turn the smart switch feature off. Again, like the issues with the pico projector, we hope they keep the feature and simply tweak it a little bit.
That minor issue aside, the screen was lovely to look at and we had no complaints once we disabled the automatic adjustment tool.
The Yoga Tablet Pro 2 has great battery life thanks to the beefy 9,600 mAh battery packed into the handgrip. We could use it for casual web browsing for days without recharging it and we could use it pretty heavily all day (browsing, Netflix, etc.) and only had to plug it in to charge after marathon media consumption. In our experience you could easily get 8-10 hours of casual use and around 6-8 hours of video-based media consumption out of it. Even with the projector running we were still able to squeeze out a little over five hours off the battery (more than enough for a double feature movie).
Standby mode offered fantastic energy savings. Lenovo claims 15 hours of standby, but, honestly, we regularly surpassed that without a problem. If we turned off the Wi-Fi and ignored the tablet we could pick it up days later with very little loss of battery life. You definitely don’t need to worry about keeping the tablet topped off all the time.
User interface is certainly a sort of roulette game for poor Android shoppers. Buy an iPad or iPhone and (love it or hate it) you’ll get a very standardized iOS user experience. The Android market is so fragmented and customized, however, that you can end up with anything from a pure stock Android experience to a highly customized experience (for better or worse).
Alas, in the case of Lenovo’s Android fork with a customized launcher, the overall user experience isn’t a particularly great one. The default interface, and the only one you’ll get unless you go to the trouble of installing a third party launcher, feels like an awkward knock off of the iOS home screen.
It might look like you’re using an iPad (right down to the home screen folder system) but the implementation is kludgy and aside from looking vaguely iOS-like it lacks any of the snappy user friendliness such an association would have you expect. Given the nearly infinite ways they could have reimagined their interface, we’re a bit disappointed to find that it appears as if their design process was “People love iPads. Let’s make our interface look confusingly iPad like.”
The other significant user interface feature that should be a killer feature but isn’t is the ability to multitask. At first glance we (and everyone we showed the unit to) was like “Multi tasking on this nice big screen? Awesome!” only to be severely disappointed upon the realization that the multitasking feature was limited to barely a handful of whitelisted applications and that the actual implementation of it was poorly suited for a tablet screen.
Layered non-tiled windows might be fine for a large desktop monitor displaying a desktop operating system, but when it comes to the limited screen space (and the very design of mobile operating systems) it makes no sense to have a multitasking feature wherein the screen real estate isn’t fully utilized. The extra space around the windows displaying the home screen background and application shortcuts is a complete waste, yet there is no function to snap the windows to the edges to clearly align them (let alone even resize the windows to anything between full screen or a set window size). The default size isn’t even a clean fraction of the display size so you can’t even manually tile them for a neat interface.
Front and Rear Cameras
Outside of phones and tablets that heavily advertise (and are known for) their sharp cameras, nobody really expects a knock-your-socks-off experience with mobile devices. Camera phone quality is, well, camera phone quality.
In this regard the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro doesn’t really disappoint or astound. The rear-facing 8MP camera is about as good as any average modern camera phone we’ve used complete with the same high noise levels and slow focusing. It’s no DSLR and nobody ever expected it to. For quick photos of things you want to send to your boss or import into Evernote, however, it’s more than fine.
The front-facing 1.6MP camera, likewise, offers about as good a platform for random profile picture selfies and basic video conferencing as you’d expect from any other pinhole-type front-facing laptop or tablet camera. It gets the job done but nobody will think you’re using anything more than a webcam to communicate with them.
The audio quality on the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro is pretty good as far as portable devices go. The beefy cylinder has two front facing speakers and the back of the device has a tiny subwoofer for 2.1 sound (unusual on tablets and seen in the photo below).
At first we were rather concerned over how tinny the sound was when we tested it with some bass-heavy pop songs, but a little exploration revealed that the tablet ships with sound profiles for music, movie watching, and so on, and that the default setting is the movie mode. Given that the movie mode was light on the bass and lack of bass is one of the first things people will notice when trying out portable speakers, we found it surprising that they didn’t make the music mode the default mode.
If you take the time to adjust the audio profile for the task at hand, the speakers on the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro sound great.
Minor (But Welcome) Inclusions
Sometimes it’s the little things that you like the most about a product. In our case we really loved both the stand and the SD card slot area behind it.
Most of the time portable device stands are so cheap and flimsy you almost avoid using them for fear of breaking them. The stand on the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro is built like a tank. The latch button is crisp and firm, it springs out to its minimum elevation immediately after your press the button, and at any angle it holds firm (and requires a firm grip and pressure to adjust). Both the stand itself (a metal alloy of some sort) and the adjustment mechanism feel wonderfully solid and well designed. Further, the flat portion of the stand even has a large hole in it so you can fold it it completely out and hang the tablet.
The other little thing that we really loved was the design of the SD card expansion slot area. The expansion slot is covered by a small panel that covers not only the actual port but features a small depression for storing a second SD card. It’s a perfect setup for having one SD card for daily use (overflow storage for pictures and apps, work documents, etc.) and a secondary card loaded up with movies and TV shows for your travel adventures and afterwork fun.
The Good, The Bad, and The Verdict
After playing with the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro for the better part of a month, stress testing it, digging through the settings, playing games on it, and getting a little work done here or there, what do we have to say about it? Let’s break it down.
- The screen is expansive, vibrant, and a pleasure to use.
- The case design is well thought out with excellent features like a sturdy stand, SD card storage, and an overall solid construction.
- Great battery life and excellent battery conservation when not in use.
- It’s got a protector. A projector! The future is now.
- $500 isn’t chump change but it’s a bargain for a tablet this big with the features it has.
- The custom Lenovo Android fork’s UI is rough around the edges; if they don’t significantly overhaul it a new launcher is definitely in order.
- Multitasking could be great but is currently nearly useless thanks to the whitelist and the tiny fixed-size windows.
- As awesome as the projector is (and, seriously, we think it’s really awesome) the manual focus is so fiddly and hard to use.
- It’s heavy. That’s the price you pay for a huge screen, a huge battery, and a built-in projector, but still. It’s nearly as heavy as an ultrabook laptop.
Although our review of the tablet was critical in places (especially in regard to features that really sell the device like the pico projector) over all the tablet is well constructed and if you’re willing to either deal with the quirks of the odd UI choices Lenovo made (or just install your own launcher) it’s a solid tablet with a gorgeous screen and a fun little projector built right in. As long as you’re comfortable with the weight (it’s no featherweight mini tablet, that’s for sure) and willing to do a little Android tinkering, $500 for a tablet huge tablet complete with pico projector and beefy battery is a bargain.
Further, we really hope Lenovo keeps the line alive and further refines the whole widescreen tablet-with-projector model in future releases as, despite the shortcomings of the current incarnation, we really did love the design and functionality.
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